Thursday, September 30, 2010

Daryl's story

“…quit the prem-e-suess,”  said Jim, continued to read in a plain tone, murmured beneath the sound of his own breathe.

“Wait, what did you say?” Asked Daryl.  “Read that word again, Jim.”

“I think it says prem-e-suess.  What does that mean?”  Jim moved his face closer to the letter in hopes the proximity would bring clarity.  His lips curled, brow furrowed, and his tiny grip as he leaned over the couches armrest to get a better view in the singular dim light of the room.

Daryl snatched the single page notice from his young son’s grasp.  “Prem-e-suess?  That’ ain’t even a word Jim.  Where’s it at, point out to me.  Prem-e-suess.  Prem-eh-suess.  Prem-e-sus.  Oh wait… I think, maybe it says premises… premises, I think that is what its trying to say.” Pointing to the beginning of the paragraph, Daryl handed Jim the letter again.   “Read it again Jim, from the beginning of that whole section again, start right there.” 

Not before taking a deep breath and biting the sides of his mouth, Jim looked back to the notice again.  Slowly starting, he took the sentence a few words at a time.  “You are further… not-i-fied that within… three days after…  ser-vice of this notice…  on you, you…  must pay the amount of…  rent stated in this notice…  in full or quite the prem-i-suess… premises…  and duh-li-fer up poh-se-si-on of the prem-i-ses to the un-der.. under-sign-ed….”

“Jim, you can stop there.”  Daryl took the notice from his son and folded it quickly before tossing it on to the table, and trading it for the unopened beer.

“But I wasn’t finished Dad.”  Jim whined as he lifted his feet off the ground, and began to roll over the couch arm, in to a somersault flip, landing in an upright seated position next to his father who now sat with his head leaned back onto the old couch and stared at the popcorn ceiling above.

“Yeah but you don’t need to go any further son.” Jim said as he opened his beer and took a first long gulp.  “I think I know what the rest of it says without you reading much more.  Why don’t you go on to your room and do your homework.”

Placing his hands on his sides, and arching his back proudly Jim responded “I don’t have any homework.” 

“Well, I’m sure you can find something to do in your room for a few minutes.  Okay?  I just.  Please.  Give me some peace for a minute son.” 

“Well, what did that say dad?”asked Jim.

Growing quickly impatient Daryl stood high above his son, looking down.  “It said I need a few minutes to think and you need to go to your room.” 

“But, dad I don’t wanna…” Jim began.

Daryl, not wanting to reach a break point stretched his arm, “I said, GO Jim.”  Then grabbed his son by the back of the pants lifting him by the belt loops into a standing position. 

The 8 year old dragged his backpack behind him as he walked to his bedroom not knowing why his dad was so upset with him muttering to himself along the way,   “It’s not fair. I didn’t do anything. I just read that stupid letter, and now I have to go to my room because you got mad you have to quit something, and I don’t want to go to my room.”

Just be thankful you have a room to go to Daryl thought to himself as he quickly finished his beer wishing he had another in the fridge.  What are we going to do?

Daryl was glad Jim had not asked any more questions for the rest of the evening.  It gave him time to review the situation, though there was not much to look at.  He knew his checking account was at $0, or somewhere in the negative.  A savings account had never existed, his bills where two months behind, and the week before he had only earned about $150 dollars at work.   Not many options in a rural, small town for a man and his son in times like these. 

Pulling a pillow up onto the couch, Daryl eventually kicked off his shoes, turned off the lights and decided it was to let his body rest, even if his mind would wander all night.  In the distance Daryl could hear Jim laughing in his sleep, wondering what it would take, if it was possible, to keep his son oblivious to what was about to happen.  The next morning the sunlight peered into the bent kitchen window blinds signaling it was time to wake up his young son for the next school day.  As the two went through the motions of their morning ritual he would continue to envision the scenarios that could have played out had she stayed those many years ago, had he been able to keep his full time schedule at the store, if he had finished has school, if he just been able to learn to read as well as his young son.

Maybe today he would find out his mother would be able to help.  Maybe Mr McAlister would find him some extra hours on the schedule.  Maybe he would open up the newspaper and find a few new jobs listed, besides the three “Make cash fast” ads that ran continuously in the classifieds.   Maybe today would be the turning point, the point he’d eventually highlight in a memoir about about a young, country bumpkin who turned is life around on a dime.  Or maybe today would just be the day he’d find out it was all a mistake, he’d still have time cash his paycheck and buy another week in the rundown apartment.   Maybe, just maybe, something good would happen.

The next morning Jim woke up before Daryl and snuck into the living room.  His eight year old curiosity had woken him up repeatedly in the night, providing what seemed like hours to plan and plot how he would make it into the living room and find that letter without waking his dad up.  His first step would be to slowly turn the knob on the bedroom door, slow enough so that it would seem to take forever to twist it into position without making up any noise louder than a breathe.  Then once the door had swung open on itself Jim would stand still while he successfully determined his dad was still asleep.

And Daryl was, walking heel to toe slowly, silently until he reached the end of the hall, Jim let out a big sigh of relief.  He could see the note sitting on the kitchen counter, and if he was stealthy enough could take another crack at it.   He studied it as best he could, still not able to make much sense of the words he had never seen.  But whatever it said, it had upset his dad pretty bad. 

Not one to push his luck after discovering prematurely that Santa, the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy was all actually his dad, he decided to go wake Daryl up.  Placing the tips of his fingers over one of Daryl’s eyes, Jim attempted to pry the lids apart, “Dad.  Dad.  Wake up.”

Daryl startled awake.  His eyes bloodshot from the little sleep he had the night before.  Morning was hitting harder than usual, and he’d have to get moving quickly in order to get everything accomplished that he would need.  But first, Jim had to get to school.  That would buy Daryl at least 7 hours of kid-free time to take care of the toughest part of his day.

Rubbing his son’s already tussled hair, Daryl yawned “Go on and get yourself ready Jim.  We need to get you to school early big man.  I need to head downstairs and make a phone call.” Check his watch, he jumped to both feet quickly when he saw the time.”  You got 15 minutes – underwear, teeth, hair.  Got it?”

