One writer's experiment to tackle any subject his friends come up with.

A father of a grown son has evidence that would convict his son of a serious crime. No violence, I think. The man’s wife, the son’s mother, would never forgive him if he turned in that evidence. The father is an upright man, but knows he neglected the son in some important ways. But the son’s crime has damaged people. What does he do? (Not autobiographical. None of my children, to my knowledge, has done more than pot.)


Loretta’s Gift

Forty-two years of memories in that damned treasure box, and I pull out this ember of shame.  Forty-two years of goodness.  Him crying on Santa’s lap.  A heavy metal concert in high school.  His first haircut, pulled tooth, broken collarbone.  All the stuff you can keep and can stand to keep that reminds you how much you forgot about your own flesh and blood.  All in a Sears and Roebuck box with Greg’s name on a crackling piece of tape.  All this, and I go and dig up these ledger pages I’ve never seen for a company we both own.

I want to crush them, burn them, stuff them in the blender and turn them into paste.  I want to pound my head against the wall ’til I forget.  I want to know the sacrifices made by our good people weren’t meaningless.

I want to shove these pages in Greg’s face, bust him in the chops, and haul his ass to court.  I want to tell everybody that’s ever worked for us that they were lied to, that he was the only one to reap the fruits of all their labor.  I want to lead the lynch mob.

I think of Loretta, knowing this, and not telling me.  She hadn’t been able to make it up the stairs since October last; she must have put this away before then and kept it to herself for a year or more.  Now, in her way, she’s told me, and I’m lost.  I’m failing a test and I don’t know the rules.

Like the cancer.  She let me think she wasn’t in pain, but a month after it’s finished the job, I find the Lortab in her lipstick case.  I know now: I chose not to see.  Now I’m questioning every memory.  A dinner at the house with Greg, quieter than most.  A restless night that might not have been the lousy air conditioner.  Too many doubts, too many details I didn’t see then and can’t remember now.  Wishing I could forget what I’m looking at right now, erase those numbers and stick with what I knew before.

No, those are good numbers.  They tell me the boats are still selling.  Show me this business I scraped together over thirty years on my own, keeping Greg and Loretta fed, patching the roof over their heads, giving her the time to push all the smarts and beauty and life and love she could into him, it aint worthless; the boats still float.

But they also tell me there’s another thirty families that should all be doing better.  Maybe a couple that should still have that roof over their heads.  I’m a damned fool.  But who can doubt their own son?  Greg was the boy that took on Billie Schaeffer for throwing rocks at the kid with Downs that lived next door.  He was the boy who made sure we put out enough seed for the birds and the squirrels every winter.  Closest thing to disappointment I can come up with is his junior year, joy-riding in the Cordoba while Loretta and I were visiting her sister.  Amazing how tragedies like that turn quaint over time.  I sometimes worried he wouldn’t want the business, that there wasn’t enough virtue in it.  I always thought, given where he came from, I couldn’t be prouder.  Now regret is leaking into everything.

I know it happens.  Last year we watched a familiar face on TV trying to hide itself from the cameras as it came out of the courtroom.  A local teacher had been caught running a meth lab.  Everybody was shocked; we always are.  “You just never know people,” Loretta had said.  Maybe we never know what they put themselves through.  This guy didn’t wake up one day and decide to cook meth.  It started off small, to pay off the bank, then he wound up owing uglier people.  I know it happens, I just can’t figure out how we let it.  How thin is the veneer, and how hard will we work to keep from scratching it?

And how does a person have room for two lives in one heart? Last Wednesday, Greg had me and Anna out to Thomasson Park.  The wind was blowing all that tall grass around, making me think the city kinda shirks the place.  But there’s Greg, running back and forth through it, jumping to get Anna’s Hello Kitty kite off the ground, and I’m laughing because I can’t help but think of little Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Anna’s barely big enough to hang onto the string, and she giggles until she gives herself the hiccups.  When Greg realizes the wind isn’t going to cooperate, and the kite’s served its purpose anyway, he faints and rolls down the hill, and we go tumbling after him.  He’d put it together.  Get me out of the house.  Take advantage of his windy day off, get all of us out there enjoying each other.

