A Long Time Passing

by Rick Beck

Chapter 8

Home Coming

I was relieved to be getting home. There is nothing like a hot shower after a night in jail. Mr. Morales hadn't come cheap, but he'd had the desired affect. I was almost looking forward to my day in court, but this was fine as well.

"Thomas, we need to talk," Kathy said before I got my coat off.

"I know what you're going to say, dear. I guess I should have been more careful," I said.

"What's going on. What are you working on?"

"Nothing really. I don't know. The night I went to the meeting with a kid tried to get into the car with me. I'm not sure what he wanted. He said money. He looked pathetic. I was in a hurry and brushed the incident off. He's Tom Junior's age, Kathy. He was dirty and beaten down. I can't forget him. I can't get him out of my head and I don't know why."

"Tea dear?"

"Yeah, but I need a shower."

"You need a change of clothes. Looks like you slept in those."

"No, I would not say I slept. You've got to sit up on hard wooden benches. It wasn't something I want to do again," I said.

"Good. I'm glad to hear you say that. I don't want to worry about you every time you go out the door. Todd is worried about you. He says you're heading for trouble. Why don't you forget about the incident with that boy? Why don't you sit down and go to work on something that you like doing, Thomas?"

"I will, dear," I said, not having enough energy to think about what it was I was going to do.

The dirt wasn't so easy to wash away. I had somehow gotten the feel and the smell of the jail inside me. I can't explain it beyond that. There was a certain humiliation to the process that made me feel soiled inside.

I'd never once thought I'd go to jail or suffer any consequences resulting from the mistaken arrest. I stood on firm legal grown proved tried and true over the years. A journalist must be allowed some latitude in investigation or researching his story. The high dollar attorney was a show of force as well as an insurance policy, but I didn't think I needed him. On the other hand I could have used him out in front of my house where we played ball as kids. The man looked like a natural born athlete. I'm sure he played baseball.

I returned to my study in my robe. Kathy came to look for me a few times, making sure I wasn't off getting into trouble again, but I had decided to bring out a piece I'd toyed with for ages and could never keep moving. I'd finally gotten the boy and whatever significance his entry into my life had. This time I would let it go and get back on track. Todd still needed a book from me in a relatively short period of time. I needed to get some work done.

Tom Jr. passed the door some time during the afternoon while I was between sentences.

"Tommy," I said, and he came back to the door to lean in, holding the door jam, but keeping his feet in the hallway.

"Yes, sir?"

"Sit," I said, more ordering him as I nodded toward the chair next to the door.

"You mean step upon hallowed ground?"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Geese, Dad, "Don't make any noise your father is working. Don't bother your father when he's in his office," that kind of hallowed. I thought maybe you were translating the holy bible back here," he said.

"It's been translated numerous times," I said, looking at my progeny.

"News flash," he said in jest.

"How's school?" I asked.

"Mom told you. I'll take the makeup. It's no big deal," he said.

"What's not?"

"She didn't tell you?" he said.

"No, you did. What makeup?"

"Chemistry exam. I bombed out," he said, tossing his hands in the air to indicate the aftereffects of an atomic blast.

"No big deal. I flunked Chemistry," I said in one of my rare human moments.

"You did?" he said, seeming to be delighted. "Cool!"

"Everything is okay? Besides the chemistry thing?"

"Sure. You really failed?" He said, unsure now.

"Nah, I was just trying to make you feel like you weren't so stupid. Yeah, in fact I had to go to summer school because of it. Just remember it's genetic. We Brittle men don't grasp chemistry well but we're good with words."

"Right, dad, I get the picture. I think I'll stick with chemistry. Small rooms make me claustrophobic," he said, rising to leave.

Funny how you lose track of how your kids are growing up. He was in senior high school. He'd be gone in another couple of years. He was lucky to have a good home and loving parents. Well, one loving parent and a geek that hides under the stairs and makes things up.

I suppose most kids aren't lucky enough to have one good parent with the other one living up under the steps. I wondered about the kid in the blue jean jacket. It had paint stains on it. Was he a painter? Or was he careless and brushed against things freshly pained? Did he flunk chemistry? Or didn't he go to school at all? Was his mother really sick? Or did he say it to gain sympathy?

I ran every possible scenario back through my brain again, coming up with a couple of new ones for my troubles. I then wondered if my son knew his father was a jailbird. He certainly wouldn't have noticed my absence. I guess I could be a better father but I never drank in front of the kids and I never beat or yelled at them. I hardly ever talked to them now that they were both teenagers with their dance cards filled to the max each day.

I wrote and didn't write for the rest of the day. Kathy brought me a cup of soup and a tuna sandwich with some potato salad for lunch. Sure beat the hell out of green bologna and a rancid apple.

"Your son is worried about you, dear," Kathy said as she poured me my evening tea.


"Yeah, that's him. You know, born almost sixteen years ago. You were there," she said, placing a fresh cookie on the napkin on the arm of my chair.

