The hospital administrator’s door was open, I knocked anyway.
“Come in, sit down,” she said.
Marion hired me as a junior radiologist at Atlanta General Hospital almost twelve years ago. She’d been a guest at my wedding. About once a week, when the hospital cafeteria was too crowded, we walked across the street to the Fresh’ n’ Crisp and traded gossip from the hospital grapevine.
I sat down and waited. When she looked up from her computer she wasn’t smiling.
“The board has accepted your story — that the prescriptions from your book were filled by you for Kate, and not forged by her…”
“Marion, it’s not a story…” I said.
She raised her hand.
“I know, I know. You don’t have to tell me again. But the thing is, and I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, but even this… version of events…” She tilted her head and sighed, “…as a doctor in the State of Georgia, you can’t write prescriptions for your wife. You knew that right, Pete?”
I shifted in my chair.
“What’s the bad news?”
“The board’s yanked your license. We’ve got to let you go.”
“You’re firing me?”
“We have no choice Peter. As of this morning, you’re not a doctor anymore.”
“You didn’t appeal?”
“Peter – if I hadn’t vouched for you, you’d be in jail right now. If they’d looked at the scripts? If they’d seen it’s not your writing?”
She shook her head.
“You need to take your knocks and get Kate some help.”
“She’s clean, nearly 90 days…”
“Real help, Peter. I’ll help you get her into Promises in Druid Hills, it’s a good rehab.”
Fucking Kate. For the last six months, she’d been forging my prescriptions and filling them at pharmacies all over Atlanta.
“I guess we’re done here then, huh?” I said.
“Peter, I am so sorry.”
The security guard was waiting for me outside Marion’s door.
“Chris, don’t look at me like that,” I said.
“I’m sorry Pete, I gotta walk you out.”
Chris had been a linebacker for Georgia Tech before he tore his rotator cuff and all his bulk turned to flab. Some mornings we shared coffee and talked football at the nurses’ station until the head nurse shooed us away.
He waited for me to gather my personal items, and when I was ready he poked around in the box.
“The blue Sharpie is mine, it’s a family heirloom,” I said.
He smiled sadly at me.
“Ah Pete, gonna miss you man.”
“Yeah, I’ll miss you too, big guy.”
Kate was waiting for me in the passenger seat of my Jetta. She’d insisted on coming with me and her last DUI meant she couldn’t drive anyway. I put my box on the back seat. I yanked at the seat-belt as she tossed her Newport out of the window, wafting smoke after it.
“Well? What happened? Are they going to the police?”
“You’re off the hook,” I said.
I looked straight ahead as I started the car and turned the a/c up to max.
“What are they going to do to you?”
“They fired me.”
The car filled up with cold air. I turned to look at her face.
“Peter, I’ve met someone.”
Three years later, I knelt in front of my father, Peter Wells Sr., in the bedroom of his house near the Emory University campus in Atlanta where he’d lived for 40 years.
My hangover beat my skull like a split kick-drum.
Dad sat on edge the high hospital bed I’d ‘borrowed’ from the medical supplies company where I now worked. A bedpan, anti-bacterial gel and clean towels sat next to him on the bedside table. His slippers dangled precariously on the tips of his bony feet.
“So you’re done with me, huh? Your old man’s no good. Going to just toss him out with the trash?”
I tore opened a new pack of white tube socks.
“Jesus Dad! Don’t be so dramatic. It’s an assisted care facility not a garbage dump. I can’t look after you anymore, I’m on the road so much these days.”
“I don’t need you to look after me. It’s not like I do anything around here. I just watch TV. What’s the big deal?”
It’s not that easy. You know that,” I said.
“You’re putting me in a home.”
Just after I got fired, his neighbour Annie found him at the bottom of the basement steps with a broken hip. I had no job and was in the process of moving out from Kate, so I moved back into the family home to look after him.
“It’ll be better for you, more social,” I said.
“Ah Christ! You want to know what I think about that?”
“Yeah dad, I remember… ‘no new people’.”
He ignored my teasing.
“Can’t you drive me, Petey?”
He let me take off his slippers and I gently rolled socks onto his feet.