Hand to his forehead, Jim stood at attention “ Hair, teeth and underwear.  Got it.”

Locking the door behind him, Daryl ran to his truck for a handful of change, and a crumpled business card kept rubber banded to the visor.  Dialing the number  he waited for several rings before anyone answered. 

“Prairie Hills”

“ This is Daryl Johnson.  I am Delores Johnson’s son.  She is in room 213.  I wanted to schedule a visit with her this morning.  Will that be possible?”

“One minute sir.”

Having not seen his mother in several months, he was dreading the visit.  Last time he visited she had just returned from the Emergency Room because of a mild seizure she had in her sleep, which left her with limited movement in one side of her body.  He didn’t have the heart to tell her then Chrissy had left him with Jim, without a full time job and little to no money in the bank.   

The woman came back onto the line with the approval that Delores would be available that morning, and Jim was thankful for the early appointment.   He didn’t know what to expect, but knew it would take some time to adjust to being in facility, let alone having to talk to her about the situation.  He could be there for some time, and knew he would need to treat it as possibly the last.  He wish he could take Jim, but knew he would not be able to deflect the questions about where Chrissy was and when she would be coming back.

“15 minutes are up buddy,” Daryl yelled out as he opened the door to the apartment. 

The two made their way to the bus stop where Daryl reluctantly let Jim onto the busy.  “You have a good day little man.  I’ll be by to pick you up soon enough, you just go on and enjoy your day.  Learn a lot, teach me some when you get home.” 

Jim could sense something different in his dad, and held his head low on the school bus.  Trying to repeat the words over and over “quit the premisush” so he could ask his teach at school what it means.

Daryl did not return to the apartment, instead heading straight to his truck, then in the direction of his mothers.  One stop along the way he stopped by the hardware store to see if Old Man Quigley had made it in yet.  With the parking lot still empty, Daryl took the opportunity to rifle for cardboard boxes and crates from the garbage pile.  Looking at his watch repeatedly he was becoming anxious, not knowing what would be hardest about the next few days – simply living through them, or having to tell his mother about what was going on.

As in most nursing homes, the smell of urine is the first scent recognized in the damp, musky air.  Women in wheelchairs sit at the door, a welcoming committee of sorts for visitors who are passing.  Daryl, raised with a sense of decency, always felt compelled to hug any of the ladies seeking his out attention as he walked passed hoping other guests did the same when he was the absent visitor.  Stalling for time before he continued to his mother’s room, Daryl stopped and looked out into the empty courtyard in the center of the nursing home..

 Jim was also staring into an empty courtyard from the counselor’s office, not quite sure why he had been whisked away by his teacher.  He had only asked a question, and still repeated the words in his mind quit the premisush.

His teacher, the counselor lady and his principal were all the hallway and hushed remarks which included his name drifted through the thin walls.  The bell rang, and kids began to pour out of the building into the playground, as his teacher and counselor returned to the small office.

“Jim,” his young teacher, Mrs Brennan, began “Is everything okay at home?”

About that same time, Delores placed her hand on hand on Daryl’s shoulder, startling him back to reality.  “Daryl, is everything okay?”

Daryl turned to his mother, putting an arm loosely around her frail shoulders and giving a kiss on her sweetly scented brow.  “No mom.  Things are not okay. I was wondering if we could talk.”

Delores and Daryl sat in the courtyard for a remainder of the morning as he disclosed the truth of why he had not visited recently.  As he recalled the events of the past months, Delores would interrupt occasionally asking Daryl to retrieve items from her room - water, Kleenex, a photo album found in the depths of a drawer, hidden away by nightgowns and booties.

After telling his mother complete story the two starred ahead at the tree line before them.  The sun peered over the tall pine trees and Daryl squinted his eyes tightly, occasionally pressing a tissues to his face as though the sunlight were causing great pain, but Delores knew her son’s pride would keep him from revealing his true feelings. 

After a few more moments, she opened the old creaky black photo album to reveal yellow, tattered, torn, and watered stained pictures Daryl had never seen before now and proceeded to tell an old tale, dating back to when their family lived in Ohio in 1913.  It was a story about a flood, one that had covered the entire state.  It was a story originally told to her by her mother of a large family living in a wrecked box car after their house had been devastated by the natural disaster.  She flipped through the pages of the photo album which documented the details of a family living in a cramped space, without electricity, without a water source.

Daryl began to cry openly, sobbing on his mother’s shoulder as she raised a weak arm to his cheek, cooing soft phrases as he attempted to regain his composure.  “You just keep remembering son, this is not the first time this family been in tough situations, and it won’t be the last.  But we survive.  It’s what Johnsons do.”

In her tired voice, Daryl could tell the physical exertion of recalling old family tales, and sitting outside on the bench was beginning to take a toll on his mothers stamina, so he offered to walk her to back to her room.  Upon their return, Delores headed to her nightstand and opened up her Bible.  Flipping through the pages she pulled out a one hundred dollar bill.

“Daryl, I have been saving this for so long, it may just turn to dust here soon.  I don’t think I’m going to be needing it where I will go, so I want you to take it son.”  Delores pressed the bill into Daryl’s grasp, and bent his fingers into place to ensure he understood she wouldn’t take it back.   The two said little else as Daryl assisted his mother back into her bed, tucking the loosely woven cotton blanket around her tiny body.  Delores reached out, cupping Daryl’s cheeks with warm, wrinkled hands.

“I love you son.”  She said before tugging the blanket up to her chin then drifting quickly sleep.

Teary again, Daryl took a few seconds to shake off the eerie feeling this may be his last time with her, and stepped softly out of the room.  This was only the beginning of his day. 

Next he would stop by work to see if he could a few more hours a week added to his schedule.  Old Man still was not there, but his son who preferred Mr Quigley was pulling in the lot as Daryl inched past.  Not wanting be alone in an office with the often uptight young boss, Daryl opted to roll down his window and stop him in the parking lot.

