Fiction Sad Creative Nonfiction

Having deep conversations at the dinner table was never his thing. Bringing politics to the table was even worse. Frankly, he could care less about what the mayor was doing to keep the streets safe, or even what the president was not doing on bringing the troops back home. He knew that his opinion would only feed more fuel to the fire and would encourage her more on the topic he would very much like to avoid. All he knew that he was hungry, and when he was hungry, he wanted food.

While sitting at the dining table with his wife Trish, Rob paid little to no attention to what she was saying. The lemon chicken she had made tasted like rubber. Pasta wasn't cooked all the way. Cooking was never her thing. For the last twenty something years Rob had quietly finished his meal and thanked her for taking good care of him. Tonight, he planned on doing the same but Trish was adamant.

As they cleaned up the dishes, Trish continued with their unfinished conversations. "Do you really think he cares about what's happening on the street? He is here to make a name for himself. He will serve his term and will seek re-election. It's just another thing on his resume so that he can run for governor or something."

"Of course he cares. That's his city. Those are his people." Rob didn't want to continue with the conversation, but she insisted.

"That's BS and you know that. If they were his people, he would've done something for them. Take away their guns, set a curfew, or do something." Trish was pretty hyped up thinking about the Hartford shooting incident. "Who in their right mind would wander around through the streets of Hartford at two in the morning? And what do you think they were doing?"

"I don't know. What?"

"Drugs of course! They were dealing drugs and got shot!"

"Ok honey. You are right." Rob was done. Done with wiping the clean plates; done with the conversations.

"Where are you going?" Trish asked.

"I am going to bed. Little tired today." Rob responded.

"Ok. I will be right there." Trish continued with tidying up the kitchen.

After changing into a comfortable t-shirt, Rob brushed his teeth. He stared in his reflection on the bathroom mirror for a few seconds and shook his head. He was turning 50 this year and wasn't aging well. Little hair that he was left with was all gray. The hanging pudge belly was larger than that of a pregnant woman. The scar on his chest from the triple bypass surgery was a reminder of a time when he nearly crossed the bridge to the world of the unknown. Time was ticking.

 Rob got on the bed next to Trish. The master bedroom appeared larger than it is with very little furniture. The room was equipped with a long narrow dresser, a king size bed and two night stands. On his side of the nightstand had several books that were mostly on poetry. He picked one up. The title on the cover read "The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson." Trish was into fiction. She could read the same book over and over again if it was written well. Under their comfortable yet slippery blankets they both dove into their own little world. Rob turned the page that was bookmarked and continued. He stopped on a poem that seemed relevant to his current thoughts and read it twice.

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —

Success in Circuit lies

Too bright for our infirm Delight

The Truth's superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased

With explanation kind

The Truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind —

"What are you mumbling about?" Trish turned to Rob.

"Emily's words," Rob closed the book. "About truth."

"What about?" She flipped the page of her Nicholas Sparks.

"I need to tell him the truth." Rob looked at her.

"Lucas?" Trish knew what he meant.

"Yeah. He needs to know about his father."

"But honey, he is too young for the truth, don’t you think?" Trish insisted.

"He is old enough to understand. We will just have to break it down slowly." Rob continued.

"How do you tell a twelve year old about a father who may or may not be alive?"

"He is alive. I am sure he is." Rob was sure of it. "We will just have to find him."

Since his disappearance, Rob had looked for Josh for years. He had visited every halfway house and every homeless shelter. He knocked on the doors of every church and every motel room; gone to the hospitals and even to the morgues to find him. He had filed numerous police reports on a missing person, but at the end, had always come up empty handed. He drove from town to town, posted pictures of Josh and has yet to receive a single phone call. Not knowing what happened to Josh was killing him inside. What was more hurtful to Rob was the fact that he was not able to help. It has been over a decade! A lot has changed since Josh disappeared and he needs to know.

