In the excerpt below, Mike, the protagonist, meets his son Kyle for the first time after having been released from prison.
In the distance I see a kid. I know he's mine, even from this far away. As he gets closer I recognize his mother's eyes. My face and mouth. But he's small, very small. How tall is a kid that age supposed to be? Taller I think. I'm recalculating his age in my mind. Thirteen, he should be thirteen but looks more like eleven. Or does he? I really have no idea what a child that age should look like. It's been too long since I've seen one. Still, I was expecting my clone by now. At his age I was big and buff. He looks almost like a girl. Slender with long, too neatly combed hair. God, I hope he's not a fag.
He stops right in front of me. Blue eyes stare at mine. An uncertain sparkle. I know what he's expecting. Something inside me makes me want to turn around and walk away. I can't do that. It’ll destroy him. I know what that's like. Been there.
"Hi kid," I smile.
Instant gratification. His eyes light up as if someone hit a switch. "Hi," he grins back, a little unsure. His voice sounds like a sneaker skidding on a basketball court.
I used to take him out every now and then. Nothing regular. Just now and then. But I do remember how happy he was to be with me each time. He was innocent then. Didn't know what I was all about. Now he knows. He knows where I've been, his mother told him. He doesn't care. He doesn't care I was in prison. He doesn't care I'm a career criminal. To him I'm his dad, and as long as I fulfill that role, he will love me.
"How've you been?"
"Fine," he squeaks back.
He looks at me as if he's asking to reach for him. I need to show I care.
"I'm glad to see you," I say, and I mean it. I never wanted any kids, but I have long accepted this one as mine. I blocked him out of my life and mind for the past seven plus years out of self-preservation, not because I didn't want him. I just don't know how to do this.
"You look good--" I hesitate, "your mom been taking good care of you?"
He nods. "You look good too," he says.
"Liar," I laugh. It breaks the ice.
"No, I mean it," he smiles. "I've been wondering what you'd look like when I would see you again. If I ever would see you again--"
"I'm sorry, I should have written you--" Suddenly I regret losing all these years. "Life is different on the inside--"
He looks at me. Sizes me up. "Is it hard in prison?"
I'm guessing he wants to know if what he sees in movies has anything to do with reality, like Mia did. We still stand next to my car. I look at the house, but his mother is nowhere to be seen. She doesn't want to see me. It's fine, I don't need to see her. She would probably just talk about money, and that she needs some from me. I gesture at Kyle to get in the car, and walk to the other side.
"Mom hates me," he says as I throw his bag in the backseat.
I look at him.
"She says I look like you, and that I remind her of you each time she looks at me."
I don't know what to say.
"She told me to give you this--" he hands me a large brown envelope with my name on it.
I throw it on the dashboard and start the engine. I'll read it later.
I don’t want to talk about his mother. I don’t think he does either. "Prison is no summer camp," I say. "In prison you're nothing, you don't exist. If you try to exist you better have the goods to back it up or you get hammered." I briefly look at him to see his reaction.
"But I sat out my time quietly. I had no trouble."
"You didn't get into any fights?"
"Nope. It happens, but I wanted to get out as early as possible so I stayed out of trouble."
"Oh." He seems almost disappointed.
I put the shift in DRIVE, and release the break. The car starts to move. Kyle immediately grabs the seatbelt and fastens it. His mother dressed him well.
"You should put yours on too," he says. "It's mandatory now."
Mandatory. It sounds strange in his mouth. Or maybe I haven't accepted the fact that he's thirteen. I smile at him while I buckle up, and accelerate.
The envelope falls from the dash, but I'm quick enough to catch it and put it back.
"Why don't you open it?"
"I will. Later."
I'm nervous again. It's the kid. I'm his father and have to take care of him this weekend. A whole weekend.
I'll be fine.
"So do you play any sports?"
He shakes his head. "Just skateboarding."
"That's a sport, isn't it?"
He sighs, and looks at me. "Yes and no-- I mean, technically it’s more of a sport than poker, which by the way is on ESPN all the time. But it’s like, skateboarding is not taken very seriously by most people."
"How come?" I'm grateful for conversation that is not about me.
"Well, it's like this: sports is all about money, so the more money there is in the sport, the higher it's ranked. I don't think golf is much of a sport. Right? I mean, come on. You hit a ball, and then there's a guy to carry your shit around, and all you have to do is walk to the cart because you don't even have to walk from hole to hole, You drive in a cart."
I laugh. He's a thinker. Or maybe he’s just nervous.
"But, there's lots of money in golfing for some damn reason, so it's all over ESPN. Skateboarding is much more physical, right? So it should be considered a real sport, but there's a lot less money in it, so people don't take it seriously."
I can tell this is something that bothers him a lot more than the fact his father is a criminal.
"Everybody likes money," I say. From the corner of my eye I see he's looking at me. I have to pay attention. Traffic is dense. The next few minutes we ride in silence.
"Where are we going," he finally asks.
"I'm not sure. I was thinking of getting us a room at a hotel."
"Can't we go to your place?"
I'll have to lie now. "I'm not even settled yet-- Maybe next time."
"Oh. Okay. Where do you live anyway?"
What do I tell him. The place in Miami or the one in Hollywood? "Miami. Next to the airport."
"I thought you lived closer."
"Sorry. I don't mind the drive though."
"I love your car. It's a 69 Mach 1 right?"
I smile. He knows his cars too. "Yeah, a 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1, with a 428 V8 engine, to be exact."
"It's really cool."
"I bought it at an auction, but it's been in a garage for seven years--"
"It looks like new."
"That’s because it had been completely restored when I bought it."
He looks at me and at the dashboard. I can tell he wants to drive the car. He needs to grow a little.
I turn off the A1A and head for Palm Beach. We have the sun in our back and from the bridge Palm Beach stretches out ahead of us. It has changed. Not everything, but things are different.
©2010 David Thyssen