“Mr Quigly, I was hoping to talk to you about needing to work some more…”

Gruff and to the point, Mr Quigley did not hesitate to stop Daryl he could even finish his sentence, “Sorry Daryl.  We don’t have the work available.  We’re trying to keep you all on a few hours a week as it is.  Until someone leaves, there’s just nothing else to pay you for.”

“But, Mr Quigly, I got an emergency coming up at home and soon I’m not going to have one if I don’t…”

“Daryl, I already said, we don’t have the work.”  Digging for his wallet and thumbing through a stack of paper scraps he pulled out a teethered card, “Look, my dad knows this guy who owns the Storage Barn.  That’s the best I can do.  Maybe he can give you a few extra hours of work.  And you know mom, she’ll let you pull some vegetables out of her garden if you don’t mind mowing the grass first.  But we just don’t have any extra work. Its hard as it is, you know, in these times.”  Mr Quigley nodded to Daryl politely before turning on his heels and heading in through the back door.   Daryl stuck the card beneath the rubber band then pulled around to the back area where extra boxes were thrown for the grabbing.  He then loaded the bed of his truck up with a dozen or so, before heading over to Old Man Quigleys. 

He hated to go “mow the grass.”  Everyone in their tiny town knew it meant a man must be down on his luck when he was seen mowing the Quigley yard.   But, if he made his way over to their house nonetheless realizing the $100 his mother gave him would need to be stretched as thinly as possible.  To his favor he noticed Old Man Quigley pulling out of his driveway as Daryl began to turn down the street then passed it up instead. 

Maybe I can gain more of Mrs Quigley’s favor with the Old Man not there?

As if expecting him to arrive, the old push mower sat at the corner of the yard in what seemed to be a “starters position.”  It shined in the afternoon sunlight, and seemed to call out Daryl’s name quietly as he passed by.   Not knowing how to start the conversation, Daryl stood on the porch for a few minutes rehearsing his first words.  Before he could knock on the old wooden jamb, Mrs Quigley opened the door, not one bit startled to a not so familiar face staring wide-eyed and surprised.  She had a wooden bushel basket which she passed on to Daryl once he moved back enough to open the screen door.

“Now you go on, son, and grab yourself whatever you need for the week out of the garden.  Bring it back here, and leave it on the stoop.  I’ll wash everything off while you mow the yard, front and back.  Don’t spend more than 10 minutes in the garden, and 30 on the yard.  There is a hose line running out back if you get thirsty.  Just remember to turn the water off or you just might not be let back in the future.”   

As quickly as she had appeared, Mrs Quigly disappeared into the sanctuary of her home leaving Daryl dumbfounded.   The tasks set before him did not take long, as she had predicted.  They were just tedious as Daryl worked to continually move children’s toys and garden objects out of his way as he went.   At one point, he noticed the basket had disappeared from the front stoop.  As he turned the corner, and pushed the mower down the long stretch on the side of the house, Daryl saw the back screen door snap shut revealing a large brown paper sack, and tea cup plate with a sandwich and apple waiting.  Once he had completed the yard, he grabbed a quick drink from the hose, and quickly ate the small provided lunch in the shed where he returned the mower. 

He could feel the afternoon sun sweat running off of his jawline waited patiently for Mrs Quigley to answer his knock on the backdoor.  “Ma’am, is there anything else I can do for you today?  Clean off your patios, or sweep out the tool shed?” 

Mrs Quickly smiled as an good Christian woman would, saying “Son, I appreciate the offer, but if I let you do it all, who else could I help tomorrow?  You come on back next week and we’ll figure out what might need to be done then.”  She handed Daryl a warm papersack with stack of fresh cookies inside.  “You take those on home to your son.  I bet he’ll enjoy ‘em.”  She turned inside, and the screen door shut close.  Daryl felt abandoned on the porch and tenderly loved at the same time knowing all he could do at this point was just come back later but that he was welcomed to if need be.

Not wanting to waste a drop of gas, Daryl drove on out Jim’s school and pulled into the teacher’s parking lot to wait the rest of the hour out.  He had a lot to think about still and wanted to have his mind cleared in time for his son to race back to him with a weekend’s worth of energy ready to burst him in two at the seams.  Jim had already picked up on the notion that Friday afternoon school bells were possibly the best sounds to a young boys ears.

Hearing a rap at the door, Jim turned to see the schools principal Mr. Conner standing at the drivers side door.  Sitting up a bit straighter as though in detention hall himself, Daryl quickly rolled down window “Umm, Hi Mr Conner. S-sorry to be here so early, I just um…. was, you know… in the neighborhood and thought I’d wait for Jim instead of heading home.”

Mr. Conner smiled tolerantly, having heard many parents respond the same way when he greeted them.  “It’s not that Mr. Johnson.  I was hoping you could step inside for a minute.  I actually wanted to talk to you about Jim.”

Daryl’s legs tightened up instantly.  He had not been in an elementary school  in decades, and today was not the day he wanted to return.  “Um. Sure, I guess.  Let me just uh, park and lock up and I’ll be right in.”

“Sounds good to me Mr Johnson.  See you in a moment.” 

Daryl had hoped he had not aroused any suspicious with the boxes in his truck, and surely Mr Conner couldn’t recognize he was having money problems because he had a brown paper sack of vegetables from the Quigleys in the floorboard.   As he walked into the school’s corridor he was taken back by the similar feelings from entering into Prairie Hills that morning.  His legs were still tightly and he had to take deliberate steps as he slowly made his way down the hall.  The only difference was that the smell in the air was not urine, but rather a strange mix of mildew and crayon.

“Mr. Johnson, welcome.”  The receptionist quickly said as Daryl walked into the glass fronted office.  “Mr Conner is right in there waiting for you.”

As Daryl walked past, he heard the receptionist picking up the phone and shortly saying “Jim’s fathers here. He’s heading into Mr Conner’s office now.”

