The Frenchwoman may have imagined not only that my father’s café was still there, in that town in the industrial heartland of South Africa where she and her husband lived for a while, but that it looked much the same, or much as I recall it, a small building designed, like the rest of that town center, in a functional version of art deco, with a projecting flat roof and a front entirely made up of metal-frame glass doors, some of these doors painted opaquely white and professionally lettered in green italics (at the behest of the original, Italian owner) to advertise the café’s initial offerings, including Italian Ice Cream (World Class), the hyperbolic claim for some reason in parentheses, perhaps so as to attenuate its boastfulness. (In our own time at the cafe, we neither sold Italian ice cream nor had any idea of how different it might be from regular ice cream.)
The café’s building stood off a little from the ivy- and fern-bedecked entrance to the block of flats where the Frenchwoman and her spouse had taken up residence. The café shared a patio with the entrance to those shady, pricy-looking flats, but it also had, off to its left, what the Frenchwoman may have most liked about it: an al fresco terrace sectioned off by a low wall that was made, despite the town’s remoteness from any sea, of oval beach stones set in cement.
Café Portugal: the French couple may have been delighted to discover it when they arrived in Vanderbijlpark, a planned garden town founded only twenty years before to house employees of the state-owned iron and steel works that had contracted her engineer husband. The couple already knew Portuguese cuisine from an exploratory trip beyond South African’s borders to the neighboring Portuguese colony of Mozambique, specifically its coastal capital, Lourenço Marques, said to be the Paris of Africa’s east coast. No doubt they had found that only someone who had never been to the real Paris could have described Lourenço Marques as such, but they enjoyed it just the same, as most visitors did, especially the seafood, the prawns peri-peri which did not even have to be ordered as a meal since they came as a complimentary appetizer to nibble on while you downed your Laurentina beers in one of the many café terraces lining the imperial main boulevards, sweltering enjoyably in the subtropical heat beneath colorful umbrellas or shade trees.
It was in Lourenço Marques, I imagine, that the French couple came closest to the colonial life they may have romantically expected from Africa—torpid, sensual, a breeding ground for white mischief. South Africa was nothing like that. South Africa was aggressively modern, heavily industrialized, painfully regimented and segregated, a Protestant nation, dourly devoted to functionality, progress, wealth-building. South Africa was dull, practical, squarely middle class, not a place for the decadent adventurers the French couple may have fancied themselves to be, and they would endure it for a while only because of the money the husband was earning—South Africa’s being among the world’s most valuable currencies at the time.
So they were probably glad once in Vanderbijlpark to find, right on their doorstep, a café that in some ways was an outpost of Lourenço Marques; even Lourenço Marques’s daily newspaper was on sale there, arriving only a day late. And the fare proved almost up to the standards of what they had sampled in Lourenço Marques, thanks to the chef, an undocumented black Mozambican whom my father, on one of his buying trips to the Portuguese territory, had smuggled into South Africa, dropping him off before getting to the border post at Komatipoort so that he might cross over on foot through the nighttime bush, out of sight of the authorities.
Of course there was also the café’s owner himself, my father, a man whose eloquence shows through even when he is trying to communicate in languages he has not mastered. The French couple knew only a few words of Portuguese and my father only a few in French, so they spoke in English. Theirs, I suppose, was not great and his not much better, but I can safely assume that they nonetheless managed to hold lengthy, entertaining conversations out there in that seaside-recalling terrace in the summer of 1970, their faltering efforts to make themselves understood filling in pauses that might otherwise have been deadly, or creating amusement where there might otherwise have been none. And with his quick, preternaturally empathetic mind, his charisma, his fair, auburn-tinged good looks, his radio announcer’s baritone, his general air of being a worldly bon vivant, my father managed to charm them, to charm especially her.
I have no idea what the Frenchwoman’s husband may have looked like or been like, though I am inclined to picture him as resembling the pathetically sex-sick contemporary French writer Michel Houellebecq, a homely little man with a weak chin, a sharply receding hairline, a large Gallic nose, lifeless eyes, a terminally lethargic and distracted manner. And his attraction to Africa may have been, like that of another sexually troubled (but infinitely better) French writer named Michel—Michel Leiris—the opportunity to forget romantic inadequacies and assorted ego troubles through slumming dalliances with “primitive” women who would not care what he looked like, smelled like, or performed like, so long as he was white. Of course, pursuing such adventures was more difficult in South Africa than it had been in Mozambique, since apartheid forbade sex between races on pain of imprisonment.
