I was standing in the yard, waiting for my dad to come home. It was getting late, and I knew that the
first sign that he was here would be the cloud of dust that the pickup raised as it left the highway and turned into the dirt road that ended at our house. The sun was pretty low now, and it was hard to see down the road because of the glare of the sun as it came through the eucalyptus trees that lined our
I was anxious for my dad to get home. My new driver's license was in my wallet. I could feel it there, folded up, stuck into the clear plastic pocket, the only thing of value I carried. It was the typewritten temporary kind, not even the one with my picture on it; that would come later in the mail. I had just passed my driving test and I was ready to get out there and cruise, but I couldn't go anywhere till my dad got home with the pickup truck. I started to walk around the yard, kicking at clumps of grass and scuffing at the dirt with the tips of my boots. My Levis were new, and so stiff that they creased and rubbed at the back of my knees as I browsed around the yard. I looked up each time I thought I heard the pickup, but it was always another car passing our drive, continuing down the highway.
I was always a little scared to ask my dad for anything. Sometimes he would grunt his OK of what I wanted to do, and sometimes he would stare at me with those faded blue eyes that looked right through me, and my back would tense up and I would know I was going to be in for it. But it was always worth taking the chance. Especially tonight. Now, finally, I could drive, and I wanted more than anything to get into that pickup, go into town, pick up Debbie Ann and go to the drive in. Debbie Ann was sort of my girlfriend, but she couldn't go out with me much since I couldn't drive. Now I had a license, and if I was
lucky I would have wheels tonight.
"Darryl, what are you doing out there?"
That was my mom, standing in the shadow of the screen door, her arms folded across her chest,
hugging herself, her dark hair catching the low rays of the sun. She looked pretty standing there, but
God, she was a pain in the ass sometimes.
"Nothing," I answered.
"What are you doing? Are you waiting for your dad?"
She thought she was so smart. She had to know everything I was doing.
"Just leave me alone."
I didn't want to talk to her right then. I was thinking of how I would ask my dad if I could have the
truck. My dad was a tough kind of guy. He never talked much. He would rather fight than love. He
used to be a middle weight boxer before we came to California, and had 96 fights with no losses. The "Kansas Cyclone" could hold you up with one hand and let you wiggle yourself to death. He was the meanest man I'd ever met. I learned early not to cross him, but I guess I never learned to stop trying. I tried to get him to like me. I tried to get him to at least notice me, to look at me without that murderous look in his eyes. And tonight, I wanted more than anything to get him to le~ me have the truck.
"Darryl, come on inside," my mom called from the doorway. "He'll be home soon. But Darryl, listen.
Don't bother him when he comes home, OK?"
"Mom, please. Alii want is for him to let me have the truck tonight. That's all."
"Darryl, don't ask him for the truck as soon as he gets home. Please. Just leave him be for a while." Jesus. She didn't understand. How could she know how important it was for me to get the truck
tonight? I wished she would go back inside, but she was looking toward the highway too, waiting for my dad's truck to come up our road. I walked around the side of the house, where she couldn't see me. I scuffed around in the dirt some more, and chucked some stones at an old 55 gallon drum that was rusting away in the corner of the yard.
Right now my dad was a welder. He was working on the new acqueduct out in the Mojave desert, and sometimes he would let me go with him and help him on the job. He welded sections of pipe together, standing at the bottom of a 15 foot deep ditch, reaching up with his welding torch and not even flinching as the white hot sparks showered down on him. At lunchtime he would sit and flick off the little burned places on his skin. He was a tough dude.
I heard the pickup coming off the highway and walked around to the front of the house and saw the
dust trailing behind it. My mom still stood in the doorway, leaning against the side of it, waiting.
"Remember, Darryl, don't ask him for the truck."
__ Shit, I thought. I couldn't say it out loud, cause my mom would not allow it. She never raised a hand
'LO me, but I knew I'd just better not say it. What did she know, anyway? She didn't understand. I had to
get the truck tonight.
My dad pulled the pickup into the yard, and as the dust cloud filtered and settled around it, I could
tell, I just had a feeling, that this was not going to be a good night.
