September 1984

September 1984

A Story by B.G. Clark

Gary, a young father, reluctantly visits his father to give him a belated birthday present.



The smell of freshly dug soil sent Gary back to childhood as he opened the car door and stepped out into his old driveway. The mailbox was still bent and faded. The fall leaves were turning early this year and were already close to peaking at their usual bright red, yellow, and orange hues. A large maple branch hung close to Steve Woodson’s porch resembling an archway as if to colorfully welcome anyone who cared to drop by. But no one had seen him in over two weeks and Gary had felt uncomfortable coming there without his brother who always acted as a buffer against his father’s disagreeable moods. He saw the old sawhorses set up near the garage and the well-worn welding mask discarded near the corner of the porch. The small front lawn, spotted brown and patched with dirt and sod hadn’t been mowed in its last few weeks of growth.
 The wind blew lightly over Gary’s stubbled face. It was cold. He put his hands in his jacket pockets and took a deep breath. Looking up at the branch arch he took the few steps up to the porch. Slowly he stopped and looked back at the familiar view. It had been at least two months since he spoke to his father. Yesterday had been Steve’s birthday and instead of visiting him then, he waited until today. Gary attached no importance to certain days, just as long as the occasion was celebrated or observed at some point, however belated it was. It was a certain viewpoint he inherited from his father. It always drove his mother up the wall. He thought about it as he stood on the porch looking out at the dirt road.
Perhaps I should’ve called first he thought. But it wouldn’t have done any good. Steve never answered the telephone. In fact, he turned the ringer off. “If I want to talk to someone, I’ll call them or drive to see ‘em,” he always said. Gary was feeling the effects of a long night of drinking. His head pounded and his body was tired and achy. April had gone to bed early because she was fatigued by Gary’s absurd and unrelenting conversations with her and himself. When he drank he loved to hear the sound of his own voice. It really didn’t matter what words came out. He remembered yelling loudly at the television. He screamed and swore at the cartoon Anthony was watching before his bedtime. “This f*****g thing on T.V. is nothin’ but an extension of Reagan and his f****n’ cronies. Give more to the rich and it’ll trickle down to the working man. What a load of s**t. I can’t believe they put this s**t on T.V. for kids ta watch!” he screamed and slurred. April put Anthony to bed upstairs and she went straight to bed leaving Gary to rant on the couch downstairs. He muttered loudly to himself while frequently yelling out some absurdity or swear word purposely trying to keep his wife awake and upset.  The scene replayed in his mind while he stood viewing his childhood yard.
Gary found himself ready to knock on the heavy front door. There was a door bell, but Steve disconnected it around the same time he turned the ringer off on the telephone. He hated the ringing sounds these devices made. He abhorred the feeling of immediacy that the ringing produced, as if to say it’s now or never. He had also thrown out all the clocks in the house because he couldn’t stand to hear the ticking of the second hands. It all reminded him of having no second chances. 
Gary thumped on the door a few times with his knuckles. Consciously hoping his father wouldn’t answer the door, so he could slide his birthday card under the door and go on his way, he waited a few moments before knocking again. As he raised his hand to knock once more he heard the unmistakable holler from within.
“Who is it for Christ sakes?” Steve said hoarsely followed by a couple coughs. 
“Here we go,” Gary said to himself quietly under his breath. His head pounded more than ever.
“Hey Dad it’s me,” Gary said through the door, though not loud enough for Steve to decipher who it was.
“Allan, is that you?” Steve yelled back.
“No Dad, it’s Gary. Allan’s working today,” he said uncomfortably.
There was a short pause and then the sound of clicking. Steve unbolted the door and opened it slowly and suspiciously. Gary stood on the old faded welcome mat. His face was pale and haggard. The door was cracked open.
“Allan?” he said again lowly.
“Nah Dad, it’s me Gary.” 
“Oh,” he said with a bit of surprise.
“Sorry dad if this is a bad time, I can get goin’.”  
“Nah, it’s alright, I’m just fiddlin’ with that damn stove over there. The piece of s**t quit working on the top four burners last night.  I should’ve bought a gas stove instead. Too late now,” he said.
The air inside the house smelled musty and stale as though a window hadn’t been open to let fresh air in for months. Tools, batteries, and dissembled wooden chairs were scattered throughout the kitchen. Dishes were piled inside the large farmhouse sink. Dust gathered itself thickly on the top of the old microwave and rays of sunshine battled their way inside the dim lighting through the partially opened kitchen window blinds behind the sink, illuminating large amounts of dust particles in the air. 
“Oh, yeah, well those electric stoves aren’t as dependable as the old gas ones that’s for sure,” Gary said placating his father. 
“You got that right.”
“Well maybe this will help you get a new one if you can’t get that one to work again. Happy birthday dad,” Gary said handing Steve a small enveloped card.
“Oh hell, what’s this,” he said.
“I didn’t want you to think I forgot about your birthday,” Gary said smiling through his hangover.
