My dad has one of them little drawers next to his bed. He knows what’s in there, he told me so. Personally, I’ve never opened the thing. He swears up and down he’s never opened it either – though this does, in fact, make me wonder how he could claim to know the contents. I know why the bible’s there, that’s easy. But only he knows what’s left on that voice recorder.
You know what I’ve been thinking about a lot lately? Whether I’d rather be blind or deaf. Like if I knew ahead of time and could pick between the two – which one would I go with? Odd Job asked me this a few days ago. I didn’t know what my answer was so I asked him for his and he said it was easy, he’d go blind because he wouldn’t be able to stand it all without music. And I thought that was damn near the coolest thing he’d ever come up with so I said, “Hell, I’m with you.” Now whenever I bring this up with someone else – Veronica or my dad or that man who’s always telling jokes, back behind the Pizza Barn – they act all shocked about my answer. “How you gonna make it through life without seeing the world?” And…I don’t have an answer for them. I talk about the music, wanting it so badly, and they all just walk away, shaking their heads like they don’t know what the hell to say, like I put them in some sort of trap. So that’s why the question’s been on my mind a lot lately – I’ve been stuck for a while now. It’s time to get the hell out of here and this is the most incomplete, certain feeling I’ve ever had. It’s like somebody who can’t see or hear a lick but stumbles onto a starting point all the same.
The bad news is I did start smoking again the other day, damnit, and I can tell you exactly why it happened. It’s because I saw that picture of Sean Penn on the magazine up at the Minute King. He had that last bit of a Camel wedged in the corner of his mouth and I just stood there thinking how impossible it was to pass up something so satisfying, plus I could tell he was haunted and the smoke was helping him cope. Hell, I knew he was posing and all, but I still believed him. Not that I’m trying to say I’m haunted or anything. I’m not. But my dad is, and sometimes – believe me – that’s just as bad.
The good news is I’ve been thinking about creating some kind of opportunity for myself for some time now — maybe even something like going back to school. Of course I can’t come right out with it but since my dad’s been in a good mood, all busy with falling in love, I have started in with the hinting. But I still don’t think he’s changed his views on my future plans. Unfortunately I think we’re both used to living with his hands wrapped around my throat. Seeing how he and I are the only ones left, I doubt he has serious thoughts of wringing me, but I have yet to test him. Besides, I’m not like Butch. I can’t just go marching in to some fancy college like a big shot. First I need to graduate and then I need some money and then maybe it could happen. I’ve got ideas but they’re still formulating in my head. Eventually, I’m going to be a Christian Metal God and if that doesn’t go through then I’ll fall back and be a preacher. I told my dad as much, I don’t know how many times, but until Amaya came home with him I never could tell if he was listening.
I guess I should explain how she and dad met. It was before he started working again, back when he was still calling in sick, saying it was because he hurt his knees but I knew damn well he was staying out of work for my sake. The situation’s always been a little complicated. Long story short, I have not been permitted to attend the public high school for some time now due to various reasons including my grades, my lack of…social skills and, apparently, my attitude so that’s why two years ago I moved over to Sunrise, which actually costs a whole heck of a lot of money but everyone there gets some kind of scholarship so it’s fine. Although they do keep threatening about maybe shutting everything down because the money’s running out. Apparently Uncle Sam stopped ponying up ages ago so they have to find more rich people every year to keep it all going. I have no clue where they find such people because they sure as hell don’t squat in the holler. The school’s up there all by itself, which I guess they think is going to keep everybody calm and getting along and I suppose it does the trick most of the time. Too long of a bus ride, but at least I get a bench to myself and it’s the kind of school where they let me work at my own pace – which is really all I need and I tried to convey as much to that dipshit principal up at the public school. Personally I now try to avoid that place as much as I can. But my dad, he’s been cleaning the bathrooms up there for nearly all his life – shit, I’ve heard him tell people that’s why he quit school so early, because they gave him the job cleaning the bathrooms – and he understood they weren’t treating me right when I was “in attendance,” as they say. He was trying to stick up for me and that’s why he was calling in sick, making it difficult on them. He kept finding different parts of himself that were hurting, threatening to apply for SSI – maybe even workman’s comp, so they’d have to start paying him while he wasn’t doing nothing. And it worked. He got them all riled up. He set at home for weeks, not picking up the phone when it’d start to ringing. I was used to seeing him stretched out on the Lazy Boy in the far corner of the den – the only spot where the sun doesn’t reach all bright and hot at the end of the day. But when I came home from my youth group study he was on the couch, setting where the sun was shining, next to her with his hands to himself. Also he didn’t have the television on which made everything different right away because it meant they’d been talking. As I turned the corner there were just a few whispering sounds and a breeze knocking the screen against the windowframe. I barely had two feet in the room when he stands up and says, “Well, here she is.”