"You trying to fatten me up?" I said.

"No, I doubt they gave you any cookies in the joint. I thought it would go nice with the tea. I'm fixing pork roast and dressing for dinner. Do you want it in the office or will you grace us with your presence at dinner?"

"I'll do the table tonight, pork doesn't travel well. What did our son have to say about his father?"

I drank from my cup, weighing the significance of childhood and the dark spaces in the recesses of my mind.

"He said that you invited him into the "sanctuary" and told him you flunked chemistry. You didn't tell me you flunked chemistry in high school," she said, sitting across from me as she always did.

"You think I was going to let the woman I love that I was a failure?"

"You had to have chemistry to get into school."

"That's what summer school is for," I said.

"What's going on, Thomas?"

"What do you mean?"

"Come on! You go wandering around the city late at night. You get arrested, and now you have a talk with your son to reassure him. What's up?"

"You think maybe it could be a brain tumor?"

"No, I don't think it's a brain tumor. I think it's whatever you're writing whether or not you're writing it. This thing with the boy has somehow gotten inside you, dear. You've never acted like this before. You need to deal with it or let it go."

"I can't seem to do that," I said. "I can't write about it and it keeps coming back on me like those stuffed peppers you make."

"Todd said you were researching something you were working on. Isn't that what you said to them? Are you or aren't you?"

Kathy was someone I trusted. She was my wife and we did know and love each other. I didn't keep things from her on purpose, but many times when I was writing, I never spoke or left my study. I suppose I went months without seeing my son and daughter, and I was in the same house with them. Everyone had adjusted to my absences even when I rarely left the house. I often lived inside my stories, having conversations and talking to my characters when I wasn't writing.

"He was familiar but I couldn't have seen him before. I had this eerie feeling about him. I know you'll think it's crazy, more crazy than usual anyway, but he had something to tell me. I don't know what but there was something he had to say to me," I said. "I've got to know what it is."

"You didn't ask him?"

"I don't think I knew it then. I was scared to death. I thought he was going to rob me. He simply got into my car. He was polite and asked me for money. I told him to get out."

"I don't understand, dear."

"I don't either. He got out and locked the car door. He even checked to make sure it was locked. He wasn't there when I got done with Todd. I went back into town to find him. That's why I got mixed up with the boy that got me arrested," I said.

"You're writing about this?" She asked.

"No, I'm not writing about anything. I've been hacking on one of my old short stories. This has been on my mind. I want to know what he was doing there? Why he got into my car? The boy that was arrested with me says he knows him. He doesn't have a name. He says there are others like him out there. It's troubling to me. I think I wanted to know if Tommy was having any problems. Why do you suppose young boys are on the street that time of night?"

"I don't know, dear. It is less than a perfect world. There are people that have less than perfect lives, you for instance. Maybe it has something to do with your childhood, your mother?" She said. "You've never really dealt with that."

"No, and I never will. My mother was a drunk and she's dead. What's past is past," I said.

"Some times not," she said. "What do you plan to do about it."

"Nothing. What can I do? It troubles me. I'd like to know why they're there, why he's there. There could be a book in that. I'm thinking about it. That kid I was with has been arrested six times for the same thing."

"What happened to him, dear?"

"They didn't charge him as long as he testified against me," I said.

"What was he going to say?"

"Anything the prosecutor wanted him to say. If they let him off he'd say what they wanted. If I hadn't been who I am, had a high powered attorney stand up and threaten a lawsuit, they could have convicted me on his testimony because they saw me give him money. That bothers me because I didn't do anything but ask him for information. The fact he has been arrested before, got in my car, and I gave him money, made me guilty in their eyes. They didn't care about anything else."

"They have their hands tied with so much crime and so many people in the jails," she said.

"Perhaps they wouldn't have so many people in jail if they didn't pull stuff like this. I didn't like it much. With all the serious crime it seems a bit much to be arrested and dragged in front of a judge for asking someone some questions. What's the point?"

"They need to keep the streets safe, dear. You even said you thought you were being robbed. A boy shouldn't be out there that time of night. Not getting into stranger's cars. They're protecting the boys as much as they are the people out there with them," she said.

"Kathy, you are naïve. They aren't protecting anyone. They are enforcing laws that are in place because they can't make parents take care of their damn kids. Our kids wouldn't be out there," I said, getting angry.

"Why did you speak with Tommy?"

"To make sure he was okay. To find out what was on his mind."

"This spooky boy didn't have anything to do with that?"

"I suppose. Let's talk about something else," I said. "What's for dessert? I ate my cookie."

Usually when I talked to Kathy it put things into a better perspective. She usually said what I wanted and needed to hear. Tonight she missed the mark, or I simply didn't want to hear what she was saying, or my mind had other ideas about what it all meant. It certainly wasn't doing any good letting it bother me. The mystery boy might be the source of a book but who would read it? Who cared about the kids that haunted the streets, looking for lord knows what?

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