It wasn’t my fault, that’s for sure. It was my wife who spoilt him and that came back on her of course, but he was still a good kid. He got good grades, he didn’t talk-back to me and no-one ever came to my door with cause to complain, so I guess he was a good kid. But I’m long past thinking that children pay any heed to their parents. And I don’t think that it was down to one thing or another, I just think that sometimes kids do stupid things.
It was late February when she called me, saying that she couldn’t deal with him any longer. I got the sense that she was scared of him, though she didn’t say as much. She simply said that he was angry all the time. I moved in, she went … somewhere else.
The day before it happened I was up at dawn – some things never leave you. I fixed some coffee and sat in the kitchen, looking out over the lake. It was quiet, calm and I liked the time alone. I missed the place, I’ll admit that much. I’d worked hard for it, only to have her take it away but I didn’t think about that anymore - the past was the past.
At seven thirty it was time to make tracks but he hadn’t appeared; he’d gotten lazy on his mother’s watch. When I switched on his bedroom light he recoiled, wrapping his blankets around him like a giant puffy snake. I told him that he had two minutes to get up or I’d return in a different mood.
Back in the kitchen I poured cereal into a bowl and placed it on the table along with a tall glass of milk. Then I fixed myself another cup of coffee, leant against the stove and stared out of the window. The morning was still lurking somewhere under the darkness. When I was eighteen I could drive and wasn’t bothering my parents to take me anywhere; in fact at eighteen I’d left home, even left the country.
Two minutes later, almost to the second, he descended the stairs, his head nodding in time with each step he took. It had only been a couple of months but he was altogether different from the last time I saw him. He seemed smaller, skinnier too. His once short, groomed hair was long and unkempt. His clothes were all black apart from a word written across his tee-shirt in blood-red ink that read, ‘Seppuku.’ He wasn’t the child that I remembered. Sluggishly he moved past the table and poured himself a cup of coffee.
“When was the last time you applied for a job?” I asked him.
He turned towards me and raised the cup to his mouth.
“When was the last time you applied for a job?”
I did not like repeating myself.
“Tuesday,” he muttered.
“Tuesday Sir,” he replied.
I did not rise to his sarcasm.
“You should be applying every day,” I stated. “You’re not even trying.”
I glared at him for a second, then moved to the front door and opened it. Cold air rushed past me as he followed.
In the car I let the silence settle upon him. We’d talked about his future over the phone and we’d agreed that if he wanted to go to college that he would get a job. He needed to start to pay his own way. If he wanted a trade I could get him one. But he never was one for hard work. The choice was his.
“Your mom is worried about you,” I said.
“You still want to go to college?”
He shifted in his seat and hugged his satchel tightly.
“I’m all for education but you need to start paying your way.”
He did not reply.
“You going to say anything?”
“Does it matter what I say?” he mumbled. “Does it matter what I do?”
“Not to me,” I replied. “Just do something.”
He turned his head and looked out of his window.
“When I was your age I wasn’t bothering my father to drive me anywhere. At your age I’d left home. In fact at your age I’d even left the country.”
When I pulled-up in front of the school he got out of the car without offering a goodbye. With his chin resting upon his chest, he lumbered forward, quickly becoming lost amongst a mesh of children.
Later that morning I walked down to the lake and sat on the old fallen tree. It was one of my favourite places. It was where I taught him how to fish, it became our thing. Every Saturday I’d get him up at dawn and we’d head down there. Sometimes we got lucky, sometimes we didn’t but we always talked and that made it very pleasurable.
As I walked back up the low embankment towards the house I could see my old lawnmower sitting in the middle of the meadow. I was curious as to why anyone would have left it outdoors and how anyone could ignore its maintenance. Looking up I noticed the guttering and the paint work and it became clear to me that no-one was taking care of the place. He was eighteen-years-old and I had yet to see any evidence of him becoming an adult.
At three thirty I was in front of the school again. Through the swarm of kids he suddenly appeared at the car and let himself in.
“How was your day?” I asked him.
He groaned and settled back into the seat.
“I don’t see the need for this,” he said.
“You don’t?” I asked. “You must have forgotten what happened last week.”
He groaned again and turned his head towards his window.
I stopped the car.
“You were nearly thrown out. You haven’t been to school in a month.”
He gave no reaction.
“What is wrong with you?”
He continued to ignore me.
“God-damn it, you’ll answer me one way or another!”
At first he did not move and I was ready to go again, but then he turned his head and I could see that his eyes were misty. I regret it, but at the time I thought him pathetic.
Back home I told him dinner would be at six. I cooked steak and potatoes and green beans. It felt good to cook for someone again. It was awkward at first, perhaps because I’d seen him cry, perhaps because we were no longer used to each other. He put his head down and tucked right in.
“How’s the guitar playing coming on?” I asked, trying to break the ice.
“I stopped that a long time ago,” he replied. “I was never going to be any good.”
There it was again. He had given up or not even tried.
Dinner didn’t last long. We ate it quickly, maybe five minutes and it was finished. He got up and moved towards the stairs but then he stopped and came back towards me.
“I want to give this back to you,” he said and he put a hand into his pocket. He pulled out something and placed it upon the table. I watched as he moved to the stairs once more, never looking back. When he was out of sight I looked to the table and there upon it was a silver fishing lure. I remembered that it was the one that he’d caught his first trout with. He had taken it from my box and I explained to him that he wouldn’t catch anything with it as it was for sea fishing. He didn’t listen and of course he caught one on his second cast. He never let me forget that. I wondered where he had found it after all those years.
The next day I was up with the birds as usual. I fixed myself some coffee, leant against the stove and stared out of the window. By seven thirty he had not appeared and so I walked toward the stairs cursing him under my breath. At the top I felt my way along the familiar dark hall until I came to his door. Outside I hesitated and listened out for any sign of life. When I heard none I slowly opened the door and let my eyes adjust to the dull brown light that peered through the window. My hand found the light switch. I didn’t know then but when I flicked that switch and threw light into the room, I’d understand how far apart we’d grown.
Looking back I realised how hard on him I’d always been. I always wanted him to do something or to be something. When he was gone I just wanted him to be a kid again. A few days later we found out that he had enlisted. It was with my old division, which of course made it my fault. His mother was hysterical and wanted to go see him; I advised her against it but she went anyway. I knew where he would be heading soon enough and we both should have been worried about that. I stayed around the old place for a couple more days. When I left I walked across the meadow at the front of the house. I always meant to plant a tree there, maybe an oak or a chestnut. I’m not sure why, perhaps it would just have been nice to watch something grow.
BIO: My name is Aidan Furey I live in Belfast, Northern Ireland and I am married with two young daughters. After studying for an English Literature and Creative Writing degree, I began to write short stories two years ago. I am also working on a novel. My short stories have appeared in the Irish publications Boyne Berries and Ireland's Own.
|< Prev||Next >|