Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Second Book

Today was my daughter’s library day at school.  She’s in first grade and has discovered Pokemon.  Every week she can check out two books and every week lately one of them is a Pokemon Ready-to-Read book.  She and I read most every night and the Pokemon books only provide one night’s reading.  The other nights we read from her personal library.  This because the second book she brings home is usually unreadable.  It’s usually a big hardcover arts and crafts kind of book.  Or a cupcake cookbook.  At any rate, it just sits on the nightstand until it’s time to return it.  I’ve asked her before why she chose this or that book and she never really answers me.  So now I don’t even say anything.  I actually have a good reason for ignoring the “second book”:  it makes me dreadfully sad.

Why?  Well, I never really knew until last night.  Here’s the thing:  when I see the “second book” I get this terrible, sad sinking feeling in my stomach; I have a vision of a sad little kid standing alone in the library, and I very nearly cry.  This all happens very quickly and the feeling is gone almost as quickly as it comes on.  I look away from the book and- poof- it’s out of mind.  But what the hell right?

For obvious reasons I haven’t explored this feeling very deeply in the past.  In the little time that I have spent thinking about it I’ve decided that I must be feeling sad for my daughter because she brings home a book that we never look at.  But that’s never been a satisfying answer.  So last night I told Stacy about this overwhelming sadness I feel over the second book.  As I was telling her what I “see” in the fleeting vision it became clear to me that the child in the library is not my daughter at all.  It is little UW.

Little-guy me is standing all alone in a library.  He is looking at the shelves of books.  On the other side of the library my classmates are loudly and excitedly Library Whispering about this book or that.  But I am silent and still.  I’m only pretending to be choosing a book because I know it does not matter which book I choose.  I don’t care about anything and I’m still too young to read anything even if I did.  And I know that no one at home cares what I bring home either.  No one will be reading to me.  Not tonight and not ever.  The librarian doesn’t know this of course and she won’t be hearing it from me.  So I make a show out of picking out a book way above my level.  And when I check this book out she will know that I’m bringing it home to a parent who will hug me and read this book to me and tuck me in to bed with a kiss and a smile. 

She does not know that I will bring this book home and hide it so no one sees it.  If anyone sees it I’ll be embarrassed because I know that they will know I’ve checked out a book no one is going to read.   If my dad sees it, he may tell me that checking it out was a stupid thing to do.  He may not.  Either way I know he’ll be thinking it.  And every time I see it, I'll just feel sorry for myself.  So I'll bury it good.  I know I'm good at that.

So there we have it- the second book unearthed memories I’ve apparently done a good job forgetting.  I was tempted to let this end on a sad note because I never do and thought it might be interesting.  But I find I’m unable.  I’m not able to because I’m not sad anymore.  Today when my daughter brought home her books I grabbed the second book right away and I held it in one hand has I rubbed her head with the other.  “You know, honey,” I said, “if you want to leave this book on the nightstand all week that’s fine with me.  But if you want to look at it with me, tell me.  Nothing would make me happier.”

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Willie, Part II


Willie hung up the phone.  More fuck, fuck, fucks.  Willie looked back at his reflection.  He was more and more disappointed at the man he saw there. 

“You never were courageous were you?  Every time you jumped you hoped that was the time the chute failed.”

Willie’s focus shifted to the man in the photo.  Actor or not, he thought, he’s hanging in there, going to work.  This pussy in the polo shirt is more of a man than I ever was.  Willie closed his eyes and eventually drifted off to sleep.

“Dad.  Dad.  Dad!” 

Willie woke with a start.  He saw Billy standing outside his side window.  He would have been less surprised if he had seen God himself standing there.


“Dad.  Are you ok?”

“Well, no, not exactly.  I’m, ha, well, I can’t get up here.”

“Can you move? Can you get to the door?”

“Yeah I think so.”  He tried a sort of crawl.  “No.  Christ.  No I can’t.”

“Can I break in somewhere?”

“The back door.  Lean into it, it’ll open.”

Billy walked around to the back door.  As he climbed the two steps up to it he realized he’d never been back here before.  The yard was otherwise unremarkable- it was a remarkable yard for what it wasn’t:  a family gathering spot; a place where grandkids played.   Billy leaned on the door and shoved.  It opened.  He walked through the kitchen and into the living room, where he found his father rolled over on his back, head propped up on an accent pillow he had taken off the sofa.