Daryl immediately decided he did not feel comfortable walking into the office and instead stood in the doorway.  “What’s this about Mr Conner? Its too early to start asking the dad’s to pitch baseball right?”

Chuckling lightly, Mr Conner stood up “No, that’s not why I asked you in here. Why don’t you come on in and sit down.  We’re asking Jim’s counselor Mary Stallworth will be here momentarily.”

“I don’t get what’s going on.” Daryl hesitated as he took one step further into the office.

“Well, we don’t either.”  Mr Conner looked at his watch, the back to Daryl, “Why don’t you come on it and sit down and we can explain better.”  Looking behind Jim, Mr Conner stood back up “Mrs Stallworth, thanks for coming so quickly, if you will both come in we can begin.”

“I don’t get what this is about,” Daryl repeated.  “Did Jim do something?”

Mrs Stallworth “No.  Jim didn’t do anything.”  She continued to nudge her way in through the doorway, in a manner which clearly hinted she had corralled a parent into the office before.  Once Daryl was clearly in, she closed the door behind her, “It was something Jim said.”

Daryl sat and listened to the mornings events, shocked that Jim had remembered what he read aloud the night before, confused that he had asked his teacher what it meant.  To Daryl, as Mrs Stallworth continued her voice began to sound like the droning teacher in the Charlie Brown comics as he glazed over with uncertain of what to say or do next.

“…. and after Mrs Brennan brought him here we decided it would best to try to contact you, but your job said you were not in, and the number at your home seems to be disconnected.”  Mrs Stallworth paused, and looked Daryl in the eye.  “Is everything okay at home Mr Johnson.  We know it was hard on the two of you when Chrissy left, but by state law, if we feel that a student is not residing in a stable living environment we have to report it.”

At the sound of Chrissy’s name, Daryl began to pay attention the remainder of the counselors speech, then stood up quickly.  “EVERYTHING IS FINE.  Where is my son?”

Sensing the rising tension, Mr Conner broke in, “Daryl, Jim is fine.  He’s in class.  There is another 15 minutes before the last bell rings.  We just want to make sure everything is okay and determine if there is any way we can help to provide a good learning environment for your son.  That is our job.”
“Your job?”  Daryl immediately recognized his though patterns crossing over into the defensive.  As he stood towering over the petite school counselor he could feel his fist clenching and the backs of his arms tightening as he inhaled deeply.  “Are you telling me its your job to take a boy away from the only parent he has left so you can feel like he’s in a good learning environment?”  Daryl began to brush past the older counselor as she sat stiff in the office chair, heading to the door, ready to escape what was quickly beginning to feel like an interrogation room.

“Mr Johnson, where are you going?”  Mr Conner began to move quickly around his desk to follow Daryl out of the office knowing there was little he could do unless the emotional father turned physical.

“I’m going to get my son, and we are going to leave.”  Daryl continued to walk down the poorly lit corridor, heading in an unknown direction, looking for any indication of where the third grade classrooms may be.

“Daryl,” Mr Conner grabbing the larger man by the arm, asked bluntly “Do you have a home to go to?”

“Its none of your damn business where we are going.  Now tell me where Jim is.”

Mr Conner shook his head in dismay, then took the lead, taking Daryl to Mrs. Brennan’s class.  Wagging a finger at the anxious father to indicate he stay put, Mr Johnson head into the room and quietly removed Jim from the classroom with his backpack and jacket.

“Thank you sir.” Daryl said abruptly, picking up his son and carrying him out like toddler.

“Dad, what’s going on, put me down!”  Jim demanded, in a voice more confused than demanding.

“Not until we get into the car son.”  Daryl was breathing hard, trying to hold back another round of emotion.  One for the day was not enough.

“Dad!  I don’t like this!  You’re scaring me!!”  Jim had picked up the volume and immediacy in his voice with each phrase.  “Dad!!”

Recognizing the fright in his son’s voice and the tension in his arms with which he held on to his precious boy, Daryl quickly shifted gears.  “Oh, sorry son, I didn’t mean to just snatch you up like that.  Here you go, get on back.  Your getting the third grade royal treatment today son.”

Still confused by his father’s behavior, Jim was quick to forgive when he learned the entire bag of cookies which sat in the passenger seat where his and his alone.  The ride home was quiet as Jim munched several of the cookies down quickly and Daryl stared straight ahead, still pondering the next step and trying to second-guess what the next question would be, and from whom.  He did not like being surprised like he was today, and would need to stay ahead of the game if he was going to pull this off.

When they arrived home, while Jim was still eating cookies and doing homework, Daryl began to unload the truck of the various items he had picked up along the way. 

“Dad, what’s going on?   What are you doing?”  Jim stood in the doorway of the single bedroom with a half eaten cookie in one hand, a pencil in the other.

“Getting ready for a trip son.”  Daryl replied as he began to empty the bookshelf contents into one of the boxes.

“Well where are you going?” 

“Well, WE are getting ready to go on a trip.”  Daryl continued on, still not looking at his son.

“Where are WE going” Jim asked half mocking the stressed tone in his dad’s voice.

“It’s a surprise.  I can’t tell you.”

“A surprise?!  Are we going to see mommy!”  Jim ran up to his father, and stood between the bookshelf and box he was packing.

Daryl, feeling defeated again at another question, sat on the edge of the arm chair.  “No son.  Look, all you need to know is tonight we are going to pack up as much stuff as we can, and tomorrow we are going to start a new adventure okay?”

“I don’t get it dad” Jim asked, sounding a lot like Daryl had earlier in the principal’s office.

“I know son.  I don’t really get it either.  But look, after you do your homework, and after we eat something and maybe watch a movie on t.v., then I want you to write a list of your favorite places in the world you want to go, okay son?  Maybe our adventure will take us there.“  Daryl leaned the box up against the back of his chair and pulled his son close to his chest.  “But I do know this.  Where ever we go, we are going together, okay?”

“Okay dad.  Just promise we will be together.”  Jim  buried his head beneath his dad’s chin, ear pressed against the heartbeat he could feel beneath the rib cage.

