The Good Doctor 61
While I stared out the window into the meager traffic in our little town, Rose flipped open a little gold ladies compact that she had to be hoping contained magic dust, whipped out a powder puff and started dabbing at her face. I sighed.
She said, “The girl at the store said that this new shade made me look forty again!”
I mumbled, “She lied to you, Rose.”
She glared for a fraction of a second then went on like I hadn’t said anything. “Anyway, I told her, “Forty! Honey, I’m sixty-four! I’d be thrilled to look fifty!” And you know what she said?”
Two cars every ten seconds. That’s how many pass the front of this restaurant. Could it get and slower than this?
“Eric, you know what she said?”
But it’s like there’s something wrong, something in the air.
Suddenly and for no earthly reason Rose’s blood red talons fasten onto my right forearm like a starving owl grabbing a terrified mouse.
“Ow! What are you doing, Woman!? You almost broke the skin!”
“You’re not listening, Eric!”
“Oh for God’s sake! What?”
Rose settled back and stared at me with her eyes flashing and her face lit up. “As I was saying!!! She said, the girl at the store said, “Sixty-four? No way! There’s just no way that you’re sixty-four!”
“Geez, Rose! She lied to you so she could sell you some badly needed makeup! And probably not for the first time either! But I’d say that on balance it was for the best.”
She glared at me for a moment with her mouth set and her eyes like coals. “One of these days, Eric! One of these days you’re gonna be walking in front of my car and Whamo! No more Eric!”
“Well it’s just all about you, isn’t Rose! I’m the one that’s gotta listen to your whining! Besides, whadda you care what you look like? Your cat getting picky all of a sudden?” She started fingering the silverware, not a good sign but then I wanted to complete my thought.
“I mean it’s not like you’re still breeding stock! I mean you haven’t been able to actually breed since..what..World War II?” For an old woman Rose still has some pretty good moves but I was just able to spring back out of the way as her huge boney hands closed on the thin air that my neck used to be in.
She hung in the air in a frozen lunge until, finally, she settled back into the booth and touched her hair with her fingertips. She glared for a moment then spat out, “Twerp!”
I said, “C’mon Rose, let’s talk about my problems for a change.”
She was pulling a cigarette out of a pack with the tips of two long crimson lethal looking fingernails. She shook her head. “Well that’d be novel wouldn’t it? Eric…with a problem!” She leaned across the table. “Eric, your whole life is a problem! You are the highest maintenance person I know!” She shook her head and sighed. “No, you don’t demand “things,” that much is true but you demand…no…well need, attention! Eric, the whole world is focused on you. Mostly trying to see to it that you don’t screw something up…but still…focused on you.”
Actually and for no logical reason that I could think of that made me feel good. I tilted my head and smiled at her. “You mean cause I’m popular?”
She rolled her eyes and then yelled, “BECAUSE YOU’RE LIKE A TWO YEAR OLD!”
I looked around quickly. “Don’t yell, Rose!”
She waved her unlit cigarette at me frantically. “Eric, you toddle through life causing carnage! You are oblivious! First of all there’s the whole “Looks” thing! You almost killed your sainted mother when you were in high school with your philandering!” She sighed in frustration. “You just don’t see things, Eric! Things that normal people see and react to go right over your head.” Her face brightened. “You’re like a puppy! A pretty little well meaning puppy that goes through life pissing wherever it wants because it doesn’t think that there’s anything wrong with that.” She waved her cigarette at me. “That’s it, exactly it.”
Well, puppies are a good thing a very good thing. Although to people like Rose they’re probably just lunch!
She was digging for her lighter. “You can’t smoke in here, Rose.”
She touched the flame to the cigarette and inhaled deeply. “So they keep telling me.”
The waitress, who knew better than to say anything brought an ashtray and practically threw it onto the table. I could already feel my throat closing up.
She pointed her cigarette at me and said enthusiastically, “I saw your mother this morning and she looked wonderful! She paid a bundle for that outfit! I saw it at Saks and it wasn’t cheap but it looked great on her.”
“Where did you see her? But she doesn’t shop at Saks, she shops at Sears…I think. Anyway, someplace at the mall.”
She pointed her cigarette at me again and shook her head. “Eric, that suit was at Saks for $1599! I spend my life at that store! Don’t tell me that I don’t know about clothes. Anyway the point is that she looked great and you oughta compliment her when you see her. It really is the very least you can do.”
