He could feel her looking at him, appraising his pained expression. He had always been so careful never to convey any sign of just how much his body ached all the time. For Roman, to display any kind of weakness had never been an option. It was ingrained in him not to. He was told from an early age that pain was for losers. Only winners understood its value, how to channel it into “gold.” Roman hadn’t quite done that, but he had made a sufficient amount of money to pay for the Olympic-sized pool in the backyard of a “McMansion” in Encino. The last place he ever imagined he would end up… mainly because he had never heard of it before. Not when he was growing up in the isolating confines of working-class Maine, where the only thing people knew about “the West Coast,” even to this day, was “Hollywood.” A construct roughly fifteen miles and a world away from Encino. But Roman wouldn’t find out about that Pauly Shore-publicized location until after he had saved up his first few hundred thousand. He never strove to be a millionaire, or so he claimed to his daughter, because that meant you were sure to be eaten by the peasants one day. No, “upper middle class” was where it was at. He maintained. Veronica knew otherwise.
But until she grew up and found her own way in that false concept called the “real” world, she would believe everything her father told her, as so many foolish children do–particularly girls, who want so badly to adhere to the Cult of Daddy until he ends up disappointing her one too many times. But on this rare day when she had returned, joining him by the pool, her demeanor softened and her heart warmed to him. It had been almost a full five years since she had returned to the Encino “palace,” finding some paltry excuse to put it off every time. Roman was well-aware of Veronica’s newfound contempt for him ever since one of those accursed “exposers” called journalists had unearthed massive amounts of evidence that traced Roman’s business dealings to a “shadow company” in the Middle East. A “company” that engaged in highly illegal activities including doling out armed weapons to the “enemy” (though it would seem there’s no such thing as a “friend” or “ally” in these scenarios). The heat was subsequently put upon Roman to release his tax returns and other relevant documents to show that he had, at the very least, been aboveboard in his supposed “squeaky clean” personal life. He didn’t want to. On principle. Although he did have some other things there to hide as well, even if he didn’t, he still wouldn’t have offered it up to the public. It wasn’t their goddamn right to know anything about him other than his name and title. He wasn’t even a millionaire (making sure–even if it required “cooking the books”–that his yearly earnings never exceeded $999,999), so why were they all so interested? Yet Veronica was the one–though she never admitted it–who ended up stabbing him in the back by releasing the additional documents needed to crucify him. Roman would never come out directly and accuse her of it, therefore could never ask her why she was compelled to do such a traitorous thing. It wasn’t for power, obviously, for the person who ended up taking over for Roman after the scandal (he being asked to “step aside temporarily” until all of this “blew over”) was not Veronica, but another old white male colleague. So what was her end game?
It was right after this incident that Veronica “coincidentally” ceased communication beyond the most cursory level with Roman, further confirming his suspicions that she was the culprit behind this secondary exposure after the “shadow company debacle.” Naturally, he couldn’t begrudge her in any real way, for she was his daughter, and he would always have a soft spot for her–no matter the extent to which she had shamed him. Seemingly for no other reason than some kind of “belated rebellion.” Veronica had been such a docile, malleable teenager that perhaps Roman ought to have seen this form of lashing out coming. He was permitted the “luxury” of ruminating on it in the years that followed, surrendering to holing up in his Encino McMansion and rarely showing his face in public due to the lifelong humiliation he had incurred. Sure, people might have forgotten or only looked at him as though he was “vaguely familiar,” but the sting of what had happened would be forever fresh on his mind, no matter if it had dissipated from everyone else’s. Yet he knew that Veronica hadn’t forgotten. And while she could try to play it off as being part of her own embarrassment over having a criminal father, Roman knew, ultimately, it was because she had sold him down the river that she couldn’t bear to be around him because of the guilt. Or so he would tell himself until the day he died. A day that actually seemed to be creeping ever-sooner despite his best efforts to maintain a “California lifestyle.” Except that his version of that was cocaine and hookers rather than grapefruit and sunshine. Granted, he could often be spotted on his chaise lounge by around three p.m., soaking up the high heat of the day for no reason other than it just so happened to be when he woke up. And on this day he could be found–by Veronica–just where he had always been for the past five years.