“Well you didn’t have to get me anything.”
“Well I didn’t want the only thing you get to be another tool set from Allan,” Gary said laughingly.   
“Yeah, you’re right, but that boy does try, I’ll give him that,” Steve said humorously.
“Yeah, he does,” Gary said.
“Should I open this now?”
“Nah, just wait till I’m gone, that way you won’t try to give it back to me,” Gary said smiling.
“Oh, alright. How’s my grandson?” Steve said cheerfully.
“He’s good. Really good. April’s taking him to get his picture taken today. She says she wants one every year. He’s growing up so fast. Seemed like yesterday he was just crawling around in diapers, now he’s going to be starting school soon. Time goes by too fast,” Gary said with a vacant stare. 
Steve noticed Gary’s crooked smile and vacant eyes. It was like looking into a mirror twenty years ago. He knew he had been wrong about a lot of things throughout his life. The tough impenetrable outer shell was a device he used to combat those who could affect his emotions. It shielded him too, for a time from his own conscience and left him appearing callous during times when he needed love and support the most. He hadn’t had a drink in over two months and his life became clearer. The blame had always rested on everyone else’s shoulders and now with the fog lifted, he knew the feelings of guilt and regret very well. It overtook him at night and saturated his dreams with vivid details of what was and what could have been. 
“How are you feelin’ dad? I heard you coughing a bit when you came to the door,” Gary asked. 
“Oh, I’m doing okay, just got a little chest cold or somethin’,” he said casually.
“Well if it doesn’t get much better in a little while, you should go get it checked out,” Gary said.
“Nah, I’ll be fine. I’ve had much worse than this,” he said in the same tone.
“Okay. Well I won’t keep you dad, I know you’ve got stuff you’re doing today and I’ve gotta get home and do some chores around the place,” Gary said automatically as he pulled his hands from his jacket pockets and looked toward the golden doorknob.
 Gary felt an awkward pause as he and his dad stood together for a moment in silence. They looked at each other in the eyes only for a moment and then he averted and took a few steps toward the front door with his head bowed.
“Hey, come here for a second will ya?” Steve said just as Gary reached for the door.
“Yeah Dad?” Gary said looking up at his father.
Gary turned around and walked back near where his father stood. His thick brown steel-toed boots made loud clomping noises as he avoided the tools and broken furniture. His head continued to pound. Steve stood with his hands to his sides, looking his son in the face. The corners of his eyes wrinkled.
“I want you to know that I love you and that I’ve always loved you. This should’ve been easier for me to say all the while you were growing up and it should’ve been easier for me to say to your mother too, but I have no good reason why I always kept myself from saying it. But it’s how I really feel and how I really felt. Underneath all that drinking and hating was my love for all of you, and I know I ruined it all and it’s too late to change what’s been done, but I wanted to let you know I’m sorry Gary and that I’m not blaming anyone but myself for what happened. Drinking took everything good out of me and buried it deep within me. All those years the good kept trying to get out but the damn drinking wouldn’t let it. I should’ve been a stronger man, but I was weak and I let myself fall every time I opened a bottle. I let you, Allan, and your mother down and I didn’t fully realize it ‘til I quit drinking…”
“Dad it’s….”
“Let me finish boy. It’s a disease, an addiction. It’s something someone with self pity feels they need to get by in this world. But in that haze all those years I never once thought what it would be like to not have your mother by my side. I took everything for granted and I lost the one thing I cared most about. And I see it happening to you Gary. Coming in here with your empty eyes and worn and ragged face, with that familiar stink of old liquor passed through your system, trying to escape something so good and so blessed that you feel it haunt you in the few moments of sobriety you have. Please boy, learn from me. I wanted to escape too, and I finally did. Now I’m left alone with a head full of regret and guilt. You don’t want a life like that.”
Steve looked at his son and walked in front of him. Reaching out his arms he grabbed Gary by the shoulders and pulled him into his chest. With teary eyes Gary reciprocated and hugged his father mightily. The two men stood in the middle of the kitchen grasping one another, both wishing time hadn’t passed the way it did. Steve looked Gary in the eyes once more.
“It’s not too late for you boy. Now’s the time; don’t waste it.”

© 2009 B.G. Clark

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Not everyone gets to have such a moment with their parents/children/loved ones. My mother and I needed one very badly, but she died before it could happen, not that it would have, but I'd like to think she'd have come around. I've been on both sides of this equasion and relate to Gary and Steve well. You're a good story-teller, B.G.

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Added on November 2, 2009


B.G. Clark
B.G. Clark

Busan, South Korea

For now I'm just writing for myself. I like to write stories that reveal, even if it's just a glimmer, the heaviness of human existence, however tragic and/or uplifting. Remembering that it's all mo.. more..

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