Monday, September 02, 2013

River (Pt. XI)

The day he met his father, Eddie awoke to the sound of Carlotta speaking with a man who was not Darrel outside his door. The tones were calm. Or at least not enraged. Eddie lay on the smelly mattress on the floor and listened. The words were indistinct. Something about money. Something about a complicated situation.

Eddie sat up and rubbed his eyes. Carlotta's voice began to take on the sharp edge that Eddie knew so well. He stood up, walked to the door, opened it and stepped out into the hallway.

Carlotta's silhouette was sharp against the morning light, framed by the door at the end of the hall. She stood with her back to him, facing the world outside the dingy apartment. Someone was on the doorstep beyond her. A man Eddie did not know.

Carlotta glanced back over her shoulder. "Shit! He's awake now," she said.

"Is that him?" the man beyond her asked. His voice was subdued. 

Carlotta shrugged. She turned away from the man to speak to Eddie. "Well, kid, look what washed up at the door. You always wondered, but it looks like today is your day to find out. This here is your father."

She stepped aside. Eddie, bathed in unfiltered sunlight, felt suddenly naked and self-conscious. He smoothed down his sleep-mussed hair and squinted.

The man, whoever he was, seemed to be afraid of Carlotta. Eddie couldn't blame him for that. The man stood with his hands in his pockets and his shoulders slumped. His face was bent toward his feet, but he peered up from under at Eddie. For a dreamy moment, Eddie imagined he stood before a mirror that revealed himself twenty years in the future.

"How ya doin', kid?" the man said.

"You're my dad?" Eddie asked.

The man shrugged, but said nothing.

Carlotta filled the void. "Yep. That's him alright. Biggest mistake of my life. I haven't seen him since the day I told him you were coming. Well, here he is, twelve years later."

The man didn't seem to hear. He was looking at Eddie.

Carlotta kept going. "I don't imagine you're here to take him off my hands, are ya?"

"Carlotta, give it a rest," the man said. "I told you. I got troubles of my own."

"Oh, life is real hard up there in Oregon, ain't it?" Carlotta mocked. "Why did you come here?"

Eddie's father shrugged. He hadn't taken his eyes off of Eddie. "I came to see my son," he said.

"Well, take a good look and be on your way," she said. "Darrel will be home soon, and you won't wanna be here."

He spoke to Eddie. "Yeah, kid, I'm your dad. If I ever doubted it, now that I've seen you I know it's true." He took a step across the threshold and stuck out his hand. "If your mom didn't tell you, my name's Adam."

Eddie looked from Adam's face to the extended hand. It was a small hand, very clean, with short, round fingers.  Eddie held out his own hand. Adam seemed relieved as he took it..

"Kid, you wanna go get some breakfast?" Adam asked.

Eddie glanced at Carlotta.

She rolled her eyes. "If you're not gonna take him home with ya, yeah, get him out of my hair for the morning at least," she said.

Adam smiled. "Come on, Eddie. Let's go get some pancakes."

Adam had a car parked on the street. They drove to a breakfast joint not far from the apartment. Adam chose a booth in a corner by the window. The waitress brought menus and left to fetch coffee.

"Get whatever you want, kid," Adam said.

Eddie didn't need to look at the menu. "Chocolate chip pancakes," he said.

Adam smiled. "Been here before?" he asked.

"Carlotta brought me here on my birthday. Darrel slept late that day and we snuck out before he got up."

"This Darrel sounds like a hell of a guy," Adam said.

Eddie shrugged.

"So, you play sports, kid?"

Eddie shook his head. "Just go to school. I don't really hang out with anybody there."

Adam nodded. He dropped his eyes to the table. "Listen, kid, I wanted to tell you--"

The waitress arrived with coffee and a glass of milk. Adam ordered an omelet for himself and bacon and pancakes for Eddie.

Eddie gulped his milk. He took a good look at Adam over the rim of his glass. Adam wasn't exactly what Eddie pictured when he thought of his father. Everything Eddie knew about his father, he'd had to piece together from the tidbits, usually delivered in the form of sneers or insults, that Carlotta had let slip as Eddie grew up. She'd never had anything good to say about him, but Eddie had reserved judgement. In his own mind, he'd imagined his father to be kind and noble and strong, with broad shoulders and a generous smile.

The diminutive, uncertain man Eddie saw before him now was hardly that. But he seemed nice.

Adam poured cream into the steaming cup. It roiled within, keeping its own cloudy identity, until he stirred it. At that point, everything changed to pale mud.

"What do you do for fun?" Adam asked.

"Mostly I just hang out," Eddie said. "Goof around outside. I don't like to stay at home."

Adam nodded. "So, you should know you've got a baby sister up in Oregon. I live in a town called Gresham. I got a wife up there and a little baby girl." His eyes were fixed on Eddie's face.

Eddie slurped his milk.

Adam spoke again. Slowly, as if he chose every word with care. "I got something here for you," he said. He fished in his pocket and produced a key chain attached to a small plastic figure. "In case you ever get a car and want to come up to Oregon."

Eddie took the key chain and looked at it closely. The figure was a mermaid. Her tail was painted green with two red dots on each flesh-colored breast. He could feel Adam's eyes on him as he looked at it and knew somehow that the man's heart was in his throat. So Eddie smiled. "Thanks," he said. When Adam smiled, Eddie felt happy.

"You got anything you wanna ask me, kid?"

Eddie didn't need long to think about it. "Can I call you Dad?" he asked.

To be continued...

Read Part I here.Read Part II here
Read Part III here
Read Part IV here.
Read Part V here
Read Part VI here
Read Part VII here
Read Part VIII here
Read Part IX here.  
Read Part X here
Read Part XI here
Read Part XII here.  
Read Part XIII here
Read Part XIV here
Read Part XV here.  
Read Part XVI here
Read Part XVII here
Read Part XVIII here.

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