As for the Frenchwoman herself, I have long known about her existence, thanks to the confidences of my father’s business partner, a family friend who said he had been unable to understand what it was, other than her blonde hair, that my father had seen in her, especially by comparison to my mother. I expect the Frenchwoman may even have been as unattractive as another lover my father had later in life, a woman I did get to meet and felt somewhat repulsed by.
Oddly, that my father could go with such women did not really perplex me. Indeed, it only increased my estimate of his fatherly masculinity. His I saw as an elemental old-world libido so potent as to require of a prospective lover only that she be a woman. Her main sexual organ alone was so stirringly exotic to men like him—men who, in Europe, had grown up in a sexually segregated society, attending schools, walking streets, frequenting cafés, going to sporting events where nary a woman was to be seen—that they could easily overlook or forgive the rest, or take the rest as simply outlying parts of that irresistible organ. Growing up, I subconsciously regarded the masculinity of my own generation as much diluted, influenced as it was by difference-erasing coed schooling and the jejune romanticism of modern Anglo pop culture. Even with a girl from whom we might want nothing but a quick and dirty fuck we insisted on the palliative and blessing of good looks and sweet smells.
But there is something else about my father the influence of which on his life and loves I tend to overlook or underestimate, so well does he dissimulate it: the fact that he is not physically whole. An industrial accident in his adolescence (he was working on the construction of a dam, cleaning some piece of machinery that was suddenly put into motion) mangled his right leg below the knee. After a hospital stay of nearly two years, he emerged with a permanent limp. This physical defect did not stop my mother, a pretty country girl, from falling for him; it did not measurably detract from her dazzled impression of him as a nearly perfect city boy. But it no doubt left him a lot more accepting of defects in others, including prospective lovers.
I know, from his business partner, that my father’s limp did eventually come up in conversation with the Frenchwoman out there on the terrace of Café Portugal. My father no doubt mentioned it so the Frenchwoman might take it into account when considering him as a lover. And she, undeterred, had replied that her husband—who perhaps was masochistically present for this exchange—had a defect too. But her husband’s defect was of a different order. It was sexual, probably a kind of impotence, which is why I can imagine him as a Houellebecq or Leiris, especially the latter, his impotence derived from some ego deformity born of his own lack of beauty and virility and the reflection of these lacks in the all too knowing and judgmental eyes of women of his own kind. He felt limp and inadequate before white bourgeois normality and, as Leiris did, sought refuge abroad, in the arms of women so alien they could not properly evaluate him.
I can imagine that while my father’s affair with the Frenchwoman got under way, her husband literally looked the other way, toward Café Portugal’s chattering, clucking bevy of black waitresses, of whom many other customers, as if they were indeed in the uninhibited racial melting pot of Mozambique, took sexual advantage, sometimes in the restaurant’s toilets, where more than once I found condoms floating. I do not believe that the grubby naughtiness of consorting with the impoverished “natives,” as blacks in South Africa were called then, ever held much appeal for my father himself, given his aspirations to erudition, class, wealth. Besides, simple adultery must have felt adventurous enough for a married man already loaded down with four children. And since my father in his youth had imbibed the Francophilia of literate Portugal, the Frenchwoman’s nationality must have been another aphrodisiac—as well as an attribute that raised her in his overall estimate, perhaps helping to explain why, in spite of her homeliness, his affair with her was not a mere series of furtive, sordid encounters.
My father’s entanglement with the Frenchwoman may even have been affecting enough to have much to do with his distress over my mother’s fifth pregnancy and how desirous he was of finding a way to terminate it. But abortion was strictly illegal in South Africa, and his business partner told me he dissuaded him from seeking a back-alley procedure.
What my father was probably not counting on was that the Frenchwoman should herself fall pregnant in short order. He now had two pregnant women on his hands, and this must have sobered him. Did he really want to have two families to contend with, or really want to forsake one for the other?
In the end, he somehow persuaded the Frenchwoman to leave. She returned to France with her husband (whose work contract may have just run out, in any case) perhaps to see if there she would find it easier to obtain an abortion. I seem to recall being told that my father drove the woman and her cuckold spouse to Jan Smuts Airport, so it is all too possible that she may have parted from my father on a false promise, with at least a shred of hope that he would eventually join her.
