God Bless America

The old man laid in the dark. Turned the TV off. Just reruns. A streetlight shined through the window giving off a little light, but, not much. He kept looking at his watch. Couldn’t quite make out the time; he knew it was late. The cats crawled on him. One sat on his hip while the other stood up around his gray head. She was playing with his hair; pulling it and biting at it. As if she was placed on this earth to be a nuisance to him. He sat up. Again, tried to make out the time. Turned on the lamp next to the couch. Three o’clock in the morning, the old man whispered. Where is that boy at? He laid back down. Mumbling to himself.

He came stumbling in around four. Opened the refrigerator and grabbed an Old Milwaukee. The can was cold in his hand. He rolled it over his forehead. Sat down in the recliner. Tried to quietly put his legs up. I’m awake, he heard the old man say. Just been laying here waiting on you, dad sat up. He popped open the can. Hope you saved me one, the boy nodded. Where you been? His son sat in silence. Am I gonna have to force it out of you? Should’ve beat it out of you a long time ago, the old man stood up and adjusted his robe. He had no clothes on underneath; naked. That’s all he ever wore was that robe. It was old and stretched out, wrinkled. Just like him. I’m gonna ask again. Where have you been?

His son glanced over at him. Glared. Remained silent. A little respect, the old man said. Would that be so hard? he moved towards the kitchen. Pulled down a bottle of Wild Turkey that sat on the back of the fridge. He’d drank that since he was a teenager. Liked the bird on the label. He came back into the front room and offered the boy a shot. The boy kept on glaring at him.

You don’t want a drink? That’s fine. I’m just being a good host. You hear me? the boy looked forward then back at him as if he were exasperated. A cat jumped up in the boy’s lap. He pet the cat with one hand and drank his beer with the other. He had the hiccups. Well now, father said. That’s almost a word. Almost talking. Devil’s making you do that, he said. The boy tried to hold his breath, but, couldn’t stop the hiccups. The old man started laughing. Trying to be so tough and you got the hiccups. Ain’t that something. Sign of drinking too much. I know you were out drinking. Just tell me where? he took another shot of whiskey. Hey. I’m just trying to start a conversation boy. We never talk. That is, you never talk. Just keep quiet. It’s rude. Your mother and me raised you better than this, the boy stood up. Towered over him. Grabbed the bottle from him. And then started to speak. But, nothing came out. Nothing.

Say something boy, the old man yelled. Say something. You trying to scare me? boy kept looking at him. You don’t. You don’t scare me. I can still whoop your ass boy. Keep that in mind, he warned.

Boy took his right hand and slapped the old man’s face. The old man was speechless. He slapped him again. And again. Kept slapping him till his face was red. The old man didn’t hit him back.

You’re all talk, the boy said. Always was. You think you’re important. But, you’re not. Just an old drunk like the rest of us. I will not become you, the boy said. You hear me? Pop just nodded yes.

His mother walked down the hall. The older woman with frosted hair looked at both of them. She saw the bottle and the can. Looked at the boy standing over his dad. What’re you doing? she asked. Get away from him, she came towards them, getting in-between. Sit down, she told the boy like he was some dog. I said sit down.

Boy sat down. Took a swig of beer. Looked at his mother. Don’t you get tired of him? he asked. His know-it-all attitude. His drunken behavior. Don’t you get tired? The old man looked straight ahead. Silence. He didn’t say a word.

Go to bed boy, she said. Go on. Get to bed. Thirty-five years old and I still tuck you in. What a shame. A little respect is due. He is your father.

I wish he wasn’t, boy said. I wish he wasn’t.

The son walked down the hallway to his room. Mom took a seat on the couch next to her husband. She put her arms ’round him and rocked him to sleep while she hummed God Bless America.

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