“Rose, my mother has probably never spent more than…well I don’t really know what these things cost, exactly but…what…thirty buck for a dress in her whole life. You can buy a car for $1599!”
She blew smoke at me and shook her head. “You’re an idiot but I guess the price doesn’t really matter. The point, Eric, THE POINT!, the point is that it looked great on her. So tell her.”
“Where’d you see her?”
“What’d she do, bring the mayor cookies?” My mother was always trying to bribe people with cookies. It was one of her better habits.
Rose took another drag on her cigarette and said, “I don’t know but she was with that handsome new cop and the city attorney and that big fat judge, Judge…I dunno, whatever his name is. And to look at her in that suit you mighta thought she owned a cookie factory, but certainly not worked in one!” What is my mother up to?
“Are you sure you saw my mother, Rose? It doesn’t sound like her. I mean you’re not flashing back to anything are ya? Maybe it’s the chemicals coming off of that cheap-ass leather upholstery in your new car.”
“It’s a Mercedes, Eric! It’s not cheap-ass! And there’s nothing wrong with the upholstery!” She shook her head back and forth. “You are the most aggravating man!”
You know, puppies shouldn’t ever be lunch…no matter what. But sometimes, like now, I get the feeling that somebody’s smearing mayonnaise on my ass and getting ready to dig in.
When I pulled into our street and saw all of the cars in front of our house my heart almost stopped. There was my mother’s van, a cop car, a black Cadillac and a blue Buick all parked in my driveway and on the street. I guess after what Rose said I shouldn’t have been surprised but still my heart sank because there was absolutely no way that these people were here with good news.
Of course my first thought was that someone was hurt but I knew instantly that wasn’t right. My mother would have called me. She wouldn’t wait for me to get home and then spring it on me. I didn’t want to go in. I wanted to drive on by and come back later but I didn’t.
My mother was standing in the kitchen with the telephone in her hand and there were the muted voices of a group of people coming from the living room. My mom was wearing the clothes that I figured that Rose saw her in and she looked really dressed up but she also had an apron on over them.
She had a frustrated look on her face that I figured I was probably somehow responsible for putting there. When she saw me she almost jumped.
“Eric! I’ve been trying to call you!” It came out as an accusation.
“My phone didn’t ring!” I reached for my phone and then realized that it was gone. “It’s gone. I must have left it somewhere.”
I pointed towards the living room and mimed the words, “Who’s here?” Why did I even ask? Trouble is here! I’m not sure how, what or even exactly when but I know trouble when I see it.
She closed the sliding door that led from the kitchen into the family room and living room. She said, “Sit down, Sweetheart.” Oh God!
While I edged over to the table she turned slightly and gestured towards the living room. Her voice was soft and controlled. “The people….well Mark you know and then there’s Judge Stone and” she sighed, “the Chief and Larry Teller, the City Attorney.”
“Ma?” She seemed distracted.
“They didn’t catch you shoplifting that dress did they? And now they’re here to take you away?” I could see it all now; Mark following my mom through Saks, watching her stuffing crap, like that dress, into one of those oversized shopping bags that she always seems to have with her and then finally reporting her to her pal the Chief and then all of them sadly confronting her while she tries in vain to pay em off with cookies.
This was something I could get into! I started to stand up. “We’ve got a lawyer, Ma! It’s probably your first offense! For Christ’s sake! You’re an old lady! They can’t do this to you!”
She grabbed my arm and hissed at me. “Eric, sit down! I bought the dress!”
I dropped back into the chair. “You paid sixteen hundred bucks for a dress?”
She looked down at it. “What, you don’t like it? I need it, Eric! There’s committee meetings, business meetings….I can’t always look like a housewife!”
“Ma! You could buy a really great flat panel TV for that kinda money!”
She made a face and shook her head. Her voice rose. “You and your TV’s! Eric, the world doesn’t all happen on television! Sometimes you gotta turn it off! It’s not good for the boys!”
She waved her hands like she was erasing everything that she had said. “None of that’s important, Eric! This is about David.” Oh shit!
My stomach was in knots but there’s nothing that focuses me like the kids. I said softly, “Tell me.”
She glanced in the direction of the living room. She swallowed and said, “Okay…for one thing, Mark Hanson is not really Mark Hanson. He’s Mark Hanley. Eric, he’s David’s real father.”
I could feel small white explosions going off behind my eyes and I blinked. Even to me my voice sounded strange. I said, “And?”
