This is a chapter from my novel, Sweet William
A child's job is to play
Sometimes it's hard work
William lay in the hospital bed as the ambient sound from the TV settled around him and his thoughts.
"Hey dad, catch." Tim stood barefoot in the front yard under the avocado tree holding a baseball. A shaft of sunlight lit his hair and his long spindly legs were tan from the sun. He was wearing shorts and a t-shirt with a picture of Mickey Mouse on the front. There were three band-aids on his right shin. William saw him and heard his words, but the photo of his child's beauty and the importance of what he asked, didn't click. Tired from a busy day, was an excuse he'd used often since his father's death, when he'd taken over his three garages. The grease and the engine-cranking labor of a car-doctor he'd enjoyed as an employee, was gone as the boss. He'd taken for granted the smooth operation of the business and the nice pay check at the end of the week.
"Hey dad, catch."
"I'm not a business man," he'd told Samantha on that day. "I was never good at math." He was sitting at the kitchen table with stacks of paper work from the garage. Spiral notepads and file folders littered the table-top and there were boxes on the floor filled with accounts.
Got to keep these for seven years, he remembered his dad telling him. Samantha was moving around the boxes trying to put groceries away. She had a container of macaroni and cheese in her hand and was reaching up to a shelf across one of the cardboard boxes at her feet but couldn't quite reach. She turned and looked at William. He remembered thinking how pretty she was. The curve of her breast caught in this graceful movement like a dancer, her slender waist visible as her blouse pulled up. He could see the delicate crease down the middle of her back. He suddenly wanted her, wanted to run his hand down the small of her back, push the boxes away and lay with her on the kitchen floor. He thought maybe if they did that, then all the chaos that he felt growing inside him would calm and the world would be right again.
He reached his hand up to touch her back just as she pushed the macaroni and cheese in place in the cupboard.
"Help me," she said, then down fell a large can of pork and beans and a jar of peanut butter and barely missed her sandaled foot. Then, a glass jar of spaghetti sauce flew in slow motion toward the tile counter top, as William, who was poised to touch her back, tried to catch it. The card board box was in his way too, so the jar hit the sink and he could hear a sharp crack of glass as it fell into pieces on the floor, showering everything with shards of glass, tomato sauce and tiny sliced mushrooms.
"Catch dad," Tim called again, but William was deep inside this memory.
"Are you alright?" William asked Samantha. She had dots and globs of red on her legs and arms. A mushroom clung to her blouse. He could see the rise and fall of her breasts beneath it and suddenly he had an overpowering urge to laugh. "I think so," Samantha answered, looking down at herself.
"Good," he said. "Oh, my gosh, look at us..." He couldn't get any more words out. The laughter had come from deep inside and exploded like the spaghetti sauce, first softly and then louder until his sides ached and tears were pouring down his face. Samantha looked stunned at first, then her lips twitched and she smiled and caught William's laughter with her own in a duet that had them in each other's arms rocking back and forth with mirth. Finally, as the laughter subsided William wiped a fleck of sauce from her cheek and licked it off his finger. He touched her lip with his finger, kissed a tear from the crease beside her nose, and then kissed her lips. They were still holding each other amid the clutter of the kitchen when Tim walked in from school. Everything will be alright now, William had thought.
Tim's voice was growing impatient. "Dad, catch the ball, okay?"
"Tim," William said. "I just got home. Give a guy a chance to change his clothes and wash up. I'll be out in a minute." He tried to keep his voice pleasant, but he could hear the edge to it and could see the hurt in Tim's eyes.
Samantha was in the kitchen chopping vegetables for a salad. "Hi honey," she said. "How was your day?" She was wearing her old sweat pants and one of William's old shirts, and was barefoot, like Tim. Her blond hair was tied back in a pony tail and her face was clean and shinny without makeup. She looked like she was still in high school.
"I'm bushed," William said.
"Sit down here, darling, and let me ease those aching muscles," she said as she pulled out a chair.
William sat down and watched her wipe her hands on a towel and put the salad in the refrigerator. He closed his eyes as she came around behind him and started kneading at the muscles in his neck. She was humming softly. It was a song she sang to Tim at night, a bed time lullaby, an always asked for tradition, 'All the pretty little ponies.' Her hands were soft and cool and her touch was firm. When she finally stopped, he didn't want her too.
"I need to finish dinner, and I think you got a boy out there waiting for you", she said.
William went into the bedroom with the intention of changing his clothes. The bed looked so inviting. I'll just lay here for a minute he thought, and stretched out. In a minute he was asleep. He hadn't heard Tim's final call in the open front door, or Samantha later as she peeked in. When he finally woke that evening and looked at the clock, he saw that it was 8:30. He felt disoriented and dirty. He cold smell grease on his hands and his mouth tasted bad. He could hear the soft sound of the television and something else. ... He could hear Samantha's singing in the other bedroom. "All the pretty little ponies," she sang. He got up and went to the door of Tim's room.
Samantha turned as she heard him and put her finger to her lips. "Shh, he's asleep," she whispered.
Tim was laying on his side, curled around his hand which rested under his chin which was still encased in the mitt he had been wearing earlier. The baseball was on the bedside table. William walked in and bent over Tim. He wanted to touch him, but knew that would wake him.
"I'm sorry, sport," he whispered, then turned and left the room.
A feeling of deep sadness grew in him as he took a shower and put on his robe and padded into the kitchen. Samantha was sitting at the table. A plate of hot food was in front of the other chair where William sat down.
"He waited all evening for you to wake up, William. He went outside once and said there was a big moon, that you could still play catch. I tried to explain how tired you were, how hard you work."
"What did he say?" William asked.
"He said he worked hard too, but he still wanted to play ball with you."
The soft sound of the TV filled the hospital room and then he heard the quiet voice above it of Samantha Elizabeth singing ... she was singing, "All the pretty little ponies". How many times had he had to stay late at the garage? How many baseball games and dinners had he missed? He had wanted to be successful. He was sure that he had wanted that for Samantha and Tim, also. If he was successful then they would be happy. If he brought home enough money, then they could have the things they wanted. Had he ever asked them what they wanted? He didn't think so. It came down to something as simple as playing catch and a trip to the mountains. What good was his job and money if it robbed him of time? Where was his self respect from hard work when he was too tired to listen? He needed to mend fences alright.