Unscheduled

Prompt: Later

surreal flight

Nate sat in Row 17, Seat C, on his way to visit his father, who may or may not be dying. His sister said he was fading fast, but he’d faded fast before. Two years ago, Nate had sat with him for the last hour of his life, stared at his grey stubbly unresponsive face, wondering, honestly, if he wanted him to live or die, until Pop revived and went on to survive this last hour, and more hours, and even moved back into his apartment.

He didn’t like the air on planes. It dried out his nasal passages and his brain. His headache started within the first ten minutes of the flight. He asked for tea and the attendant brought him coffee. When he pointed out the error, the steward said, “Well excuse me”, as if Nate had been rude or attacked him. Migraine number two.

Nate had long legs, prone to cramps. When a different flight attendant came by and asked him to switch seats at the request of a married couple who wanted to sit together, even though it meant a window seat for Nate, he said, sorry, no. The attendant rolled her eyes, and then ignored his call button, when he wanted a glass of water to take his allergy medication.

Beside him was a lovely woman, very attractive, but she hadn’t bathed for a very long time. Or perhaps she was a particularly nervous traveller. Nate didn’t know. He wasn’t hostile, but he truly wanted the oxygen mask to drop. Something to muffle the unpleasantness.

Who knows what kind of upbringing his father had? Probably as fucked up as Nate’s. Because Pop believed in toughening up his son, which he interpreted as being distant, critical, strict, and unapproachable. Even when Nate was a man, with responsibilities and a career to maintain, his father did not alter his attitude. You are not good enough, why should I love you? Nate plugged in his headphones, listened to a podcast of a politician describing why the world was ending.

There was no tequila on the flight, so Nate had some vodka with lime.

They were over Cleveland, and Nate remembered a chat with his father about a girl he wanted to marry.

He ordered another couple of tiny vodka bottles, and the flight attendant said, Don’t you think you’ve had enough?

Nate thought, Fuck you, but didn’t say it. He was sitting quietly, throwing back drinks which were pleasantly numbing. What difference did it make to the attendant?

“Just bring them,” Nate said. “Ok?”

“Well sir, I can’t do that, but please have a glass of apple juice courtesy of the American Airways.”

“Are you kidding me?”

The flight attendant stared at him with shark’s eyes. Dead. Bored. Disengaged.

He thought of his father, a white sheet and one of those hospital greyish-blue waffled blankets pulled up to his chin, in a grey room with artificial light, with a long-unused machine with dials and lights and wires nearby, and the option of an ancient fat portable television to watch, and a bed tray with meatloaf dinner and apple juice pushed away in disgust, and an environment too noisy and too bright to sleep, and resentment building up inside his father like masses of bodies pushing forward, unstoppable, as at a riot.

“Give me the fucking drink,” said Nate.

The plane made an unscheduled stop in Cleveland, and Nate was taken away in handcuffs, which was a new experience. He shouldn’t have shouted and threatened, obviously; the airline has to take their precautions.

He sat in a small, overheated room at the Cleveland airport, waiting to be processed. Perhaps, he thought, his father would die while Nate was restrained for acting irresponsibly on a flight. His sister might tell him why Nate was not there. His father could then die content, knowing he was right all along.

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Parent Pair

Prompt: Invitation

chick-and-egg

“I’m not going.”

“Of course you are, it’s all about you.”

“It’s not about me, it’s about the baby,” said Virginia. She combed her hair while seated in front of her vanity mirror in the master bedroom of the coachhouse. She looked like a duchess from an English mini-series. “This is about your parents and their friends, and I refuse to play Madonna when I’m dead tired.”

“You’re hormonal,” said Cash, immediately regretting it.

“And you’re not, Mr Morning Sickness, Tender Nipple Man, Moody Bastard?”

“That was because I love you and Echo,” Cash said.