“I told you, I have to open up the booth at the conference again this morning. Then I’ve got to go to Louisville for a meeting.”
When he was discharged, after his hip-replacement, the social worker at the hospital warned me about the danger of isolation. He was suffering from a depression that had started long before his accident but his condition might improve in a more ‘stimulating’ environment.
I slid his fragile feet into the new shoes.
“Maybe you’ll meet someone,” I said.
He swept his crooked forearm across the bedside table, the bedpan clattered to the floor.
“I don’t need to meet anyone, you son of a bitch! And I don’t need your help. I’m not an invalid.”
But he was an invalid and he didn’t get any better after I moved in. His hands, overgrown by arthritis, were knotted like the roots of the big ol’ Georgia Pine in the backyard, I didn’t know how I was going to pay for it yet, but I knew he had to go into supervised living.
He glared at me as I picked up the pan and the scattered supplies. I looked up at him.
“I’m sorry, dad.”
On the way to the conference centre in downtown Atlanta, I stopped at the Krispy Kreme on the Ponce De Leon. I could have waited and gotten coffee at the hotel for free, but I wanted to try Lisa again. In the car, I tore open an envelope of Splenda and dumped it into my coffee.
“Hey, Peter what’s up?”
“Can I speak to Stevie?”
“Peter…“ Lisa said gently, “I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“Come on, just for a second.”
“Hi!” Stevie said.
I pressed the speaker button, put the phone on the dash.
“Hi buddy! How was your birthday?”
“It was fun. Why didn’t you come?”
“Oh hey, sorry, I was working. I got you a present though.”
I picked a small toy car out of the cup holder next to me.
“What is it?”
“A New York taxi cab, a yellow one.”
“Yellow cars are the best cars.”
“Right? How many did you see this week?”
“Ummm. Four? Five, no four! Oh! Mom says I gotta go. Will you come see me soon, Petey?”
“I’ll try, dude.”
The phone changed hands again.
“You feel better now?” Lisa said.
“Don’t be like that. He misses me… You heard him.”
“Yeah, he does, but he’ll get over it.
“Can’t we could work something out? Don’t you think he needs a male role model in his life?”
“Christ! Not this again… how does that work Peter? How many role models does he need? He’s got his Dad, which isn’t saying much, but now Nathan’s here…”
“Nathan, with the nice hair?”
“Yeah Pete, Nathan. He’s a good guy, really. Stevie likes him.”
“But Stevie still asks about me, right?”
“You seeing anyone?” She said, softening a little.
“Oh you know, no-one special.”
I wasn’t seeing anyone.
“Peter…I’m sorry I’ve got to go, Stevie’s got a play date.”
“With Emily? With Ben?”
“Ben’s a good kid, I always like the way they play together…”
“Petey, I’m going now, Okay?”
She hung up. I sat there holding the toy taxi in one hand my coffee in the other. It was still too hot to drink.
In the conference hall, I dumped a stack of dreary medical supplies catalogs onto the gray Formica table. I flopped down in my chair and sipped at my lukewarm coffee. Saturday morning was slow so I sulked in the shadow of my tiny booth.
Across the aisle from me, at a table dressed with the green and yellow colors of the American College of Radiology, a pretty young woman with an armful of brochures stood scanning passersby. Blonde hair tied back with a black ribbon, she was probably in her mid-twenties, but in her Nancy Reagan-style blue suit, she looked much older.
Lisa used to call Atlanta’s National Radiology Conference, the ‘cancer conference’. It made me wince slightly, radiology isn’t about giving people bad news, it’s about curing people. But it was a pretty good way to describe this bi-annual gathering, where some of the most mediocre hospitals in the South lined up opposite some of the nation’s most cutthroat discount medical suppliers.
I fanned out my catalogues on the table and I sauntered over to her table to greet her with the rolling-eyes salute of the well-seasoned conference veteran.
“Slow morning huh?”
“Yeah, I guess,” she said.
She knew when a bored salesman was hitting on her, but she smiled and gave me the highlights of the college’s semester as I made wisecracks. I asked her where she was from and where she went to school.
“I grew up in Atlanta. Business Management at Georgia U.”