“Don’t you even worry about that.  We will always be together.”

It did not take Jim long to fall asleep after the sugar from the cookies wore off, and Daryl snuck out, locking the door behind him before heading down to the phone.  He regretted the phone he was going to have to make next, but knew there was no getting around it – and there was no other option but to take Jim with him.

The gruff voice on the other end of the line was unfamiliar, but the loud music and raucus was not.

“Jay there?” Daryl asked as he stretched his neck from around the phone booth to keep an eye on his front door.

“Yeah.  I think he’s with a girl. Lemme go check.”  Before Daryl could ask the unknown person to just relay a message he heard the pound of the phone on a counter apparently situated in a room where gambling and other assorted lewd behaviors were happening. 

Jameson, his younger brother, used to be a good kid.  But once their Pop died, Jameson couldn’t handle the calm country life anymore.  Bored with church, he started shooting craps on the back side of the building with a few other boys who have also now since disappeared from the small dusty town.    After a few minutes had a passed the electronic operator broke through the line requesting more change and Daryl quickly decided it would be easier to drop by the next morning than wait in the middle of the night while his son slept asleep upstairs.

The morning came too soon and Daryl, again, found himself woken by Jim pinching open his eye lids.

“Dad.  Dad.  Wake up.  I want to watch cartoons, but your sleeping on the remote.”

 “Hey kid.  Thanks for waking me up… but can’t you just push me around from now on?”  Daryl pulled Jim onto the couch and began to try and tickle him into submission, only to discover how strong his young son was becoming.  “Hey you can watch ‘toons for a few but we gotta head out soon, so you might want to get dressed first.”

Daryl jumped off the couch and out of his sons way as a yawned stretched into place, reminding him of just how tired he was quickly becoming.   The drive before them would take a few hours, and use up a portion of the money his mother has generous given the day before.   The left over combined with what remained in his bank account would not amount to much, and certainly would not last long.  

Warming some water in the microwave for a cup of instant coffee, Daryl scanned the room to see what else would need to be packed.  There was not a lot of items left to go in boxes since Chrissy had taken so much with her, but the old furniture from his parents old house he was not ready to lose.

I don’t want to move.  Maybe Jay will help me out.

“Why did you drive all the way out here, big brother.  Must’ve take you hours.”  Jay said as he plopped down in a grease stained wool covered armchair, popping open a luke warm beer can.

Looking around Daryl couldn’t see any evidence of why he would want to come out.  Half crushed beer cans lined the rooms stained floors, and not wanting to look to closely he was certain there was likely blood stain in one corner of the room which seemed to have soaked its way up the baseboards as well.  Leaning over he whispered, “Jim, why don’t you go play outside you.  You’ll probably have a better time out there in the sun.”

Jim trying to hold back an obvious look of worry turned as he replied.  “Yeah, I think so too.” 

Not wanting the kid to get into anything anyone but him should be in, Jay shouted “They’re working on a bike in the garage.  Why don’t you go in there?” 

Daryl grimaced at the thought of his young son being influenced by whoever was likely in the garage, and again as he watched a girl, half dressed, traipse down the stair well with a cigarette in hand.  Trying not to notice the lack of clothing she had on, Daryl quickly looked to the side and saw a pile of pornographic magazines and what looked like a used condom wrapper. 

“Oh geez, Jay, what do you have going on in this place? I mean, for real, if I had known I wouldn’t have brought Jim.”  Daryl closed his eyes tight, as he rubbed a rough hand across his face, half-heartedly hoping the scene would magically improve when he opened his eyes.

“Oh her, that’s Cindy.  Show shows up to party on the weekend is all.  She’ll stay out of the way.”  Jay turned on the television to some redneck channel showing a tractor pull.

No, I mean all of it Jay. 

Daryl cleared the top of an overturned crate and sat down across from his brother.   He started with small talk, trying to do what he could to pull his brother’s attention away from the screen.  He knew it would take a mighty force, so once his patience wore thin, he brought up Delores.   Jameson did seem to respond a bit to the news that their mother was still able to move around some, and seemed to be doing as best as she could, but the concern quickly faded, and again the television had his full attention. 

Jim quickly ran back into the room and jumped unexpectedly onto Daryl’s lap, nearly knocking him to the floor,  “Dad, dad!  You should come see what they’re doing!  Its so cool, dad!”  

“I bet it is Jim, but I’m trying to talk to your Uncle Jay and we need to be alone.  You go back out there and I’ll come out in a minute.” 

As they watched Jim run back into the garage, Jay spoke up “He’s a good son, huh?  Good lookin’.”

“Yeah, he sure is.  A good kid.”  Daryl recognized the time had come, if he was going to tell his brother anything, he’d have to tell him now.  “So, yeah.  Jim and I have a situation on our hands.”

As Daryl continued to tell the story of Chrissy leaving, losing hours at work, and about the notice received on their door.  Immediately, Jay turned off the t.v. and moved up to the edge of Lazyboy.   He asked a few questions, and didn’t make any false promises.  Disclosing that some weeks he had money, and others he didn’t – this was one he didn’t.  

“Look man, we just bought that bike out there and it wiped us all out for a couple of weeks, you know.”   Jay curled his lips, shrugging his shoulders as if to nonchalantly say, Sorry, dude.

 “Yeah, I know, Jay. Damn.  I just need some cash. I don’t know what we’re gonna do for food if my check doesn’t come through soon.“

“Yeah, I know.   I get ‘cha.”  Looking around the room Jay began to scratch at his temple.  “I mean, there  may be some scrap metal out there in the garage you could take down to the the scrapper over off 284, see if he’ll give you a few dollars.  Wouldn’t be much.”

“You know what,” Daryl began, already regretting the rest of his statement, “ I’ll take it.  Thanks Jay.”

“Thanks for nothing, I know.  Sorry bro, its all I got man.  Maybe if you had come back next month.”  Jay began to drone on as the two walked out to the side of the house where metal scraps seemed to be heaped indefinitely.  The two worked together to pull items from the heap and load them into the back of the truck, Jay mumbling totals beneath his breathe as the two huff and puffed back and forth.