Slowly, the door creaked open and my dad stepped out of the truck. Lord, he looked a mess. His eyebrows had been almost torn off. His nose was broken, smashed to one side, and the front of this blue workshirt was all soaked in blood. The knuckles of both hands were raw and crusty and swollen up. I'd hate to have seen the other guy.
My dad elbowed the door of the truck closed and turned toward me. He had that look. I'd seen it before and I knew what it meant. He started walking toward me, slowly, clenching those raw bloody fists. I froze. I couldn't back away, that was like committing a sin. I had taken a beating from him when I had backed away from a fight with the bigger kids when I was in the seventh grade. That one had kept me out of school for three weeks. Now he came slowly toward me, and the stare of his pale washed blue eyes sent a shiver up my back, a tension to my bowels and a pounding, hammering rush to my head. I knew I was going to die.
Just as he reached me, a hand passed around me towards my dad. The hand held a tall glass of Jack
Daniel's, and I heard my mom's soft voice:
He stopped walking toward me, but continued to stare that killing stare at me while he drank down the
whiskey. Then he started toward me again.
Once more I was rescued by that hand holding another glass of Jack Daniel's. His gaze wavered from
me to the glass, and he took it and drank it down.
"Come on, Honey." My mom took my dad's hand, gently so as not to touch those raw knuckles, and
led him toward the house. She looked over her shoulder at me, but I couldn't read what she was trying to
tell me with her eyes.
I hung around the yard for a while, letting my breathing and heartbeat get back to normal. I was really lucky that time. I could hear my mom and dad talking in the house, through the open bathroom window. She had drawn him a warm bath, and he was soaking in it while she dressed his wounds the best she could. I went inside and sat down in the front room and turned on the TV. My mom came out of the bathroom, glanced at me with a sigh that said "whew," and went into the kitchen. After a while we were sitting around the kitchen table, my dad in a clean t-shirt and skivvies, eating the steak and potatoes and corn my mom had prepared. He didn't look at me. Nobody talked. It was so quiet you could hear people swallow.
"Darryl, I'd like you to take your bike and go to the store for me," my mom said. "Go get some
I looked up at her. What was she talking about? There was a whole loaf of white bread on the table.
"We have bread. Right there." God, she was dense sometimes.
"Then go to the store and get some milk."
"Mom, there's a whole gallon of milk in the refrigerator." Why was she being so stupid? She had to
know the milk was there, she had just poured out a glass of it for me.
"Darryl, just take this money and go to the store. Buy yourself something. Just go." My dad was
silent, eating his steak.
God, I will never understand parents. I went outside and picked up my bike from where it was lying
alongside the house and rode to the grocery store about two miles away. When I got there I met some of
my friends from school, and we hung out for a while. I bought myself a Coke, drank it, then got on my
bike and headed home. It was getting pretty dark by now, and the lights were far apart along this stretch of the highway.
When I walked into the front room and the screen door had banged shut behind me, the house felt empty. The TV was still on, but my parents were nowhere around. I went outside and looked around the yard, looked in the barn, and went back into the house through the back door. The kitchen table still had
all the dirty dishes on it, the bones, the fat of the steaks and the corncobs all cold and clammy looking.
That was weird; my mom always cleaned up the table and did the dishes right after we were finished eating. I was getting a sick feeling in my stomach. Something was not right.
I went into the front room and turned off the TV. The house was very quiet. The only thing I could
hear was the crickets tuning up outside. I went to the back of the house towards my parents bedroom. The doors were closed. They were these old-fashioned doors that slid sideways into pockets in the wall. I stood there for a minute, not knowing what to think. Then I heard the sound of footsteps coming from the other side. The heavy wooden doors slid open on their tracks with a rumbling sound. My mom stood there, not in her housedress, but wearing a flowery wrap. She came out of the bedroom, and my dad followed her. He had on his ratty old brown plaid robe, and as he walked past me he kind of stuck out his chest and grunted. He went on into the front room and sat down. My mom turned to me.
"Now you can ask him for the truck," she smiled.