“Yeah? I went to Auburn like my Dad. Tigers, all the way.”
“Hah! Y’all are going down this year. Again! Go Bulldogs!”
I’d hit the mark. Georgia and Auburn universities’ rivalry is the oldest college football grudge match in the South.
“Got kids in school? Thought about Radiology as a career?” She pushed a brochure at me playfully.
“Well… there’s Stevie, he likes finger painting and Legos. His interest in radiology isn’t there yet but any day now. I don’t want to push him to hard, though or he’ll just end up at art school and become a junkie.”
Caitlin scrunched up her nose and giggled like a 6th grader. She put her hand on my arm. I could smell her perfume. I showed her a photo of Stevie on my phone.
“Aw, it’s a little early for grad school, isn’t it?”
What the fuck was the matter with me? This wasn’t the first time I’d made up a story about a having kid. I was in line at the supermarket the other day when I made eye contact with a mom battling with a screaming toddler; I smiled sympathetically.
“You got kids?” She said.
“It gets easier,” I said, “promise.”
“That’s what they say.”
It’s funny, even though Stevie wasn’t my kid, when I was with him, I got honorary access to a club only parents can join. Like when I took him to the park to play, Moms adored me for taking on someone else’s kid, and dads accepted me without question. They joked with me, asked me if I’d take their kids too.
We’d build elaborate dragons out of Legos that he kept for weeks, and I’d answer his, ‘but whys?’, for hours. I spoiled him by carrying him up the stairs in Lisa’s apartment building, even though Lisa was trying to get him to walk up on his own.
“I only have little legs,” he said.
“You like that kid more than me,” Lisa said only half joking.
I remember driving round and round the outside loop of a mall in Lisa’s car, trying to get him to nap in the back seat, while Lisa was getting her hair done. The fifth time we passed the ‘Toys ‘r’ Us’, he figured it out and got mad, pummeling the back of the driver’s seat with those little legs of his. I gave in and bribed him with screen time on my IPhone. He didn’t really understand Minecraft, the virtual world building app, but it calmed him immediately. In a few minutes he was asleep. The phone bleated and squawked in his lap as his head lolled to one side, mouth open. In his slumber, he was utterly without guile.
The perfect time to have children was when I was with Kate, before I got fired. I can still have kids, of course, but just the same, if things had gone down the way they did between us anyway, I’d have something, or someone, to show for it. In those first few weeks when she was getting clean, Kate met a pill-popping surgeon at an NA meeting. And now she’s in a big house just outside of Memphis, happy as a duck in the rain. Here I am, pushing bandages and catheters to the people I used work with. Fucking Kate.
Since the break-up of my marriage, my love life consisted of longing looks at flight attendants as they swept past me in airports, and hitting on girls like Caitlin at conferences. Obviously I wasn’t much good at that. If I wanted to get Caitlin into bed, I should have stayed with the college football theme. I’d seen Georgia face off against Auburn maybe 20 times in the last 30 years. Mostly, Dad was happy watching Tiger’s game with me at home, but when the Bulldogs met the Tigers on their home turf in Athens, we’d drive the hour or so from Atlanta in his VW Rabbit to watch.
A pale vision of myself stared back at me from the long mirror on the pillar behind Caitlin’s table. I looked OK for a 42-year-old salesman constantly on the road on a diet of French fries and well-drink specials, I suppose, though the only exercise I seemed to get was walking up and down endless hotel hallways to find ice for my herniated disc and half-hearted sessions on solitary ellipticals in empty hotel fitness centers.
“Where’d you grow up, Danny?” Caitlin said.
She pointed at the plastic rectangle hanging on a red cord around my neck. I looked down at my laminated ID. It said: ‘Danny Lyon, Radiographer, Nashville Hospital.’
“Oh shit,” I said, “how did that happen?”
Danny Lyon was a guy I met in the hotel bar the night before.
“I must have mixed them up.”
I reached in my pocket and found a second laminate. I waved it at her.
“This is me: ‘Peter Wells, Sales, Medilabs Inc., GA.’
Caitlin shook her head at me, confused.
“I should find him,” I said.
I turned away.
“Hey!” Caitlin said.