“Here who is?”
“Amaya.” Looking at me like I’m stupid for asking.
“Where she from?”
“I’ll tell you what happened – I found her setting right up there in front of the post office.”
She got up off the couch and stood next to him. From across the room she looked so dang tiny next to his big bones, but then she pushed that long hair back behind her ears and them dark eyes came at me lickety-split. Her mouth was open like I was somehow the one catching her off-guard. I think she wanted to say something but nothing came out.
I nodded, trying to act friendly, then I asked my dad, “She work up there?”
“Well of course she don’t work up there.”
“So what’s she doing here?”
“She ain’t from around here, Coopboy. If you must know she has come all the way from Peru, which you can clearly see marked on that there map.” He pointed at the coffee table like he’d found that old atlas all by himself. “She speaks some fine bits of English and she’s missing her family so why don’t you stop being nosey and try showing a little hospitality for once.”
I don’t think he cared much about her reasons for showing up because she was what I would call highly attractive. And she kept smiling at him. He kept smiling at her with his mouth wide open, and for the first time in who knows how long his breath didn’t knock me back off my feet so I wasn’t about to kick her out if having her stand there was enough to keep him away from the beers with that retired liver of his. I told Amaya it was nice to make her acquaintance then went on back to my room and started in on a few chords, loud and hard, so I wouldn’t have to listen to them setting there talking all night.
I saw this movie once with Steven Segal and he was giving a speech about how a lot of people have visions from their past lives. Well, I don’t know about the multiple lives shit but I can tell you if it were possible my dad would be doing the opposite, having visions of his life yet to come where he will obviously be very attractive, probably a movie star with muscles and a curly mustache, and most importantly he is young and healthy, he sees everything clearly and he can listen. That day he brought Amaya home, I started buying into this future existence of his because he was at least fifty-five, and she couldn’t have been a day past…thirty-seven? So I assume that’s what happened down there at the post office. She looked over and caught a glimpse of what he’d look like in his next life – if he had his druthers – and, for some reason, she was willing to settle for a wrinkled version of the picture in their heads, one that came slightly slumped over with a tangled beard.
For the first few nights he gave her his bedroom and slept out on the couch. I think he even cleaned the sheets for her because one morning I saw that old detergent setting up there on the counter. The original idea was to have her stay with us for a week. My dad’s plan was to look after her until the following Sunday when he could take her on up to church so they could try and get her back home. I did point out that I didn’t know what in the hell he was talking about because he hadn’t been to church in seven years so I didn’t know why he was acting like he remembered where the goddamn building was. He said he’d been meaning to get back for a while and now there was finally a worthy reason. I told him I was pretty sure someone was up at the church every day – I should know, seeing how I’m the one who actually goes – so he could drive her up any old time. He didn’t think that was such a good idea and, sure enough, a week goes by then another and my dad never did bother taking her over to Pastor Benjamin.
So every day they’re in front of the television all morning long while my dad flips through each and every channel, using whatever shows he can find to help him explain our country, bit by bit. (I suggested he start with Leftfield and Eastern Kentucky then branch out and talk about the entire of the Appalachians, then the rest of country. It seems like a logical progression of the different parts of the USA, and he tries to stick with it but then he comes across an old episode of Miami Vice and jumps right into explaining all about Florida – where, of course, he’s never been.)
Around noon an episode of Bonanza comes on and he lets that run while they go into the kitchen to put together something to eat, usually the same old Frito Pie or microwaved burritos, even though she’s always looking in our cabinets for stuff she can use to teach him how to cook up something or other that he’s never heard of. My dad isn’t too quick of a learn in most places and positively not in the kitchen.
At one o’clock, they switch places on the couch for the entirety of the afternoon and she turns off the television before trying to give him an idea about what her country is like. I work in the afternoons mostly, thank God. Otherwise I’d have to set in my room, forced to listen in while my dad tries to help her piece together whatever it is she wants to say. Each word is like solving an incredibly, incredibly annoying riddle and then of course the words have to be strung into actual sentences before you can even think about making any sense of what she’s really talking about.
