by Beverly Akerman
It was late afternoon and ninety-three in the shade. Within minutes of boarding the bus, Donald could practically see the over-crowded cross-town Express transform its previously polite occupants into lurching, sweaty malcontents. The air conditioning was on the fritz—Murphy’s law, Toronto-style. The air was thick enough to scoop and spread on toast. Donald winced as the binoculars, in their weathered leather case, plunked onto his lap. “You carry them, then,” Nash said, grasping the overhang bar as the bus swayed. Donald looked up, catching his father’s eye.
“Why does Donald get to sit when I have to stand,” Nash grumped. At twenty-two, Nash was three years older than Donald, with the look and composure of a wrestler on steroids.
Their father said, “You are one sullen pain in the neck, you know that, Nash? You two should be getting along fine after a game like that. That Carter’s something else.”
“Not compared to Molly. Nobody steals bases like that guy,” Nash said.
“Figures your hero’d be someone who steals things,” Donald snapped.
“Fuck off, faggot.”
His father laughed and shook his head. “Oh, now come on, you two.”
“Could you please watch your language?” a woman asked. She stood beside Nash, clutching the grab bar and swaying above her two listless children. Donald quickly apologized.
The passengers reeled as the driver took a curve with particular malice. Donald’s leg ached as he braced himself to avoid being propelled from his seat. It was true, they should be in better spirits, he thought. The Jays had hammered the Phillies, a triumph all the sweeter for having been so unexpected.
“What are you anyways, ten years old?” their father went on. “You know he has to sit, on account of his leg.”
“That happened two years ago. It’s amazing, the mileage he gets out of that.”
“You think this is my idea of a good time, sitting here with your pits hanging in my face?” Donald bit off a hangnail and spat it out the window. “You know what Nash? You smell like shit.”
The woman, glaring, said, “I don’t believe this.”
“Sorry,” Donald’s father said. “Can’t take you two anywhere. And on Father’s Day, yet,” but he was smiling.
Nash said, “Something funny?”
“The way you carry on. Makes me feel like a young man again.”
Back at the small clapboard house, Nash made a couple of phone calls and dashed off for a game of hoops with his girlfriend Tanya’s younger brothers.
“Don’t forget, dinner’s six-thirty,” Donald called after him. Nash grunted.
An hour later, doing his best to control his limp, Donald rolled the barbeque from the garage out onto the melting asphalt. He had dumped bottled marinade over some chicken legs that morning, and planned to make rice with chicken stock, a green salad, and to serve it all with wholegrain bread and a store-bought blueberry pie, their father’s favorite. And vanilla ice cream, he decided, putting the chicken on the grill and turning the flame down a bit. He’d go over to the corner store after dinner. Donald thought the meal would turn out pretty well. He rarely made anything more complicated than hotdogs, though he did like to barbeque, but he’d inherited the kitchen duties while his mother—the peacemaker—had gone to Atlantic City with her women’s club. They weren’t really gamblers; he knew the women did it mostly just to get away, see something different. Sometimes a change of scene bled the pressure off. Donald understood the feeling.
The men, stewing in their testosterone, only had to make it through another day or so. Donald wondered if they would manage without a major blow-up. The heat was making things worse. He kept hoping it was about to break, but the weatherman was offering no promises, jawing on about the latest smog alert instead, and warning those with respiratory illnesses to either leave the city or locate some air-conditioned shelter and stay there.
The screen door slammed as his father came out of the bungalow, showered and clad in a sleeveless undershirt and grey plaid seersucker shorts, black plastic thongs on his feet. He had a sort of rolling waddle—Donald was startled to realize how old he looked—and carried two Labatt Blue. Bottles, not cans. Donald came over and took one. They sat on the shaded porch swing without talking much, a beat-up transistor on the window ledge belting out Born in the USA. Donald raised his beer. “Happy Father’s Day,” he said.
“Eyup,” said his father, clinking bottles. The two of them sat companionably, nodding to the radio for a while.
“You should work at forgiving him,” his father finally said. “He only acts up when you pick on him. He’s feeling guilty.”
“You give him too much credit, Pa.”
“Oh come on now. You and Nash, you boys ought to be best friends. I remember when I was your age, Uncle Vern and me…” Donald tuned his father out, faking interested noises from time to time. He tried to convince himself he could feel a breeze.
Around seven-thirty, Donald decided it was time to clean up. If Nash did show, he could just fish for leftovers in the fridge. He lifted his mother’s flowered bib apron from its hook by the back door and slipped it on, tying it behind him, and proceeded to stow the food and scrape the plates off. He wiped down the surfaces and applied himself to the dishes, glancing occasionally out the window. The sky began filling with billowy cumulus towers. A thunderstorm would be an improvement if it broke this sweat bath. A bus passed, its spew of exhaust coughing a little more body into the air.
