“Dad’s on a terror,” he warned as he disappeared into the furthest reaches of the basement. Not a good choice, I thought, since it was a dead end – no way out save through the family room.
Family room – what a joke. This is but another of dad’s half-ass projects, a section of the basement where he put up some studs, added a half dozen electrical outlets (most of which actually work) then slapped up some drywall. It’s been this way for a year and a half. Never been painted. Dropped ceiling never installed, though the hardware and tiles are neatly stacked in one corner, taking up about a quarter of the room. He dragged an old couch found on a curb down here, a rickety old table, and a 17 inch flat panel TV. I was amazed they even make 17 inch flat panel TVs. My computer monitor is bigger.
Dad wasn’t always like this. He used to be fun and full of life, even creative. The workshop used to hum. He built a beautiful walnut grandfather clock when I was about seven. It’s up in the hallway, still keeps time after all these years. He spent most of his spare time in the shop. Taught me how to use most of the power tools. People sought him out to build things for them on commission.
I’m not sure when it all changed. Why. How. He slowly lost interest. He started projects, then never finished them. He quit sweeping up the saw dust and putting away his tools. The once immaculate shop is now pretty much a wreck, like most of the other things around here.
He started snipping at mom. They argue a lot now, about stupid stuff. He yells at me and Jason fairly constantly. It’s not just the shop. He neglects the house too. He tells us we’re old enough to start pulling our own weight around here. He never mows the lawn anymore. That’s now Jason’s job. I think he’s too young. At ten he can barely push the mower up the back hill.
I worried that dad was going to explode some day, I mean really flip out. He still whipped Jason with his belt for giving him lip. And while he hasn’t done it to me he said I’m not too old for a whipping. That’s another thing he and mom argue about, him beating Jason. They really got into it the other night, and he worked himself up into such a rage I thought he might actually hit her. He punched the kitchen cabinet instead. Now the door’s split.
Dad thundered down the stairs, yelling for Jason, but stopped dead in his tracks when he saw me.
“I thought I told you to do the laundry.”
I set the book in my lap and pointed across the basement to the washing machine. The washer was noisily agitating. “I am doing the laundry. The first load should be done in a few more minutes.”
He glanced at the washer then back at me. “Get off your ass and do something useful. Straighten up down here.” His hands made a broad sweeping motion across the breadth of the basement. “You seen Jason?”
I made a noncommittal shrug and said, “I’ve been reading.”
His eyes scanned the room, then he headed for the shop.
I put the book down and stood up, not quite blocking his way.
“What do you need Jason for?” I asked.
He ignored me and stalked into the next room.
“You son-of-a…” He managed hold back the curse – barely. “What are you doing hiding in here? I thought I told you to mow the lawn.”
I heard something clatter and darted to the doorway. Jason was backed into the far corner, wedged between the ban saw and a storage closet. As dad approached him he was already unbuckling his belt.
“We’re out of gas,” Jason said, trying to melt into the wall. “I tried to tell you, but you wouldn’t listen.”
“Don’t give me any lip, boy.” The belt slid smoothly out of the loops in his pants.
I moved without thinking. In an instant I was standing between Jason and my dad. Somehow a ball peen hammer was in my tightly clenched fist.
Dad stopped, stunned. His eyes went from my own to my hand, then back again. He opened his mouth as if to say something.
“I won’t let you hurt him,” I said. It sounded like the barest of a whisper to me.
He glanced down at the hammer again. Then he blew out a huge breath through pursed lips, puffing his cheeks up. There was something in his eye, a look of realization, perhaps of hurt. He lowered his hand, turned, and walked out of the room without a word.
I’d like to say things are better now. I guess they are, sort of. Mom and dad still argue, but when he starts getting really worked up he just leaves, walks out the front door and keeps on walking. When he comes back, sometimes hours latter, the rage is spent.
And so far, he hasn’t beaten Jason again.
© 2012 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved. Photo by J. M. Strother