Buy my new novel now, The Angels of Valley Junction Ebook available everywhere
Buy my new novel now, The Angels of Valley Junction Ebook available everywhere
Bill stood outside apartment #7, of the Hilltop Apartments in Valley Junction, Iowa. Only twenty-four hours earlier he had stood in front of Crystal’s front door, feeling the same anxiety.
This was a little different however. He often deserved the wrath of his ex-wife. As far as he could tell his father’s ill attitude toward him was undeserved. Nothing Bill ever did was good enough; sports, grades, it didn’t matter.
To Vernon his son was an underachiever and nothing could change that.
He had tried to lose this fear of his old man in a variety of ways for a long, long time. But, here he stood, trembling in front of a piece of pine with a cheap brass handle on it, dreading the meeting that couldn’t be avoided.
As he was about to knock, the neighbor in #9 walked out of his apartment. He was a very well dressed young black man carrying a brief case. “Morning.” The neighbor smiled.
“Good morning.” Bill answered.
The man took a few steps then turned back around and walked cautiously to Bill. “Are you FBI…CIA?” The man whispered. “I knew it; I knew that ole bastard was a Nazi war criminal hiding out. Bout time you nabbed him.”
Bill grinned nervously, “I’m not with the CIA or FBI my friend.”
“Oh…local detective eh?” The man nodded. “Is he a serial killer…or, or maybe a child molester? I’ll testify against him, no problem, happy too. That man has made my life hell the past few months.”
“Um…no…” Bill answered embarrassed. “He’s my father.”
The man took a self defensive step backwards. “Oh my God…oh my God…I’m so sorry for you. May God have mercy on your soul.” He made the sign of the cross blessing Bill then turned and ran to the parking lot.
He knocked once and waited a minute then once more. No answer. Bill turned the knob and it opened. “Dad…Dad…” he hollered. No answer. He paced slowly down the hall aiming for a faint noise he heard. He felt like a crime scene investigator searching a murder scene. “Dad…” Nothing.
There were no pictures on the wall in the hall. Nor were there any of the knick-knacks that Bill was used to in his family home. Dirty clothes and fast food wrappers carpeted the floor. The place was a pigsty; Bill felt like he was searching for victims after a tornado. There was a faint sound like a dwarf snoring coming from somewhere in the dwelling. Then a foul stench like a city dump floated into Bill’s nostrils, he followed it precariously.
At the end of the hallway he followed a light to the left. As he entered the kitchen he found his prey. Seated at a yellow Formica top table was an old, gray-haired man, hunched over a bowl of corn flakes. A giant furry caterpillar rode his upper lip and another long one extended over both eyes. He wore no shirt, only blue striped boxer shorts. The hair on his body was so thick he appeared to be wearing a silverback and front, gorilla suit.
Traces of a once muscular frame still existed though hidden under a few extra pounds, fur and wrinkles. The noise Bill had heard was the suction made from the joint venture of his Dad’s spoon and lips. It was like being sucked down a giant drain.
“Dad?” Bill approached. No response. “Hey…Dad!” he spoke up louder. Vernon just chomped away on his corn flakes, oblivious to the milk-river running down his chin and to Bill.
“Dad!” Bill yelled from only a few feet away.
“What the hell!” Vernon screeched. “Shit boy…what’s wrong with you?”
Bill smiled at his old man who struggled to stand with leverage from the table, to give his boy the usual awkward hug. After a couple phony pats on the back, Vernon plopped back down in his seat and continued shoveling the soggy flakes down his throat.
“Well…you…you look good Dad.” Bill lied.
“Ya think?” Vernon questioned. The old man didn’t even look up to answer.
“Ya…ya…you look fine.” Bill sat across the table in the only other chair. “But this place though…quite a step down from the house, isn’t it?”
“Mmm…I spose.” Vernon answered with a mouthful. “Had to sell the house though. They charge ya up the ass hole at them hospitals ya know?”
“I guess so…but still…”
“Ya…even got a colored living next door. Haven’t seen any cockroaches yet, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.” Vernon complained.
“Dad…I met him…he seems…”
“Three months in the fossil farm; they ain’t free neither.” Vernon interrupted.