This has gone on for good while now, which brings me to the other night when my dad opens my door while me and Odd Job were working on a new song. I figured he was coming to complain about the noise. It turns out he barged in to say, “I’ve come to tell you my knees are doing just fine now.”
I looked at Odd Job. We laughed at him and I said, “Thanks for the update, dad.”
And he said, “Which leads me to tell you that I’m going back to work up at the school. They called and started in on begging me so I’m going over tomorrow.”
I was a little surprised. Not knowing quite what to say, I dragged my pick against the E string, letting a little whine creep out of the amp.
Then he said, “Well are you going to ask me why?”
“Why I’m going back to work.”
“You just said your knees are feeling better.”
“Well that means I can go back to work, but that don’t have anything to do with why I’m going back to work. I am returning to work tomorrow morning because Amaya has informed me that the washing machine is broken – did you know anything about this?”
“Well, neither did I…Anyway, since I can’t get back on the draw, I figured the only way I’m gonna be able to pay to get it fixed for her is if I start working at the school again so that’s why I’m going back and I do hope you understand.” He started checking to see if he was standing up straight and he was. “Besides, I’ve been wanting to go on over to that JC Penny in Pikeville and pick her up a pair of earrings. I can’t make that happen if I ain’t got the cash in my pocket, see that’s how it is.” He flashed his empty hands like he needed to prove to somebody that he didn’t steal anything. “I figure she deserves a pair of earrings.”
I nodded. He scratched his beard and closed the door. I should have known what he was up to from the start, seeing that it was his uniform he was buttoning up as he walked in without knocking. I’d be lying if I didn’t say the decision bothered me. It did, it got under me a little bit.
I looked over at Odd Job, setting there to my left, on drums. He said, “Why you think he’s doin’ it?”
“Well, what do you think?— he said he’s looking for those earrings.” I took off my guitar to let him know I was done playing for the time being. “He might as well’ve come out and said it – it’s more important to him to look after her than to stick up for me and let Principal Hodder know what a dickhead he is.”
“Who’s that principal person?”
“The one I told you about, Odd Job – up at the public school. With the mustache and the goddamn glasses setting on his fat cheeks!”
“…oh, the asshole.”
“What a shitface-dickhead.”
Let me explain something about Odd Job. He and I hang out a lot. I’d say most of the time if I’m not somewhere with Veronica or extra tired then I’m usually doing something with Odd Job. A lot of people are scared of him but that’s mainly because he keeps to himself and he’s not real good at talking with folks. I’m not quite sure how old he is – he might have a couple of years on me, but it’s hard to say because they don’t have much of any record on him at the schools and his parents…let’s just say they aren’t exactly bookkeepers.
I told him, “The point is, he’d rather suck it up and bow at the feet of the almighty Principal Hodder so he can buy Amaya a pair of earrings, pretending like he’s got money to spend.”
“C’mon Coop, we know you really belong over in the holler with me.”
This might not seem like the highest form of compliment but I assure you it was. Odd Job understands that I am just like him. Just because I live in an actual house doesn’t mean I’m an asshole. That’s one of the reasons I quit Sunrise awhile back. Because all those dipshits liked to make fun of me, saying I didn’t know what it was like, that my family had too much money for me to be as stupid as them. They think just because me and my dad live in a proper house that means we’ve got some money in the bank and some fancy mailbox with our names on it. But the truth is we got to keep this house because my mom’s parents always felt bad for us. It’s a good thing they paid it off because my dad and me, we can’t even afford to keep it together. I started thinking about it all and that’s when I told Odd Job I’d had enough of the music and the talking. He understood what I was saying – which is proof he’s not retarded – and left straightaway. I opened up the window and turned my room upside-down looking for a cigarette. I was trying my best not to think about revenge – I knew that wouldn’t be right. All I wanted was some way to help me release the anger I felt toward my dad for choosing to do what the goddamn school wanted as opposed to continuing to send them a message on my behalf. If that was his plan then so be it. He couldn’t stop me from coming up with a plan of my own. So I figured right then and there that it was high time I quit the Pizza Barn. That way I could go back to Sunrise, finish up my last semester, and finally graduate. Let him deal with making money for the bills on his own. See, Butch gave me that empty frame years ago and I’ll be a fuckerhead if I let another Christmas go by with my dad asking me when the hell I’m getting the high school diploma that’s supposed to get taped down right inside that little red border. Sometimes I think he gets so tired he can’t hardly keep his fingers wrapped tight around my throat so he’ll just start poking fun – anything he can do to keep me from going anywhere – but if I give in much longer I’m liable to burst.