Last time: Wayne, 41, is visited by his dad at almost the instant that Saturday night becomes Sunday... a very special Sunday... Father's Day.
Wayne's dad left Wayne's mother (since deceased) and their two sons when Wayne was nine, and his brother Matty was fourteen. Sometime between the leaving of his wife and children and tonight's visit, Wayne's father died.
So... Wayne has just been invited to take an early morning walk... by a ghost.
* * * * *
I finished my cigarette, but took my sweet time getting dressed. We sure weren't going anywhere fancy -- and I was pretty sure only I'd be able to see him -- so I just threw on yesterday's clothes and ran a brush through my hair to make myself look moderately presentable.
I absolutely hate it in movies or TV shows when there's a character who's either a ghost, or invisible, whatever... and the poor guy stuck talking to the ghost either looks like he's talking to himself, or has to keep apologizing for things people think he said to them when they were actually things said to the ghost... Do you know what I mean? It's an over-worked bit, and I don't find it funny. So I made sure that the route we took was one where we weren't too likely to be walking past anybody... not that there were all that many people on the streets at one in the morning anyway.
(And by the way, I was kind of exaggerating when I complained about my neighborhood. It isn't that bad.)
Once we hit the night air, I was wide awake, alert. But I wasn't talking. That was his job, I figured... showing up exactly at midnight on Father's Day, like it was supposed to mean something. Hell, let him start the conversation, you know?
But he didn't. Not at first, anyway. No, it was only after we'd been walking together for five or six minutes when he asked, "Why so quiet, Wayne?" like I was supposed to be bubbling over with warmth.
"Just thinking," I replied.
"You, obviously. And us, 'us' meaning 'our family,' as you put it."
"Great. Talk to me, then. I mean, whether you have questions, or..."
I stopped dead in my tracks. "What is this sudden need for dialogue?" I demanded. "Why me? And why aren't you trying this b.s. with Matty?" He didn't reply (again!), so I pushed him a little. "Or did you try talking to him first?"
"No," he admitted. "I knew he wouldn't want to talk with me."
"Which means what, that I would? Like you'd know!"
"You and I always got along better than Matty, Wayne."
That's an understatement, I thought. Why I didn't just say it out loud, I don't know. I wasn't exactly in the mood to be sparing his feelings. "Yeah, well, I appreciated that then, but I didn't realize what you were doing to Matty."
"I didn't do--"
"Oh, please! You beat that poor kid into the ground!"
"That's not true! I hardly ever laid a hand on either of you."
"That's not what I meant, and you know it. I'm talking about all those mental head games you played on him." Then I hit him with his old, disparaging nickname for my older brother. "You do remember 'Mathilda,' right? "
He looked somewhat ashamed, but not nearly enough for me. I didn't let up. "Do you remember what the last thing was that you called him before you left? Matty, or Mathilda? Or maybe, just 'queer?' And after all that, the poor kid wasn't even gay!"
"Look, I was from an older generation than you two..."
He nodded. "I guess you'd call it... aversion therapy...? I was worried about the way he'd turn out."
"Oh, for...! I can't believe you can stand there and try to justify the way you teased him, just because he didn't fit your stupid standards of what a man was supposed to be."
"I never claimed to be perfect..."
"God! You are so freaking lame!"
"Look, Wayne, I'll be the first to admit that I screwed up -- badly -- with Matty. It was so much easier with you."
"Of course. Because I played baseball. I hardly ever picked up a book, but I could play infield like nobody's business. Too skinny for football, too short for basketball, but put me on the diamond, and I made you proud."
"You did. You did make me proud. Even at age six, and seven..."
"Yeah, and Matty's idea of sports was to read a book about Ruth or DiMaggio. But me, I liked to fish, and build stuff... Even when I was eight, and you caught me behind the house one day, smoking a clincher I swiped from an ashtray, you didn't smack me. I think it was just one more way you figured I was trying to be a real man. I didn't realize it until years later, but that was all such crap."
"Matty's done okay for himself..."
"Sure. No thanks to you, though." Something in the back of my mind suddenly zipped to the front of my mind, you might say. I stopped walking, and turned to face my father. We were walking past the town's public library, which was surrounded by a tall, wrought-iron fence. The fence was embedded in a concrete wall that bordered the sidewalk. As we faced each other, Dad's back was against the wall, and mine faced the street.
An unholy rage swelled up inside of me and I grabbed for the front of his shirt. Stupid. My hands closed on empty air.
I laughed, bitterly. "Guess you were right, Dad." I got a bad taste in my mouth, calling him "Dad" to his face after more than thirty years. "I do have a lot of anger in me. For you."
He shook his head, sadly. "I figured as much. But... what prompted that move?" he asked, with an irritatingly calm tone.
"Do you want to know what Matty did, about... oh... two, three years ago?" He nodded. "He called me in the the middle of the night, at about three a.m." I smiled slightly, in spite of myself. "On Father's Day, now that I think of it!"
"Why did he call you at that ungodly hour?"
I almost mentioned the fact that my Dad had also shown up at an "ungodly hour" to talk, but decided against it. "To talk about you, sort of. Actually, it wasn't much of a conversation. He apologized for waking me -- he hadn't, I'd had... company -- and I could tell he was drunk. Really drunk. And he'd been crying."
I almost expected my Dad to make a wisecrack about the crying part. Sissy stuff, don't you know. But he didn't. "And what did he say about me?"
"He said, 'You know, I've been thinking about Dad. He really was a shit.' "
My Dad looked... I think the old word for it would have been "sheepish." "I guess that's understandable, all things considered."
"Now we're in agreement."
"So, you're angry about Matty, and you resent the way I cheated on your mother... Isn't there any anger you have which is more personal?"
"You really are a glutton for punishment, aren't you?"
"Get it all out, son."
"Thanks for the permission," I said, sarcastically. I thought for a minute. He seemed so determined to have me deal with any and all emotions concerning him...
So I came up with something new. Something that had remained buried in me for almost thirty years. "Actually, now that you've nailed me down... Yeah. There is something else I'm angry about. Something you did that affected me personally."
He looked almost pleased. "And that would be...?"
"I'm angry with you for the way you died!"
* * * * *
Next time, more anger, of course, and -- shall we say -- a guest appearance by...?
Thanks for your time.