Pecos dreads the night when his son asks about conditional sentences.
The “if”s and “then”s.
If Marley doesn’t finish his homework, then he will go to detention.
If Marley sneaks chips before dinner, then he doesn’t get Tambo Tambong for dessert.
But Marley doesn’t like Tambo Tambong anyway. He prefers the American deserts—Snickers bars, Cookies N’ Cream,
OtterPops. Yams and yuccas don’t belong in dessert, he says with the sneer his classmates have taught him.
Tonight, his son has eaten potato chips by the time Pecos arrives home. Marley leaps onto the armrest, greasy crumbs scattering down his shirt, and begins to pepper his father with questions. When do I use the perfect present tense, Papa? How do you say this word, Papa? The story says a little boy falls down a well. How will he get out when it is so dark and the rocks break his hands?
Why would a child need to know such things? Pecos stares down into his own hands, stained black and brown from scrubbing toilet bowls and cavernous garbage shoots. He knocks his son off the armrest and says, “Not tonight, hijo. Your Papa is tired.” He rubs his cracked hands over his face and the boy slams his bedroom door, the sound of a rock falling into dark water.
If his son knew Pecos could not read, then his son would be ashamed. It was a conditional answer to unconditional love.