She would like to tell people, especially her (very rich) fiancé, Finn, that her sudden decision to fly out was just a matter of her “finally” “finding time” in her schedule to visit from Boston, where she worked as the editor-in-chief of a certain major daily newspaper. But the fact was that she had been thinking of visiting for quite a while now, having paid a number of the housekeepers to deliver reports of her father’s daily activities, which, thus far, seemed extremely unvaried. At last, it was as though she could no longer take the pain of hearing these reports and decided it was time to play the part of “dutiful daughter” that she had tried to neglect to the best of her abilities. Yet even for as “angry” as she was at Roman for not being the man he made himself out to be when she was younger, she couldn’t sustain the rage forever. He was, for better or worse (just like the vows in a marriage), her father. So she went to him, in the end.
He was puffy and bloated like Elvis in Vegas when she came upon him in the pool. She herself had already put her most modest one-piece on, one of her ultimate phobias being: getting sexualized by her father. Although she expected some modicum of surprise, Roman barely registered her presence, giving only something like an expectant nod as she entered the pool. In many regards, it was like she had been there the whole time, never leaving his side at all.
So here she was regarding him with the pity he could feel while he tried to play off the agony of his decrepit body as nothing, assuring her as a greeting, “The sun sears my pain away, darling. I feel nothing at all anymore. You certainly helped with that you left me out here to rot.”
“I am not responsible for you.”
“And why not? I was responsible for you. For so many years. And then you just abandoned me.”
She rolled her eyes and retorted, “Then maybe you should have thought about that before you decided to have a kid at all. If you thought you could control her for the rest of your life.”
That made him laugh. An evil sort of laugh as he said, “And is that what you’ll do? Genuinely consider all of the fucked up consequences of spawning? I know you’re going to have several with that rich prick you’ve landed over there. He wouldn’t have it any other way. ‘Legacies’ and all that. But according to you, you should ask him if he’s truly prepared for what having children means. The end of your life. The end of yourself. The beginning of all pain.”
She sneered. “Thought you said you didn’t feel pain.”
“Not the physical kind,” he said, wincing as he adjusted his obviously tortured body. “I channel all of that into power.”
Veronica couldn’t fathom why Roman still had to put on these airs about being powerful when he was so clearly a weak and frail man. Time was the only one who hadn’t forgotten him. Well, Time and Veronica. And now she was here to collect on the debt of that remembrance. Of Roman occupying a space in her head that she could no longer afford to rent out. Not if she was to, as Roman mentioned, start a family of her own in the hope of breaking the psychotic cycle by insisting to herself that she would raise her children differently. That she wouldn’t fuck them up with false notions and the idea that showing weakness was a sin.
He continued to berate her, suddenly on a roll. “You were handed everything, you know that? I had to work. I had to use my ‘trauma,’ as your delicate generation calls it, to build something. To carve my own success out of nothing. Whereas you were born into it. You can’t know what pain is, not really. You were shielded from that, and maybe I shouldn’t have.”
She continued to wade in the shallow end of the water, edging closer and closer to where he was propped up in the spa situated next to the “pool section.” Veronica was working toward the culmination of her entire dynamic with Roman. It was always leading up to this, she somehow knew. Roman persisted in admonishing her for her “frailty,” adding with condescension, “Oh Veronica, are you sure you can handle being out in the sun? It might burn your fair skin.”
She couldn’t take his barrage of disdain–his veneer of self-superiority–any longer, lunging at him to do what she knew she had come here to do: put him out of his misery. A good daughter should not allow either of her parents to suffer, but since her father was all she had left, he was the sole victim of Veronica’s “goodwill.” And it was time to choke out all of his pain. The pain he had told himself and everyone else for so long that he wasn’t experiencing, when, in fact, it was written all over his flailing body before she was the one to “sear” it away. To her chagrin, however, she could feel the mild sunburn she had accrued from that short stint in Encino on her first-class flight back to Boston. Roman would like that.