an Under-Heaven novel
Copyright Ó 2006 by Tim Greaton.
This is a work of fiction. The names and the characters are fictional. Any resemblance to living or dead individuals is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, including digital or audio sampling, internet display or download, or any other form of digital or physical display or transfer, excepting only brief excerpts for use in a literary review, without expressed written permission from the author.
Published by Focus House Publishing
Front Cover illustration by
Printed in the U.S.A.
April 22, 2005:
"I told you, I’ll handle your mother!" Jesse’s father exclaimed, smashing a strawberry shake down on the table and sending pink liquid exploding across the nearest three McDonald’s restaurant tables. Fortunately, the surrounding seats had no occupants at the time.
Jesse scooted his chair back then froze as he watched a clump of thick, pink liquid just miss his knees and drip down onto the floor. He swallowed and felt dread clamp around his chest. He knew his father was only seconds away from what his mother called a ‘hellva bad scene.’ Jesse’s eyes darted around the room. There was no one nearby. On the one hand, he hated to see anyone picked on, but on the other he dreaded being his father’s only target. Though Jesse’s ‘rememory’ wasn’t very good yet, it seemed to him that his father was getting meaner with every passing day. Jesse never understood why his father had these tantrums, and whenever he asked his mother she would only say, "Just be glad you’re still a little boy."
By this time, his father’s eyes had narrowed and his cheek muscles had tightened his face into the shape of a bare skull. Jesse stared down at the floor and tried to hold back the tears. He pressed his lips together and tried not to focus on the hot feeling in his eyes. He glanced up and winced as his father’s fists clenched and unclenched. Jesse could feel his little body starting to quake.
Suddenly, a trickle of pee came out from down there.
Doubly terrified at what might happen if his father knew, he stared at his French fries and tried with all his might to keep his five-year-old body under control. But when his father’s hand slapped down into the spilled mess, he could feel a tiny bit more pee trickle out.
"That bitch never controlled me, and I’ll be damned if she’ll start now!"
Not daring to move, Jesse watched pink splatters rain down onto the goop-covered table. His father shook off his hand and fell silent, but anger was still scribbled like red crayon across his face. When he turned to look out the window, Jesse slipped one trembling hand under the table and felt his crotch. It was dry. Maybe he hadn’t peed that much, at least he hoped not. He pulled his hand up and waited for his father’s unshaven jaw to stop grinding back and forth. Maybe he shouldn’t have begged his mother to let his dad bring him here today.
It seemed like forever before his father turned his attention back inside the restaurant. Jesse was too scared to say anything, so he sat there silently, his five-year-old mind wondering if he somehow to blame for the way his father had been acting? Was it because of him that his mother had kicked his father out? Jesse’s mother insisted he had nothing to do with it, but Jesse wasn’t so sure. There had to be some reason for all this. Not for the first time, Jesse searched his mind for some solution, some way that he could get things to go back to the way they used to be. It wasn’t so long ago that he had thought of his father had been his best friend. Jesse loved his mom, and he knew for certain that, no matter what, she would always keep him warm, safe, but his dad had always been the one to romp and play with him. It was his father that used to wake Jesse up early every Saturday morning so they could watch cartoons and play video games together. And it was his father that had always rushed into the house after work, ready for a wrestling match even before he changed out of his work clothes. But then something happened. It was gradual it first, only once in a while that he didn’t come home. But then once in a while turned into two or three nights a week. And two or three times a week turned into most of the time. And finally it got so that those few nights when his father did show up early enough for Jesse to see him, he was too tired to wrestle or to even pay any attention to him at all. It was almost as if some invisible hand had reached into his father’s chest and pulled all the fun out of him.
Now, sitting there in front of a milkshake-covered table, Jesse feared his wrestling partner had disappeared forever. And worse, he worried that the reason somehow involved him. Of course, Jesse knew a big part of today’s problem was that his mother had kicked his father out of their apartment the week before, but even so, his dad had been growing colder for months.
Jesse tried to nibble on one of his French fries, one with a splash of pink on it, but even the sweet strawberry taste didn’t appeal to him now. He dropped it unfinished back into the paper package. Brown eyes turned to stare down at him. Jesse couldn’t help leaning his head back, a tiny bit of fear jiggling in his stomach. His father’s eyes had stopped squinting.
"I’m sorry, Jesse. I’m not mad at you."
It wasn’t until his father picked up his napkin and tried to wipe the milkshake from his fingers that Jesse dared to speak.
"I remembered, Dad," Jesse said. He reached into his spring jacket pocket and pulled out a crumpled plastic sandwich bag "It’s my piggybank money, just like you wanted." Jesse studied his father’s face as he placed the bag on the only clear spot on the table. But instead of the happy expression he had hoped for, his father remained somber.
"I thought you--" Jesse started to say, but his father waved a hand.
Dark eyes stared at him for a moment then fell onto the little bag of money. "You did good, Jess." He wiped his shake-covered hand on a napkin that was much too small for the job. In moments it was a tiny pink-soaked wad. By the time one of the fast food workers approached, the elder ??? was brushing the remains of the sticky liquid onto his previously clean work jacket.
"Is everything alright?" a young man in a blue McDonald’s uniform asked.
"We had an accident," Jesse’s dad said. His voice was gruff.
"I can see that," the youth said, maybe with a tiny bit of ‘scasm.’ Jesse had learned a lot about ‘scasm’ from the way his parents had treated each other recently. Jesse had decided that he didn’t like ‘scasm.’