Home, home again, like to be here when I can. He’s listening to Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon. Lenny’s eyes are red, bloodshot. I think he’s been doing the pot again. Listening to his new record, munching on hands full of raisins and then popcorn and acting goofy, I swear he’s as high as a kite. Even Mom may have thought so, though wouldn’t admit to it, before she left for the pharmacy. Something about getting a new diagram or diet-fram, whatever the heck that is.
She told Aunt Celia about it on the phone. “Can’t be taking any chances. Four kids are enough!”
Wendy is out with Trish and a few of Trish’s hippie friends, Mary Trellis, The Minstrel (as he likes to be called) and that other shaggy guy, Bryce Underwood. They went down to the park to swing the swings and teeter on the teeter-totters, I guess. Trish asked if I wanted to tag along but I’m still recuperating from Wisconsin. Plus, I need to do my homework. Tomorrow, it’s back to school and I need to be prepared. Would love to wear my new pants tomorrow, but they’re way too tight, especially now that Nee had let them spin in the dryer far too long. At least, they’re clean from the vomited cheeseburgers and stuff. Yuck!
Dad is at work, Mister Coopers, swinging jugs of ale and jiggers of gin to his frothy customers, all who Dad depends on to throw an extra buck or two on the bar as “gratuities.” Dad says, “It’s the gratuities that prevent a good bartender from hopping over to the other side.” Please, oh please customers — don’t let my dad hop over to the other side — his family needs him!
Home, home again. Like to be here when I can. Good thing Pedro’s plan worked yesterday, got Papa Joe’s car upright again, not much damage to it, except a few dents on the driver’s side door. We got into Chicago a couple of hours ago; thankfully traffic on the tri-state was moderate and Papa Joe kept an even pace, around sixty, no more than sixty-five the entire way. Nee was relaxed, so much that she slept almost the entire way. Bless her heart, that woman!
Home, home again. Like to be here when I can. “Hey, Lenny, your record’s skipping.” He doesn’t hear me; the volume’s too loud. Home again, like to be here when I can. “Lenny!” I yell above the capability of the old phonograph.
“Please fix that darn record.” He’s in a stupor; oblivious to everything except the ceiling, where hanging on a silky string is a polka-dotted spider. Lenny is doing the pot again, that’s why he had to run out as soon as Nee and Papa Joe dropped us off, only to return in the state he’s in now — red-eyed, deaf-eared and stuck on following closely the antics of the solitary spider, which it too, doesn’t know which way is up. I will fix the darn record myself.
I proceed past him, on the couch, and on to the old end table, and lift the arm off the record. This brings a temporary silence, an eerier silence. There is a gob of dust on the needle creating the persistent echoes of “Home again” and with a swift puff the problem is solved. I look over at Lenny and he hasn’t budged, nor has he returned to any form of coherence, for it matters not to him if I change the record and put on something stupid like The Chipmunks, a bunch of nuts who sing while inhaling helium. I flip it on, just to prove my point.
After enduring a good earful, my point justified, I pull off the Chipmunk record and leave the room. Let there be silence! I go into the kitchen, the only other room of sanctuary beside the bathroom and Mom and Dad’s bedroom and oh yeah, the small hallway closet, but really, it’s much too dark in there to finish up my homework, a few pages of math and an essay on, let me think, “The Wright Brothers.” If Dad ever buys me that bicycle he’d promised, I could start off as a Wright brother too and rig the bike so that it will fly. Man, I could really be somebody. All the other kids in the neighborhood will flock to the runway, the alley in back, and watch me as I fly away into the big blue sky. Maybe, I will let a few of the more trustworthy kids fly it too.
I am in deep thought and the telephone rings. It’s Dad, jukebox blaring in the background, “Everybody loves somebody sometime.” Dean Martin, I believe.
“How was your trip?” he asks.
“It was fine, Dad. Got a new pair of pants and a nice shirt. And we looked at the cows and Papa Joe —”
“Ricky, I didn’t hear you. What about Papa Joe?”
I figure it will be better if I leave it alone, not tell Dad about Papa Joe’s car falling into the ravine, sideways. He may jump to conclusions and think that Papa Joe was drunk or something and not let us go again. The music in the background is getting louder, the clash of beer mugs more frequent, the smoky chatter of the Sunday night revelers more disturbing and Dad can’t hear what I’m saying so what’s the use. He tells me he’ll see me in the morning. Before he hangs up, I yell into the transmitter, “I miss you, Dad!”
