by Derek Reimers
It was dark and pouring. Jeffrey increased the speed of the wiper blades to keep up with the rain, but they continued to lose ground. In the passenger seat Jeffrey’s father, Arthur, his sweater dimly lit by the by the LED lights of the center console, sat quietly. Jeffrey had picked him up, begrudgingly, eight hours ago at his retirement home. He wasn’t expecting the phone call from his father asking for a ride. Jeffrey, now forty-eight, hadn’t talked to his father in twelve years. Arthur abandoned him and his mother when he was thirteen and only saw him once a year or so until he was twenty-two. After that the visits became less and less frequent. Jeffrey wasn’t sure he was going to follow through with the request when he hung up the phone, but his conscience go the best of him. And, if Jeffrey were being honest, he would admit that he missed his Dad, even if he did hate him.
Two hours had passed since either of them had spoken. Jeffrey was fine with the lack of conversation. His father only tolerated it because the radio had a good run of songs playing. Earlier, when Jeffrey picked Arthur up, they had spoken briefly, but it was only the bland socially mandatory pleasantries two men exchange. Hello’s and how are you’s. The two had only one thing in common. They both loved sports. Arthur thought maybe this would be a good starting point.
“You been keeping up with The Dodgers? They’re looking pretty good this year.”
Jeffrey wasn’t in the mood. Ignoring his father he increased the volume of the radio.
“Sorry, I just…” Arthur didn’t feel the need to finish his explanation.
The silence lasted a few more minutes. Jeffrey turned the radio to a local classic rock station hoping it would keep his father entertained a while longer, but Arthur needed to get this off of his chest.
“You know, I’m sorry.” Arthur admitted.
Caught off guard Jeffrey turned the music down. “What?”
“I said I’m sorry. For not being around for you, ya know, when you were younger.”
“Why in the world would you pick now to say that?”
“Oh geez, Jeff. Well, we haven’t seen each other in a while. I honestly don’t know when I’ll see you again after this. So I though…”
“I just think your timing is a little weird. You had thirty-five years to – “
A loud bang came from outside the car. Jeffrey muscled the steering wheel to keep control of the vehicle while Arthur clutched the passenger door. The car stabilized and Jeffrey slowly rolled the car to an imbalanced stop on the shoulder of the highway. After the pair gathered themselves for a moment Jeffrey got out of the car to see what had happened. He moved quickly through the rain around to the rear passenger tire. Covered by a loose blanket of rubber he could see the exposed steel of the wheel.
“Looks like we got a flat.” Arthur blurted from inside the car.
Jeffrey looked up at his father, unamused by his observation then made his way back to the driver’s seat. Soaked, he pulled out his cell phone and called AAA.
“Why don’t we just change it ourselves?” Arthur suggested.
“Because I don’t have a spare. I used it a couple years back and never replaced it.”
“That seems pretty irresponsible.”
Jeffrey retorted with an angry glare. The two sat patiently as Jeffrey waited on hold. The light from the cell phone was the only thing illuminating the inside of the car. Arthur tapped is fingers on the passenger door arm rest to a rhythm he seemed to have practiced many times. Jeffrey, irritated by the incessant tapping, waved at his father to stop.
“Hello? Hi, I’m on the side of Highway 95 about two hours from the Nevada border… Yeah, it’s a flat tire. No, I don’t have a spare. Yes, that does seem irresponsible. Okay, thank you.” Jeffrey hung the phone up.
“So? What’s the news?”
“They’re sending a truck. It’s going to be about an hour.”
“Damn, well good. We need to talk anyway. That tire interrupted us.”
Jeffrey turned his head towards his father. His look made Arthur feel inadequate, small. Arthur had planned to have this conversation with his son for some time now. Unfortunately his son’s refusal to answer his phone made opportunity scarce.
Jeffrey said, “We don’t need to talk, Dad. I was 13. You decided you couldn’t handle a family. Mom raised me on her own, and now I’m 48 years old on my way to her funeral in a car with my dad, who I barely know. That’s it. That’s what happened. There’s nothing else to discuss.”
“Oh Jeff, I didn’t leave because I couldn’t handle a family. I love you. I loved your mother. I didn’t have anything to do with the responsibility. Your Mother, she…” Arthur trailed off not realizing how unsure he was of his next words. “She didn’t love me anymore.”
“She didn’t love me the way I loved her. I couldn’t handle that. So I packed up and left. And every day, every single damn day, I told myself I was going to come by and see you. Spend time with you. But every time I thought of it I pictured your mother and I just couldn’t handle it. I didn’t run off because of some mid-life crisis, I ran off because she broke my heart and I wasn’t able to deal with it.”
Jeffrey sat silently and still for a few moments. He didn’t know what to do with this information. He needed to know more.
“How did you know?” Jeffrey asked.
“What do you mean?”
“How did you know she wasn’t in love with you anymore?”
“She… She just let me know. That’s not important. Look, I’m not trying to say I deserve any forgiveness. I should’ve been able to put my feelings aside and I should have been there for you. I just wanted you to know why I…”
“Well I think it is important. You wanted to talk about this. How did she tell you?”
“Jeffrey, it’s really not. Anyway, I don’t think it would be fair for me to say now with her gone.”
“Dad. Tell me.”
Arthur looked at his son, wondering what the right thing to say was. He thought about his ex-wife, whom they would bury tomorrow. He thought about how much he still loved her. He thought about all the events he missed in Jeffrey’s life. He thought if telling Jeffrey what had happened would somehow make up for some of the mistakes he made or if it would only make Jeffrey hate his mother. He knew if he told Jeffrey any more that the questions wouldn’t stop. He’d ask how long she had had the affair and how he had found out. He’d ask what the other man’s name was and why he didn’t say anything until now. That’s not what Arthur wanted when he started this conversation. He just wanted to ask for forgiveness or, at least some understanding.
After reflecting Arthur said, “She just told me one day. I came home from work, she sat me down, told me how she felt, and I couldn’t handle it. I left the next day.”
Jeffrey sat in silence considering what his father had just said, “That’s it?”
“Yeah.” Arthur replied.
The silence from earlier returned. Jeffrey and Arthur both looked straight ahead out of the waterfall flowing over the windshield of Jeffrey’s car. Neither man knowing what to say next. After a few moments, Jeffrey interrupted the silence.
“Well, thanks for telling me, I guess. Now what?”
“I don’t know. I’m sorry I waited so long to tell you.”
“No, no. I get it. I think.”
Arthur was relieved by the ease with which his confession was received. He felt it was a good time to press his luck.
“I was hoping maybe sometime we can go and catch a Dodgers game?”
Jeffrey turned to look his father in the eye, hesitated and said, “Sure. My company has some tickets down the third base line. I can see if I can get those.” After a moment Jeffrey had another thought, “Why do you think she never explained it to me? About why you left.”
“It’s hard to say. She had a lot going on with work, raising you all alone. She probably just thought it best to leave it be and focus on what was happening now. And she did a hell of job. You’re a good man because of her.”
“Yeah, she was a great Mom.”
Just then a light pierced the back window of the car blinding the two inside followed by several flashing lights. The tow truck had arrived and would take them the rest of the way.
Category: Featured, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU Student