Vol. 3, Issue #9 May 2nd - May 15th, 2008

Battered Hearts of Fathers and Sons
Short Fiction By: G. Smith

Truth be told, I’d always wanted my mother to die before my father. Now that it had happened, I wondered if I was supposed to feel guilty, because thank God, I didn’t. I felt elated, grief stricken sure, but I finally felt like a man, and that the last vestiges of my boyhood were gone.

I ordered a Pepsi and waited for my son and my father to arrive. My son arrived first. It’d been a year since I’d spoken with him, two years since I’d seen him. He’d grown to look like just like forgotten heartache. The last time we spoke we argued about what love was and what love wasn’t. As he approached the table he didn’t even look at me.

The waiter came from behind, interrupting the tension, placing the drink in front of me. He asked my son what he wanted to drink before he had even sat down.

“Could you please give us a minute,” I said to the waiter.

“Certainly, sir,” the waiter retreated.

Cody opened his menu. I know what he drinks. He got his craving for Dr Pepper from his mother. She drank four or five a day to be sure. As my boy was growing up, it was the one thing I wouldn’t let him have; calling it the drink of deadbeat mothers and trailer trash. I can picture her shriveling up with her cigarettes, a Dr. Pepper in one hand, and the other hand flicking ashes into an empty can.

“It was a great service wasn’t it?”

“Mmmhmm,” he said looking into his menu.

“Granddad here yet?” he asked.

“No. He called. He was running behind.”

“And here you had always blamed Gramma for his tardiness.”

“Well, he is probably still at the cemetery.”

My boy was a man, looked more the part than I gave him credit for. He had my pissy attitude, but unlike his old man, instead of directing it at the rest of the world, he directed it towards me.

He waved the waiter over.

“Sir, could I get a Dr. Pepper.”

Involuntarily, I shifted in my seat.

“Hold up a sec,” he said to the waiter. “Let me change that. Let me get a Wild Turkey and Dr Pepper.”

The little shit. Ah yes, he has graduated from being the minor smartass to being an actual adult, more like his father everyday, even flaunting the fact that he hadn’t inherited the alcoholic gene from me.

I sipped my Pepsi and looked at my watch waiting for Pop to arrive, waiting for the awkwardness to pass.

“So how’s, Susan, is that her name?”

“Okay Dad, let’s just sit here quietly and not do this okay.”

The waiter brought him his cocktail.

“Would you gentlemen like to start off with an appetizer while you’re waiting on the rest of your party?”

“No.” I said.

“Actually, yes we would.” Cody rebutted. “Bring us an order of calamari, my Dad loves calamari, I like it, too. And I like it for different reasons than he does. He likes the idea of calamari, that you can’t get it in the trailer park, that it’s exotic, it takes him away from his shitty childhood and makes him think that with each new unique experience he is once step away from transcending his past. But you know why I like calamari?”

The waiter looks at me, sees my lowered eyebrows, and then looks away.

“Because it reminds me of the trailer park, it’s fried and greasy and it doesn’t really taste like anything. Just like everything I grew up eating. And while you’re at it, why don’t you bring this grumpy old man here a Guinness, it’s been years since he’s graced us with a binge, and tonight we’re having his mother’s wake.”

“I’m sorry sir we don’t carry Guinness.”

A wake is before a funeral smartass. I buried my nose in the menu.


My father soon arrived. We both stood as Pop approached, taking off his jacket and placing it over his chair. He was a wounded, majestic oak.

“Sit down, sit down, you guys sit down.” We sat and Cody began blubbering about everything. The waiter returned.

“What could I get you to drink sir?”

“How about Coke,” Pop said.

“Would Pepsi be okay?”

“Christ, no. Give me a Crown and water then. You have that?”

“Yes sir.”

Cody had him smiling and I watched them and felt out of place, Cody letting go, telling him the details of grad school and the things he was writing, the girls he had been seeing.

The calamari arrived. We ordered New York Strips, medium rare, and Pop hardly touched his. I sat and watched my childhood and my adulthood dance in front of me. Pop was a different man with Cody. Pop looked into my eyes but once, and this time I looked away. His old blue eyes flickered with Cody’s excitement and he managed a bit of weak laughter. I thought of Mom. I figured he had six months until he couldn’t stand it any longer, that he was finally free of all of her demands. They had been together since he was 14 and she was 13. Everyone had always felt sorry for him having to put up with her bouts. She was overbearing to say the least. I figured he would have six months to do all the fishing he could stand, before loneliness would cut him down.

Unasked questions hovered in the air. What’s next? What now? Where is it all going to go from here?

“Fishing in the morning?” Pop asked as the waiter cleared the table.

“Of course,” Cody replied.

“What about you, son?” I hadn’t been fishing since Cody was little. He’d always asked me and I was always too busy. How many Father’s Days had passed and I bought him nothing? Because I didn’t buy Mom anything. And how could I buy him something when I hadn’t bought for her? She would have taken it out on him. And yet, how many years did he buy me a fishing license for Father’s Day and I not go once.

“I’ll be at the house at 4. Sound good?” I asked, eager.

Three generations of love battered men left that restaurant into the lonesome night.

I went home and tore apart the attic, the garage, closets, and the back shed, looking for a tackle box that I hadn’t seen in a decade. I spent hours searching. The only thing I could find was a small snoopy fishing pole Pop had given Cody for his 5th or 6th birthday.

I lost track of time. I was going to be late. I left the house empty-handed and emotionally charged. The moon was full and brighter than I ever imagined a night could be.

I expected to see all of the lights on, to smell the coffee as I opened the car door. I anticipated a cool pink sunrise on still water. I needed it, more than anything else, to set on a bank in this early morning chill, Pop down the way, Cody distracted and bored with fishing like he had always been. The three of us finally waiting for that first bite. Both Pop and I hoping that Cody would catch more.

I pulled down the gravel drive, but the trailer house was dark. The air smelled of dew and fresh mown grass. I parked next to Pop’s Jeep and remembered too much and shrugged off the nostalgia. I opened the trailer door. Unlocked, of course. I flicked on the light, Cody was asleep on the couch. The house was quiet and still and seemed to breathe as Cody’s chest rose and fell. I walked down the narrow trailer hallway to my parents’ bedroom. Pop was lying on one side of the bed. She had come in the middle of the night and had taken him with her.

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