“They didn’t ask me, they just planned and invited. I had no say or warning. I’m tired Cash. I might even be fucking hormonal. I want to have a glass of Guinness and maybe a nap today. Fall asleep in front of the TV.”

“Babe,” said Cash. “Father and Mummy are just proud of you, of us. They want to celebrate their first grandbaby. Aren’t you proud? Don’t you want to celebrate?”

Virginia rolled her eyes so hard they almost flew out of their sockets. “You take the baby to the party.” Virginia looked at her watch. “She’ll most likely sleep through the whole thing.”

“Me?”

“You, the baby’s father and half of her parent-pair.”

“What if she wakes up?” said Cash.

“Then the world will end,” said Virginia.

“People will bring expensive gifts,” Cash said.

“Fantastic. I’ll write the thank-you notes.”

“I love you,” said Cash.

“Good,” said Virginia.

Where Rage Lives

Prompt: Subdued
Warning: Offensive Language

anger-abstract

Jeremy’s father started to have tantrums as if he was a toddler, except he was a grown man, advanced in age but still strong, and so was a danger to himself and others when he flew into these blind rages.

It was probably a kind of dementia, his doctor told Jeremy. Jeremy disagreed. He was just a selfish, violent asshole, and the older he got, the worse he got. “Right,” said the doctor. “He loses the filter. He can’t help it.”

So Jeremy tried hard not to hate his father. He tried hard to understand him. He generally failed to do both. It was much better since Xavier moved in; Xavier had a serenity about him, or perhaps it was just an indifference to the insults and rantings of an old man. But with Xavier around to look after him, Jeremy all but abandoned his plans to get his father into a nursing home and out of his life. Working two jobs was not the brilliant savings plan Jeremy had envisioned. There was no way to fast-track his father out of the apartment and into an institution far away from him.

Jeremy resigned himself to the unforgivable plan of cohabiting with this father. He felt terrible about it, and realized it was not a good solution for either of them. Unless, Jeremy realized, he could arrange schedules with Xavier and the airline so that he rarely had to see his father face to face.

He worked the late afternoon shifts and the overnight shifts as often as he could. For a week at a time he would not see his father at all, arriving home when his father was in bed and leaving again before they had time to confront one another.

The tantrum came one afternoon towards the end of that quiet (for Jeremy) week. He was awakened from a dead sleep, having returned home pumped up from a bomb scare at the airport. He’d played video games in his room until he literally fell into bed unconscious.

“Don’t you— don’t you talk to me like that, you spic!” His father. Jeremy put the pillow over his head.

Then some furniture scraping, and finally, something picked up and hurled against the wall. It sounded like the building was imploding. Jeremy dragged himself up and into the kitchen, where he was startled to see blood streaming from his father’s nose.

Xavier stood near the back door, a frying pan in his hand. A loaf of bread had been emptied and scattered around the room. Blood covered the front of his father’s shirt.

“See what he does? You leave me alone with this… thing, day after day!” His father wiped blood from his nose with a shirt sleeve, and then kicked over a kitchen chair. “Faggots, both of you, abusing an old man, both of you!”

“Xavier?” Jeremy said quietly.

Xavier shook his head. “I did nothing. He requested his lunch, I prepared it. He did not like it. He threw it.”

“Fucking teenage faggot!”

“I said, ‘Why do that Mr Connor? This is what you say you want.’ I don’t know, he forgot? He—“

“Call the police!” said his father. “Get this wetback deported.”

“You didn’t hit him,” Jeremy asked.

“I did not,” said Xavier. “The plate he threw hit me, though, so…” He held up the frying pan, indicating its purpose was to shield himself from flying objects.

“Are you seriously going to believe that filthy foreign thug over me?”

“Dad, go lie down for a little bit. Really. I’ll bring you some tea.”

“Shut the fuck up,” said his father. He suddenly looked at his sleeve, and the knocked over chair, and Xavier by the door with a frying pan. “Just leave me alone.” The blood seemed to have stopped flowing and Jeremy handed his father a fistful of paper towels.