“Well ya, but with Medicaid and…” Bill started, but was cut short.
“Medicaid! You want to know about Medicaid?”
“No.” Bill whined meekly.
“You pay taxes all your life, fight like hell for your country and when you need a little help they treat you like a friggin greasy wet back that snuck into the country on the last full moon!”
Bill shifted nervously waiting for the tirade to be over. He knew to let it run its course before changing the topic. He waited through several minutes of milk and flake slurping before speaking.
“So…the funeral is at eleven tomorrow, what time should I pick you up? Or…or do you want me to stay here with you. I have a room at the Comfort Inn; you could stay there with me. You know…what ever you think. It’s a mixed race hotel, but I’m staying on the white floor.” Bill joked sarcastically.
“Not going.” Vernon replied.
“Not going?” Bill asked. “How can you not go? It’s your wife of 55 years we’re talking about.”
“Not going means I ain’t going, ya retard. I said my good-byes months ago when she had the stroke. She’s been a veg since then, hasn’t moved a finger. Don’t reckon I need to see her again unless she plans on saying good-bye to me.”
Bill folded his arms and tried to take it all in. His Dad had been through a lot. He had been at her bedside every day for months. It was hard to find fault in his reasoning.
Vernon pushed up from the table, grabbed his cane and picked up his cereal bowl with the other hand. Bill rose also and as Vernon walked passed him the old man pushed the bowl into his chest.
“Sink!” he ordered. Bill obeyed and as he put the bowl in the sink he noticed about a hundred tiny dead ants floating in the left over milk and flakes. Bill took the Corn Flake box from the counter and poured the contents into the sink. There were thousands of ants crawling amongst the cereal in the sink.
Grossed out, Bill turned on the faucet and began drowning the tiny red creatures.
“Dad!” He yelled to Vernon. “Where are your glasses?”
There was no answer so he followed after his father to another room. The living room was crammed with boxes and trash, 2 chairs and a television. Vernon sat in one chair and was stuffing his lower lip with Copenhagen chewing tobacco.
He started chewing in the late sixties when congress and the media started the bullshit claims about smoking being bad for your health, so he switched to chewing, the safe tobacco.
Bill sat in an orange stuffed chair next to his father and repeated the question, “Dad…where are your glasses?”
“Shit fire boy, I don’t know. Don’t need em anyway. Got perfect vision…just wore em to make your Mom happy.”
“Dad…this place is a dung heap. Why don’t you…”
“Billy! Shut your hole for one sec. I need to talk to you about something.” Vernon interrupted.
What? Bill was a bit shocked. His father had never offered up an actual conversation before. What could be on his mind? Did he want to get out some emotion over the death of his wife? Didn’t matter. This was the first time that his Dad had wanted to talk to him about…pretty much anything.
“Sure Dad. What is it?”
Vernon spit a black gob in a blue plastic Dixie cup. “Well, this is hard. I need…I need a favor.”
A favor? My Dad needs a favor from me, Bill thought?
“Sure Dad, anything.”
Vernon spit again and took a long dramatic breath. Bill moved to the edge of his seat. “It’s a big favor son.” Vernon shrugged.
“What is it Dad. You can talk to me about anything.” Bill pleaded.
“Well…I know to you I’ve always been this big, tough man who never needed help from anyone. Well…now I need some help.”
“Sure Dad…I…I…” Bill stammered.
“Shut up ya ignoramus. I’m trying to tell ya something.” Vernon snapped.
“Sorry.” Bill sulked
“Anyway…” Vernon started over. “I need a favor. I want to go home with you to California...”
Bill’s jaw dropped as he gasped for air.
“To live...” Vernon continued.
Terror swallowed Bill’s face as breath raced from his lungs.
“For good!” Vernon finished. He smiled at his son; a big, yellow, tobacco stained toothy smile. His giant yellow teeth glowed. Bill felt as if his testicles had caught fire. He searched in his head for an excuse.
“But…but…but…Dad you wouldn’t like California. It’s not like Iowa you know?”
“I know what the hell California is like. I spent basic training at Camp Pendelton you dumbshit! It’s warm and sunny all year long. These bones are tired of snow and cold.”
