"Suddenly in his home," my father said, scoffing--but he always sounded like this whenever he read the obits. "Why do they print it like that? Do they really think we don't know?" And he'd been this way for longer than I could remember. He knew the reason too, the why of it, but just didn't care. Now that I think about it, it pretty much summed up the man I came from better than I ever could have.
Didn't frighten or disgust me, but it did make me feel for him; that a person I loved could be so emotionally stunted as he. Kitchen chair scrapping against linoleum, he continued: "And what's your two cents there, Cubby? You got a stance?"
I didn't want to answer, didn't want to chance a fight. He wasn't leaving me much of a choice, mind you--big arms crossed, his gaze upon me and hot. Also: Cubby? He hadn't called me that in years. Right there, that should have sent my spider sense reeling.
"I think you know my answer, Dad."
He chuckled. "Agree to disagree, is that it?"
"Whatever you need it to be, Dad. You expect Mom soon?" He did, and so did I, which was the entire reason for me being there.
"She called--said she'd be no later than five." I looked at my watch, sighed as I did the math. Last time we'd been alone in the same room for an extended period was when Allie died; when my father failed to resuscitate his first-born child. My sister's death left not just a void in our lives, but in our relationship as well; each of us, from that day on, requiring a much bigger boat.
It had been a chicken bone, nothing more, but Herman Shanks never believed his son could do what he was certain he was supposed to. This is my take on it, anyway. I'm sure if you were to ask him you would get something else entirely.
"How're things with the store?"
The store was Wal-Mart, but the position I held sucked, and don't let anybody ever tell you management is otherwise. "Store's good, Dad." I lied. "Christmas rush is in full swing." And then I smiled, feeling far from myself by doing so. My Dad, though, he let it slide; his one true kindness. Always said he couldn't stand awkwardness and the elbows it created.
"'Bout that time, is it?"
I couldn't tell if it was a question. I asked for a beer instead. Then I re-checked my watched. Damn thing was going backwards--must be, I thought. Surprising me, my father then said this: "I'm the reason you're here, Matt." We were sitting in the lazy-boys now, me in mom's, he in his, and he interjected what he said between the small talk we'd become.
I looked at him, at the rough lines of his face. When his eyes did not lift to meet mine, I knew for sure I had entered--Danger, Will Robinson, danger--a territory I had yet to tread; my father's entire demeanour now in contrast to everything I knew. Did I know what was coming; this discussion but a prelude to what I will call his master plan? I can say I did not. All said and done, it didn't change the way I felt about him either; the boat he put me on long since sailed.
"I wanted to apologize. For everything. You know what I'm talking about?"
"I think I might." I took a sip of beer, wondering how I had stumbled into an episode of The TwilightZone.At any second Rod Sterling coming out to say: you are about to meet a man, a man who always had to be right, who only lived to control the people he loved. Why do these types of images invade my thoughts? Don't know. If I were a shrink, though, (let alone a betting man) I'm pretty sure my money would be on my room, my movies and TV, and how his retreat placed me there.
"I was wrong is what I mean to say. About a lot of things. Allie especially."
I was speechless. Apologizing, okay, but admitting he was wrong? This was not the man who raised me; not He Who Ruled With An Iron Fist. Where's the pod, I remember thinking.
"You know that church up on Brock?"
I did, somehow finding my voice and telling him so.
"If I'm to pinpoint it, I believe this is where it started. I'd been driving, Matt, that's all. They have this billboard where they put out little lines of scripture and such, changing it each week. I don't know if it was because of the date, that it was around the time of Allie's death, or if it had been building up inside me and I was just unaware. Anyway, the little line up there that day was GOD ANSWERS KNEE-MAIL. All of a sudden I'm laughing, bustin' my gut, and then I'm crying, Matt, just as quick. Crying so hard that I have to pull over. You know my stance on God; on religion in general. It didn't make sense, Matt, none of it--know what I mean?"
I did, but not really. Except for weddings, his beliefs never allowed me to.
"You're telling me you found God?" That one released the Kraken, the one which Herman Shanks reserved for mouths too smart for their own good. It was only for a second, but still, it was there.
"Not God, no, but answers to questions I never knew I'd been asking."
"Dad," I said, suddenly annoyed. Had he really wrapped me up this easily? Was my yearning for an emotional connection with him that much larger than the hate I'd learned to control? Sighing, I believed this might be the case. Pity the fool, I thought, and wondered briefly what my wife would say if I came home with hair like Clubber Lang's.
"You," my father blurted, his eyes suddenly on mine. "It's you; you who I did wrong; you who need answers to why I am this way. And I wish I could give them, Matt, I really do, but I don't know how. All I can say is that I am aware that I did you wrong; that it was me, never you." And then he cried. Six-two, two-forty, arms like iron from years of construction, reduced to a puddle of heaving, horse-like sobs. I wanted to run. I wanted to scream. Instead I got up to console the man who let my sister die the day I turned fifteen. Honestly, I could be a poster child.
I wanted to ask why; why he wouldn't let me do what I'd been trained to do. Why he had pushed me aside as he tried to extract the bone with fingers that could not reach. Mostly, though, mostly it was the blade I envisioned, and how for the love of God he thought he could perform what he had only ever seen on TV.
Done, we hugged again, and then we talked a little more. I never asked him those questions though--the ones I'd been lugging around for years. Did it make it right? That I now wished to remain as detached as he had been since Allie's death? Not really, no, but it's really all I'd ever known. And this problem I have--this addiction to all things pop culture? We'll include it. How could I not? I will give my father credit though, as he was not built like other men. Emotionally, I mean. His smile, however, there at the door as he helped me into my coat--this is what I will remember most; how genuine it looked, how free.
Shortly I would come to understand why.
His funeral was on a Wednesday, my mother being the one who found him in what used to be my room. It was also she who asked me to write this up for the paper. I said okay, beginning with: Suddenly in his home…
Deep down, I feel he would approve.
BIO: Beau Johnson lives in Canada with his Canadian wife. She is very understanding and allows him to write even though they have three small monsters she has bore unto him. Unfortunately, all three boys were born with hair like their father's--poor kids. It will now be a much tougher life. Other than the once, at the Carnage Conservatory, Beau strives to be published again.