Jeremy’s father wanted to go outside for a walk. Lately he’d avoided going outside of the apartment, because he couldn’t walk without Jeremy or Xavier to lean on, or without his walker, which he hated to use in public. It was early December and a chill north wind slicked up the sidewalks, but Jeremy’s father was adamant. Jeremy suspected he was just being a bastard— wanting to inconvenience his son or his caretaker as much as he possibly could. He did that when he was bored. Bored and vain about his age, and a cantankerous old bastard. That’s my dad.
Jeremy had to work an afternoon shift, so Xavier was tasked with the adventure. He truly didn’t mind, even though he completely understood the man’s motive. Xavier loved the cold— had never experienced cold like this and hoped daily that it would snow. Perhaps today! Snowflakes!
He bundled up Jeremy’s father in layers of wool and flannel, and then a puffy down jacket and scarf, gloves, and warm socks and shoes. He had less of a cache of warm clothing, so layered his shirts as best he could, borrowed a tartan scarf from Jeremy, and pulled a soft toque down over the tips of his ears.
The cold hit hard as soon as Xavier opened the door of the apartment to the street. It was only three o’clock, and twilight hung over them like a grey shawl, and Xavier put both hands in the pockets of his jeans. Jeremy’s father put his hand through Xavier’s right arm, and off they went down the sidewalk, in the direction of the Shell station and the 7-11. Cars slowly streamed by, steam rose from the pavement which had been warmed by early sunshine, and Xavier breathed deeply, causing sharp stabs like icicles in his lungs. It felt good. It felt exhilerating!
Their pace was necessarily slow. Jeremy’s father’s breath was a white cloud. His breathing was heavy and laboured, so Xavier asked frequently: Are you ok?
“Just keep going,” said Jeremy’s father. “Go to the liquor store, I want a bottle of whiskey.”
There were three stairs leading to the short stretch of pavement to the double glass doors of the store, at the base of which was a bench, inhabited by a scruffy older man scowling at them resentfully. Xavier wondered if such an attitude was helpful in soliciting coins for the coffee cup that the man held out.
Jeremy’s father eyed the three steps. “I’ll wait here,” he said, and took a worn leather wallet out of his jacket pocket. He pulled out two five dollar bills and two tens, handing them over to Xavier. “Get that brand with the horse on the label.” Xavier knew which whiskey he meant, but before he could take the money he was blindsided by a solid punch to his left ear.
“Fucking spic!” Xavier was forced to the ground. Three young men looked down at him, then one turned to Jeremy’s father and said, “You ok, old man?” And grinned. Then one of the boys kicked Xavier in the ribs, and he gasped, and a tiny trickle of blood dribbled from his lips. “Chunt! Fucking wetback!”
Now as it happened, Xavier was an illegal immigrant. And Jeremy’s father has used those very words to describe him, often and in a loud voice. But for now, Jeremy’s father snatched the coffee cup out of the scruffy man’s clutches and broke it over the head of the boy who was now delivering another kick, to Xavier’s stomach.
“Get out of here!” he shouted, just as the manager of the liquor store and two employees flung open the glass doors and rushed down the sidewalk.
One employee ran off in the general direction the three assailants had taken, while the manager and and the other young man helped Xavier to his feet. The manager gave him a kleenex to wipe the blood from his mouth.
“Let me call the police,” she said, taking out her cell phone.
“No, no,” said Xavier and Jeremy’s father, in unison.
“We know those boys,” Jeremy’s father lied. “I’ll take care of it.”
Jeremy’s father gave the drunk on the bench the five dollars he demanded to compensate for the broken mug, then paid the manager for the bottle of whiskey that an employee fetched for him.
He and Xavier leaned on each other on the walk back to the apartment. It was almost dark. A nice glass of whiskey was what young Xavier needed, thought Jeremy’s father. Fucking wetback.