Just after ten o’clock, the TV reception wavered momentarily and then righted itself. Occasional flickers of lightning had Donald wondering if it was just heat or the real thing.
At eleven his dad hoisted himself from the La-Z-Boy and said, “Well, I’m off to bed.”
“Sorry about Nash,” Donald said.
“You got nothing to be sorry about and neither does he. I enjoyed the ball game. That was enough.”
“Yes, sir,” Donald said. “Goodnight.” A few minutes later, he fetched himself another couple of beers. His leg ached as he eased himself back onto the sofa. He really hoped it would rain. The TV mumbled as he lifted a magazine from a stack on the coffee table and flipped through it, one of those glossies about cars and gadgets, trends and celebrities that Nash favored. He paused at an ad for some cologne, transfixed by the black and white torso arched across the page. The man lay on wet sand, his eyes closed, face turned away. Beads of water clung to his prominent six-pack.
Donald jumped up, wincing as pain shot up his leg. “Yeah, Pa?”
“Did I hear the phone ringing? Was that your mother?”
“No, Pa, no one called.”
“Guess I must be dreaming.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Well good night, then.”
Donald sank back down onto the sofa, his underarms sticky, his mouth suddenly dry.
Donald was dozing when Nash burst through the door. “Rain’s started,” Nash announced, shambling to the kitchen.
“You make it sound like you’re proud of it or something.” Donald got up from the couch to put his empty bottles in the case under the sink. “Would it have killed you to come home for dinner? It is Father’s Day.”
“I wasn’t hungry then. Besides, we took him to the ball game.” Nash smirked and gestured at Donald. “Fucken pansy.”
Donald looked down—he still had on the flowered apron. He blushed and let the beer bottles slip from his hands, then pulled the apron off, pitching it across the room. It landed in a heap near the back door. “Never miss an opportunity, do you Nash?”
“You just give me too much material, bro.” Nash shook his head. Still snickering, he rummaged through the fridge scrupulously, pawing around in the freezer for good measure. “Just what the doctor ordered,” he said, retrieving a forty-ouncer like he’d conjured that up, too. He unscrewed the cap and took a shot, tilting his head back. Liquid slipped down the side of his mouth and dribbled to the floor. Nash came up for air smacking his lips. He wiped his mouth with the back of one hand, scuffed a huge Nike through the streak of liquid, and left a muddy smear on the gold-flecked white linoleum.
“You can be a real pig sometimes, you know that, Nash?”
“My, aren’t we fas-tid-i-ous tonight?” Nash struck a mincing pose, laughed, and said, “One more for the road,” before taking a final swig. He screwed the cap on and shoved the vodka back in the freezer. From a cookie jar on the counter he retrieved a jangly set of keys. “I’m taking the car,” he announced.
“The car? You’re not allowed to drive that car.”
“What, you going to run upstairs and cry to the old man?” Lightning flashed like a strobe.
“No one’s driven that car in two years. It probably won’t even start.”
“Me and Tanya, we’re meeting some people downtown. It’s raining. And she wants to take the car.”
“Vodka, an empty stomach, and a Camaro. Now there’s a brilliant combination.” There was the sound of thunder.
Nash cocked his head and narrowed his eyes. “Never miss an opportunity, do you, Donny boy? Just keep out of my business, okay? Anyway, you can wear her apron—” Donald blushed—“but you ain’t my mother.” The lights guttered again.
“At least think about Tanya,” Donald shot back. “It’s not like you don’t know what can happen.”
In a heartbeat, Nash crossed the kitchen. “How many times you been told to stop bringing that up?” Donald stumbled as Nash pushed him. “How many times I have to tell you I’m sorry?” He pushed Donald again. Nash breathed fumes into Donald’s face. “It was an accident, man. You got to get over it, you got to stop living in the past.” Push, push, push. Donald’s back finally thumped against the wall. He slid down to the floor, the two bottles, dribbling beer like urine, beside him. His bum leg was thrust out, the long scar angrily gnarled. “Yeah, that’s me, I got to stop living in the past. Just wish someone would explain how I’m supposed to forget you’re the one with the girlfriend and I’m the one that’s crippled.”
Nash drew back his fist. “Jesus Christ. Sometimes, Donny boy, sometimes…” Nash exhaled, let his arm fall, and turned away. “You ain’t interested in girls anyway.”
Donald looked around. He grabbed one of the beer bottles. He hoisted himself up and swung it with all his might at the side of Nash’s head.
I must have a death wish, Donald thought.
Outside, it began to pour.
Copyright 2010 by Beverly Akerman