Not long after, Café Portugal was raided for selling alcohol illegally (my father had never been granted a license, but alcohol sales accounted for the bulk of the cafe’s profits), and he had to declare bankruptcy. He took a job selling furniture but found that he was unable to support us on his commissions, so he went into construction—work for which his physical handicap made him less than suitable. He soon had had enough and began dreaming of more suitable occupations and a more suitable life in the United States, where relatives of my mother were now living. The decisive nudge came in 1976 with the black uprisings in Soweto. Revolution seemed in the offing in South Africa, with the possibility that white people would suddenly have to flee the country. My father began working in earnest to obtain the necessary emigration paperwork, and three years later we left—albeit without my older brother, who was already of age and needed to await the granting of an independent visa.
My brother has never, in fact, joined us permanently in America and has limited himself to the occasional visit on a tourist visa. Back in South Africa, he married and started a family of his own. The revolution my father had anticipated did not come about. Radical change did occur, but it was peaceful, and my brother was able to continue living not only in South Africa but in the same area where we had grown up, as if in rejection of my father’s ill-starred peripatetic ways.
Café Portugal, meanwhile, went on to change hands, nationality, and name repeatedly. It seemed to be a cursed business, and no one could keep it going for long. Yet it was to Café Portugal that the Frenchwoman, two and a half decades after last seeing it and my father, addressed a letter intended for my father. She wrote to the past as if the past were still present. But it must be in the nature of a crushing bereavement to leave you grasping at straws like that, resorting to the most far-fetched ways of belatedly doing right by whomever you have lost. You as good as try, however ineffectually, to finish composing the deceased’s life.
That life, the Frenchwoman may have felt compelled to believe, would continue to matter, and not only in the hearts of those who had been a part of it. It could still be made to matter even to someone who merely ought to have been as big a part of it as she was—someone who had put it off for too long but who might now want to know enough about it to grieve with her over its loss. It must have been with this fantastic hope that she wrote her letter and sent it off—to an address that was itself somewhat fantastic, since it surely existed in history more than in geography. In her state, she must have been all the more susceptible to the illusion that renders as if frozen in time the places, the people, the lives we have left.
As her luck would have it, though, by the time the Frenchwoman sent off her letter, the café had found its way back into Portuguese hands and was even again named Café Portugal. Moreover, it had become a nostalgic part of my brother’s social circuit—so that the letter, with miraculous ease, found its way to him, and he brought it with him when he next came to see us in the United States.
I was then living in an attic apartment in the moribund, nearly abandoned downtown of New Bedford, the most Portuguese town in the United States. After dark I would feel as if I were the only living soul around amid Victorian buildings some of which had once been occupied by whaling captains’ families and were equipped with lugubrious rooftop lookouts called widow’s walks. It was often eerie, living there, but I had always fancied myself a romantic loner and was mostly glad for the seclusion, the silence, the after-hours atmosphere of expiration in a town that Melville had put into the history of fiction. The hundreds of books I now owned, the authors, most of them dead, with whom I felt myself to be in dialogue through my own literary aspirations and labors, were company enough.
My brother, on the other hand, had never been in the least fond of solitude, which added to the unfairness that he was the one we left behind. And he had suffered damage: after his separation from us, he had become so prone to anxiety attacks as to require medication and someone friendly or familiar continually at hand. On this latest trip to see us, he had come with his young daughter as an anxiety-dampening escort and stayed with my parents in the city’s North End. He paid me only one visit in my dead-downtown aerie and wondered how I could stand the desolation. I, in turn, found myself wondering why he could not.
The exchange seemed banal enough, but with my imagination hypertrophied by all the reading and writing I had been doing, I was able to put myself in his place and pictured my present mode of existence as he might see it, deprived of its gauze of romance. Indeed, in the months after he returned to South Africa, the seclusion I used to enjoy, that I used fairly to revel in, began to seem mostly oppressive. I feared I was living as a virtual ghost in a ghost town, kept company mostly by the ghosts of dead authors. I even found myself succumbing to panic attacks of my own, times when I would feel as if I had become too ghostlike to breathe. It was as if in that fleeting exchange of views with my brother, I had caught a disabling psychological virus from him.
