Julian’s on TV again tonight, so Laura insists on watching. I tell her he’s only gonna be on for a few minutes, but what can I do? She gets pissed off whenever we end up skipping one of his all-too frequent appearances.
Julian’s 16 or 17 now, and tonight he’s in Monaco, performing on one of those awards shows where everybody who agrees to appear on the show gets one, pretending to sing his latest hit song, “Baby, You’re My Girl.”
“Have you ever tried to get in touch with him?,” she says, as Julian waves his molded crotch in the general direction of three bikini-clad women who appear to be deeply honored by this assault.
“I told you a million times, no. I haven’t seen him since he was a baby.”
“Well you’re his father. You should be in touch with him. So that at least you can get your share of the money.”
I’ve never really considered myself to be Julian’s father, though I suppose that legally I am. He’s not my son, he’s my clone. Lydia found out she couldn’t have children, and she was deeply distressed by the thought of any sort of genetic infidelity, so she figured out a way to get us into this Defense Department program called Project Joshua that was designed to create human clones. They were worried that married people were beginning to give up fucking.
And so we had Julian, but Lydia and I got divorced a short while later, and the courts awarded us joint custody. This seemed perfectly fair to me, since legally, she’s the mother, she carried him to term. I was obsessively trying to be fair, all throughout the divorce. That’s how Lydia ended up taking everything.
As soon as the divorce was finalized, Lydia moved to Los Angeles and I lost all contact with Julian. Eventually she married a man who makes his living in the music industry, and ten years later Julian was a star.
All the time we were married, Lydia would complain about the inadequacies of a normal existence. All she ever wanted in life was for everyone to treat her like an extraordinary person. And now she’s done it. I’m really glad for her.
“He looks just like you, when you were that age,” Laura says, based on the pictures my mother showed her last Christmas. She always knows the wrong thing to say, doesn’t she? When I was Julian’s age, I was getting beat up by a gang of idiots in high school, not singing pop ditties all over Europe.
Truth is, I’ve always had a somewhat ambivalent attitude toward my son. I want him to be successful, of course, to have everything in the world, without a single care, to make his life a million times easier than mine ever was, but it pisses me off deeply, the unfairness of it all. All that unearned pussy.
Laura and I hung on through the next few hundred commercials while I yawned and stretched and rolled my eyes. Finally, at the end of the two-hour show, some TV actor handed Julian the award for Best Artist, thus confirming my theory. (We already knew that Julian was gonna win, based on a recap of a longer article that Laura had read online.)
“Hey, thanks guys,” Julian said in his acceptance speech. “Europeans rock!”
And then we went to bed.
A few weeks later, Laura brought home a copy of Gossip! magazine and thrust it right at my face.
“Look, you’re famous now,” she said.
The headline read, “Clone Julian Fabulously Wealthy While ‘Dad’ Lives in Squalor.” It featured a picture of me dressed as a hillbilly with teeth blacked out and a big beer can with the word “Meth” written on it. It had been taken on a road trip through the south in one of those places where they put a stupid picture of you on a shirt in exchange for some insignificant sum. Laura and I had used it as our holiday card one year.
“Honey, I need to ask you one thing. Did you sell our story to the tabloids?”
“No, I most certainly did not.”
“Who else could have? You and my ex-wife are the only people who know about my connection to Julian. And besides, you’re quoted by name in the article.”
“Well, if you ask me, I think your ex did it. She’s obsessed with money and fame and will do anything to get them.”
This is true, of course. But as far as she’s concerned, I don’t exist. She’s been avoiding me for years.
The next morning I received a phone call at work.
“Good morning, this is Julius. How may I provide you with excellent customer service today?”
“Why are you always trying to fuck with me?,” a woman’s voice replied. It might have been soft and pretty if it didn’t sound so mean.
“Excuse me, you must have the wrong…”
“Don’t fuck with me, Julius. I’ll fuck you up.”
“Oh hi, Lydia. Long time no…”
“Why did you plant that fucking story in the tabloids?”
“I didn’t. My wife thinks you did.”
Not that I believe her, but still…
“You’ve gotten married again? Congratulations. I mean it. Don’t fuck with me. I’ll fuck you up.”
“I didn’t have anything to do with it, I swear. I’d never do anything like that to Julian.”
Her voice softened a little, as if she were talking to a beloved, but somewhat feeble retainer.
“Look, if you needed money you should have called me.”
“You changed your number. And besides, I don’t need money.”
