I’ve been back in the Bronx for less than two weeks, trapped with my parents in the house I grew up in. My mother and I both swore over the heap of our dead bodies I’d never live here again. She’s been nastier than ever since I returned. I have a new job lined up, but it doesn’t start until the first of the month.
I call my sister every night, half crying, half joking. “Please, Judy. Won’t you let me come out there by you? I can’t stay here. I swear, I’d kill her in her sleep, put a pillow right over her face, but she’s awake around the fucking clock.”
“I have to talk to Andy. I’ll let you know what he says.”
My sister and her husband are schoolteachers. They own a home on Long Island and talk about getting a pool. They have no kids yet. To me, they look like grown-ups.
My father was supposed to be home around lunchtime so we could drive to Queens and borrow my son from his grandmother’s for the weekend. I stare throughthe screen door, trying to will his car to come lurching around the corner.
“He should’ve been here already. I told Jason three o’clock. He’s gotta work at 4:30.”
“Well then, I guess you’re just gonna have to call and tell him you’ll be late.”
“Why can’t Daddy ever just be where he says he’s gonna?”
She wastes no time refocusing on my failures.
“There’s something you probably should have thought about before you went and had a baby you can’t take care of.”
“Thought about what, Mom? Needing a ride four years in the future?”
“You know everything, big shot. You figure it out.”
When Dad finally shows up, I’ve been waiting on the stoop for nearly two hours. He bounces a tire off the curb, rolls down the window and asks where my mother is.
“In the kitchen.” I open the passenger side door and plop myself down on a pile of newspapers, plastic bags and garbage. He stares straight ahead for a minute, weighing his options. It’s clear he’s already had a few. His eyes are glassy, his features, slack. There’s beer on his breath. We roll away from the sidewalk and down the street.
We only go about five blocks. He pulls into the parking lot behind the auto supply store.
“Stay here,” he tells me. “Lock the door.”
Hustling a few dozen steps, he contends with the zipper on his pants and takes a piss against the side of the building.
My father drives with a can of Old Milwaukee between his legs, two warm cases in the back seat. We listen to the radio. I mention things I think he might be interested in, but he has no interests. I keep talking anyway. We crawl over the 59th Street Bridge during rush hour. By the time we get to Queens, he is gassed.
It looks as though Jason and Kirin have been standing there forever. As the two of them approach the car, my father drains what’s left of his beer. I try to tuck the empty underneath my seat with the others, but there’s no more room. I throw my jacket over the beverages behind us as my son climbs in.
“Hi, honey,” I say.
“We were waiting and waiting.”
Jason’s head and shoulders fill the driver’s side window. He glances around the inside of the car, seeing whatever it is that he sees.
“Everything okay here?” he asks, the way a cop might.
“Yup. We’re good.” I say it louder than I need to, hoping the sound of my voice will keep Dad alert and connected to what’s going on.
Jason repeats his question. “Everything alright, Gene?”
He calls my father by his first name. Who the hell does he think he is? Daddy doesn’t answer.
“Can we go?” Kirin groans. He squeezes between us in the front seat, draping himself across the center console. He ignores my suggestion to sit down. I’m not the parent in charge.
“Put your seatbelt on back there.” Jason’s voice is gentle when he speaks to our son. I am jealous of their relationship.
“I can’t find it. There’s too much junk.”
“He’s gonna need a seatbelt, Gene.”
“Yeah. I wouldn’t worry about it if I were you, kid.”
I feel bad for Jason. For a minute. As we drive away, I watch him get smaller and smaller.
As soon as we’re home, I tell my mother what happened.
“You should have heard him, Mom. Trying to shame Daddy like that.”
I exaggerate the details, presenting Jason in the worst possible light. I want her to be angrier at him than she is disappointed with me. It’s not fair, but I do it anyway.
She supervises while I give Kirin a bath, making sure to remind me that I’m washing him all wrong.
“You know, Mary.Your father may be a frig, but drunk or sober, he’d never let any harm come to that baby.”
“I know that, Mom.”
“What a set of balls on that kid.” She’s good and annoyed now. “Let’s be honest. It’s no surprise you fucked shit up, but I was damn good to him.”
I like where this is going. It almost feels like we’re on the same side.
I help my son into his pajamas and brush his clean, damp hair away from his face. He smells like cookies. My mother jerks the hairbrush out of my hand.
“Give me that,” she says. She combs his hair in the opposite direction.