I’m too tired now to finish my homework. I’ll finish it in the morning.
The morning comes, the chirps of sparrows in the elms breezing in through the half-open window. The sun is breaking, a glint posted upon the chrome plating of the end table. I turn over and onto my side and look into the sleeping eyes of Wendy. Tender is she and more so, her doll, who is protected under the tight grip of her surrogate mother’s arms. I look up and, on the couch, poised in a hopeful dream, is Trish — her feet peeking out from under the worn afghan, toenails painted with specks of glowing moons and rainbow-filled skies.
I turn over. Far away, across the living room floor, draped in darkness, Lenny. The static of his transistor radio providing tempo to his signature hum. This morning, as was last night, Lenny, I’m afraid, is in another world. And this worries me. After all, although we are miles apart, we are still brothers. And like any brother, I care about him.
Some bigger brothers, brothers of my classmates, had taken to the pot too. So I’ve heard. And a few of these brothers had taken to the harder stuff, heroin, I think, and one, Jimmy Jacob’s brother, had died from it. Poor Jimmy. He couldn’t concentrate any more on his schoolwork, had to be taken out and sent to some special school, where kids like him whose bigger brothers had died of heroin and stuff attend. They got special kinds of teachers at that school. I get up and tiptoe into the kitchen to do my homework. Once there, I flip on the overhead.
Before me, the book on the Wright Brothers. I skim through it and get a good idea how these two brothers worked together, creating the future of air travel. How else could one zip across the country from Los Angeles to New York in six hours if it weren’t for the Wright Brothers? Bless their hearts, those two!
Across the notebook page, I run my fine pen with invention, with the will of two young men, who were joined by blood and determination on the fertile grounds of Kitty Hawk. I am pleased with my essay; title it, “Changing History The Wright Way.”
Moments later, Dad comes into the kitchen, yawning, “Good morning.” There is something different about him; I can’t make out what it is, but something. I examine him more closely as he pulls up a chair and sits across from me. It’s the eyes. Bluer than blue and as clear as the fine Crystal adorning the shelves of Aunt Celia’s and Uncle Johnny’s curio. The whites of his eyes are clear of blood vessels, never, ever remember seeing his eyes as these, on this morning, the morning of a new day.
Dad clenches his fists, extends them mid-table. “Now,” he says, “What hand is it in?”
“What?” I ask.
“Ricky, it’s a surprise. Tell me what hand you think it’s in.”
Knowing that I had not proven myself very good at this game, I really don’t understand why he is challenging me again. Why? To see me fail again? To show that he’s much more clever than I am? But of course he is, he’s my father for darned sake.
But maybe he has something else up his sleeve this time. Okay, I will take a stab at it, if I’m wrong then I’ll feel like an idiot and go to school keeping it a secret. How dare I tell my teachers or classmates that my father tricked me again?
“It’s in your right hand,” I say.
“Try one more time,” he urges.
“It’s got to be in your left then.”
“Are you sure?”
Smiling and his blue eyes glowing at me, he unclenches his right hand again, revealing a slip of paper. “You had it right the first time, Ricky. You just didn’t see it. And why? Because in your mind, you didn’t believe it would be there. Your doubts caused what I call a blind spot. It’s that simple. I hope you will remember this, Ricky.”
Suddenly, his eyes are filled with tears and abruptly he leaves the table. I’m confused. I hear the bathroom door close. He’s in there, doing what I sometimes do, and Momma does—cry behind closed doors.
Now, Wendy’s up. And Trish too. I hear them talking. Dad doesn’t want them to see him this way either. He won’t come out of the bathroom until his eyes are as clear as they were before.
I look at the piece of paper on the table and unfurl what is to be my surprise:
Morley’s Music Layaway Plan
Deposit Amt. $20.00
Gibson Electric Guitar SKU# 128754-EG
Again, a chord is struck; a dream reverberated. Soon, I’ll be able to put away the broom for good. In its place, the real deal, a Gibson. Oh Dad, I want to join you and cry along with you, and share with you my happiness. Thank you. Thank you. I want to thank you.