When the millers were moving away and were settling in South Carolina, Rob tried his best to convince them to do otherwise. He met with them on several occasions and begged them not to take Lucas away from Josh. He made his case to the Millers on how great Josh was doing at the halfway house, yet received no remorse from them. Not having any ties to the Millers or to the Patterson in that matter, Rob had very little say on what was best for Lucas. Since Josh did not have any other relatives who could stand up to the Millers, Rob felt obligated to be involved. He was the closest thing to Josh besides Meghan, thus making him feel more of a family than a friend. When Millers didn’t budge on anything Rob had brought up that could give Josh a fighting chance on having his child in his life, he didn’t give up. At the end, he was able to convince the Millers to keep in touch for better or worse.

Over the years he had called the Millers, skyped them regularly and watched Lucas grow from far. For the past twelve years, Rob had proven to the Millers that he was a good friend and that he cared for Lucas. It was the happiest moment for both Rob and Trish when the Millers announced them to be his godparents. With not having any other relatives from either side, they were the next best thing for Lucas. Rob and Trish visited South Carolina and stayed with the Millers a few years back. Lucas was turning ten. They also made a promise to Lucas that when time came, he would come visit them in Connecticut and would spend an entire summer together.

In the fall of 2020 the Millers reached out to Rob with a news that caught him by surprise. The Millers were not doing well. Taking care of an adolescent child had become too overwhelming and a burden to both Frank and Barbara Miller. As they were both aging, their health became more and more of a concern. In addition, the new corona virus had placed Frank in the hospital and Barbara in isolation. They asked if Rob and Trish would step in and would be the guardians. Within a month Rob showed up at their doorstep and brought Lucas back to Connecticut.

As the spreading of the virus was getting worse over the year, so were the Millers. Frank had passed away in the later part of the year and left Barbara with an empty house. It wasn't until then when Barbara Miller grew conscious. Separating a child from the only parent existing in this world didn't seem cruel and unusual at the time. Now a decade later she found herself occasionally wondering the alternatives. She wondered if it was a right move for Lucas to be removed from a father she hardly knew. She had realized that neither Barbara nor Frank considered what Josh was going through after Megan’s death. They were both angry at the situation more than anything and acted irrational at the time. Deep down inside she was feeling guilty and was hoping that one day she would have a chance to ask Josh for forgiveness.

 While Barbara was looking back on their terrible decisions, Rob was contemplating on telling the truth to Lucas. On his twelfth birthday Rob told him about his parents. He told him about Meghan and he told him about Josh. He showed him pictures of them getting married and pictures of Megan when she was pregnant with him. He showed him evidence of Josh when he was in his prime, and showed him a picture of Josh holding baby Lucas when he was tiny. He told him how Josh was not doing so well after his mom died and that he was in the process of getting better when the Millers took him away. Rob showed him how he was searching for Josh since the night when he disappeared and assured him that he would find his dad to reunite once again.

 Lucas, however, had mixed feelings about finding his father. All his life he knew the Millers to be his guardian. Rob and Trish were the uncle and aunt who lived far away yet cared for him. He didn't know what to feel about a father, nor did he know how to react to the news. But deep down inside he wanted to find his father. He wanted to know what it felt like to have one since he had seen other kids in school with both parents. But the urgency of finding him soon hadn’t crossed his mind.

For the time being he was enjoying the lifestyle in New England. He had not experienced the fall or the winter like the folks who grew up here, but he saw the difference instantly. He knew that he was born here and moved away before he could even understand anything, but he loved everything he had seen so far. The first time he saw the snowflakes ripping through the blue sky was magical! Even though most of the state parks were closed during the covid shutdown, Lucas had enjoyed his first winter experience nonetheless. Rob took him out sight-seeing in early December before Christmas and then sledding after a big snow storm. He showed Lucas how to build a snowman and let him roll around in the backyard to make snow angels. He went ice fishing on a shivering cold morning with Lucas and later watched the spring creep in slowly as the winter passed. He had him enrolled into the nearby middle school immediately after bringing him back to Connecticut and signed him up to a local athletic club for extracurricular activities. Overtime Lucas began to adapt to his new environment and started to forget the life he had in South Carolina.

