Like His Old Man
first and last time I rafted the bucking white water of the Ocoee
River, I jumped in thinking it might help my hangover, but icy
water froze the part of my brain that says swim, fool.
My kids stood on the dock with their momma and yelled, Swim,
Daddy, swim. Between the crashing waves I looked at them
as I drifted further out of reach. I dont remember how I
ever made it back to shore that day. I dont do shit like
that any more.
These days, my kids have outgrown their daddy. Im always
on the lookout for a way to make a connection, especially with
my oldest. Hes traveling down a dangerous road that leads
to no good, a road rutted from the heavy traffic of my thick-soled
heels. His immoral tie to my blood sanctions his no-good-ways,
just like my own lust led a destructive path back to my daddy.
I see that now.
Just shy of my sixteenth birthday, I accidentally discovered that
the man I thought was my daddy was really my step-daddy. It was
the Christmas of 72 when I overheard my momma read a letter
to Aunt Sue.
Thanks for the picture you sent of our boy. He still looks like
you, but his hair and eyes are dark as coal, like mine.
Me and you made a deal a long time ago, and I intend to keep it.
But it would be easier if you dont send no more pictures.
I got me a new woman now, and if she were to find your letter
in the mail, I might not be able to make good on our deal to keep
our little secret.
So heres a ten-dollar bill. You go out and buy him something
special for his sixteenth birthday.
Thisll be the last letter youll get from me. Take
good care of our boy.
Being my mommas only son, I knew the letter had to be about
me. But I didnt say a word, bit my tongue, and bided my
time. Momma and my fake daddy finally left the house five days
later for a New Years Eve party. I searched every inch of
their bedroom until I found her hiding place, a large manila packet
taped to the bottom of her sock drawer. I shuffled through eight
coffee-stained envelopes with nothing but white space where the
return address should be. I carefully removed and scanned each
sheet. In the second paragraph of the last letter, I found it:
Heres my new address, 5220 Maplewood Drive, Cedar Forge,
Two days after my sixteenth birthday I passed my drivers
test and asked my momma for the keys. She agreed on the condition
that I drive two blocks over to Avery Earls house, then
straight back. I passed my old friends house pushing 50
in a 35-speed zone. It took me an hour and fifteen minutes to
reach my real daddys house. I parked across the street and
watched. The dusty yard grew straggly patches of tall brown grass
that shot up between car parts, oily rags, and wadded Marlboro
packs. I heard an engine rev four times before it settled into
a choking idle. I stepped on the clutch and rolled forward to
get a better view. Bent over a 63 Plymouth Fury in the backyard
was a big bellied man in a flannel shirt a few sizes too small
and greasy jeans that hit midway down his butt crack.
A woman stepped onto the side porch. Her slip strap dangled below
the left sleeve of her daisy print duster. Her right arm wobbled
as it shook a heavy iron skillet at the man. When she yelled,
her breath fogged in the cold air.
Bobby Ray, turn that off right this minute before I warp
you across the head with this here skillet. Im trying to
watch my story, fool.
That confirmed it. Right there in flesh and blood stood my daddy,
Bobby Ray Bush. I looked at him, but from the distance I couldnt
find any resemblance. What had he said in his letter to my momma?
That I had dark hair just like him. Not anymore. What little hair
this dude had fell in greasy strands down his neck. The top of
his head was bald and shined in the sunlight. What was my Momma
thinking, ever letting this filth touch her? Fat belly poking
out from the bottom of his shirt, half his ass shining above the
waistband of his jeans. I had seen enough. I popped the clutch
and headed for home, half froze in a cold car with no heater.
In my foolish head, the realization of that day earned me the
license to screw around, and thats just what I did. I kept
a running list of names. It became a competition of sorts between
me and my new best friend, Larry. We had five bucks on who could
add the most girls to their list before one of us decided to settle
down. Shortly after we graduated from high school, Larry found
Jesus, washed his sins away in Bear Creek, and paid me the five
bucks. I, on the other hand, continued to add to my list until
Sally Anns daddy convinced me otherwise. I looked into the
hollow eyes of his twin-barreled shotgun and said, I do.
She was two months pregnant when we got married. When she started
to show, I reclaimed my birthright and strayed with number thirty-two
on my list.
Boy, was Sally Ann ever determined to salvage our marriage. She
preferred to turn her head and look the other way while I worked
I worried my poor momma half sick, too. With every visit she carried
a bag of groceries in each arm and lunch money for the kids. Back
then, I didnt do much of nothing to provide for my family.
My money went for six packs, cigarette cartons, and car parts.
Momma would empty the groceries, then take the bags outside and
round up the kids to play a game of trash race. Whoever picked
up the most empty oil cans and greasy rags out of my yard would
win a quarter. If it werent for Momma, we wouldve
starved to death.
Just before my thirty-fifth birthday, I changed my ways. I had
my head under the hood of my 75 Plymouth Gran Fury changing
out a bad plug when I heard a car pull up in front of the house.
With my head still upside down, I didnt move a muscle. I
peeked under my left arm to see a young boy get out of a rusty
79 Ford Pinto. For the longest time I stayed like that,
eyeing the boy while he stood there and eyed me. His dark hair
hit at the shoulder, and he seemed to be about my height. When
he turned to get back in his car, I straightened my spine and
turned his way. I stood there and wiped my hands on a greasy rag.
He started his engine, popped it into gear, and squalled the tires.
When I tried to lay my head down that night, I couldnt sleep
for the thought of that boy. I went to the kitchen to get a drink
of water, opened the cabinet, and found it empty. I looked around
at the countertops piled with dirty dishes. Something came over
me, and I washed every plate and glass in the house. After that,
I got a handful of brown paper grocery bags and went outside.
I picked up five bags of garbage by the light of a quarter moon.
The next morning after Sally Ann took a gander at my handiwork,
she accused me of sleeping around. Said she knew I had the hots
for that skank Mary Joe that used to work at the Quick Shop on
the corner of Maple and Bragg. I didnt have the heart to
tell her the truth that on the day before I had laid eyes on one
of my seeds, a seed that took root long before she got her chance
to pleasure my company. No, I couldnt tell her that.
Foster, third grade teacher by day and writer by night, lives
in Tennessee and writes short fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry,
and is completing her first novel. Connies work has appeared
in Muscadine Lines, A Southern Journal, Muscadine Lines,
A Southern Anthology, Literary Momma, Southern Hum,
and Birmingham Arts Journal. She may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.