Saturday, December 14, 2013

Deficiency - Short Story


            I saw those tinfoil train cars enter at the station’s fourth platform. Tarnished, slightly clouded metal gleamed dully in the summer day. Scott was wearing dad’s hat; it displayed a Yankees logo that I noticed through the windows, partially eclipsed by whitish glares on the glass. We used to play baseball with dad when we lived at home and he was still alive, played catch on balmy nights in the outskirts of Queens. Mom and Dad owned another house in a rural area outside of Buffalo. Mom sold the house in Queens a few days back and made a call to a local moving company to help her move the rest of her belongings. 
            I wore the skirt mother gave me as I sat on the oaken bench. Orange silk fluttered in the wind, exposing sunburned skin from my vacation to Hawaii. I went for my friend’s bachelorette party while my boyfriend, Ryan, took care of our two dogs in the Manhattan apartment. He looked after them again while I visited Mom for a weekend to talk about the will. It was a time I’ve been dreading for a little while now. I put down my psychology book I started for my new class at Barnard. On the cover, Freud frowned with disapproval.  
            Scott exited the passenger car with only a backpack and metallic voices announced names from tags on stranded luggage. Even though he was younger, he was much taller than me – a couple inches shorter than Randy Johnson. I yelled his name and waved. I noticed a look of recognition on his youthful face when he looked up and saw me. He smiled and the shade from the baseball cap cast his face within a subtle shadow. “Long time no see, Katie,” he said in a drab manner. I gave him a respectful hug and we walked to the car.
On the way to Mom’s house, he told me how tired he was and how train rides made him tired and that all he could do was think about things. He thought about the stress at work with the new boss and unfair charges on his cable bill and an argument he had with Anna about visiting New York. “I even thought about Dad,” he said. We drove by a high-school marquee with black, dusty letters that announced a father/daughter outing at the end of the month. My mouth quivered. Scott turned on the radio just as Ichiro was hit by a pitch. 
We turned off the road and rode up the gravel driveway to the house. Weeds and wildflowers grew in uncontrolled frenzies across the lawn. The car tottered on little divots and tires crackled on the gravel driveway, granular white noise. I stepped out of the car and saw the powdery dust on the metal hubcaps. I opened the door and asked Scott to grab my book in the back seat. He gave me the dignified and superior look of a cult leader and shook his head, the bill of the hat cutting the air, and walked a few steps back to the car and took the book. I always hated that look. I remembered he gave me that look one time when we were in Sunday school class learning about how Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers. He gave me that look and I stuck my tongue out and Dad told me to stop. I felt sad when Dad told me that, incomplete. Scott reversed his hat - Dad’s hat, putting the bill backwards.
Rectangular stepping-stones led to the front door. Mom let us in and poured iced tea from a cheap dusty carafe and we tried to avoid the subject. Scott sat with left hand awkwardly palm down on the laminated tabletop, tapping his fingers while you could make out his fingerprints in the dust. There were little cobwebs lining the corners of the kitchen, stringy like strands of yarn. Wall tiles opaque from dull gray dust. I looked at Scott. He placed his head down on his hand and everything I perceived was dusty except for the hat. Mom swiped her ringed hand over the tabletop, garnet glistening. She inspected the grayish fur and a solemn demeanor overcame her. Subtle trembles in the lips; eyes watery. She turned to an old black and white picture of Dad on the wall next to the refrigerator, right next to a photo of Joe DiMaggio. When Dad was alive, she always kept the house clean. Tears like little rivers down her face.
            “I think it’s time to talk about Dad’s will,” Scott said after what seemed like eternal silence. Mom pulled some wheat crackers out of the cupboard and Colby-Jack from the refrigerator. I couldn’t tell if she didn’t hear him or was ignoring him. She pulled out a stainless steel knife and chopped thin slices of cheese. After a while, Mom brought the tray to the table and left the kitchen. I tried, in desperation, to find temporary and effective distractions from my insecurity: the emerald color of my fingernails, what my life would have been if I were a man, my job. My mind constantly searched for happy memories. I thought about the time when we all went to the Yankees game when they played the Red Sox last season. Dad smiling in his Jeter jersey and spitting peanut shells. Hoppy bites from India pale ales. Dad had season tickets and said he’d go to every game. He was so disappointed that he missed games while in hospice. Bought Scott that hat a week before he died on his birthday. My father loved baseball. It almost seemed like he was baseball. He used to joke about how he wanted us to engrave his name with the epitaph “Greatest Fan Who Ever Died.” 
Mom came back into the room and held a dusty metallic security box. I looked to Scott. He took off the navy blue hat and set it down on the table. I envied him. She sat back down and removed a tan piece of folded paper from the metallic confines. She held it up in front of her and I could see Dad’s writing emitting through the thin sheet. I was so nervous in that moment – when Mom lifted the paper closer to her cataract-stricken eyes. I needed him. To feel some kind of gratitude for me was all I ever yearned for. Something given, set aside for me that showed whatever sliver of love he had for me. Something like Scott’s hat: my father materialized. Something freely given; not something given out of obligation like all the other things in the past. She read the note. I leaned forward. Particles of dust floated where a small triangle of sunlight lingered. Scott’s leathery lips curved into a smile. I sat back, squinted my eyes and looked downward like somebody watching from the nosebleeds.  
~
On Sunday evening, we took Mom’s old Jeep to the church. It looked painted with dirt. When we entered the parking lot, I saw Gerald and Emilia Robinson. Emilia was an old friend of Mom’s. She wore wire-rimmed glasses and was immersed in a world of deafness. Her husband, Gerald, nicely dressed with his suit and an old pork pie hat, held her firm and led her to the front doors of the social hall. Scott sat grinning in the front passenger seat, excitedly tapping his fingers on his knees like someone who just won the lottery. I stared, depressed and heartbroken, at the distant water tower. 
When we entered the hall, Gerald waved to us, smiled, and tapped Emilia on the shoulder. She turned and looked at Gerald. He moved his hands like a warlock casting a spell. He gave her signs. Emilia looked at us and smiled warmly and Mom walked over to give her a hug.
We walked past a dusty crucifix made from driftwood at the front of the room, next to Dad’s picture and the microphone stand. I looked at his picture and winced. Long tables with metallic legs stood on the other side of the room in front of the kitchen. There was an old ink drawing of Noah right above the drinking fountain in the back. Skipper of the ark. Succulent smells of ham and cheeseburger sliders entered my nostrils. Mom and Scott sat down in two chairs in the front row and the usher politely motioned for me to take a seat beside them.
  Father William came to the microphone and held out his hands, motioning for us to rise. We all stood. Gerald took off his hat like someone about to hear the national anthem. Scott looked bored, Yankee’s hat welded to his head. I was a spectator to the game of life: a game where my brother and mother inherit everything and I am ignored or forgotten. All heads bowed and eyes closed except mine. Father William prayed that the Holy Ghost would come and live in his own earthly creation in this time of remembrance as if it was some kind of super ego that would influence the actions of all men. I saw Gerald stretch his hand to touch Emilia’s back. She responded with a little startled jump. Gerald shook his head as if he should have known better and exhaled a breath that sounded a faint whistle.

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