She picked up the brochure I’d dropped on her table.
“For Stevie?” She handed it to me with a wink, “you never know.”
After the conference closed the night before, I’d gone down to the hotel bar. The ‘Horseshoe’ is one of those lame old west-themed hotel bars. Wagon wheels and framed wanted posters of Billy the Kid, on flat magnolia walls.
Danny is covered in tattoos. He wore his sleeves rolled up so far it looked like they might cut off circulation in his massive biceps.
“Is that yours?” I said, pointing at his laminate on the bar.
“Yep,” he said.
“You look more like Henry Rollins than a radiographer,” I said.
“What are you doing here? You a doctor?”
“Not anymore,” I said.
It’s easy to become confessional in a hotel bar. As we drank, I told him about my wife and how she got me fired. He told me about promoting and managing punk bands around D.C. and how when he got his girlfriend pregnant, he went back to school, The American College of Radiology, no less. This was his first ‘cancer conference’. He showed me a picture of his daughter, Alyssa, on his iPhone. She was Stevie’s age.
“You got kids?” He said.
“You don’t seem too sure.”
I thought about the phone call that morning, Lisa gently trying to get off the phone, like she was trying to extricate herself from a confrontation with a lunatic. I put my hand in my pocket and caressed the toy car like a lucky charm. I told him about Stevie.
“You and Lisa? You’re done?” Danny said.
“Yeah, you know, it wasn’t the romance of the century but we got along. She broke it off with me because I didn’t have a good enough job. She basically dumped me for shit that happened to me before I met her. One day she just woke up pissed I wasn’t still a radiologist, ‘no future’, she said. And I get that. She wants the best for her kid, but this job now? It’s a good job. I could support her and Stevie, no problem.”
“Oh man, that’s tough and you’re right, Stevie needs that. I mean, all you have to do is smile at a kid that age, and he’ll follow you around forever.”
“We made a connection, it was real.” I said.
“Dude, I didn’t mean he would connect with just anyone. From what you say, it was real for sure. I just meant during those years, he’s looking for someone. Girls are different. My Alyssa? She’s got her Mom and of course she needs me too, but boys, if you do it right, friends for life.”
“Sorry, I’m a little sensitive, I guess.”
“Nah man, I get it. You’ve never seen that before, huh? The way they look at you? It’s a fucking game changer, ain’t it?”
It was a game changer, all right. On the swings at the park, Stevie would sit facing me on my lap with his tiny fists gripping my lapels. At the top of our arc we became weightless and he would squeak – a little hiccup of pure pleasure.
The bar filled up with the walking wounded from the conference upstairs. Laminates flapped like white flags around thirsty throats. Five young women in short tight dresses came into the bar from the street door and sat down. The bartender came over to us with shots.
“These are on me, you want to buy the girls a drink,” he said matter-of-factly, “let me know.”
“Holy shit!” Said Danny.
A tall middle-aged guy with a beer belly walked over to a girl and whispered something in her ear. He had his tie and his laminate tucked into the breast pocket of his shirt. They got up and left the bar together. About ten minutes later, she came back alone and sat down at the bar again, looked straight at me, and smiled. It was a slick operation.
“Let’s get out of here. There’s a sports bar across the street,” I said.
“Nah, I gotta go to bed.”
He smiled at me with blurry eyes like he was whipped, but I knew he just wanted to say good night to Alyssa. We walked out to the lobby together.
“Take a little advice, Peter?”
“Maybe you should ask yourself what’s best for Stevie? There’s still time for you. This kid ain’t your last chance, you know?”
It wasn’t late but Downtown Atlanta was deserted. An old black man in a torn Braves warm-up jacket opened the door of the bar as I went in.
“Spare a dollar on the way out, brother? Have a good night.”
I drank beer and talked to the bartender about college football until I was too tired to talk. Outside, the old guy in the Braves jacket was gone. As I started down the empty sidewalk I became vaguely aware of someone behind me.
“Yo. Want some weed?”
I felt a sharp pinch of a forefinger and thumb on my elbow, I snapped my arm away.
“Motherfucker, I’m talking to you,” growled a voice behind me.
A second voice barked in the dark.
Danny’s speeding bulk blew past me like a freight train. Behind me in the middle of the street, two young men in hoodies stood frozen like two stranded cars on a railroad crossing. Danny smashed into them and they flew in opposite directions. The big ex-roadie spun around, grabbed me and shoved me in the direction of the hotel.
“Move!” He said.
We stumbled into the lobby, his arm around my shoulder.
“Jesus, Peter! What the fuck?”
“I wasn’t doing…”
“Don’t leave the hotel again tonight, OK? Here, your laminate, you left it in the bar. You’re not driving tonight, right?”
I put the pass in my pocket.
“No, I’ll get a room. Thanks, Danny.”
He gave me a big bear hug.
I walked the conference centre’s three floors of tables and demonstration exhibit, looking for Danny. Garbage cans overflowed with uneaten box lunches and trash from the day before. It wasn’t even noon yet, but some of them were clearly drunk. I looked through the index on a discarded copy of the conference guide. No Nashville Hospital. Fuck it. I put Danny’s laminate back in my pocket. He’d be fine, nobody seemed to care about security anyway.
I found myself stood near a demonstration exhibit of a stand-up MRI machine. It was lit with spotlights like the stern of a very expensive yacht. A very short, pretty young model with big blonde hair, a white lab coat and shiny red high heels stood under the lights. She wore big black glasses without lenses. I imagine someone thought they made her look more ‘sciencey’. She stepped out into the aisle front of me with a big smile and an outstretched hand.
“Hi,” she said.
I sidestepped her pitch and her voice faded in my wake.
Under the shadow of the prow of the MRI machine, the man from the bar with the prostitute the previous night slumped in a booth not unlike mine. A big gulp and a laptop sat on the table in front of him. With his 1000-yard-stare and 2-day stubble, he looked like a sailor who’d spent too long at sea.
Down at my booth, I pulled myself together to sell some more bedpans. My phone beeped with a text from Omar, my colleague at Medilabs. He told me he’d picked up the bed and leftover medical supplies from dad’s house. I looked around the hall, Caitlin gave me a friendly wave.
I flicked through Facebook on my phone, looking for Stevie’s birthday pictures on Lisa’s feed. Right away I found a shot of him blowing out candles. He looked a tad older but the grin was the same. There was one of Lisa too, with Nathan with the nice hair.
I swigged cold coffee from my stained Krispy Kreme cup and I slid into my phone’s recent call list to bring up Lisa’s number. I thought about what Danny had said to me in the lobby the night before and before I could press ‘call’, Caitlin’s shadow fell across the table in front of me.
“You wanna get lunch… Peter or Danny?” She said.
The vibration of my own groans woke me up. Cold ceramic pressed against my face. At the end of my nose, on the tile in front of me, there was a blond pubic hair as big as a piece modern sculpture. I was lying on the bathroom floor in a hotel room. I peeled my face from the tiles and turned my head towards the bedroom. A slender foot with bright red toenails stuck out from under a brown hotel sheet.
I got up and splashed water on my face, brushed my teeth and quietly slipped into bed behind the slumbering curve of Caitlin’s warm ass, hoping I could rekindle the passion of the previous night one more time before she realised her dreadful mistake. I curled up against her, the blood rushing around my groin. She wriggled her butt against my crotch and gently lifted a cheek to let me in.
“Hi,” I murmured.
I kissed her neck, blowing fine blonde hair from her ear. I felt guilty about lying to her about Stevie but weirdly relieved that I hadn’t lied to get her into bed.
At lunch the day before, we ran into Danny in the sports bar. We picked at onion rings and drank beer together. Danny and I entertained her with our adventures from the previous night. When we got onto the subject of football, Caitlin recalled with relish the last time Auburn and Georgia met.
“Wasn’t that the one where the Tigers got crushed, 38-0?” She crowed.
“Yeah, yeah, keep barking little bulldog. This year we’ll send back to the kennel with your tail between your legs,” I said.
She threw her head back as she whooped at the laboured metaphor. I told them about going to the games with my dad.
