Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

"What a Man Would Do" -- (ii)

Mom and the kids left Shorewood when her husband did, left for small-town America, where she hoped maybe all three of them could get back on their feet. The kid--Van Baren--is mad, at her, at him, at the whole world. They'd left suburban Milwaukee for the sticks, and he doesn't like it, doesn't like anything really. 
So he and Steph went to Mallard High School and his mother taught at Dickinson, and they were forever away from Shorewood, where he would have been on an ace track team if it wouldn't have been for his whoring father, who never gave them diddly except for money, really. Plenty of that. "Need this?--sure." That kind of thing. 

That was the bottom line with the old man, he told himself. Bastard took some hot-pants accountant or something to the cottage, their cottage, and planked her right there where his own family had spent what people called "quality time." Found himself a brand new sweetie, something with sparkle to haul around on his arm. Burned his mother but bad with a hot time in the old family cottage. Isn't that the American way? And he was doing it for more than a year already when his mother finally caught on to what the old man was doing at the family cottage. Family cottage--sure.

The kid from Dickinson let out a throw that got out to maybe 130 feet, but he spun out and flopped in front of the circle. The judge didn't yell "foul" because he didn't need to.

"Van Baron, Dickinson--up," the judge yelled.

Dickinson--his mother's school. Guidance counselor. Divorced woman she was--"tell your problems to somebody who's already seen it all." That's the way he had it figured.

Last night--Monday--she'd cooked up something special. Soup mix over chicken and rice, something with onion in it, and peas, a hot dish, something different he'd recognized right away as either a treat or a guilt trip or something weird. Most of the time she'd come back from school dead tired and stick something frozen in the microwave. Not last night. Hot dish in a casserole. Fancy rolls he and Steph liked--those big, flaky round things. Some kind of special night--he'd recognized it right away, but she didn't say a thing right off. That's what made him think it was guilt. "We don't eat well. Don't eat the right kinds of foods," she'd say sometimes, punishing herself, and then start on a crusade of pot roasts, stuff like that.

You couldn't really tell about her since the old man left. His mom was different. They all were--he was too, and so was Steph, his sister. The whole world belly-flopped when the old man picked up the bunny and burned them all. His mother was tougher in a way, but sometimes not. More scared probably, sometimes soft as a girl. Maybe that was to be expected. She got her bell rung. She's running down the field, doing her thing, and out of nowhere the old man blindsides her. That's the way it seemed, although maybe he didn't know everything either--maybe she'd known a whole lot more than she ever put on before the whole mess blew up. Maybe she had something figured about the old man--something she smelled. Mom wasn't dumb. And in a way they got closer too, the two of them--him and her. Probably had to, really. All she had left was him and Steph.

Steph was too young to get the whole picture. Last night, his mom had this whole banquet thing cooked up, but Steph didn't know how to read her, didn't figure the fancy catering and the silence was covering something. So the whole time they were eating, Steph kept up this silly seventh grade jabber. All during the meal and even after, when they're cleaning up. "Leslie's parents let her go out with Paul," she says. That wasn't news, it was a gripe. "You know?--Leslie Friedley?--the one with the hair, Mom? She can go out on weekends and she's not even thirteen."

What she meant was, why can't I?

"We'll talk about it later," Mom says, opening the dishwasher. "You go practice piano. "We got things to talk about--me and your brother."

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