But I suspect the disturbance in my psyche also had at least a little to do with that letter from the Frenchwoman, which my brother said he had had for a while. He could not make up his mind as to what to do with it, whether to pass it on to my father or just throw it out. When I volunteered to take possession of it, he readily agreed—it was obviously what he had been hoping for. Besides, we both fancied that I had always been much more capable of leveling with my father.
I could bring myself to read the letter only a couple of times, once in my brother’s presence, once afterward, and each time with more than a little distaste and superstitious dread. Not much longer than a single, transparently thin airmail page, it concerned the Frenchwoman’s daughter. No photograph was enclosed, but her mother described her as having grown into a beautiful and bright young woman who had many friends and a wonderful life ahead of her. Unfortunately, that life had been cut short by a car accident in the south of France, which her mother described in a distanced way, as if she had copied it out of a newspaper account. But she then spoke of her grief, and of how much she regretted that the child had lived and died beyond her father’s ken—her father who was also, we understood, our father.
Had our father known he had a daughter in France? Or would he, via this letter, learn not only of her untimely demise but of the fact that she had existed at all—as my brother and I had?
Our own shock was mitigated by our long-standing awareness of the likelihood that our philandering and obviously all too fertile father may have sown his seed in other women. But given the sort of women with whom he had cheated on our mother, we had no more wished to dwell on the possibility of some child he may have fathered with them than we would wish to dwell on the side of his sexuality that permitted him to take up with them. We had wished to picture that child no more than we wished to picture our father in the act of copulating with the child’s mother.
Besides, simply having our father’s genes could not, we might have thought, have been enough to make somebody feel to us like one of us, because it was always with our mother’s side of the family that we had most identified, assuming that we had inherited our most defining traits from them. My father’s adulterous adventuring, along with his extroverted absorption in comradely friendships, work, business ventures, and other manly affairs out of the house, had kept him rather exotic to us. We were proud to have his blood but felt somewhat as if he had simply donated it to us—as he might have donated it to some other woman’s child. In short, just as we were our mother’s children much more than our father’s, we would have expected that a child he had by another woman would be much more her child than his, and quite unlike us. That child’s link to us through our father’s blood could not, affectively, mean terribly much to us.
Besides, although our father could never, it seemed, cease to be something of an exotic to us, we remained proud that he had chosen to remain in our fold despite what temptations had come his way. It could not, then, be in our interest to dwell on the alternatives he had spurned or, by means of showing him the Frenchwoman’s letter, force him to dwell on those alternatives even at this late stage. And we were our mother’s children, so that a good part of us would feel as odd showing him that letter as our mother herself might have.
When I first read the letter, I was left not immediately troubled exactly but as if on the verge of it—on the verge of some crevasse that I could either respectfully but easily enough step over or foolishly, morbidly, examine for long enough to feel its vertiginous pull. By passing the letter on to me, my brother had in effect stepped over the crevasse. By taking possession of the letter and reading it again once I was alone, I suppose I lingered a little on that perilous verge, perhaps to see whether I could safely espy anything that might offer a clue as to how my father might receive it.
What I did immediately see was how my half-sister’s death, oddly enough, made her seem more real than might otherwise have been the case. Her death made the fact that she had lived more perceptible. I even felt a touch of remorse over having been oblivious of her during her lifetime, complicit in our father’s neglect of the fact of her existence. It was as if we had refused her even the short life she had enjoyed, a life whose brevity I could not help but associate, no doubt fancifully, with the fact that she had never been alive at all in our eyes, our world. In other words, a part of her had always been dead—dead to us. And might this not have compromised her life force (should there be such a thing), constituting a handicap that she had not been able to overcome, unlike my father with his damaged leg?
Like me, she had been less mentally robust than my father. Like me? Yes, the fact of her death, more than the fact of her life, brought her closer to me, closer to seeming like me. And I had, of course, to wonder what else my half-sister may have had in common with me. I even wished that the Frenchwoman’s letter had been more descriptive of her daughter, that it had included a photo and other mementos, perhaps something her daughter had written or drawn or otherwise created. The letter should have been something more akin to a memorial. It seemed to me that the Frenchwoman had not done her daughter justice, that she, too, like my father, like us, had in effect denied the young woman her life, failed to properly eulogize her, to convey her reality.