“The only time I ever heard him use bad language, was watching the Tigers’ games on the portable in the kitchen. He liked to watch with the sound turned down, and the radio blasting the commentary. He could never find the remote so he’d watch it at arm’s length, like this…”
I leaned back off my stool my arms with stiff against the bar to show how he would change channels with his fingers at the commercials, and almost fell over backwards.
“Whoa!” Danny said, catching me.
“Jeez, Peter, you should hire this guy full time,” said Caitlin.
“Yeah,” said Danny, “I don’t know how he’s made it to this ripe old age without me.”
“Fuck you! I ain’t as old as I look.”
“I wish I did stuff like that with my dad,” said Caitlin, suddenly morose, “all I ever got to do was run an’ fetch him a beer while he watched TV…Oh! Did you see pictures of Stevie, Danny? So cute…”
“Uh…Yeah,” said Danny, shooting me a quizzical look.
“No kids, Caitlin?” said Danny.
“Nah. I need to get on that, too,” she said.
“You’re still young,” I said.
“Not for Georgia I ain’t. No joke. I got three sisters, all married, they all are swimming in diapers.”
She frowned, knocked back her drink, and excused herself. We watched her leave. Danny slapped me on the back with his slab of a hand.
“Please tell me you’re going to hit that? The story about your dad? That was fucking gold. She was all over it,” Danny said.
“Ah, no,” I said, “I think I already touched down in the friend zone.”
“I sort of let her believe Stevie was my son…and Lisa and I…”
Danny shook his head.
“Jesus, Peter? Will you please just shut up about Stevie, and go get yourself laid?”
When Caitlin got back, we all exchanged cards and I gave Danny his laminate. He tossed it in the trash; he was done with the conference. Caitlin and I went back up to our booths. I was drunk, but Saturday afternoon trade picked up and I wrote up enough business to justify the expense of the booth. Occasionally I looked over at Caitlin and she’d grin at me.
At about five I texted her half-a-dozen inappropriate emoji combinations. She scowled at me, but I could see her giggling. She disappeared for a while and came back wearing fresh lipstick and carrying two 12oz coffee cups. She put one in front of me on my table while I talked to a potential lead.
“I fixed yours like mine, hope ya like it,” she slurred.
I nodded and kept talking to the prospective client as I took as sip, I almost choked. It was coffee lots of cream, and a big belt of bourbon. She laughed from the other side of the aisle as she watched me gag. My phone beeped. She sent me a text. It was a slightly blurry photo of a pink nipple peeking over the top of black lace bra. My jaw dropped. I looked over at her and she put a finger to her lips. The client waited patiently for me to pull myself together.
“Sorry. What was I saying?”
Caitlin moaned and turned her head towards me over her shoulder as I probed between her thighs.
“Mmm, hi…wrap it up, buddy,” she said.
I rolled over and peeled a condom out of its wrapper, wrestled it on, and slid inside her.
“Oh God, that feels amazing,” she said.
We went at it for a while but it was too much for me. My headache pulsed inside my skull as I came.
“Wait, did you put on a condom?”
She pushed me off her. We examined the scene. The condom was fastened like a noose around the base of my hanging cock, its split skin smeared around my shaft.
“Fuck! Did we use one last night?”
“I’m not sure, yeah…I think so.”
I fingered through the trash on the side table.
“It broke,” I said, “sorry.”
“Really? And you fucking came in me anyway?”
She jumped up and bolted to the bathroom.
“I didn’t notice. I’m sorry,” I said.
The shower ran for a few minutes. She came out of the bathroom in a towel and sat down next to me as she dried her hair. I reached out and cupped a cool damp breast. She knocked my hand away.
“I think you’ve had enough for one day, dad. God damn it! Fucking married men! You all are the reason I’m still single.”
My face flushed as I remembered my lies from yesterday. Caitlin narrowed her eyes at me.
“I’m not married and I don’t have a son…”
She stopped towelling her hair.
“…I made it up,” I said, ”I mean my ex-girlfriend has a kid – Stevie – he’s real, but she won’t let me see him. I don’t know why I said all that.”
Caitlin massaged her scalp.
“You are really fucking weird, Peter.”
We sat on the bed next to each other in silence while she put on lipstick.
“How do I look?”
