Home, Son, and Don’t Spare the Horses
Samson’s father is in the passenger seat because he’s just in town visiting, doesn’t know this town like he knows this town, and with the way he looks sitting there in the rental compact, a very large man in a very small seat, Samson’s having trouble keeping his eyes on the road. The traffic’s bad and he’s anxious, Samson is, would like more than anything right now to roll down the window and light up a cigarette but his father doesn’t know he smokes, would bother him if he did, what with his own father having died of emphysema, in the hospital while he died and all the while his father, Samson’s grandfather, pleading for him to smuggle in a pack of cigarettes, tried bribing the nurses, even threatened to go on a hunger strike before he died, all this told to Samson later because he was still little at the time, told, “That’s what cigarettes will do to you so if I ever catch you smoking I’ll really give you the what for.”
His stepmother is back at the hotel room, been there since after they came from lunch, on the phone with her sponsor. His father had wanted some German food, had done some research and found a place with the most extraordinary schnitzel, he said, and as an appetizer they’d ordered fondue, fondue with white wine and Gruyère and it was delicious, so delicious she couldn’t stop eating it, asked what gave it that delicious taste and Samson said the wine, the white wine, and she said “There’s wine in this?” and then said they had to go, had to go call her sponsor and tell her the wagon she’d been on had hit a bump and she’d inadvertently fallen off.
So his father never got to have the schnitzel but he didn’t seem to especially mind, was proud it seemed and Samson supposed he was kind of proud too, proud of his father for how supportive and obliging he’d become in his retirement and proud of her, remembered the way she used to drink, wine coolers at ten in the morning because “It’s not even really alcohol,” she’d say, ambling around the living room, kitchen, dining room, with the bottle and a lit cigarette that she never actually seemed to smoke in one hand and an ashtray for when the ash got too long in the other. So yes, proud at how far she’d come, made the choice to change her lifestyle and stuck with it which was more than anyone and especially him had ever expected of her, and also amused by the panic in her eyes after just a few dips of fondue, and also disgusted, furious, and also hungry.
There’s a jam at the light up ahead, no left turn light and strong oncoming traffic, light’s turned green three times already and they’ve barely moved a hundred feet. They had lunch after all. Dropped her off at the hotel to call her sponsor and went out to eat, had Thai food because it was really the only thing around in the neighborhood besides fast food and pizza and he wanted to take his father someplace exotic, at least relatively so, but the food wasn’t very good. Samson ordered a beer and then thought better of it but his dad said, “Go ahead, have a beer. Maybe I’ll have one too,” as if it wasn’t weird at all for them to have a beer together, which, Samson thought, maybe it wasn’t, so he ordered a beer and finished it before the food had even come and then he ordered another because it was something to do instead of talking, and when the food came it was all beer and food and he couldn’t really eat fast enough because he didn’t want to give himself the breath to talk about it, talk about the panic in her eyes, talk about what might have happened back at the hotel room if she couldn’t get a hold of her sponsor, and his father said, “Jesus, Samson! I didn’t realize you were so hungry but don’t eat so fast!”
He ate too much, Samson did, ate too much but isn’t drunk, despite what he imagines his father is probably thinking based on the worried glances he keeps shooting his way, isn’t drunk because he knows how to handle his liquor now, isn’t an alcoholic by any means but enjoys a beer or two at night or with lunch sometimes and maybe more if he’s out with friends and it’s a celebratory occasion, can drink four, five, six beers sometimes and only be nominally drunk, revels now in how drinking isn’t associated with her yelling and him yelling but with having a pleasant time and would like to say this to him, his father, that he shouldn’t be worried about him being drunk because he’s not, but can’t. The traffic light’s turned green four times and they’re still waiting and now it’s turned red again, and Samson says, “Fucking go already!”
“Jesus, Samson!” says his father. “It’s just a little traffic jam so take it easy already!” he says, which is really the funniest thing of all to Samson, considering the temper he’s seen in the past, considering the way his father used to scream and shout in the car, once he remembers when they drove down to San Francisco, his uncle graduating from the university and they went to the ceremony and afterward out for celebratory dinner, his father driving, his uncle in the passenger seat and Samson in the backseat, couldn’t have been more than six or seven, and driving in the city traffic, which was really not that much different from the traffic his father was used to if maybe just a little more intensified, he shouted and screamed, called the other drivers all manner of names to make any mother blush but not Samson, not Samson because he’d heard them all before, “Cocksucker” and “Motherfucker” and “Son of a whore” and “Va fangul” among others, though those certainly not the worst of them. “Jesus, Vincent!” said his uncle to his father. “Take it easy already! People are animals around here. It’s not like back home. People around here just as likely to wave hello as they are to shove a gun in your face.”
