Wednesday, August 12, 2009

#fridayflash -- For Love of Vater


“This the place?” the cabbie grumbled over one shoulder.

Peter looked out the rain smeared window. The streaming water made the house seem to melt into the lawn. For Peter, it felt all too real.

“Yes.” Dread wove into Peter’s voice. He cleared his throat. “Yes. This is it.”

The cabbie fiddled with a clipboard like Peter hadn’t spoken.

Yes, it was the same place that burned in his memory. The lannon stone bungalow with the sloping entryway. The semicircle cement front stoop with the wrought iron railing. Back when he was a kid with a choppy home haircut, Peter used to bound down those steps two at a time. How many times had he taken a spill on that sidewalk and scraped his knee?

It was always Mother who came with the hugs and band aids.

Even in the rain, even now, he could see that Vater still kept the place the same; each blade of grass evenly trimmed, the edges of the lawn beveled to make a smooth angle toward the sidewalk. That lawn had been the pinnacle of Peter’s misery. Vater hadn’t trusted him to cut it unsupervised. The old man had sat on his old man lawn chair in his undershirt and baggy plaid shorts and watched Peter, his eyes following him back and forth as Peter pushed the mower. Every so often, he’d stand and wave his wiry, white arms to point out Peter’s numerous mistakes.

“You’re sloppy!” he’d say in his phlegmy German accent, a hand cupped around his mouth as he yelled over the mower. “Straight lines, Peter! Can’t you get anything right?”

Peter would look up at him and swallow the anger knotting his throat. It had never occurred to him to talk back. Even as a kid, he knew Vater was immutable. Fighting Vater was like fighting a wall.

“Well, go on!” Vater would say, eyebrows fierce.

Anger would burn like fire in Peter’s gut. Vater never seemed to notice. He’d put a hand to his lumbar and stretch back with a low grunt. Then he’d notice Peter still there, and scowl. “That lawn isn’t going to cut itself!”

Then Vater would creak into his chair and sip his beer.

All these years later, Peter still hated that lawn. He wouldn’t be here, but Mother had insisted.

“There’s so little time, Peter,” she’d said. “Please don’t let this chance slip away.”

But Peter knew chances had run out long ago, in all the times he’d looked to Vater for approval. How many hollow nights had he spent, curled in his bed under the eaves, wondering what it would be like to have one of those TV fathers? The kind who put arms around shoulders and called their boys “son.” The kind who tossed the ball or helped build model airplanes.

Mother held out hope long after Peter abandoned it.

“He loves you, Peter,” she’d tell him. “You must believe that. It’s not his way to let such feelings show.”

Now, their clock ticked toward an agonizing end.

The knowing about Vater didn’t make the past softer. His mother wanted him here, but Vater wouldn’t appreciate it. He’d hide the truth, pretend there was no grim diagnosis. The fact that it was a “private” cancer made it more unmentionable. Decent folk didn’t discuss such things.

Now Peter had to tell Vater he knew.

“You about done looking?” the cabbie asked.

Peter turned to see him still scribbling on the clipboard. Another stranger who didn’t care. Not that he should. But it got old, having the world populated by the dismissive.

Peter watched the rain and ached with the need to be real. To speak words and to have them heard. To have eyes land on him and see him standing there.

Not just any eyes, but Vater’s eyes.

“Yeah.” Peter grabbed the door handle, paused, then pushed the door open.

Maybe Mother was right; it was time. Time, while he had the chance. One day soon, the old man would be gone, his stinging words silenced with him. If he didn’t fight now, he’d be left alone, fighting himself. It was time to stand up, to tell Vater the truth: Vater was dying and Peter cared to the core of him. Vater would try to dismiss him, but Peter wouldn’t allow it. He was Vater’s son. He had something to say.

He stepped out of the cab, into the rain.


Tomara Armstrong said...

Your last paragraph kiled me... holding back tears.

Great story.

Stephen said...

Fingers crossed for Peter. I hope it ends well for him. Even if it doesn't, he'll know that at least he tried.

Good story, my friend.

Anonymous said...

The hurt of the little boy and the determination of the young man oozed out of that all over my screen :-)

lovely stuff, thanks.

Laura Eno said...

A child's need for validation from a parent endures to the end, doesn't it?

Thank you for the poignant reminder. Well done.

J. M. Strother said...

Such raw emotion, very moving. And your prose flow so well, as always. Love the way you write. I often read pieces like this and praise the Lord for the parents I had. Peter was not so lucky. Sad.

Chris Chartrand said...

Beautiful piece. You give just enough details for the reader to bring their own emotion into the story. Good luck Peter.

Greta Igl said...

My thanks to all for reading and commenting.

dan powell said...

An emotionally resonant piece. The relationships of fathers and sons can be complicated and painful things yet remain the strongest of bonds. Great stuff. Welcome to #fridayflash.