Manny Holdsworth stood next to his wife Sarah with a big smile on his face, “It’s just incredible, really really incredible. We thought he was gone.” He had his arm around Sarah’s back in a family friendly embrace but he couldn’t help but feel a tenseness from her. “I mean you have people write up these TV shows or movies, or even variety hour specials, but the real drama is here – right here in this room.” There was no way Sarah could have known. It had all been on the road, three times in total. Maybe he was just imagining it.
“And Sarah, you must be thrilled to have Papa Holdsworth back.” The reporter asked her.
She tensed up even more and put on a big, warm smile, “Yeah it really is amazing. He’s such a sweet man.” Manny looked at his wife. He thought of her sacrifice to him, the position a woman takes beside a man of ambition. She was still an attractive woman, would have made a career out of journalism if she stayed at it. But Emily came along when she was 25 – Manny 28 – and they married and Sarah became a stay-at-home mum.
“So what were your first words like with your father – after he woke up, I mean?”
Manny paused, instinctively generating a TV moment, “I just said ‘Welcome back, Dad’; gave him a hug and said ‘I hope you’re ready.’”
“And was he ready?”
“He said ‘Let me at ‘em.’”
It was all too easy now, this TV business. Manny felt a little ashamed of himself. To make a constructed scene like that was one of things he had always hated about TV. This false sense of reality that it demanded, promoting it to people who could never achieve it. He had used that argument with Sarah when she thought about coming back to work. After their second child, Kara, Sarah had alluded to returning, but Manny warned her off it. He never told her that he thought TV was a game for old men and young women, that she might not have what it takes, or even that his work was an escape from his home life. Now as he could feel her slipping away as she stood in his arms he couldn’t help but think of Lucy – she was his ultimate escape. He wanted to be with her now more than anything.
“I bet you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world right now.” The reporter continued.
“Only in that room and chatting with Dad some more.”
“I’ll bet you’ve got a lot to catch up on.”
“Yeah we sure do,” Manny thought of the headlines from a few months ago that alleged his ascendency sparked his father’s near fatal binge. He wanted to redirect the reporter away from the topic, “But you know Dad, he’s always working hard, even after a three month coma.”
The interview closed out with some more cheesy back and forth. The camera clicked off and the reporter shook Manny’s hand, “Cheers for that, Manny. So you plan on keeping the Walter specials?” There was glint of mischief in his eye. Manny glanced again at the camera to make sure it wasn’t still rolling. It wasn’t.
The reporter got the message and looked out for his next prey. Sarah spoke passively, possibly aggressive, “I’m going to find a vending machine.”
“OK, honey.” She slipped out of his arms and walked out the door leaving him standing idle - the way only a woman could. He remained still, staring into the hallway that she had disappeared into. She couldn’t know about Lucy; she was just sad because they had been apart and he had been cold lately.
It was strange how he could switch off sometimes. It could be a voluntary escape or an involuntary regression – like the glow-in-the-dark stickers in Emily’s room which shone so bright in the beginning; now they are barely visible. He wondered if they would shine again if they were placed on Lucy’s wall. It was an idiotic thought which drew his mind to his children. Was he going to be as fucked up a father figure as the man who had just woken up in the adjacent hospital room?
He wanted to punch something. He looked at the wall as the anger and frustration boiled inside of him. He imagined his fist going through it, smashing the wall and breaking his hand. Then he imagined doing the same to his father’s head. Why couldn’t the old fuck just die? He needed to act. Sarah would come back and she would know straight away what he was feeling. He didn’t need that.
The sign on the door read ‘Tony Holdsworth.’ Manny took a short breath, his anger starting to break through his TV face and display itself in his exterior. He opened the door and saw his father sitting up in his bed talking with a short, well presented man. The two looked to be in deep discussion and paused, looking up at Manny as he shut the door behind him.
“Manny! How nice to see you again.” Tony said, his voice weak but still with the trademark undertone of condescension.
Manny remained at the door, cautious. He was still trying to place the short statured man, when he stepped over and beat him to the punch, “Hello Manny, my name is Sam Tank.” He presented his hand and Manny took it.
“Do I know you from somewhere?”
“Not formally. You may have seen me around the studios from time to time. I have a vested interest in the channel’s operations.” He spoke confidently, open, and yet failed to reveal any emotion or pretence. “I was just discussing some issues with your father that may arise given the unique circumstances.”
“Shouldn’t Smithwaite be the one to do that?” Manny asked. He noticed his father flinch a little at the name, apparently losing control of his own TV face for a moment.
“Brian is currently predisposed and could not make it to the hospital. Your father is well and wanted to clear up a few business points – always the hard worker as I’m sure you’re aware – we will only be a moment longer and then you can come and catch up.”
It didn’t sound like Smithwaite not to be on the scene before it happened. He remembered Smithwaite’s threats and allusions to his father’s condition; the two had never got along. They were the face and back of house at Channel 8, always competing for ascendency. Smithwaite had apparently taken it, now Tony was fighting back. He had gone above Smithwaite, above Channel 8. “Citadel.” Manny said under his breath, verbalising his conclusions.
“Sorry?” Sam Tank asked politely.
Manny looked up, “Nothing, I guess I just forgot that Dad always put his work before family.”
“It’s only been three months, Manny,” Tony said with a smile, “That barely counts as a falling-out in my books.” Ever the asshole.