In the spring of 2021 when the covid restrictions were lifted, Lucas was more occupied with studying for school and playing baseball for the club. He was the happiest child at the little league club and was getting really good at playing the first base. He was happy when he played at home, and was happier when traveled to other towns and played the away-games. After playing several home games in the beginning of the season, the club was scheduled to play the Waterbury Little League Team in late July. The town was only forty minutes away from where they lived in West Hartford. What he had heard from his teammates was that the kids in Waterbury were really good. When time came, playing in the scorching hot weather with them was rough, yet Lucas had managed to hit a home run. They had lost the game five to one, but he was happy with his home run. After the game ended Rob gave him a big high five and told him how proud he was of Lucas.

It was nearly 7pm. As Rob was driving through the busy streets of Waterbury, Lucas was in the back seat looking out of the window. Something about this town was making his stomach quiver. When they were driving on Main Street passing a small overpass, something caught his eyes in the distance. He immediately pointed to Rob and said "uncle look, those guys are beating up a homeless man!"

"Eyes in front Lucas. Don't look." Rob was familiar with the town. Incidents such as this were normal to the locals.

"It's terrible. Why isn't anyone helping him?" Lucas couldn't understand the reason behind this terrible act.

"Some people are just insensitive. That's how things are buddy." Rob wanted to change the subject. "How about we get you some burgers. Are you hungry?"

 "I'm hungry but not for a burger." After a good workout at the field, Lucas was feeling a little hungry. "I want some bagels!" Lucas smiled. 

"Bagels? Of all things?" Rob smiled back looking through the rear view mirror. "Then bagel it is!"

           As he was driving on the Main Street before getting on the highway to home, Rob looked around for a Dunkin Donut-- a place well known for their coffee and donuts. Rob was sure that they will still be serving bagels at this late hour. With no luck finding one on the Main Street, Rob began to turn to a side road that led to the on-ramp of the highway. As he was turning, he spotted a tiny little bakery in the corner of his eyes. He pulled up to the busy parking lot and parked his car. He took a ten dollar bill out from his wallet and handed it to Lucas. "Do you want me to come inside with you?" He asked.

"No, I got this." After playing with these Waterbury kids, Lucas was feeling like a grown up child. He felt that he was old enough to go into a bakery all by himself and could buy what he needed without adult supervision. He got out of the car and went in.

Behind the counter was an elderly woman serving the customers in front of her. Lucas took the last spot in the line and felt the stomach quivered once again. He knew he was hungry but couldn't figure out why the stomach was turning again. The woman looked at him and smiled. The name tag on her uniform read “Pam.” Lucas took one more step, stopped in front of the counter and asked for two onion bagels, toasted. 

"Would you like cream cheese on them?" Pam asked.

"One with cream cheese and one without." Lucas responded holding the ten dollar bill in his hand.

"Ok, it will be four dollars and twenty-five cents." Pam tallied it up on the register, exchanged his ten and gave him the difference.

Lucas placed the change into the tip jar on the counter and placed the five dollar bill in his pocket. While Pam was preparing the toasted bagels, Lucas took that time and visited the restroom. When he returned, Pam had the bagels prepared in a brown bag. Lucas took the bag and gazed at it for a split second. She drew a smiley face and wrote “for my youngest customer of the day.” He smiled. On the way out he pointed out to her that they were out of toilet paper. Pam thanked him for his nice gesture and then waved goodbye.

Lucas jumped back in the back seat of the car feeling ten times better. He buckled up and gave one of the bagel to Rob. He pulled out of the parking lot and turned back on to Main Street. Sitting in the backseat Lucas enjoyed the bagel quietly and giggled.

"What are you giggling about?" Rob asked.

"Nothing." Lucas responded. He couldn't tell why he was giggling. He took a bite on the bagel and looked out of the window. The homeless man was walking slowly past the bridge towards a nearby park. Lucas felt sad for this man. He didn't know why but watching him cross the street in filthy clothes made him feel something that he couldn’t explain.

October 22, 2021 13:00

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RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

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