Bill stood up and paced frantically. “Dad…there’s earthquakes and…and smog…and…oh…Mexicans! Millions of Mexicans. I mean…they’re every where! You‘d hate it!”
Vernon shook his head with pity. “What’s wrong with Beaners? Who do you think picks all the fruit and vegetables you eat? Why are you so damn prejudice Billy? Live and let live.”
“Me? I’m…that’s not…I’m not…listen Dad. A lot of things have changed back home.” Bill knew this was the moment. He had to come clean and nip this in the bud. “I’ve been meaning to tell you this Dad…I…I…”
“I’ve got cancer son.” Vernon interrupted.
Bill almost swallowed his tongue. He sat back down next to his Dad.
The old man sighed pitifully. “Ya. It’s the prostate. About 3 months ago they found a tumor the size of a damn softball. They removed it and my prostate.”
“Oh my God no!” Bill slumped in his chair.
“They said it was too late though. Nothing else they can do…it spread everywhere…just too late.”
Bill shifted in his chair trying to figure out what he could say to make his Dad feel better. Even though a small voice inside was not so sad. Not after everything his Dad had put him through over the years.
“Why didn’t you call me? You should have called and told me!” Bill yelled hysterically.
Vernon spit in his cup and spewed, “I’m 84 years old. I ain’t gotta tell you shit! I don’t imagine you tell me everything going on out there in California do ya?”
“Well, I’m just saying…you know, we have such a small house and all.” Bill shrunk.
“Listen son. All I want to do is die with my family.” He pleaded. You guys are all I got left Billy. I want to hold my grandkids again.”
Bill stood back up and walked across the room. He tried to avoid Vernon’s eyes. He knew it would be over if he looked into those pleading, sad pools of orneriness.
“Listen son.” Vernon whispered. “I took our family for granted. I was married to your Mom a long, long time. I just want to die knowing you and Christine are as happy as me and your Mom was all those years.”
“It’s Crystal Dad.” Bill corrected.
“Ya right, Crystal...that’s what I said.”
Bill wrung his hands nervously. How could he tell his Dad now that he had cheated on his wife, got caught, kicked out of the house and divorced? What to say…
“I’ve only got a few weeks. It won’t be long…I won’t be a bother.” Vernon moaned
Bill surrendered. “Dad, of course, of course. Don’t worry. Of course.”
Vernon sighed, battle won. “Are you sure Christine won’t mind?” He asked.
“She’ll be just as excited as I am!” Bill whined.
Later that night Bill phoned Crystal. He twitched nervously as he glanced around the hotel room for a focus point to give him courage. His eyes landed on a picture of a colorful happy clown, hanging crooked above the bed.
“Oh…hi. It’s me.” Bill began.
“How’s it going?” Crystal asked with concern.
“Oh…fine I guess. Hey…I have something to ask you and I want you to roll this around in your cute little head for a few minutes before you answer…okay?”
“What?” Crystal asked suspiciously.
“Just promise you won’t blurt out no till you’ve thought it over.”
“Okay Bill…I’ll play.”
“How bout if I bring Dad back with me and he and I move in with you and the kids for a few weeks and we pretend we’re still married? You know…just for a few weeks?” Bill quivered. The clown stared at him pathetically and he heard the clown mutter, “What a dickhead.”
“Bill.” she said
“Have you been drinking?” She asked.
“Of course. You don’t think I could ask that sober do you?”
“If there was another man on this planet that I despise more than you, it’s your evil, foul mouthed, smelly, mean spirited old man. Why in the world would you even ask that?” She questioned.
Bill sighed pathetically. “Cuz he has cancer, only a few weeks to live and he wants die surrounded by a happy family like…like…ours.”
Bill cringed, awaiting the assault.
“You didn’t tell him?” She wailed.
All Bill heard was sobbing on the other end of the line. Hurtful tears. “This isn’t fair Bill!”
“I know Crystal.”
“It’s not fair to me or the kids…pretending that…it’s not fair…” She sobbed.
“I know, I know…I’m sorry.” He begged.
“I hate you Bill,” she cried. The phone went dead, a dial tone buzzed and the clown snickered with disgust
“I hate me too.” Bill whispered.
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