“I wouldn’t let him go without giving you a least $10 each for those side panels man. And you got another $5 coming for each of those engine parts, I bet.  Maybe, $30… $40 dollars?”

“Yeah, maybe $30.”  Tops, Daryl thought to himself. “Jim!  Time to go!   We’re getting out of here now -  meet me at the truck… pronto big man!”

“Pronto big man!” Jameson mocked.  “I remember when mom used to say that.  You remember, we’d follow her around with those old school pop guns ‘Pronto Tonto’  Eh, those were the days big brother, those were the days.  And you remember…”

As Jay continued to recall a few old memories, Daryl’s mind switched back into high gear on his situation.  His situation became very clear, and it was time to get a move on moving on.  Life was changing rapidly, and there was no one or nothing that would seem to stop it from happening.  36 hours, $36, and a heap of junk… great.

“Dad!  Did you see what they are building in the there?  Its huge dad!!  You should come look!!”  Jim was tugging at his dad’s sleeve, pulling him back into the direction of the house.

“Nope son.  Its time to move on.  Come on now, in the truck.”  Daryl swung the door open, and tossed Jim in like a sack of potatos.

“But dad, I wanna…”
“Nope Jim.  Its time to go home.”  Daryl was tired, and the evening would not last as long as he would want.  By the time the two would return, the fuel tank, their funds, and the cupboard would all be running on empty.  Not to mention he still needed to find a storage unit and hopefully a babysitter for the next day.

Jim fell asleep on the way home, a small victory for Daryl.   Slumped over to the side, his head landed against Daryl’s bicep, and after a few more moments slinked to the padding of the trucks bench seating.  Daryl covered him with his own jacket, turned the radio up and drove in thoughtful silence, hoping for a ray of inspiration on the way. 

Daryl’s day ended late that night.  Though there was not much he could do returning home late in the afternoon, but make sure everything was ready to go the next day.  Unable to find a babysitter in the apartment complex, Daryl knew he was going to have a hard time on his hand with Jim asking questions of all sorts.  He dreaded the amount of lying he would have to do, but after the scene at Jim’s school the day before, he knew he would have to come up with a rock solid doozey.

The only positives in his day were that he was able to sell for more than expected, and called Mr. Quigleys lead to secure a storage unit where he could keep his stuff free for a month.  Now all he’d need to do is get the Storage Barn before 12:30 the next day and he’d be one step further to rock bottom.

“Dad.  Dad.”  Daryl heard the muffled sounds as he felt the rocking motions of a little hand pressing against him where he had apparently dozed off sitting on the side of the tub where he had stopped to think earlier.  “Dad.”

Grunting Daryl stood up slowly while half asleep, yawning and fighting for mental clarity in the moment.

“Dad.  Are we moving?”  Jim, obviously tired, hugged Daryl’s thigh and leaned his head up against his dad’s long leg.  Daryl instantly shot awake at the sigh of his young son, self dressed in a mix-matched pj set covered in comic super heros, holding his once favorite blanket in one hand, a Stretch Armstrong doll in the other.  Daryl remembered the days when Jim wouldn’t let go of either and questioned why he had either in his possession now.

“Well, no son.  Remember, we’re going on a trip. Like I said before.”  Daryl leaned down to scoop his young son up and proceeded to walk into the bedroom covered in half packed boxes and dirty laundry.

“Oh.  It doesn’t feel like we’re going on a trip dad. How long will we be gone?”  Jim asked as Daryl laid him down on the mattress.

“We’ll be gone a while son.  We will definitely be gone a while.  I don’t know how long.  But you don’t worry about that right now, you just need to get a good night’s rest.”  Daryl pushed back the shaggy long hair from Jim’s forehead and leaned over to give him a good night kiss before tucking him for the last time before the bedding would be packed up. 

Daryl pulled a packed box over to the bedside and sat atop while he watched his young son fall to sleep.   He was about to doze of himself again when he heard Jim begin to chuckle.

“he he he Dad...” Jim muttered softly, fast asleep “… dad… gon.. be fun.”  Jim continued to giggle to himself lightly as he rolled over pulling Stretch close to his chest. 

Daryl wiped the tears now streaming down his cheek away, as he walked out of the room.  

Oh dear God, please don’t take his laughter away too.

That night Daryl fell asleep before he hit the couch and slept uninterrupted until he heard the front door creaking open. 

“What the…” he began as he startled awake, seeing the front door half open and Jim dragging a box behind him.  “Jim!  What are you doing?”  Daryl pulled his young son through the door, tossing the box aside, and now looming over the shocked 8 year old.

“I was just getting a box from the truck dad.  I need to get my favorite stuff together so I don’t lose it while we are gone.  I was trying not to wake you up, I’m sorry dad.”  Jim sheepishly leaned over to retain the box.

Daryl kneeled down, placing the box between himself and Jim.  “You know.  That’s a good idea son.  But I need you to promise me one thing, okay?  You do not leave my side for the rest of the day or for our entire trip okay?  You stay with me, at all times.  You need to go somewhere, you ask me first.  If I tell you to stay somewhere, you don’t move an inch.  And if anyone asks you a question, you ask me for the answer.  You are more precious to me than this box is to you, and I don’t want to lose you ever.  You got that son?”

Puzzled by his dad’s intensity Jim nodded his head once, slowly “Um, sure.  Can I go back to my room now?”

Daryl, half satisfied with his son’s response, reluctantly let the 8 year old out of his site, watching him take every step into his bedroom, gawkily dragging the box behind him.  Looking at his watch he noticed it was nearly 9 am and the two of them had to get moving to find the Storage Barn in time to secure a unit before they owner would leave to go watch football. 

Racing into the bathroom he yelled out, “Jim, you got 15 minutes.  Pack that box quick then - underwear, teeth, and hair.”  Then looking at his own rough appearance, Daryl recanted “Scratch that Jim – you got 30 minutes, but you gotta round up all your dirty clothes and put them in a laundry basket too, okay?”