“So- well before we get to it, you’re going to need to get that door fixed.  I guess you know that.  So… what happened?  Are you alright?”

Willie was silent for a moment.  No, he thought, I’m not.  But how do I say that? 

“The nurse always tells me to wait for her.  I didn’t this time.  I, uh…well shit, Billy, I fell.”

Billy bent down to help him up.  “Are you hurt?”

I’m hurting!  God, Billy, I’m hurting!  I’m so sorry.

“No.  I’m fine.  Let’s get me up and over to that chair there.”

Billy helped him up.  Once back on his feet, Willie remembered why he had gotten up from his chair in the first place.  He asked Billy to help him to the bathroom.  Billy was relieved when he learned that the only help his father needed was with the travel; safely delivered to the far end of the bathroom he could handle the rest with the help of the bars on the wall.  Billy left him there- pants still up thank god- and went out, closing the door behind him.  He leaned against the wall across from the bathroom door, waiting to be called back in.  When did my dad get so old? 

“Okay, Billy. I’m ready.”

Billy went back into the bathroom and saw that his dad had been able to get up too.  He had been willing to lift his father off the toilet of course, but he was more than a little relieved that he wouldn’t have to.  

“Well, that turned into a long trip,” Willie said as he sat down in his chair at last.  He looked over at Billy, now seated in the sofa across from his father.  “What are you doing here?” he asked.

“You called me.  Do you remember?”

“Yeah. But…”

“It’s called caller i.d., Dad,” Billy said.

“Okay. But still, I…”

“When I answered I heard you breathing.  Then the phone went dead.  It was odd enough seeing your name on the caller i.d.  When you didn’t say anything I guess that made it odder still.  I tried calling back.  Which reminds me…” Billy got up and walked across the room to the phone.  He was not surprised to find it slightly off its base.  He slid it into place.  “…The line was busy.”

“So you drove over to see if I was okay?”  Willie asked as though he was surprised.  He was surprised.


“Huh.”  Willie chuckled.  “Thanks for your help Billy.  I can’t say I deserve it.”

“Hmmm,” Billy chuckled too.  “Maybe not.  But here we are.”

This was the silence Willie had been worried about.  This wasn’t small talk; this was getting real.  And he had no goddamned idea how to do this, how to talk to his son about anything that really mattered.   The silence became uncomfortable.

Willie looked at his son.  “In ’82 or maybe ’83 a bunch of us were down in Texas…”

“Yeah I know dad.  You’ve told me this story.  You BASE jumped from a skyscraper in Houston.  Are you sure you’re ok?”

Willie couldn’t tell if his son was impatient or worried.  Probably both.

“I’m fine,” he said, “that wasn’t the part of the story I was going to tell this time.  Do you mind?”

“No.  Go ahead.”

“Ok.  Like I say it was ‘82 or ‘83, which would put you at, what?  8 or 9?”

Billy nodded.

“Anyway, there were 10 of us who made the jump.  But there was an 11th guy there.  Irish guy.  I forget his name if I ever knew it.   He was there for all the planning and as gung-ho as anyone I guess.  We had a guy who could get us in- we had to sneak up the stairwell you know.  So we’re walking up the stairs with all of our gear.  The Irish guy was right in front of me and he kept pulling something out of his front pocket, looking at it for a few seconds, and putting it back.  Finally I slapped him on the back and asked what the hell he was doing, a rosary?  And he said, and I’ll never forget this, ‘Looking at a picture of my son.  His 10th birthday next week.’  I’ll never forget it because your face came out of the back of my mind and slapped mine.  But…goddamn, Billy, this is hard.  I, ah, ahem, I pushed you out of the way and went on.”  Willie paused to collect himself before adding, “We got to the roof finally and as you know I jumped.  The Irish guy didn’t.  He turned around and walked back down.  Never saw him again.”


“Yeah.  And that jump was a blast man.  It really was.  We spent the next few days- it takes days or weeks even to come down from something like that- making fun of the guy who couldn’t do it you know?  Laughing about the scared look on his face when he turned around.  But he wasn’t scared Billy, not for himself anyway.  He missed his kid and wouldn’t take the risk.  And I would.  And, Billy, I’m really so fucking ashamed of that.”

This is my second entry in a fiction challenge I'm participating in. The prompt this week was:
To go for something your character has been putting off.  1500 wd max with 50% dialogue. 

Please check out the other entries, and as always, thanks for your time: