When I left the slammer I had enough money for the bus the hell out of there and a can of Dr. Pepper. The Dr. Pepper was something I'd been looking forward to; the bus ticket would get me as far as mother and my parole officer. If I'd been a more diligent prisoner I could have earned some cash working at the prison call center -- and improved my self-esteem by default, they said in the brochure. Delta and United had contracts at the time but it was too weird. 'One-way to Rio, sir? What dates, please?' That's not a job for an inmate. Others took it seriously, though. The going rate was $2 a day -- can you believe it? -- which I suppose if multiplied by 15 years minus time off for good behavior -- because you're on the phone all day and not horsing around in the yard -- amounts to a weekend on the Strip. Also, I was only incarcerated for three years this time, so really, what was the point? There weren't other ways to generate income without exchanging bodily fluids, and I was saving myself for her. The issue of disposable $ would have to be addressed at a later date. It was like it was predestined, going home and what happened then. It had to happen.
All the way, all I could think of was her, the girl with the skinny legs and the funny face. It was the first thing I asked mother -- was she still in town? Had she married? I was afraid she had forgotten me. Mother sighed, turned out the gas under the pot and sat down. She lit up and blew smoke at the ceiling. Listen up good, she said. Yes, she was still in town. Yes, she'd married. A librarian from Hicksville, years before. And theirs was a happy marriage, people said. They had a daughter, Katy, and a Yorkshire terrier called Tomahawk. Mother said he was the meanest mutt in town. Now let that be the end of it, she said. You don't want to go there.
But it wasn't to be the end of it by far, not yet. There was room for more before the final credits rolled: room enough for comedy, perhaps, for action and adventure and -- dare I say -- room enough for romance. I had not given up hope.
Mother dished the soup and we ate in silence. We'd covered the important ground. I passed on a second serving and she smoked another; I flicked through the paper. She crushed the butt and looked up. Key's in the glove, she said, and stood to clear the bowls.
So, I said, catch you later. I need to check in with my parole officer.
You do that, she said, and stay the hell out of trouble.
Procedure is following, said Smith. You sign here every day for the next three months. You've been released into your mother's custody and that's where I expect to find you after 9 p.m., every evening, and no goddamn exception, clear? As for Sophie Whitehall: she knows you're out. Go within 400 yards of her and, well, that's it: your third strike, and you know what that means. OK. I stood to leave, though he didn't get up, just swirled around in his fancy chair, the end of his glasses stuck in his gob like a pipe. I asked him if there was anything else. Don't fuck up, he said, and scratched his chin like he had something on his mind. It was a Wednesday, hanging in the middle of the week like no man's land.
I swung by her place on the way home. I crawled by at five mph. There was a swing on the front lawn, and an overturned pram. The lawn looked like it could use a little work. But otherwise seemed I'd have to come back.
At home, mother was passed out in front of the TV. She had the local news channel on mute and David Bowie's 'Kooks' ripping from the cassette player. I took a blanket from the bedroom and threw it over her. The bottle of gin on the table was less than half empty or full, whichever way you want to look at it. Some things just never change. I sat around for a while, listening to Bowie and watching the weather report. Then I rang her place -- five or six times over the space of an hour -- but nobody picked up. On the way out I put my head around the door of my room. It looked like the dust monster had taken over.
I drove over and parked outside. There were lights on, and a couple of shadows moved back and forth in the living room window, frantically actually, like they were late setting the table and guests were on the way. I guessed Tomahawk was responsible for the yapping, then the yelp, like someone had applied a foot to his side. I gave my next move some thought, or was doing so when light streamed out the front door and announced her husband, I presume, who came striding across the grass with a hammer in his hand and intent on his face. Before I could unbuckle he'd opened the door and dragged me out of the car. She'd certainly found herself a specimen. Ex-army, I reckon, who wouldn't have looked amiss back in the yard; fit, strong, not like the last dull sluggard. And not like any librarian I ever knew. He hit me three, four, five times -- pounded -- and blood ran into my eyes. Then he stopped, just as I was on the verge of losing the ghost. Don't do the crime if you can't do the time -- that was one of the gems of wisdom I learned inside. He looked back to the door, and that's when I caught him between the legs. Self-defence -- those were the words ticking in my head as I pried away the hammer and made shit of him. He wasn't so brave now, lying there unconscious. I recognised the scream and turned to the door. There she was. I lifted a hand in greeting. She'd changed, of course; the woman, not the girl. And looking the better for it -- for the years. Same this and that and everydamnthing. It felt like all my yesterdays. The noise coming out of her stopped but she kept right on screaming big silent screams. It's me, I said, and walked towards her, wiping the blood from my eyes. She didn't so much as look at me, though, and stumbled around me to where he lay bleeding up the street. It was then I saw the shadow beside the door. Who do we have here, now? I said, and she peeped her head out. The cutest little girl I ever seen. Well now, I said, and lowered myself to her latitude. The cutest little thing. What did you do to Daddy? she said, and stepped back. Thing was, I could hear sirens approaching and felt a whole lot of trouble coming my way, more than you could shake a stick at. So instead of getting all wound up in detail, I just lifted her onto my arm and made for the car. This was not part of my original plan, which escapes me now. But hell, I'd make a damn good ersatz father. As we drove away she looked out the rear window and waved to her mommy, who looked a mess smeared crimson and kneeling in the street, her hands outstretched like she was invoking the Almighty. I watched her in the rear-view, then turned south and hit the gas.
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