“Okay” Jim heard as he turned the water on, only half wondering to himself how quickly his son would grow up on this ‘trip’ of theirs.

The morning went by quickly for the two.  Daryl used the last bits of their groceries to make up some half decent friend egg and ham sandwiches which the two ate in silence while they drove around the unfamiliar farm to market backroads looking for the Storage Barn.  The directions given by the attendant when he called were vague and mumbled, and Daryl had only half paid attention while he tried to keep an eye on his sons comings and goings between the apartment and truck.

It was getting close to  11 o’clock and Jim wondered why he couldn’t find FM 349 anywhere.  He had tried using a map Chrissy once stuffed into the glove box, but the closest he could tell he was on or near Old Gopher Road near nothing, and more nothing.  In the distance he heard the clamoring of an old bell tower.   As he continued forward, from the horizon over the hill he could see its source as a white steeple revealed itself in the distance. 

“What’s that dad?”  Jim asked momentarily putting down comic book he had been flipping through.

Surprised at the question, Daryl looked at his son.  “It’s a church.”  Looking back and forth between the church and his son, Daryl asked “Did we never take you to church?” 

Jim shrugged, “Guess not.  I’ve never seen one of those buildings before.  What goes on in there?”

A force greater than Daryl, steered the truck to the side of the road, and he instantly recalled one morning when he was about his son’s age.  His mother had been trying to wrangle him, Jameson and their dad together, chasing after each of them with fresh pants, ties and shined shoes.   Once she got them all lined up and ready on the porch, Daryl remembered his little brother asking if they had to go church and his mom, without skipping a beat, barreling through them all, carrying them along simply with her contagious energy answering “Yes son, It’s what Johnsons do.”

Daryl, looked at his son, compelled by the moment itself responded “Well, let’s go find out.”   Besides, maybe I can ask someone for directions inside.
Driving up to the small dirt covered lot, Daryl pulled in and parked as close to the road as he could.  The last thing he wanted this morning was to get blocked in the parking lot afterwards giving too many people a chance to ask too many questions about the new visitor and his son.  He especially didn’t want to receive any charity – he just wanted to show his son what church was, and what went on in there.

When they entered, he felt a tug on his shirt tail and his soon pointed to his head.  Daryl pulled down the tattered ball cap he had been wearing and tried to smooth his rough curls into place at the same time marveling at how his young son picked up on the formality of the occasion.  The congregation was standing and singing giving Daryl enough time to find a good spot tucked away in the far back corner, providing an easy escape out a side door in the event this was one of ‘those’ churches.

“I don’t know the words dad.”

“Me either son.  Just repeat whatever they are saying.  Grandma used to say Just follow everyone else and you can’t go wrong in church.” 

Jim stood on the wooden pew shoulder to shoulder with his father, as the two sang along to the old country hymns.  When it came time to pray, the two mimicked the others, ducking their heads silently and listening to the leader’s strong words.  The prayer, long and drawn out, was stirring up some obvious emotion in the crowd as patrons began to moan and mummer to themselves.  Daryl looked to Jim who also seemed to be mummer to himself, unsure of what his sonwas saying.  Then as if on que, while the preacher continued “….and be with those who we love who are not here today…” Jim lifted his head, eyes wide open and lifting his hand to the air. 

A tear streamed down Daryl’s face, as he turned to embrace his young son, whom he knew was praying for Chrissy.  Jim was too young to understand why his mommy had left, but no one is ever to young to want their mom to be safe.  He asked frequently about how she was doing, and often said “I think she’s doing okay.  I just wish she were doing okay here.”  And he always replied, “Me too son.  Me too.”

As the two held onto each other, Daryl felt a soft hand placed on his back, and a voice similar to his mom’s.  Keeping his eyes shut, he trembled as she began to speak softly “Dear Lord, please be with these boys today.  They have a tough road ahead, but with you by the side and in their hearts they will be victorious.  I pray they keep you in their hearts Lord Father,  present in each step of their journey, knowing they are blessed because you will never leave them, and will love them always.”   The soft touch disappeared and Daryl opened his eyes to see who had prayed for the two, but no one seemed to be near.  Instead the rest of the congregation was settling itself into their places in the pew.

Whispering in his son’s ear as he pulled him into his lap, “Jim, did you see who that was?”

“Who was who?” Jim asked, confused by the question.

“Who just came up and was talking near us.”  Daryl kept looking around the congregation for any signs of who might have prayed over them.

“I didn’t hear anything dad, just the man up there.”  Jim crawled off his dad’s lap, choosing to reposition himself close up to the pew’s arm for a clear view of the full stage up front.

Daryl sat back, also confused.  He had always heard church was the place to see miracles happen, but he had never quite had an experience like that before now.   Choosing to give into the mystery of the moment, Daryl leaned back in the pew, knees touching the one before, crossed his arms over his chest and began to listen to the sermon.  Having heard the same old tired words time and again, Daryl was antsy to keep on schedule and not lose the chance of a free storage unit. 

After a few more while had passed Daryl anxiously shook Jim signaling it was time to go.  Jim, enthralled in the theatrics of the man’s movements sat mesmerized reluctant to move until Daryl made it clear he had no choice.  The two stood up and were about to walk out the side exit when the preacher’s voice booming voice stopped them in their tracks.

“….and let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  Folks that means we don’t give up.  We live through hard times knowing God is there with us, he is going to give us the strength the energy the power and the conviction to keep on keeping on.  Because if he brings you to it – you’d better believe he’s with you through it.”   With each word the crowd was more and more worked up, and as he finished the statement, they jumped to their feet in a chorus of praise and hallelujahs.

Daryl, again finding himself wiping a tear from his dusty cheek, picked Jim up and proceeded through the door.  As he jumped into the truckand sighed a big relief as he read the address on the church sign “486 FM 349.” 

