My mother never held my hand.

         She held my fatherís hand, though, whenever we crossed a street. If he ever forgot or pretended to forget, she would scold him and trap his hand with her fingers. It is too dangerous, she would say. You need me. You do not know this country.

         She met my father during a trip to Mongolia. Neither one told me how an austere billionaire found a poor Mongolian farmer and brought him back to America. They were engaged immediately. She bought him an apartment in the same building as her penthouse, and she paid for his food and transportation and English lessons. All she asked was that he love her completely.

         My father tells me my mother was a hero.

         He mentioned his old life a few times, reminiscing about his parents and brothers and aunts. He enjoyed it in Mongolia, I think, even though he was too poor to get married and father children. My father talked about how fortunate he was that my mother had brought him to America, but aside from the impossibility of marriage and children, I cannot remember any other complaints about his home.

         My motherís life revolved around my father. Like a moon, permanent and distant. After ten years, my father asked my mother about the marriage she had promised him. He wanted children, he said, and both of them were getting old.

         She told him not to worryóshe would marry him soon enough, and he would have children. He believed her, and she smiled. I have never seen my mother smile, and my father has only spoken of this one. It was her only smile, and it was a promise.

         My mother waited three more years for marriage. Another year passed after the ceremony, and then I was born. My father loved me, his only child. My mother travelled frequently during my childhood, while my father and I stayed in her penthouse. She never held my hand.

         Once a year, my father and I took a weekend hunting trip. We always went to the same forest, and we always camped in the same blind. We would sit there for hours, watching the reds of the leaves and feeling the bitterness of the air. Eventually, we would see a deer and my father would shoot it. While we cleaned it, he would tell me about my motherís smile, how it had transfigured her face and shone from her eyes.

         During the trip I remember most, we hiked to the top of a small mountain. My father talked more than usual while we hiked. He talked about how in the moment of my motherís smile, he trusted her completely, and she trusted him. He talked about her love for him and for me. He said she would always provide.

         I said I loved our hunting trips, but I meant I loved my father.

         At the top of the mountain, we watched the sky, and I thought about Mongolia and the family my father had left behind. After a while, he brought out his rifle, and he said he would teach me how to shoot. I had never fired a gun before.

         My father pulled out a blindfold and told me to cover my eyes. He said it was the best way to learn. His hands were coarse and sweaty when I took the blindfold, and he was breathing in tight gulps. It made me nervous.

         I asked him if deer came up this high, and he told me to trust him. I tied the blindfold over my face. I remember it smelled like bleach. I waited for the gun, but my father stepped away. He told me again about my motherís smile, and I heard the hammer cock. He said he loved my mother. He took a deep breath and let it out halfway, as he always did when steadying the gun before a shot. My father sobbed once, then took another deep breath.

         I knew he was not showing me how to shoot.

         The trigger clicked, but the gun did not fire. My father retched. Then he removed the faulty round and chambered a new one. Again, he cocked the rifle.

         I loved my father, and I did not cower.

         Then I heard my mother. From the brush to my left, she told my father to give her the gun and untie my blindfold. She approached, crunching bits of rock and dirt with each stride. Now I know, she said. You have not withheld from me your son.

         My father shuffled toward me. His fingers shook as he fumbled with the knot on my blindfold, and his breath was wet and heavy. He pulled the cloth away and I blinked against the sunlight.

         When my eyes adjusted, I saw my mother holding the rifle. She cradled the forestock with the same hand she used to hold my fatherís when they crossed a street. She said she saw a deer. A long ways down the mountainside, there was a buck caught in a thicket, its antlers tangled amid branches. My mother raised the gun and waited for a clean shot. She fired.

         She returned the rifle to my father, and then she walked into the forest. Long after she disappeared from view, I listened to her progress through the brush.

         My father embraced me, and we cleaned the deer. He said my mother would always provide.

         I do not know how my mother found us on that hunting trip, or why she stopped my father from shooting. I do not know what my father was aiming at, or why he retched. I never asked either of them.

         I do not want to know.

         I love my father, and I do not want to hate my mother.

         My mother, who never held my hand.

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