Subdued, Jeremy’s father shuffled out of the kitchen.

“How often has this been happening?” Jeremy said.

“Just a few times,” said Xavier, placing the pan carefully on top of the stove. “He just goes off like a firework. Boom. Pop. Pow.”

“His nose?”

“I think is a nose bleed,” said Xavier. He started picking up pieces of bread from the floor. “Your father is angry.”

“He is always angry,” said Jeremy.

“Why?”

That is a good question, Jeremy thought. It wasn’t all dementia, or lack of filters, or a vile temperament. He knew this for a fact, because he himself was full of anger towards his father. Rage, suppressed. He understood how anger felt, but was ignorant about where it lived and how it flourished.

He helped Xavier clean up the kitchen. He ate a grilled cheese sandwich that Xavier prepared. He took a cup of strong tea into his father’s room. His dad lay under the covers, in his clothes, blood clotting around his nostrils, sound asleep. Jeremy put the cup on the bedside table. His father, he knew, would awake and be enraged by cold tea.

 


Pretty Little Head

Prompt: Cheat

Warning: Adult content

father knows best -patriarchal-families

Even a comfortable chair, a weak cocktail from Margaret, Bud’s thanking him for his advice about the car, Betty’s kiss on the cheek, and Kitten crawling into his lap and wanting a hug, could not chase away the dark cloud that hung over Jim Anderson. His warm smile seemed cooler, more forced. He seemed distracted. The family circle that greeted him was not enough this day.

“Daddy, what’s wrong?” asked the ever-perceptive Kitten. Precocious child, Jim thought. We’ll have to teach her the benefits of remaining silent even when you want to speak. Maybe next episode.

“Nothing sweetheart.” Jim tousled her dark, wavy hair. “Daddy’s just had a long day at the office!” He grinned at her, showing teeth, which Kitten did not find comforting.

While the children set the table for dinner, Margaret sat on the edge of the comfortable chair and asked her husband what was going on at the General Insurance Company that was causing him such angst. It was unlike her husband to be anything but cheerful and commanding when he walked through the front door, set down his briefcase, and put on his favourite cardigan sweater.

“Oh, layoffs,” said Jim, reaching for a cigarette. “Nothing to worry your pretty little head about.” And Margaret indeed had a pretty little head, with curls as shiny as satin and a young woman’s complexion.

“I see,” said Margaret. “And your secretary, the other pretty little head, is she still giving head?”

“I beg your pardon!” Jim said, sitting up and almost spilling his Tom Collins. He mashed out his cigarette in the ashtray and glared at his wife. “How dare you?”

Betty poked her head around the door. “Hey, are we all okay in here?” she asked with a bright smile.

“Of course, darling,” Jim and Margaret said in unison. They had said that many times, in unison, over the course of their marriage.

Margaret said, “I would be happy so see that pretty little head ousted from your office, but then her place would be filled by another pretty little head, much like the last one.”

“Just because they are pretty….”

“Oh, shut up, Jim. I know all about it. I’m tired of it. That’s why I’m heading off to visit my old college chum, in Paris, for six weeks. I’ve left full instructions for laundry, housecleaning, garden maintenance, cooking —including recipes, shopping lists, and a few casseroles in the freezer— and also the children’s school schedules, the names of their teachers, the addresses of piano and dance teachers, Bud and Betty’s girlfriend and boyfriend status; and finally a list of all our creditors, including heat, electricity, tax schedule, and so on.”

“I think you should stop and think about this, Margaret. Why, I remember when I was suspicious and angry once, just like you, and I—“

“Hush, Jim.” Margaret took off her apron and laid it across his lap. “I’m packed, and the taxi should be here…” –she looked at her watch– “…any second.”

She leaned over and gave Jim a peck on the forehead.

Au revoir,” said Margaret.

