I used to think my friend Michael was afraid of his father. We more or less grew up together, Michael and I, in a small town in the desert. He is buried not too far from there now—37, cancer. His father is buried now too. I was over at his place from time to time and noticed that he never met his father’s eye. I called his mother not long ago—Linda—to ask about how they got along and she was surprised at the question. It wasn’t that Michael was afraid, she said, maybe it was just an awkward fit. Michael was quiet, laid back and his father wasn’t.
An awkward fit, Michael and Ron.
Ron would come home from work, tired and edgy, and there was his child, all in black—even his fingernails were painted black—listening to music that did not sound like music, or watching horror movies or reading novels by a famous bloodthirsty young author named Kathe Koja, who was not famous to Ron. Michael was in a band called Grimoire whose music did not sound like music either.
Still, Michael was nothing like a lot of other kids with these same symptoms. He got pretty good grades, he did not deal drugs or resent his folks. He never said that he hadn’t asked to be born.
Which probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway. They were as far as I know good Catholics.
In any case, time goes by. High school ended and Michael’s high school sweetheart went to college in Reno, Nevada. Michael followed her there. The sweetheart found this touching and romantic. Michael did not tell Ron or Linda why he was going to Reno, but they were not stupid. Michael was working several part-time jobs to support himself, at the same time taking all the college he could stand. At some point the girlfriend decided it was not so romantic after all, being followed to Reno.
Dumped, Michael returned to the desert.
He enrolled at the local community college and took a part-time job as the ticket seller at the local theater. Ticket selling is slow going in a small town though, and it should be mentioned that it was behind the booth’s windows where my friend Michael Louis Calvillo wrote the early manuscript to his first novel. But more to the point of the story, his folks welcomed him home and he moved back into his old room—the heavy curtains still on the window and the “Bad Lieutenant” poster still on the wall—rent free as long as he stayed in school. He had expected lectures and finger-shaking, at least reminders of the mistakes he’d made getting where he was, but no. Ron and Linda were nothing but happy to have him back at home.
And Michael in turn set out to rewrite the record book for excellent behavior. Considerate, polite, neat, friendly. A model son. But human, Michael was as human as they come.
Michael got a new band together, a tamer outfit called Burn. He’d taken to the guitar, I was the drummer. We played music here and there at little stops in the desert, and it was slow at first and then it all began to click. Sometimes we got paid—definitely a step in the right direction—and then we got a groupie. Not a pure groupie—she was the singer’s cousin—but we were still at a point where you do not look a gift anything in the mouth.
Her name was Cindy, and she was there every time we played, hanging around, and after a while she hung mostly around Michael. They were close to opposites, which I have been told attract. She was talkative and bubbly and blond, he was none of those things.
And now it’s Father’s Day, 1997. Cindy and Michael are out, having a drink. Getting to know each other. A drink here, a drink there. Bartenders begin setting bar stools on the bars and sweeping the floors. Glasses are picked up, ashtrays emptied. They drink till last call, and last call turns into a mating call and they decide to go forth and multiply, or maybe that’s the Bible.
But first a question as old as romance itself:
Your place or…
And now the starry-eyed lovers come to what is known as a bump in life’s highway. Cindy’s place is her mother’s place, and they can’t go there. Michael lives with his parents, and they can’t go there either. Under the stars is out because of scorpions and snakes. They decide to compromise, perhaps unknowingly preparing themselves for a lifelong relationship, or marriage if things don’t work out. Which is to say, they go to Michael’s house. His room, that is, his parents’ house. As mentioned, the tom-toms are beating, and not going is never an option.
They creep into the house, Michael and Cindy, into Michael’s room, and do what they do. They are very quiet and very drunk about it and afterwards, when the snow settles in the old snow globe, they go to sleep.
Half an hour later, Cindy wakes Michael up. “I think I’m going to be sick,” she says.
“Turn right down the hallway, the first door on the right.” She hits the floor running and Michael watches her with great admiration out the door—blond hair flowing, an ocean of curls. Cindy is a pleasant sight, and he falls back to sleep with the vision in his head.
Down the hallway, twenty feet beyond the open bathroom door, Linda wakes up with her face pushed into the crack between the bed and the wall. Ron’s body is pressed into hers.
“Ron, what are you…”
She stops, something is wrong. She sits up, turns on the bedside light. A sea of long, wavy blond hair is lying across Ron’s pillow. Attached to the hair is a young woman Linda has yet to have the pleasure of meeting. Attached to the young woman is nothing. As they say in some parts of this desert town, she is nekkid.
“Ron,” she says again. “Ron, there is somebody else in the bed.”
Ron comes awake. He looks one way and then the other, like you are taught to cross the street very early in life, and then, terrified the young woman will see him in his underpants—which is all Ron wears to bed—he levitates out of the love nest and runs for the closet.
When he is safely hidden Linda shakes the girl’s shoulder. “Excuse me?”
The girl’s eyes open, but she appears unable to move, paralyzed.
Linda goes down the hallway to Michael’s room, and says she has something he probably ought to see.
Michael wraps her in a blanket and leads her away and this is the last view of the girl Michael’s mother ever gets.
Michael wakes up early, panicked. Cindy is gone.
Michael goes to the kitchen. Ron has gone to work. Linda is there, though, and he begins to speak, curious what words will come out of his mouth. She stops him, though, the world’s most understanding human to date. Everything is all right, she completely understands. Only…
“You need to give your father a call.”
Michael spends the rest of the morning trying to figure out what his father is going to say, as opposed to hearing it for himself. Trying various apologies, seeing how they sound. Nothing sounds good and the longer he pictures the conversation, the worse it goes.
He makes the call from a pay phone, he doesn’t know why. “Hello?”
“Dad?” he says, talking too fast already and he’s only into it one word. “Dad, I…”
“Michael,” his father says, “that was a great Father’s Day present, but I talked it over with your mother, and next year, maybe just a bottle of Scotch.”—JN