Jack Scrape was a soft-gutted guy, pudging inside his baggy pants in fashion when he was a teenager and out over the belt, his eyes turned down at the distal, arms hanging over folds of what used to be decent latisimus dorsi. Not that you'd be able to tell right away that he had once been a fairly handsome and robust guy, if at all.
Old sperm that had swum around for too many moon in the way that Mother Nature takes care of herself when one man can do the job of fifty, if he has to, in the fantasy that he would dream about without emotion, at least the kind his women seem to prefer, had yielded Jack three daughters scientifically proven in the way that numbers play out enough times. There was never a question as to whom he loved most, the most recently born, and an eventual blessing for the oldest. As a young man he had two sons who now live with his parents, the same parents who have worked hard to convince him he is in love with his current wife, yet have never visited nor been home for a visit from the father to his progeny; and therefore he had not seen the boys since they were two years old ... that is, until they were young men shaving with enough of the confusion and dammit-I'll-do-it-anyway in their mid-twenties with families of their own and just beginning to realize that agendas are something that have to be negotiated if there's to be a warm body alongside to make one night a month stand out from all the others.
Jack always wanted to see the boys, particularly when his girls went foul in such a way that a more pedestrian pace seems warranted. The oldest left home at sixteen and, four years later, she was raped and killed while hitchhiking by a man running stolen greyhound pups between Wisconsin and Florida. The middle one was in prison for life. She was a terrorist in the early seventies (blew up two FBI agents with six sticks of dynamite). Jack wrote the youngest off when she married an African American intake worker she met while doing volunteer work in a homeless shelter up north.
All of these things came to pass within the four years after the oldest's death, of which a more comfortable observer noted that his grandfather shoveled wet snow well into his eighties until one day God looked at his Filofax and realized he had forgotten something; and being God, could go back and take care of old business easier than you or I, no appointment necessary; but Jack could not help but see all of these things as disappointments. It was his first glimpse at something being severely wrong. Yet this wasn't what made him soft.
Plod, plod, went Jacks' brain. With news of the oldest's death, he took the opportunity to leave the girls' mother as well; ran away himself, actually to marry his third wife, a fifteen year old girl, a descendant of the land rush in this, our year of the Lord 1995, from Oklahoma City.
No, lest you think a full picture is possible now or even later and said with the humility of a drunkard thinking this is the only way a story will get told in a fashion that can go on and on and still keep a reader's nothing-to-worry-about interest just to find what made Jack soft was Spring-like weather. Jack thought that as long as you could feel Spring, you still had a speck of youth left in you, which, as he got older, he began to confuse with hope. Wouldn't touch this with a well-endowed but badly in need of a transfusion at arousal. Jack met the young girl one Spring and went out to look for his boys the next.
Now, you and I can see right through all of this malarkey pretty easy. And regardless of your particular slant, you wouldn't have too hard of time seeing Jack's reasoning as flawed, not to mention tiring for all concerned. But Jack, like most of us, was consumed by his desires and suddenly afraid of dying with regrets; therefore the outcome of his actions was to make more regret. Harmed everyone that one foot in front of the other left in the dust.
It never occurred to Jack that the (for they did not think of themselves as his) boys did not want to see him. Did not know him. And as the oldest put it, drunk with talk, "Had no desire to."
"Why complicate my life any more than it is already?" I got a call one evening after dinner. I had just smoked a joint and he calls and says, 'Jack Jr., this is your Dad.' Well, Mom had been married three more times after Jack, so first I had to sort through the familiar voices and none of them matched up.
"And then I figured it was a wrong number; because my name's Jack but I've never been called Junior in my life. Then he says, 'No, Son, this is your real dad.' Well, I still didn't take a liking to being "Junior," so he got off to a bad start. I didn't like what I was hearing and it was quickly fucking up my buzz.
"He said, 'I'm in town on my way to Greenfield and thought we could get together. I'd like to see you.'
"Now, the first thing that comes to mind is 'No way!' but it was getting close to Christmas, and, well, I just gave in.
"Sent my wife next door to the neighbors and it's a good thing I did. This man who shows up looks just like my brother, only older and a lot heavier. And he's got his shirt off but still tucked into his pants. Running vertically down his sternum is a big scar. It's a relatively fresh scar, neatly cut and sewn but still purple. Then he starts talking. 'Cut me open. Had a triple by-pass last year. Lost my job as a collection agent because of it. Been working as shoe salesman ever since. Got all of Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana as my territory. Had Tennessee too but went to the boss' boy two months ago. Boss's a nigger. Hate 'em. Reminds me: I left my gun in the car. Can't leave it there. Lemme go git it.'
"Well, when he went back to the car, I just closed the door, locked it, went into my bedroom and huddled on the floor with the phone. I called my wife but told her not to call the police. Just stay next door until his car was gone.
"That was the next day."
Again the question must arise, then, how was Jack a gruff man? It came from his homemade barbecue grill, which was made of galvanized metal. Jack had been slowly but surely poisoning himself for years. The metal had lodged itself into every crevice in his body. At the end of every capillary was a small but toxic pile of metals. Not surprisingly, his mind was therefore addled, but only situationally. The smallest amount of stress aggravated his condition, as spurs fly away from a high speed grinder. If his blood pressure rose, so did his temper. So, virtually anything set Jack off. This situation with his son, so the explanation chooses to go, was the first exception.
"Before he left, spent a lot more time talking to me through the door. Said he'd left his new bride to come looking for my brother and me. Even talked about getting back together with our mother. Can you imagine? Tossing garbage out the back door because there was a convenient ravine right there. Every Spring douse it with kerosene and set it on fire to discourage the rats from getting too comfortable. Keeps the kudzu back too. Not that life would become that, but that's how I imagine life would have been with him. A speculative past is what kept me from getting to know this guy. And the gun.
"If my life was in any danger at the time, I reckon I'd have called the cops ... or be dead now. By daybreak he must have talked himself dry. The last thing he said was, 'Well, Son, I won't bother you no more. I'm glad we had this chance to talk.'
"Well, this almost made me feel sorry for the guy. I was tempted to open the door. Tell him it was all right. But what was okay? His fucked up life? A long circuitous route to get me to feel sorry for him since the first blatant attempt failed? After all, we hadn't talked. In fact, since his first approach, I had not uttered a word.
"I did consider whether or not the guy was suicidal but compassion is a hard thing to come by for someone so obviously pathetic. Him, not me. What bounds does compassion have? Some will say 'None,' and I will have to find other criteria with which to judge my predicament. I will say one thing for him: when he left, he left for good. Maybe it was my gratitude that he was looking for anyway, and any way he could get it would be satisfactory. ... The idea makes me sick."
Yes, that's what Jack was looking for from his son. Gratitude. The expense to all others was exhaustion, which is an improvement. Jack wanted to be somehow involved in his son's life. Show him he cared, was interested. And wanted to claim a piece of the pie he would never get. So he licked the plate, came up with blackberry on his nose and got a chuckle from the crowd. He didn't like it but knew it would have to do.
Jack never went to Greenfield where the other son lived. He went home to his new wife, got down on one knee and begged forgiveness, which she gave. Jack asked for and received Texas as his sole territory, moved his now-pregnant wife down into the panhandle and made a good living selling low-cost boots to Tejanos and Vietnamese. Weekends he spent with his wife, and as his new son got older, taught him how to shoot $.05 deposit cans off fence posts.