Daddy

Prompt: Complicated

irises_01

“I have half a mind to cut you off,” said Angus Applegate.

Cash had heard this threat many times before. “It’s up to you,” he said, in his most sincere voice. “I wouldn’t blame you.”

“What the hell happened?” asked Angus.

“It’s complicated,” said Cash.

“That girl, is she suing?”

“I haven’t heard anything,” said Cash.

Angus stood up. He’d been bent over a bed of irises, cutting out the dead stalks and pulling brown leaves from the undergrowth. When in bloom, the irises were a brilliant spring symphony of yellow, white, and blue. Now the little blue geranium blossoms were emerging between the stalks. It would be a quieter display, more soothing, and cooler for summer.

He took off his gardening gloves and stuffed them into the pocket of his grey trousers, which were baggy and none too clean. He liked getting dirt under his fingernails on the weekends, sweating into the band of the ratty straw hat he wore, smelling the earth, the bark mulch, the greenness, and the musty smell of dead leaves. He would spend all day in the garden, if he could. Constance wanted him to retire, but by Monday morning Angus was anxious to get back to work.

“What does daddy do at the office?” Cash asked, as a child.

“Daddy earns money so we can live in this house and eat this food and have people to take care of us,” said Constance.

Maybe his love of the stuff was why he named his son Cash.

Cash was a disgrace to his given name. And he was not exactly burnishing the Applegate family name, either.

“Virginia says hello,” said Cash.

Angus brightened, then attempted to conceal it. “Bring her over for dinner; Wednesday would work for me.”

“Ok,” said Cash.

“And when you take out the boat, forget about hiring your friends and use only my crew, and also forget about charging your friends for ‘private’ cruises.”

“Yes, sir,” said Cash, without sarcasm.

So, he was off the hook from that potential money-making venture cum disaster. He was forbidden from trying to earn while on the yacht. From now on he could only use it for pleasure.

Oh, well.

High Five

Prompt: Clock

scrambled eggs

Jeremy’s bedroom was beside the kitchen, and he heard someone in there, rattling around, opening and closing the fridge, running the tap, getting dishes and cutlery. It wasn’t as if they were trying to be noisy, but Jeremy looked at the clock: it was 6:30 in the morning. This was one of the rare days when he didn’t have to be at work until four that afternoon, so he was a bit peeved. But not a lot peeved, because he knew that the person in the kitchen was Xavier, and that he was getting breakfast for Jeremy’s father.

It had only been a week since Xavier had been sleeping on their couch, but everyone’s routine had changed, and the rhythms of the household were disrupted, for better or worse. Xavier wanted to help, and did. Jeremy’s dad liked to get up early in the morning, but was slow and sullen and usually waited until he heard Jeremy was up, before arising and  joining him and settling in with his list of discomforts and displeasures. But Xavier rose early and made his father eggs, toast, and cut-up fruit every morning. It was aromatic and irresistible, and ready when Jeremy’s father emerged in his dressing gown.

Jeremy’s father didn’t exactly thank Xavier, in fact he was perfunctory in pointing out his preferences. Runny yolk. Dark toast. No citrus fruit. But he ate it all, seated at the kitchen table, then put his dish in the sink and went into the living room, where he sat in his chair and turned on the television.

A little later on Xavier would fetch the newspaper from the hall, and set it on the side table beside his chair. No thank you’s, but no searing, vitriolic, unprovoked take-downs, either. Those were still reserved for Jeremy.

It was Xavier who now prepared Jeremy’s father’s dinner, covered it with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge to be microwaved later, when both Xavier and Jeremy were at work. Xavier did the laundry on Monday, and ironed and folded the shirts, including Jeremy’s white airline shirts.

Jeremy had to boot Xavier out— just for the day— on Tuesday, because he was working too much. He looked pale. He’d become too quiet. He hadn’t seen any of his friends. Jeremy ordered him to go out and have some fun. Xavier seemed reluctant. “The couch will be here when you get back,” Jeremy said. He gave Xavier twenty dollars, which he tried to refuse.