She put her hand gently on mine and said, “Eric, he didn’t know what had happened. No one could find him, remember? He didn’t know. Eric, he wants his son.”
I stood up so quickly that the chair went over backwards crashed into the wall and slid down to the floor. My mind was white with rage. I said, “I’ll take care of that son-of-a-bitch!” And I stumbled towards the door and tried to rip it open and forgetting for a moment that it was a sliding door but then finally getting it and slamming it open. I could feel a trickle of spit forming in the corner of my mouth as I headed for the living room with my mother screaming at me to stop.
Mark was sitting on the sofa with his cop hat sitting on his lap. His head jerked up when he saw me coming for him but I grabbed the front of his shirt before he could say anything and tried to pull him up.
I screamed into his face, “I want you fucking outta here!” I kept pulling on him but the truth was that I wasn’t having much luck with moving him although he did look scared to death. “You fucking deserted David when he needed you and you can’t fucking have him now!” But the more I pulled on him the more that he cringed backward trying to get away from the total screaming asshole that I had become while the Chief of Police, Judge Stone and the City Attorney had jumped outta the way and were hiding over by the windows.
My mother was screaming at me to stop and was hitting my arm with a huge wooden spoon and then suddenly there were strong arms around me lifting me off of my feet and with my hands still grabbing the air trying to get hold of Mark, Pete carried me away and put me down in the hall away from the action.
Even though my feet were touching the floor he wasn’t letting go of me. His arms were all the way around me crushing my back to his chest while he talked softly in my ear.
“Calm down, Eric, calm down, it’s okay, it’s okay. Take a deep breath.” My whole body was quivering with unspent energy.
“Lemme go, Pete! I’m gonna kill the bastard!”
“Shhhhhh, take it easy, take it easy, just calm down, calm down.” His voice was deep and hypnotic and he wasn’t letting me go.
“He wasn’t there for him, Pete! He’s got no right to him now!”
“I thought that too, Eric but I was wrong. I was wrong about it, Eric and you’re wrong too but you gotta calm down.”
I tried to twist around and look at him. “You knew about this? You knew and didn’t tell me?”
His voice was anxious. “Just for the last forty-five minutes, Baby, just then. I tried to call you, to warn you but you didn’t answer. I talked to him, Eric, to Mark. He didn’t know, she didn’t tell him.”
I could feel it all leaving my body all…of the tension. I knew I had lost and even began to see that I probably shouldn’t win. Pete felt the change and relaxed his grip on me. I turned in his arms and looked up into his eyes.
He said softly, “Are you okay?”
I rested my forehead on his chest for a moment and then stood up straight and said, “I need to be alone for awhile. I just….just lemme go down to the basement for awhile.” He nodded yes.
“Don’t let em come down, okay? I just need to be alone.”
I ducked past the living room where it looked like a murder had been committed and where my mother was trying to soothe ruffled feathers probably by telling everyone that I was insane and slipped down the basement stairs. I didn’t turn on the light but there was a little light coming in from a window well. Over in a dark corner was an old mattress that had been Jase’s first one. I pulled it down onto the floor and laid down on it. It smelled of urine and it reminded me of why it was down here. Jase hated having it in his room. He never actually said but I knew that he considered it evidence, proof positive of his babyhood, an embarrassment that he couldn’t wait to get rid of. At the first sign that he was making it through the night dry I pulled it outta his room and replaced it with a “big boy” bed. He was so happy. I woulda replaced the whole fucking house to see that look on his face.
I laid there listening to the sounds of the house and the muted sounds of people moving around upstairs, forcing myself to not think about losing David. But would I really lose him? Maybe not. Who the fuck knew? I heard people leaving, voices, saying goodbye sounds. The sounds of Charlies’s claws on the kitchen floor. Maybe I even dozed. I felt so drained from my little freak out.
Then I heard the door at the top of the stairs open and footsteps coming down. My mother would never come down here and they weren’t heavy enough to be Pete’s and too heavy to be Jase’s.
In the near dark David laid down next to me. His hand searched for mine, found it and held it. We laid there together for several minutes without speaking and then finally I said, “Pete….Pete and my mom and well…maybe most people are good at so many things. The only thing I was ever really great at was being a dad.”
David let go on my hand and rolled over onto his side facing me. His voice seemed so clear in the darkness, almost crystaline. “You’re the best dad that ever was.”
I reached over and put my hand on the side of his face. I said softly, “I won’t ever not be your dad. No matter what happens I’ll always be there for you.”
“And I’ll always be your son.”