I wanted to post another story; this is my favorite. I hope you enjoy it.
The sun came up over the mountains and shone through the windows. Before the smog could reach its way into the valley, the sun shone bright and hot, but it was never the light that woke him up. Beads of perspiration bubbled up between the shaggy bristles of his beard. It was the heat that woke up Allesandro every morning. He turned and unconsciously wiped his face with the stained edges of a once handsome dress shirt. With each vain turn and twist in an attempt to reach an unattainable comfort, his body squeaked against the cheap vinyl of the backseat.
With a Spanish curse, Allesandro’s day began. Wiping his eyes, he looked at his pathetic state of affairs and cried. This of course was not his fault. Today he would be vindicated. Today his family would know the pain they had caused him. Today, he would fly home to Mexico and die peacefully.
“Enough! I can’t cry. I feel weak, I am not a man anymore.”
He grabbed the pants that lay perfectly and neatly across the front seat, picked up a small bag, and marched to the grocery store. This was now such a routine that he no longer felt the need to linger in the produce aisle to divert attention from himself.
“Morning!” greeted a young man stacking the carts.
“Morning! Nice day, no? The baby needs milk.”
He thought to himself how stupid he sounded. “Baby, what baby? Why did you say anything? You don’t need no excuse.” He briskly walked into the restroom in the back and began to clean himself.
The irony was thick, almost laughable had the walls only understood. Dressing himself with the precision of an executive, he groomed with exceptional detail and left with a cloud of overanxious cologne hanging in the air. He headed back to the car, no milk in hand.
Driving downtown, he was flooded with memories. Every bar, every doorway held a memory – a fight, a woman, a drink too many. He brushed away these unwanted intruders with a flick of the hand and drove on. The restaurant had just opened and the man behind the counter just shook his head as his oldest customer walked through the door. Alessandro swallowed his pride but opened his mouth in arrogance. One more lie.
“Morning. Got a big day, big deal. Give me your biggest steak.”
The man behind the counter answered with a nod and curses too whispered to carry across to the booth where Allesandro sat down.
“Bastard! He always comes for the steak. Someday, when dad is dead, we’ll close the doors to him. I don’t care if they are friends. Free steak! Bastard!”
Raising his voice to a level of respectability, “So Alessandro, what’s the occasion?”
“Made a deal with a guy in Rialto for five cars. He knows who he’s working with, knows I can get him a deal with my connections. When you got it, you got it.”
“Really?” trying to disguise a chuckle, “Gonna hook him up with a Cadillac like the one you got parked outside?”
Alessandro flared his nostrils and wiped his brow. Telling himself to stay calm, he glanced at the other diners and replied, “Yeah, she’s a beauty. Where’s my breakfast?”
He read the paper, periodically looking up. He used to take his family here. They always served the best Mexican food. His oldest son used to shame him by ordering a hamburger. He had never ceased to shame him. Having just gotten out of prison, his son wouldn’t be there with the rest of the family to say goodbye today. Family. What good were they to him now? No respect for their father. Father.
He ate his steak in silence, except to complain about its toughness. Wiping his mouth quickly, he left with a wave and the satisfaction of having been treated with respect. It was about time he got another free meal. After all, they owed him – for something, it didn’t matter what. He was their father’s friend; that had to hold some weight. If only his family had treated him with equal dignity and class. He had provided for them, taken them to baseball games and gone on yearly vacations to the beach. What else did they need? They certainly deserved nothing. After these mental gymnastics, he jumped in his car and headed to his brother’s house.
As he pulled up he took a look at the house and paused. His brother still had his wife. This country had been good to him. There was no shame in going home, he told himself. He could be buried next to his mother. That tough old witch was harder than he had ever been. Consequently, she had died alone, her children no longer responding to her childish attempts for attention; it never really paid to cry wolf. He assured himself that he had been a good son. At least he was better than his father had been to her.
Pulling himself to the door, he rang the bell and waited on edge, repeatedly adjusting his shirt and belt buckle.
“Juan! How’s my brother?”
“Allesandro, we’ve waited for you to come back for your stuff. Your son called looking for you. Your son Luis was concerned.”
“He’s a liar. He just did that so you think he cares. He’s left his father. No respect. I got nothing and none of my kids will help me.” He trailed off into curses as Juan tried to speak.
“Allesandro, that’s not true. Your son loves you.”
“What? Do you have my stuff? I need to sell it to pay off some debts.”
“Do you need help?”
“What? You don’t have it. Where the hell is all of it?”
“No, no, I’ve got it in the garage.”
Walking to the garage, Juan asked, “How are you going to move it in your car?”
“When did you say Luis called?”
“About a month ago. How are you going to move all this?’
“What did he say?”
“Are you listening? He just wanted to know if I’d seen you. Allesandro, how are you going to move all this?”
Without a reply they opened the garage. Allesandro went through a couple of boxes. With a wave of his hand, he told his brother he could have the rest.
“Where are you going, Allesandro?”
“Back to Mexico. I have nothing. My family has abandoned me and you have no room for me here.”
“I told you we’re raising our granddaughter. We don’t have another bed.”
“I know you don’t want me here. I’m going to my real family. Raoul’s boys will take care of me. They are rich and respect me. It don’t matter. I’ll be back for Christmas and then I’m going to die in peace. No one cares anyway. Did I tell you my family abandoned me?”
“Yes. Just be careful.”
Sitting in his car, Allesandro looked at the box next to him and crumbled into tears. He thought about the day sixty years before when he, a young boxer with his future in his fists, came to this country with such hope.
“I have nothing. It has all been stolen from me.”
He spent the rest of the afternoon trying to pawn an old suit and bide time while trying to ignore his growing hunger. He drove to his old home and parked across the street. He saw that his ex-wife’s car was parked in the driveway. He just sat and thought about their lives forty years before. He had loved her, provided for her. At least he had always loved her the best. That’s what he had told himself when kissing another woman. He had not, however, ever been able to convinced his wife of this.
“That house should be mine. I bought it. What does she need it for? I’m the one without a home.”
He sat there the rest of the afternoon, stewing in bitterness but not regret. Delusion was his only companion, one with whom he had grown very close and comfortable. No one knew him quite as well, and he had given himself to no one else so completely. They were a perfect couple who never argued. There were no bitter disagreements and unmet expectations. No excuses were necessary and no questions asked.
As three o’clock rolled around, he made his way to his daughter’s house. With every spin of the tires, his anger grew until he had to stop and compose himself.
“It’s nothing. This is easy. You come in, act like nothing has ever changed. You’re their father.”
Stopping in front of the house, he rolled down the windows of his car and waited until his son arrived. As he sat sweating in the afternoon heat, he thought about his son. Luis had always been his favorite. The others knew it and didn’t love Luis any less for it; it had been that way for thirty-five years and was now as natural as breathing or as expected as the constant feeling of disappointment they felt for their father. Even Luis had turned against him. This son he had done everything for, was now as ashamed as the others were. Allesandro thought about leaving, but his need was greater than his pride.
Luis car pulled up and his wife jumped out of the car to get the baby in the backseat. Allesandro had cheated death for years, unwilling to surrender until Luis had had a child. She had arrived and he’d only seen her once. This too was consistent, as if he didn’t want too much of a beautiful thing.
Allesandro leaned forward to open the door and waited next to the car for his son to cross the street and greet him. Thinking it was time for is son to show some effort, he resisted the impulse to run to him and wrap his arms around him. He imagined for a second the relief he would feel as he’d fling off the fetters and hug his son and tell him how much he loved and missed him. But these were vain thoughts. It didn’t matter what Allesandro wanted. His family had stolen these wishes from him.
“Luis, I thought we were going to see each other yesterday, but you didn’t call. I leave tonight,” said Allesandro, beating him to the punch.
“Dad, I don’t have your number and you were supposed to call. We came and waited for you and you never showed up.”
“It doesn’t matter. I know how busy you are with your important job. Too busy to see your dad before he dies.”
Quickly moving on to his granddaughter, he reached for her before Luis could answer the accusation.
“She’s so beautiful. She looks like my mother. How old is she now?”
“Almost a year, Dad. Let’s go inside. Maria’s waiting.”
The trip to the door seemed like a hike as the weight of the guilty baggage hung around Luis’ neck. It was the same conversation every time he saw his father; he wished his father was already gone, but instantly reprimanded himself mentally for the thought and reached for the doorknob.
As they came inside, Allesandro began greeting everyone with his loud voice that seemed normal to him because of his failed hearing. Hugs were given, distances eliminated as he grabbed hold of every grandchild and passed on to them the remnants of his cheap cologne.
“Let’s sit down. I don’t have long, I leave tonight,” said Allesandro as he pulled his daughter and son into the family room.
“Where have you been Dad? We haven’t seen you in almost a year.”
“Why would I call? You don’t care about your father.”
“Dad, please stop. You know that’s not true. We’ve helped you as much as we could.”
“I guess that’s why I have nothing, because you help me so much!”
“Dad, we found you that house to live in and bought furniture and helped pay the rent.”
“That hell hole. The lady was a terror. She tried to humiliate me.”
Knowing the conversation was going nowhere, Luis looked at Maria to change the subject. It was as if other subjects for conversation had been vacuumed out of their minds. There was nothing to talk about. All had been said, whether here or in a hundred conversations they’d survived over the past thirty years. Dad was right. Regardless of his failures to them, to their mother, he was right and nothing could change that, not even perfect hearing. This was a situation no set of hearing aids could help.
“So, Dad. You’re leaving tonight?”
“That’s what I want to talk about. I need money to buy the ticket.”
Sitting in silence, they stared at him as the scales dropped from their eyes and their hearts suffered their last breaking. It suddenly occurred to them why he had called this meeting. It wasn’t to say good bye and kiss the baby. It was for money. Money. It was the thing he had squandered for years on drugs and motel rooms, cheap women and fancy dinners. Tears welled in Maria’s eyes as she turned away. All day she had told herself all he wanted was something from them, but she had tried to believe otherwise. Luis sat there as a wave of shame engulfed him. He would have to tell his wife the truth. Dad wanted more money. It was never about them. It was always about what he could get from them. Luis wanted to leave. But he stared at his father with an emotion stronger than shame, pity.
“What do you need Dad?”
“$400. It’s the least you can do.”
“We’ve given you thousands of dollars, Dad.”
“You’ve given me nothing. What are you talking about?”
“We don’t have that much money.”
Getting up to leave, Allesandro asked, “You don’t have 400 lousy dollars for your father? I knew I shouldn’t have come. I’ll get the money from someone else. I come to say goodbye and this is how you treat your father. This is the last time you’ll see me. I’ll never bother you again.”
“Dad! Just stay. We’ll figure something out.”
“You think I’m going to gamble with the money? Come with me and buy the ticket if you don’t believe me.”
“We believe you Dad.”
“Come with me, if you don’t believe me.”
Looking at each other through the nausea of the moment, Luis and Maria talked about how they could split it.
“This is the last time, Luis. My husband will kill me. I can’t tell him I gave my dad more money after what he’s done to us. He’ll kill me. I don’t have this kind of money. That never matters to Dad, though. It’s always his problems and never ours. Now I know why he didn’t want his other kids to be here. They’d never give him any money. It wasn’t even about saying goodbye to us.”
Allesandro busied himself with looking at the pictures on the wall and relishing in his victory. Luis left to get the money and Maria cut him a check as if paying for the underworld to snatch up her father and take him away from their lives. Allesandro went to the kitchen to find the grandkids and cover them with kisses and hugs. He would always be their hero. Years from now, they’d remember grandpa and his kisses. He had been someone’s hero thirty years ago, before Allesandro’s kids could understand the weight of his sins and the emptiness of his words.
Luis came back and gave Allesandro the money.
“Come with me and buy the ticket, son. I’m going to leave tomorrow.”
“No, Dad. It’s ok.”
With an exuberance of heart inappropriate for the moment, but not for his state of reasonability, Allesandro made his rounds kissing and hugging everyone goodbye.
“I love you. It was good to see my kids.”
Although he had walked out the door, Allesandro’s departure had not removed the cloud of depression. It loomed in the air for the adults, who envied the naivete of the grandkids. If only they could remember Allesandro as the little children would. There had been good moments in their memories – days at the beach when their parents had held hands, birthday parties and baseball games. All those memories only made the present more bitter. Luis and Maria wished there had been no memories at all. Then the few good ones wouldn’t have seemed so fabricated and false in light of what they knew of their father. Their father had always remained consistent; it was their maturity that caused the de-evolution of Dad.
As Allesandro drove, he reassured himself that he had been in the right. There was no real debate that took place. Had there ever been a fight between Allesandro and his conscience? If so, the boxing match was over decades before and Allesandro had knocked out his opponent in the first round. He was champion of his life before he had stepped in the ring.
Fully intending to purchase his ticket, he was distracted by a sign for the casino. Talking to himself, the champion thought about his winnings and came up with a plan.
“I could double this money and pay back everyone I owe, buy the ticket and still have money left over. Why not? When you got it, you got it!”