“Hey dad.  That was fun.  Can we do that again?”  Jim asked as he watched the fields passed outside the truck window. 
Daryl smiled and the two continued to drive, finding the Storage Barn a few miles up the road.  After a quick phone call to the owner, Daryl was able to procure the last storage unit in the facility, free for a month, and at a modest rate there after.  Now, all he could do was pray his gas would hold out long enough to get the two back and forth a few times to fill the space up.

The rest of the afternoon was long and Daryl was correct to assume Jim would be difficult to keep up while wrestling boxes from left to right, particularly balancing furniture across the truck bed, and panting in between the numerous treks.    Daryl did what he could to keep his young son’s energy contained, but once the questions started he knew he would have to stop and figure something out.  To his surprise, Jim held off until the sun started to dip behind the treetops.

“Dad.  If we only going on a trip, then why do we have to move everything into that place?”  Jim asked out of the trucks rear windows.  Daryl was on the other side of a book case, and could see Jim peering through the iron cut outs in an old shop project that was packed tightly at the front of the truck bed.  Sweat dripped from the tip of his nose, and every piece of his hair and inch of clothing was drenched from having moved the entire apartment himself.  He rubbed his forehead against his damp shoulder, and sat down, hoping to take as much time as possible to answer the next series of questions his smart son would throw at him.

“Well, because we’re not going on a trip as much as an adventure, I guess you could say.”

At the sound of the word “adventure” Jim jumped out of the trucks, hands valiantly positioned at his waist, “Adventure to…………..”, stumped he looked back at his dad, “Well, where are we going on our adventure, dad?  We gotta go somewhere?”

Daryl, exasperated for answers to even the simplest question could feel himself cringe at the thought of starting the lies now.  “Well, we are going to go wherever our feet take us son.”
“How do we know where wherever is?  I want to name our adventure dad.  Like in the comic books.  Adventure through the Universe.  Adventure to the Bottom of the Sea. “  Jim’s arms started to droop at his waist while he wanted for the answer.

“Well, we won’t know until our feet start taking us, I guess.”  Daryl, wanting to continue forward as long as possible, stood up, grabbed his son’s hand in order to head back up the stairs for possibly the last time. Looking down at his son, he looked at his own feet and said “Feet.  Take us somewhere.”  Then after making a few robot-like pops and clicks with his mouth, Daryl started to jerk his feet about like they had a life of their own.  Jim, amused at the possibility of their feet having their own minds, started to imitate the movements – and the two started hobbling around the sides of the truck and then headed back up the stairs.

“Well, this isn’t anywhere fun dad.  Adventures are fun, right?”  Jim asked once more as they stepped into the near empty apartment, littered with pieces of paper and remaining bags of trash.

“That’s because we haven’t gone anywhere new yet Jim.  You wait until we get somewhere new and we’ll have fun there, okay?  I promise.”  Daryl knelt down again and looked at his son straight in the eye, “But right now I need you to put on your best set of eyes.  Look around and make sure you haven’t left anything anywhere that you absolutely must have.  And if you see anything that’s mine just let me know too, okay?  We need to get a move on before the sun sets any further.”

It did not take long for the two to peruse the one bedroom apartment for an items that might be left behind and none where found.  Daryl looked into the kitchen and remembered what Chrissy looked like when she would be standing at the stove making dinner, recalled the many nights he would pull the sofa couch open for Jim and then chase her off to bed for a few moments of lovemaking before the two both feel asleep in each others arms. Staring out at the patio brought back memories of eat popsicles with Jim in lawnchairs, feet propped up on the metal rail as the long summer nights continued on for hours.  He remembered the first day he signed the lease, so thankful he had finally moved the his wife and son out of the broken down motor home which had barely enough room for one when his mother passed it on to him before moving into the nursing home.

“Okay dad.  And what do I do with my box and my list?”  Jim dropped a small open flapped box at Daryl’s feet and held out a crumpled piece of paper to his father.

“Oh.  Your box and your list.  Are these you last two things?”  Trying to make light of the situation Daryl began teasing Jim, reaching his next out the door.  “You know what, I jus tdon’t know if we are going to have room for those things son.” 

Jim’s chin fell hard as he ran out to the front balcony rail, “YES we do, Dad!  You said so, I see it right there!”  Jim started pointing at the obviously open end of the truck bed.

Daryl laughed, and placed the eviction notice on the kitchen bar with the key on top before taking their last few steps in the apartment and closing the door behind them.  “Well, let’s see here,” picking up the box, he pretended to examine it from all sides, lifting it above Jim’s head and just out of reach of Jim’s now outstretched arms, “Now, I don’t know Jim,” bobbing it up and down as Jim tried to jump up to reach it, “it feels a little heavy.  You don’t think its too heavy do you?”  

“Dad!”  Jim screeched as he tried to crawl up Daryl’s side to reach the box, “Give it back.  I want my box back, now!”  now following his dad as they headed down the stairs.

At the bottom of the stairs Daryl, swooped Jim up in one arm, the box in the other.  “Lets see here, son.”  Lifting Jim into the back edge of the truck bed, and placing the box at his feet, “I guess you could both fit right there.”

“Dad!”  Jim was doubled over laughing by this point, having caught on to his dad’s teasing.  “Come on, dad, let me in the truck.  I can hold the box.”

“Well, if that’s what you want to do son.  I just didn’t think you’d enjoy it as much as riding in the back.”  Daryl grabbed the box from the floor of the bed, and turned his back to Jim, who then climbed on and back down to the ground.

“Yes.  That’s what I want to do dad.”  Turning at the waist, Jim pulled the box to one side, then over and down to his feet “Feet, take me somewhere.”  Beginning with a jerky motion, Jim began to waddle to his of the truck, then struggled to hold onto the box in one arm, while he opened his door and climbed in, in one akward motion.

Daryl too, looked down and thought  Feet, take us somewhere.  In the same jerky motions, he began to ham his way around the truck to the sound of his little boy’s bright laughter.  As he climbed in, Daryl looked to Jim and said, “So tell me about that list of yours.  Where are some of those favorite places you want to go?”

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