“Jesus, really?” said his father. “Jesus! People can be such goddamn animals.”
“Jesus, Samson!” says his father. “You’re going to get the both of us killed,” he says, and this is when Samson laughs, not laughs but smiles, because it’s ironic hearing this from him of all people, pot calling the kettle black, he thinks, isn’t that rich, thinks, and then cuts into the gas station parking lot, pulls out in front of a black Mercedes whom he sees, sees coming, but also sees there’s plenty of time to pull out in front of him, the Mercedes sees him, honks the horn at Samson and flips him the bird.
“Jesus!” says Samson. “Did you just see that animal, just flipped me off,” he says, rolls down the window although not to smoke, sticks out his arm and gives Mercedes the finger right back, and not a halfhearted finger but a finger emboldened with purpose, all acute angles and righteous air, and just for good measure he shouts out the window, “Fuck you, you fuck!” Mercedes accelerates from two cars’distance to a few feet, on his ass as it were, and inside the driver seems to be shaking his head with hands at eleven and one in grim determination of what, Samson doesn’t particularly want to know.
“Can you believe this animal?” asks Samson, not necessarily to his father but just to hear the sound of his own indignation, his father getting more and more agitated, sliding farther and farther down in his seat until his knees are nearly touching the dash, right hand hanging off the handle for dear life, can’t even say anything anymore. “Doesn’t even realize his car costs more than I make in two years,” says Samson, then thinks about this, considers it a possible indication of the instability of his pursuer, like maybe it’s not even his car, maybe it’s stolen, maybe it is his car and he’s made his money by dishonorable means, by which Samson means criminal, by which he means maybe he’s not following him to tell him what for at all but to break his kneecaps. Or worse. “What?” Samson shouts into the rearview mirror. “Get off my ass!”
Samson is driving without discrimination, turning left here and right there with no thought to their destination, thinks maybe if he draws the Mercedes far enough off course he’ll give up, go back to wherever he’s going the animal, his father says, “Stop the car, Samson. You’re going to get the both of us killed.”
“I’m not going to stop the car, Dad,” says Samson. “If I stop the car there’s no telling what this animal might do. I can outrun him,” he says, and right now he really thinks he can. This car is amazing, he thinks, handles like a dream, doesn’t even worry about the traction of the tires on the road, doesn’t even think about it even though it’s been raining, leaves on the ground, but no disparity between when he pulls the steering wheel left, right, and when the car turns left, right, no give, no play, he pulls the steering wheel left, the car turns left, a residential neighborhood with a high canopy of oak trees lining the street, oak leaves that have fallen onto the road, nice cars parked in front of nice houses on either side of the street, not even really room for two-way traffic because that’s just how nice a neighborhood this is, where oncoming cars pull over for one another, wave for the other to pass, no you go, no you go, wave when they pass each other. But this isn’t where Samson lives and he’s not stopping.
He can’t believe the Mercedes is still behind him, must have a powerful engine under the hood, a lot of horsepower and also an agile hand behind the wheel, he pulls the steering wheel right, car turns right, and suddenly there’s something in the middle of the road, no time to even see what it is before he hits the brakes, skids a good three or four feet, feels the whatever it is in the road roll under the front tire before the car comes to a stop. The Mercedes stops behind him. For a minute or two there’s no one moving, not Samson, not his father in the passenger seat, not Mercedes. If Mercedes gets out of the car he’s gone, he thinks, or what if someone’s calling the police? All of a sudden Mercedes turns on his lights, puts the car in reverse for a three-point turn and drives away the way he’s come, back through the nice residential neighborhood, and just like that that’s that.
“I don’t think it’s anything,” says his father. “Probably just a stick, a piece of trash, at worst maybe a small animal like a squirrel or a bird, but nothing bigger than that,” he says.
“I saw color,” says Samson.
“A piece of trash, then. Jesus, if you weren’t going so fast maybe you would have seen it, but I think I saw it, something small I saw, maybe a toy left out in the middle of the road by one of the children that live nearby, but let me take a look,” he says. “Just stay in the car while I take a look,” he says, opens the door and gets out of the car, struggles to lift himself up out of the seat which is too low for him, struggles visibly, bends down to look underneath the car and Samson watches him, sees him slowly put his right hand down on the pavement to support his right knee and then his left hand down to support his left knee, an old man all of a sudden, not long before he’ll have to start taking care of him he thinks, on all fours now bends his head down and holds his breath and then for just a minute he’s out of sight, under the car, before he pops up again, brushes off the palms of his hands and then his knees and lets out his breath, gets back in the car.
“A doll,” he says. You hit a doll. Now please take me home.”
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED