Photo credit: Hamed Masoumi
What a silly name for a baby, Richard thinks stroking the picture of the sticky faced infant with his left thumb. Hayden Monroe Clark, six pounds, six ounces, twenty inches long. A regular wrinkled worm that one, Richard muses as he shakes the ice like dice in his glass.
Gladys had brought it by, this little announcement. He wishes the woman would let it go, leave him to wallow and wane in peace but she makes it a habit to remind him that she pays half the mortgage on their two bedroom two bath condo by the bay. It isn’t a free ride. Nothing is ever free for Richard.
His scotch is thinning. The melted ice runs rivers through his drink so when he goes to sip he isn’t met with the same kick he started with. It reminds him of sleepless nights, remote in hand, clumsily jerking through channels like shifting gears. Those were the nights Gladys deemed a bed too good for him so he took refuge on the leather loveseat. His feet stuck out from under the blanket, and if Gladys had decided to skip laundry that day, his feet went chill in the cool of evening. It wasn’t so bad, Richard thinks, sucking at the last sips of bliss. At least I didn’t have to hear her breathing.
The phone is ringing and because his luck is parched dry he knows who’s on the other end. He doesn’t want to answer but he must because it’s his genetic duty.
“Hello, son,” he says after he dreamily glances at the caller ID. Gladys’s idea so she’d know which calls from the Red Hat Society she’d answer and which ones she wouldn’t. Richard thought it useless to spend money on a telepathic piece of crap but here lately it was starting to prove its usefulness.
“Dad, I’m glad you answered.” ‘I’m glad you answered’ bounces against the hollow grooves in Richard’s skull leaving its permanent echo.
“Why wouldn’t I answer?” he replies but he knows why he wouldn’t. Mainly because he knows why he would: if he were somewhere between three sheets to the wind and totally blitzed he’d find it beyond amusing to answer the phone. Unfortunately for Richard, he currently found himself at this specific juncture.
“Talked to mom. It seems like she’s doing okay,” his son says, ignoring the answer. Caleb is thirty-six, married and just welcomed his first child into the world. Caleb is old enough to know better.
“Yeah your mother, she keeps busy, usually bugging the piss out of me.”
“You know she’s just watching out for you, Dad. Thirty-five years and then nothing…I think she’s well aware of the difficulties.” Caleb’s voice stings through the earpiece, adding to the echo in Richard’s head. Dead, that’s how Richard really feels so he adds to his empty glass while he wrestles with the phone between his ear and shoulder.
“That’s a big assessment for someone who hasn’t been married for more than, oh I don’t know, three hours.” Richard feels like he’s gargling his words. They tickle his throat, swish and slosh off his teeth, collapse impotent on his tongue. He didn’t mean to say it and he hates bringing it up. But the boy wasted his life and got married to some hippie liberal from Seattle. He’s loathsome to the thought of it and it has nothing to do with not being invited to the wedding.
“How many?” Caleb asks.
“How many, how many what?” Richard says, taking a gulp from his glass as if it was the first.
“How many drinks did you have tonight?” Caleb sighs. When he breathes noisily through his nose it reminds Richard of when his son was younger and would sigh away his father’s indifference. Richard wasn’t a bad father but whenever his precocious son caught him driving well beyond the speed limit or hitting on the president of the PTA, he was greeted with Caleb’s administered wheezing. The sound reminded him of all his shortcomings and was oddly reminiscent of Gladys and her propensity for voicing her disappointment nasally.
“I don’t know, two maybe three. I had a bad day. Your mother came by earlier.” He hadn’t meant to mention Gladys’ visit as a non sequitur yet it seemed to appropriately flow behind “bad day.”
“She told me. She said you were going out of town but you wouldn’t tell her where. So when are you leaving?” Richard wasn’t leaving, at least he wouldn’t be venturing far. He made reservations for one of the nicest hotels at the bay and would be staying for as long as necessary the following weekend. He drifted into the living room and found his bag that he had already packed, stoically nestled in the couch. In it resided the glint of glass bottles, the cold, metal handle of providence and the picture of the sticky baby he tucked in the side pocket for God knows what reason. Maybe he’d take it out before he left.
“I got the picture,” Richard says, avoiding Caleb’s question.
“You did? So…”
So what? Richard thinks but he won’t say it despite the mounting urge to. It’s that genetic thing again, keeping his mouth shut against his will because he’s a father and only because he’s a father.
“She’s, she’s a baby.” Richard says it blindly, the alcohol reaching its most dangerous place inside of him. Everything goes double and when he reaches out to balance on the back of Galdys’s writing table he misses and stumbles over onto trick knees and elbows. The phone escapes his reach and Caleb’s voice arcs through the air, insulting the quiet.
“…and I can’t understand how my own father can’t even be happy for me. I know I didn’t do what you wanted me to do. I know I’m nothing like you but for once could you possibly get your head out of your ass and just love me, no conditions, no expectations. Just love me,” Richard hears through the receiver. He hates this kind of talk, “Gladys talk” as he calls it. It was the type of conversation that left him stranded, unguarded and shit out of luck when it came to knowing how to respond. It wasn’t the way men spoke and for that he hated his son.
“Okay, okay, knock it off with the hippie crap. I love you, you know that. And the baby, cute, cute kid.” It’s all Richard can manage but it takes a rather large chunk right out of him. He bellies across the floor, smacking his now empty cup onto the coffee table and crawling from the scotch-soaked carpet onto the sofa. He exhales, his lungs shriveling, unwillingly experiencing what all of this has done to him
“Great, well I will let your granddaughter know what a cute kid she is, courtesy of Grandpa. Should I mention anything else, like everything she can’t be because it will disappoint you? I don’t know dad, she seems to gravitate towards the color blue, wouldn’t want her to end up unladylike if you know what I mean.” Caleb is making fun of him and Richard wishes it were like the old days. This teasing has turned bitter and isn’t at all like the times Caleb would find Richard passed out on the bed still in his work clothes after hitting the bottle a bit too hard and poking fun at his having one shoe on, one shoe off. Richard remembers gazing at his son at those times through a squint eye, praying to God his beautiful blond haired boy wouldn’t grow up to be like him. Beautfiul, Richard thinks. That’s what I should have said about Hayden.
“She has a name, Dad. She is a person whether you want to realize it or not and I’m tired of what you’re doing to us. You can hate me, in fact I’ve gotten quite used to the notion, but leave my wife and daughter out of it. I’m going to let you go now. Mom’s right, you are hopeless.”
“Okay…” is all that Richard can manage before the phone offers its decisive click. Okay, he thinks as he reaches for his glass and takes a sip only to be met with nothing.
He looks at the German cuckoo clock over the fireplace and is held captive by its powerful lungs, its silly screaming. It is eight o’clock on the dot, the time of night that creeps quietly until dark is the only thing that encompasses Richard and it does so with untrained arms. He starts, sits upright and goes to his bag packed in the corner of the couch. He reaches in the pocket, fishes till he finds it. He strokes the sticky baby face with a clumsy thumb and concentrates everything on this small square of paper. He smiles, he whispers beautiful, and wishes none of this was as hopeless at it seems.
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