Why had the Frenchwoman not taken the trouble? Perhaps because, deep down, she thought her letter stood very little chance of reaching its intended recipient, and what had truly mattered to her was simply the exercise, the ritual, of writing it, of thus wallowing in her grief. But it also occurred to me, to make a sad story sadder still, that the letter’s failings echoed what the Frenchwoman’s relationship with her bastard, half-Portuguese daughter may have been, a troubled, distanced one, shaped in part by whether and when she had told her daughter who her real father was, and of his disinterest in her.
I did let the Frenchwoman’s letter to get to me. By contriving to see how her daughter had in some respects indeed been one of us, I realized that one of us was gone, claimed by death. Someone my father had spawned as he had spawned me and my mother’s other children had now died. It reminded me that his progeny were not immortal, that we were not immortal, that he was not immortal. Via this half-sister I had never known and would never know, death had come closer to us, to me. And it spooked me that with the kind of deadly quiet existence I was leading in that ghostly downtown, it could look as if I were awaiting death, making my personal environment as inviting as possible for it. And would delivering the letter to my father not draw death still closer to me, by virtue of my becoming its messenger? Would it not draw death closer to him?
When I had taken over the Frenchwoman’s letter from my brother, I had been cockily sure that I would deliver it to my father in short order. It seemed the just course of action, given the incredible odds that the letter had overcome to get as far as it had toward finding its addressee. Not delivering the letter seemed to me an almost laughable alternative, a plot twist out of some improbable soap opera in which I was cast as a villain trying to sabotage a romance that had epically spanned decades. Besides, by not delivering the letter I, who fancied myself a writer, would be aborting a story, making it come to nothing.
But I then found that I could also not overlook the fact that my father had not been having an easy time of it in America. He had gotten by, until his retirement a couple of years before, on a string of marginal jobs. Little in his life, including America, had worked out as he may have hoped. And his health had been faltering. There had been an operation on his prostate, after which the aging process had gone as if into fast-forward for him. But he had continued to smoke heavily and recently had begun to complain of breathing problems.
His existence, in short, was oppressive enough at the moment, and the letter was unlikely to brighten it. If he had not cared to know whether the Frenchwoman had given birth to his child, or to know anything about that child while she was alive, when it might have been rewarding for him to know her, when he could have atoned for his earlier neglect, why should I try to trouble him with news of her death? Would I not feel as if I were punishing him somehow, since I could foresee no good coming of it, for him or anyone else?
Further discouraging me: my brother’s visit had cheered and enlivened my father, as it usually did, and knowing that this enterprising cheer could last for months after my brother’s departure, I wanted to do nothing that might derail it—especially once I found myself coping with those anxiety attacks that were, at least in part, my own response to my brother’s visit and, I strongly suspected, to the letter he had left with me. I did not want to spread that psychological virus to my father.
So I shoved the letter deep into a kitchen drawer, there supposedly to await a time when I might wish to reconsider. I could not simply throw it out. I felt too much of a sense of duty toward it, and toward my late half-sister, even if it was a duty that I expected to fall victim to procrastination and forgetfulness.
Five or so years later, on the eve of a work-related move to another state, a move that I expected to return me to life in full, I came across the letter as I began to go through my belongings. I was not about to take the morbid thing with me. What, then, should I do with it? The news it carried was now more than five years out of date, which meant that the letter was in effect no longer a news missive so much as an historical document. And I realized that this removed its sting. It meant that I need worry less about what effect it might have on my father—with whom I was, in any event somewhat exasperated at the time because of his willful neglect of his health and the trouble, expense, and grief that was likely to bring me.
My father had had to be hospitalized with his lung ailment, and his doctor had bluntly warned him that he would die soon if he continued smoking. To be sure, my father—determined, he said, to still be around the next time my older brother visited from South Africa—had promptly quit. But for whatever reason, perhaps because my brother had yet to pay us another visit although half a decade had gone by, my father had just resumed smoking full bore.
When he had first lit up in front of me and I told him that he was in effect committing suicide, he had simply shrugged, as if he had been aware of it and accepted it. He had since become more discreet about his smoking but seemed resolved not to quit again. And now I thought: if my father is so disaffected with what remains to him of life, if he is ready to die, then the Frenchwoman’s letter could not possibly depress him much further. Never had there been or would there be a better time to let him have it, I decided.
