Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Son by Kevin Tasker

        Cathy made clay pots on her days off. Rode her bike past the theater and the Polish restaurant where her husband worked on her way to the crafts store. She purchased the clay on credit and transformed her unsuspecting kitchen into a glorious art studio where she toiled until the early morning when he arrived home, near comatose from stress and sweat and flung his tip share toward her before heading wearily up to bed.
She followed him sometimes.
Their split-level was newer than most. A large chimney and grey trim. Too many paper plates and too much plastic cutlery. Too many of Cathy’s clay pots she sometimes filled with sweet smelling hibiscuses and geraniums and her oddball assortment of multi-colored roses.
Her husband pruned them in the mornings, dry-eyed with his coffee, clipping with over-sized garden sheers. He was wiry old soul, a happy thing with a lot of time to live and no plan for his escape act. He had done the things she dreamed of, like sky-diving and sport-shooting and he’d lived on the open plains. 
They’d married young. Never quarreled. Drank milk and wine with dinner. Watched old movies and picked out each other’s outfits. She loved him. He sometimes felt the same way. They had a son. Named him Anthony after the saint and Cathy took time off to care for him. Her husband worked more. Nights so long he found little time to prune the roses. But she had already migrated to the backyard where she carried the baby in a wide white bassinet and sat with him as she planned the garden she would plant when he was old enough to help. 
At the Polish restaurant, her husband fought often with his manager and lost his job one cool gray afternoon when the baby was nearly two. Cathy didn’t yell at him, only spooned creamed vegetables to the baby, who spit them out.
While her husband looked for more work, Cathy contemplated selling her pots. The roses had all died but their gentle elegance seemed wasted anyway as an accompaniment to their empty rooms. Her husband smoked every day as he ran the shower, occasionally moving the water with an arm thrust through the curtain- in case she happened to be listening close. Eventually, he learned to angle the shower head toward the wall and he would sit on the toilet tank, blowing his smoke into the fan.
When the boy was ten, they went on welfare and Cathy’s father sent money to support them. Her husband worked days and she never seemed to see him. The boy helped her make more pots to replace the ones she had sold. And together they began to till the soil, going in broad strokes over everything with hand-me-down shovels and a rake with a rusted handle. 
When the boy was eighteen, he joined the army and steadily the garden grew.
Cathy got restless when war broke out.
She always carried a rolling pin when she went out gardening. It was foot long and wooden and she swung it at the bees. She swung it at the knotted blend of fauna that had arisen around her. One day she flung it through the bay window where her husband would watch her, drink in hand, the television mumbling in a way he couldn’t figure out. The rolling pin landed in front of him and he scowled at it. Rubbed his foot in the glass. She was at the window, squinting in.
He wobbled to her.
“Our son is dead,” she told him.
Standing in the garden with his back to them was a stranger in uniform, holding his hat to his chest as he admired the rose bushes.
“Shall I make him a drink?”
“No,” she said, “he’s leaving.”
Her husband went upstairs and showered for a while and she broke in as he was lighting up. He glared at her in disbelief as she turned off the water, took the joint and smoked it down before running it under water in the sink. Then she made lemonade and he grilled burgers for dinner and they ate on their little brown porch in the twilight.
Later her husband wrote a eulogy and Cathy had trouble sleeping. Her husband told her it would pass. She didn’t really believe him. They got a dog and then her father was old and came to live with him. Cathy fed him mashed vegetables that he spewed. 
  Outside her garden flourished.
Her husband tried his best to mow around it. 

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