“I change my phone number every week. Too many people calling me, looking for money. I’m Julian’s manager, you know. And besides, you could have called the office.”
“It’s wonderful to talk to you again, Lydia. I’m so proud of you. You’ve accomplished everything you wanted to do.”
“Not even close. But thank you, baby. Let’s talk again soon.”
“Can I have your phone number?”
“How about some money?”
“I’m hanging up now.”
“That’s fine. I need to get back to work anyway.”
She didn’t even hear that last clever retort. She’d already hung up the phone.
Laura arrived home late that evening, driving a new Cadillac. She said that the boss had given her a bonus for all her hard work. I just sat there on the couch chewing on hard candy, patiently starving.
“It’s getting late. We’re gonna have to get going on dinner soon,” I said. “We,” meaning “you.” I’m hopeless in the kitchen.
“Let’s go out for dinner,” she said. “I’m buying.”
“You’re buying? That’s a rare treat.”
“Let’s go to that expensive Mexican place in the mall.”
Dinner was magnificent, ten dollar margaritas and thirty dollar enchiladas, a poor man’s luxury vacation. I was dreading the bill, but Laura didn’t even let me see it.
Afterward we returned home full bellied and a little bit foggy, and headed directly for bed. I lay there reading from a half-hearted novel, while Laura was petting her phone with her index finger.
Suddenly she levitated off the mattress with excitement.
“Julian’s mentioned you on Twitter,” she said.
“You follow Julian on Twitter?”
“Of course, I do. He’s family now. And he’s HAWT! You know, because he looks so much like you. Wait, let me show you his tweet.”
She handed me her phone and I stared at the message, which read:
“im nt a clon n u r nt my dad. u dd nt rase me n lve me lk simon n mom did. fk u u bastrd.”
“God, that’s just complete gibberish,” I said.
“No it isn’t. He’s saying that he’s not a clone and you’re not his dad because you didn’t raise him and love him like Simon and his mother did. And finally he ends with ‘Fuck you, you bastard.’ It’s quite eloquent really, for him, anyway. Most of his Tweets are about trying to get certain girls to leave him alone. Spirited rivalries with other teenage artists. Ads for his latest CD.”
“Well, it’s nice that he mentioned me,” I said, hoping that she would take the hint that I just wanted the entire topic to go away.
“You should try and go meet him, talk this whole thing out. And if you do meet him, be sure to take along a photographer. Treasured family moments ought to be shared.”
“He told me to fuck off. Said he never wanted to see me again.”
“Psychologists say that many families go through serious conflict. Especially through the difficult teenage years.”
Laura’s only experience with psychologists is the TV kind. She usually quotes them in the midst of any family argument, which immediately christens another embedded argument.
“I’m not gonna go meet him.”
“Come on. We need to remodel our kitchen.”
“What about all the money you made from selling me out to that tabloid?”
“All gone. I spent it all on that fancy dinner for you.”
“And your new car.”
“Yes, and the new car, though technically it’s not completely paid for. Satisfied now?”
“Good night, my devious darling.”
Over the next few days, reporters kept calling but I refused to speak to them. I was determined not to sell my story. A few of them made up banal quotes or wrote articles with headlines like “What Does Julian’s ‘Daddy’ Have to Hide?” My privacy mainly. Thanks for asking.
I was proud of myself for holding out as long as I did, but what’s the point of integrity when everyone else in the world has abandoned theirs? So last week I called Lydia’s office, told her I have a mutually beneficial proposition for her, left a message. She still hasn’t gotten back to me yet.
Maybe deep down inside she’ll realize that a boy needs his father. She can invite a camera crew along and we can split the proceeds: 75 percent for her, 25 for me (and then only after an arduous and extremely bitter negotiation). Maybe an hour-long network TV special timed for the holiday season. Call it Julian: A Different Kind of Homecoming.
All I really want is the opportunity to get through to Julian and explain that everything I did was in his best interest, except for the rare moments when I was motivated by selfishness or spite or hatred toward his mother. If I ever get a chance to explain myself, I think he’ll understand. From everything I’ve read about him, he’s a bit of a rebel.
Just like me.
Michael Koenig lives in Oakland, California and his work has appeared in recent editions of Hardboiled and Literary Orphans, as well as past issues of The Paterson Literary Review, Harpur Palate, and The MacGuffin.
His work has been featured in the Soft Skull Press anthology Awake! A Reader for the Sleepless and The Shamus Sampler 2, a international anthology of detective fiction.