“You look good, Caitlin.”
She slapped my bare thigh, dropped the cosmetic into her open bag and kissed me on the mouth. Her lips left an imprint of perfume and sex on my lips. She laughed, and wiped my mouth with her discarded towel.
“I’ll see you on the floor?”
“I’ve got to go to Louisville for meetings,” I said.
“Ok, well, It was fun…,” she patted my cheek, “…Daddy.”
After Louisville I went to Dallas for another conference. Southwest lost all my brochures so I stood at an empty booth for two days with my dick in my hand until the office FedEx’ed some more. It was the same scene in Dallas, even down to the hookers in the bar.
From Dallas I went to Oklahoma City for a presentation at a hospital. I picked up their contract to supply them with beds and linen for their new wing. All over the south I’d been picking up pissant little deals, urgent cares, and ambulatory surgery clinics but this contract was decent money. The office was delighted and the commission would mean I didn’t have to sell dad’s house to pay for his care this year.
At the departures lounge at Will Rogers I bought a New Yorker from the newsstand and called dad while I waited for my flight.
“How are you settling in?”
“I’m the only fucking democrat in the whole damn place. When are you coming to see me? There’s no books. I’m reading a condensed Reader’s Digest of Moby Dick. I thought you were going to ship my books.”
“I know, sorry, I’ll be home later today. See you tomorrow?”
I waited for him to say something sarcastic.
“Long trip this time, huh?”
“Yeah, was decent, though.”
“Pick up a New Yorker will you?”
“Yeah sure, dad. They’re calling my gate, I gotta go. I love you.”
“I love you too, Petey.”
It was after sundown when I pulled into the driveway of dad’s broad suburban home, its blank windows were streaked with summer dirt and as I rolled over the cracked concrete of the drive, I had to nudge an empty garbage can out of my way with my bumper, it rolled onto the lawn. I waved at Dad’s neighbour Annie as she carried her recyclables out of her garage. The shouts of children looping figure-eights on their bicycles, rose like startled birds as lawn sprinklers flicked at their ankles. Unseen adults watched from the shadows of low porches, their cigarettes blinked like red eyes in the dark.
I listened to last minutes of the Georgia/Auburn game on the car radio. The Bulldogs had a one-point lead; it was all over. I imagined Caitlin wearing a Bulldogs shirt in a bar somewhere jumping up and down in slow motion like in a beer commercial. I turned off the car radio.
The house was quiet except for the rattle of the overhead fan in the kitchen. There was a slight whiff of disinfectant.
I found a fresh can of Folgers in the kitchen cabinet. I emptied my jacket pockets on the kitchen counter, and made coffee. My keys, conference laminates, and the little yellow taxi, which I placed on top of the TV. I looked out of the window onto the yard while the coffee pot gurgled. On the branch of the Georgia Pine, the tire swing my father had fixed for me years ago rotated slowly on a thread.
Carrying dad’s Tigers’ mug, I padded silently through the empty house. The hospital bed was gone and Dad’s old twin mattress leaned up against the wall in his room. I took out my phone, I’d missed his call. As I was debating to call him back and listen to his fury about Auburn’s piss poor defence, a banner appeared at the top of the screen: ‘Minecraft: new update available.’ I logged into the app with Stevie’s account. He’d been playing on Lisa’s tablet. The progress he’d made since that day in the car was remarkable. A brand-new landscape with a small town of low buildings surrounded by a lake had sprung up. It was populated by box-headed people and sheep and cows, which grazed or floated a few feet above the ground. The banner popped up again. I thought about playing a little bit. I could build something, so he’d know I was there. Instead, I deleted the app.
I went back into the kitchen and stood in front of the yellowing old TV on the counter. With the remote I flicked through muted channels until I came to the game. During my brief tour of the house, Nick Marshall, Auburn’s junior QB, had thrown a ‘hail Mary’ and turned the game around for The Tigers. Auburn had won: 43-38! I switched on the radio.
“A miracle! A miracle!” The commentator screamed.
The phone buzzed in my pocket.
“Dad? Did you see that?”
“Yeah, I did…” said Caitlin, “Peter, we need to talk…”