On this morning, Jeremy sighed, dragged himself out of bed and padded into the kitchen. Xavier was scrambling eggs in a cast iron pan. “Plain,” Jeremy said. “He doesn’t like cheese or tomato in it.”

“Ok,” said Xavier.

His father appeared in the doorway, in his plaid flannel dressing gown, his thinning hair uncombed. He glanced at Jeremy, who wore only cotton pajama bottoms and no slippers. “Put some goddamn clothes on,” he said.

“Some apple juice, Mr Connor?” asked Xavier. “Jeremy, you are wanting some juice and breakfast?”

“No, thanks,” said Jeremy. “I’m going back to bed in a minute.”

“Oh! Sorry!” said Xavier. “I forgot.”

“No problem, just remember next Thursday.”

Xavier blinked, slightly smiled, and said nothing, but Jeremy could read his mind as if his thoughts appears on sign above his head. Next Thursday? I will still be here next Thursday! Thank you God! And Jeremy! Where was a very young, illegal immigrant going to live, on the wages Xavier earned as a busboy?

“I was wondering,” said Jeremy, “what you–” he turned to his father– “and Xavier would think about having him stay here full-time.”

“Wow,” said Xavier.

“What for?” said his father.

“To partly take care of you, and this place,” said Jeremy.

“Impossible,” said his father. “I can’t pay him, you certainly can’t, and there is no room. Forget it. Go back to bed.”

“I could clean out the den. We don’t use it, it’s just full of boxes that haven’t been opened in years.”

“It’s too small,” snarled Mr Connor.

“It’s fine,” said Jeremy. “Xavier, it’s true I couldn’t afford to pay you much, but you would have room and board, and lots of free time.”

His father poked at the plate of scrambled eggs Xavier had just placed before him, and said, “Salt.”

“Of course a lot depends on if you can abide my father’s rudeness, bad manners, bigotry, and evil temper,” said Jeremy.

“Watch your disgusting mouth,” said his father.

“Sorry,” said Jeremy, and smiled secretly at Xavier, who smiled back. There was something about sharing the pain of his relationship with his father that somehow made it more bearable.

“I would say, yes,” said Xavier. “To the question. I can do more. I can take your father out.”

“I am sitting right here,” Mr Connor said. “And I’m not a dog. And who says I want to be seen with a wetback in public anyway?”

“Nice try, dad, but that’s only about a 4 on a scale of 10.”

“Fuck you.”

“Are you sure, Xavier?”

“I am sure.”

“Dad?”

“I have no say, do what you want, don’t expect me to pay for it,” said his father. “Or like it.”

“It would be nice if you gave your notice at the restaurant in person,” said Jeremy. “They may want you to work a week or so yet, but maybe not. It would be better if you don’t, since those freaks know where to find you.”

“What freaks?” said Mr Connor.

“Your favourite kind,” said Jeremy. “Religious bigots.”

Mr Connor pushed his chair back from the kitchen table and stood up. “Better a religious bigot than a hypocrite faggot,” he said. He shuffled into the living room and turned on the television.

Xavier and Jeremy high-fived, in silence, then Jeremy went back to bed.

I don’t know what it is

Prompt: Feast

woman portrait

It was round and shiny. Droplets of dew slithered down its skin. It hung heavy among the leaves. She had never seen anything like it. She encircled it with trembling fingers and pulled until it came away. Ravenous, she brought it to her nose, inhaling deeply. It smelled sweet but tart, too. Sour but tantalizingly ripe. She bit.

“I don’t know what it is,” she whispered, “but it’s good.”

“Let me taste!” her companion cried. She ignored him, her eyes closed in heavenly bliss. “Dad says we have to share,” Adam muttered sulkily. She considered his words, and generously relented.