The Good Life _     _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _  Mark and Rebecca Spencer





     While Lon and Jake and I are eating, a gangly boy with long stringy hair comes in with Chachi's son Mort.  They come over to our table.  Lon doesn't look up from his meat loaf.  I nod at Mort, a worthless boy--too bad--and eye the other boy.  Then I watch Lon.  Mort and Jake don't look much alike except for being lean.  Jake has sand-colored hair and Chachi's green eyes.  Mort has black eyes and black hair and a cleft chin.

     "Hey, Lon," Mort says.  "Fowood.  J-man."

     Lon shakes salt onto his mashed potatoes and says,  "What you guys up to?"

     Mort shakes his head.  "Just gettin' some breakfast."  The other boy hangs back a few feet, his thumbs hooked in the pockets of his jeans. 

     "It's time for lunch," Jake says.

     "For some people," Mort says.

     Lon says, "We could use some help over at this old lady's house we're going to after we're done eating."

     "Willy's teachin' me how to play the guitar.  He says I got a good voice.  Right, Willy?"

     "Oh, yeah.  Right."  Willy nods his shaggy head, looks around.

     "Me and Willy might do a duo act at the Kountry Klub when I learn more."

     "Well, while you're waiting for the big record deal," Lon says, "we've got a move at this old lady's house today.  I'll give you each twenty dollars if you want to work this afternoon."    Mort and Willy frown at each other.  Willy shrugs.  "You can, man.  I got stuff to do."

     Mort says to Lon, "I don't guess so.  I gotta practice my cords and vocals."

     Lon nods, takes a bite of his meat loaf.

     "Hey, man, look."  Willy is pointing at the window that Fred passes food through from the kitchen.  I look Willy up and down, notice grease spots on the knees of his jeans.  "Man, that's that retard me and an old buddy of mine used to raze."  Willy grins, and I see his crooked, yellow teeth.  "We used to say shit like, ‘You ain't got a dick, do ya?’ and he'd just smile at us like he didn't know what a dick was.  Or we'd say, ‘You like lickin' your mama's–"

     "That's enough," I say.  It's another one of those moments when I don't think.  This bad temper.  No telling what I might do.  I say, "There's a young boy sitting here if you didn't notice." 

     Lon and Jake look at me, their eyes round.  My head and hands shake like I've got Alzheimer's.  I want to hurt Willy, want to break him in half.  I flashback forty years when I said to Rose's husband, "You ever come near me or my family I'll break you in half.  I'll feed what's left of you to my hogs."  I think I might say something like that to Willy if Willy opens his mouth again.  I think I might tear up Lorene's, shock the whole town, get my picture in the newspaper for the first time since 1973 when I was Adams County Teacher of the Year. 

     "Fo's right," Lon says.

     Willy is looking around as if he weren't part of this.

     Everything is tense and quiet for a moment.  There's a buzz in my head.

     Then Mort says, "Hey, I almost forgot.  We were just by to see Mom, and she said you'd give me fifty dollars to get my water pump on my Toyota fixed."

     "How long's it been broke?"

     "Three weeks.  Four.  Willy's been givin' me rides everywhere.  Man, it's not right to keep imposing on him."

     "What was your mom doing when you went by the house?"

     "She was paintin' a dead rat or somethin'.  I don't know."

     Willy says, "Hey, man, your wife gave me a bird skeleton.  I used to show it to everybody, but my dog got hold of it.  Got hungry or something."

     "So, Lon, can I have the money now?"

     Lon frowns and reaches into his back pocket for his wallet.

     Willy's looking through Fred's window again.  "Hey, Lon, I gotta tell ya, ya got a great wife.  I mean, for an older woman and all, she's all right."

     "Thanks."  Lon hands Mort a couple of twenties and a ten.

     Some people at a corner table are standing and shrugging into their coats.  Mort says, "Hey, Willy, let's grab that table."

     Lon and Jake and I resume eating, all of us quiet.  Then I get up and go to the short hallway that leads to the rest rooms.  There's a pay phone on the wall, and I drop a quarter in and start dialing the state home.  In a few minutes, after I talk to three different nurses, I hear Nick's breath on the other line.  "Nick.  It's your father.  It's Dad."

     He sighs heavily.

     "Nick, you all right?  They treating you good?"


     "I'll be coming for Thanksgiving next week.  We'll eat some turkey together.  Nick?  You there?"


     "That's right.  Turkey .  Listen, Nick--"




     "Listen, Nick."  I'm thinking about asking whether he wants to come home for a week or so during the holidays.  I imagine myself sitting and watching TV with him, us drinking hot chocolate.  But then I see him having one of his fits (for which there often seems to be no reason) and throwing knives and forks at his reflection in the chrome-plated toaster.  I imagine stumbling through the snow-filled woods, shouting his name.  Trying to get back that image of sitting by the TV with hot chocolate, I say, "Ah, Nick.  Nick, how would you--"




     I actually hear a dog yelping in the background.  "Somebody bring in a dog for all of you to pet?"  The nurses do that some times.  I wait a couple of minutes until he has calmed down.  "Listen, I . . . I love you, son."  I sigh.

     He sighs.

     "I love you, Nick."



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