I still marvel at how easy it is for him.  He has his mom to thank.  I love Anna, but at times I have to work at being Grandpa.  I’ve never heard Greg so much as raise his voice at her.  Patient as the day is long, and always happy to be with her, even when she’s a handful.  Showing his love for Anna is as natural as breathing.  She’ll never have to doubt.  I don’t know where he gets the courage.  I watch him, though, and learn.

You know what’s right in the big picture sense, and you know what you can live with.  Sometimes the two don’t match up.  I don’t know why Greg made these choices.  I don’t know whether those forces are still at work.  I know I couldn’t take Anna’s daddy away from her, flawed as he is.  I know my guidance was sparse, but I don’t know whether it’s too late for it now.  I know I can’t ignore the ugly parts.  I know life won’t be any easier.

I know this, but I thank you, Loretta.


Copyright Cole Bennett, all rights reserved.


7 Comments to “4/18/11-JOE ANTHONY”

  1. Cole Bennett says:

    Joe, thanks for the gift. I knew you loved me. And I’ll be sure to include the disclaimer.

  2. Pat Bennett says:

    Very thoughful! I want to read the rest of his book too. You are really touching the deepest parts of life.

  3. Joseph Anthony says:

    This is very good. The voice rings true. The pain, the outrage, the mix of memories. I love the way it shifts through those memories–a piece here, a piece there. I love the incompleteness of Greg—how we almost can’t make him out through all the contradictions. That’s the narrator’s pain reflected in the confusion.

    I’m not sure where you end it. The thank you is ambiguous. Did you mean it to be? The good father to Anna–the contrast to the narrator—the cheating on the numbers. Along with the good memories, maybe a few foreshadowing the flaws.

    First rate story. I think a leap in quality.

    • Cole Bennett says:

      Thanks a million, Joe. It’s interesting: I didn’t think this one was very good! My preference for a clever twist or a strong plot may be clouding my judgement. I like the narrator’s voice, and I recognize the comments you make. *Most* of those were the result of conscious effort, so maybe I am getting better.

      The ending feels flat to me. At first it just read “Thank you, Loretta.” I added the “But” so that it wouldn’t sound sarcastic. But I’d like to convey the tone better. And I totally agree about the foreshadowing – I think the strongest (untapped) potential of the piece is to allude to the reader that the narrator’s decision to not send Greg to jail may be more tragic in the long run.

      This one really kept me guessing as to what would become of it.

      (But) Thank you, Joe.

  4. Eric T Morrow says:

    I have to echo Joe’s comments on the confusion in the story. I think sometimes we want a story to be neat and tidy. But life rarely is neat and tidy, and there’s far more shades of gray than black & white. (That may be why we sometimes want a story to be neat and tidy, to take us out of our own confusions.) I think this story would be less accessible, at least to me, if it were cleaner.

    Did you mean to use “two lives in one heart” again? It’s an interesting contrast on the idea as presented in the last story. I might not have picked up on it if I had read these on schedule. ;)

    • Cole Bennett says:

      I’m definitely on a kick of leaving things as unexplained as I possibly can – it’s been good exercise here, to learn just what readers will glean from the story.

      Dad said something similar about “Waiting To Fall”, how Katy seems to ask Bryan the important question, but then turns the conversation over to her own insights instead of letting his answer ring. I can’t claim this was a conscious effort, but he thought it was very similar to how people often talk, being too eager to hear their own thoughts affirmed rather than challenged. I love what different people take from the stories, and, again, this exercise is great for helping me learn exactly that.

      I did mean to use that line again; I thought it worked. I’d like to tie the stories together more, but so far haven’t come up with a lot, and haven’t wanted to force anything. Thanks for noticing! And thanks as always for some great comments!

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