It was not spring yet, but as I left my parents’ house after dinner that evening, I found the air almost balmy, and some of the tall bushes that lined the driveway fence were already in pink flower. High overhead, the lights of a plane winked through a portion of the sky that was still green, and a few glowing-white seagulls hovered over the top of the abandoned mill building across the way.
Then I saw that my father was lurking in the darkest portion of the driveway, having a post-meal cigarette away from censorious eyes, like some delinquent teenager. I was at first disinclined either to nag him about his smoking or to bring up the letter. But when I remarked instead on the quality of the evening and noticed an utter lack of appreciation for it in his response, I changed my mind.
“It looks like you’re really determined to die soon,” I said, and he responded with that defiantly fatalistic shrug again, adding only a Portuguese cliché that roughly translates as “I’ve probably been here too long already.”
“Unfortunately, your daughter in France never had the chance to say the same,” I said, and told him about the Frenchwoman’s letter, which I happened to have with me. Did he wish to see it?
I watched closely as my puzzled father moved into the light to read the letter. For a moment, he looked somber. Then, to my astonishment, his lips set into a smirk—I had been only too right to think that I could not anticipate his reaction.
It was just the sort of the stunt, he said, that the sort of woman he had known the Frenchwoman to be was likely to pull. She had not changed her spots. “By now, you have been around a bit,” he said. “Surely you have come across the type yourself—the kind of woman who is hopelessly a deceiver, a liar, a make-believer, a fantasist, a mythomaniac?”
After a stunned silence, I protested, “But to lie about your own daughter’s death?”
“On top of that,” he said, “she is lying about a child she never had.”
That was the capper: my father denied ever having fathered a child by the Frenchwoman.
“Son,” he said, “there is a certain kind of woman who lives, who has to live, partly in a world of make-believe. Such a woman is a slave to her whims, and so determined to indulge them that she will let nothing, neither morality nor reality, stand in the way. That something should be impossible does not mean that she cannot have it. She will simply make believe that she has it.”
"You’re saying that she didn’t have a daughter at all?” I reminded him of his old business partner and of how my father had confided in him details of the affair—details that the business partner had later betrayed to me.
“My old friend was inclined to believe a good lie,” my father said. “It suited his dramatic fancy. As you know, he used to dabble in playwriting. He liked revelations, twists, surprises, that sort of telenovela silliness. Melodrama.”
I asked why the Frenchwoman would go to the trouble, all these years later, of reviving a lie that she had evidently never been able to make my father believe. Why would she go to the trouble of mailing that grim letter when she could not have been certain he would ever receive it?
“Who knows?” my father said. “She may have lost her mind altogether. Or maybe something has happened to her to unhinge her further in a particular way. A way that made her think of me, made her pick up that ancient fantasy of having a daughter of mine. All sorts of possibilities. Who knows with someone like that? Why do people send off those anonymous chain letters that threaten you with a great misfortune or even death unless you copy it a dozen times and send it on to other people?”
“But could she not really have had a daughter who died?” I asked.
“If she did, the girl wasn’t mine, son.”
I was about to interrogate him further, but my mother, who had overheard our insistent-sounding voices, came out just then to see what was going on, and we changed the subject.
My father may well have been telling the truth. Yet knowing my father as well as I do, knowing that he, too, is capable of lying, usually for the sake of expediency, and knowing how he sounds when he is convinced of the truth of what he is saying and how he sounds when he is not, I cannot help but suspect that he was lying to me. Further, he may even have been doing it to foil me, offend me, hurt me, to display acrimony toward me.
And where might that acrimony be coming from—simply from my strident concern over his health and how this had brought me in conflict with him? Perhaps it went back further and deeper, because there is little doubt that I am the most oedipal of his offspring, the one most likely to criticize, challenge, put him on the spot. I even entertained this disturbing notion: not only was my father capable of disowning an unseen child of his so completely as not to be perceptibly moved when he heard news of that unknown child’s death, but he was capable of secretly disliking a child that he did know. So once again, I felt a surprising kinship with that half-sister who may or may not have existed.
But I have since decided it is best that I not delve further into the subject. I have allowed that perhaps he was telling the truth and that I was disinclined to believe it only because, like his old business partner, I am too gullible and have too fanciful a mind.
I did notice that he pocketed the letter. And shortly after that night, he quit smoking again.