a little latchkey kid
Typical dinner with pops · 36 years ago

Feet kicked up, placed on the end of the coffee table. It was littered with baseball cards, candy lifted from the nearby store, and unfinished homework. Not being done was a strike and worth death stares when his father would show up but he was determined to work on it last minute or while on the bus. It was his everyday occurrence and Wednesday was another day of the week once shredding through the neighborhood after school let out. He got home a couple of hours before expecting his father to and put off the completion of a simple sheet of paper. Nathan wasn’t studious by any means knowing how much his father nearly broke it into him that being better than the other punks in the neighborhood was important. It was also important to be better than his father, who by accidental teenage escapades, brought the kid into a world when the man was still a kid himself. He recounted asking David Wilson, had he regretted anything from the past, to that answer, it always was a silent one. Or the subject changed to sports or how he socked his co-worker for being too slow on the line. Just a young adult trying to raise a seemingly good kid with unruly tendencies, saw it best that he kept his regrets and should haves, to himself.

Nathan asked about his mother. He wanted to know if it ever was okay to dislike her. Hate her. And each time David told him not to, especially because she gave him life despite it always resembled of her being uncaring. So he waited sometimes for that air of uncaring to shift and when he waited, his father was there instead. And soon would arrive to scare what was left of hell out of him. The tooth that jutted out further than the rest, snagged against a tootsie roll. He missed the jingle of keys and the door to the apartment scrape against its entryway once opened. Jumping up a bit knock kneed, he immediately swiped off the stolen candy from the table and assorted it into his backpack that was falling apart at one strap. Muted amber eyes remained wide counting down in seconds how long it would take for his father to slap him across the head for hoarding junk and not completing his homework.

The smell of pizza got to him before the scent of menthol cigarettes and Stetson. He growled at having the saucy pie for the third time in a week, wishing there was a woman around to cook. He knew how to heat up a can of beans or pull deli meats together for a sandwich but doing anything complicated than those few skills, would mean disaster. Just as he was pretending to problem solve with a few arithmetic problems, David hustled in with a cardboard box in one hand, and a brown bag of small groceries in the other.

“It's nearly 7 o'clock, Nate. Homework isn’t done? Up, take this and sit at the table.” The rot of innocence in a fuller head of hair Wilson's voice broke through. Commanding with a wise snap. Something that hurled of dominance and curdled with the right amount of guidance that fear of disrupting it lived larger than the 11 year old could imagine. He bucked up from the floor and sneakily pushed his bag to the side along with a stray tootsie roll wrapper before taking the large box. He led the charge to the kitchen, and his father followed before breaking away to put the few groceries away. “After dinner, finish the homework, bath, and bed. Follow?”

“Yeah, pops.” They never pulled out plates unless it was for special occasions. Napkins were rare or the paper towels to clean off the grease from hands but the two saddled up at the table like two roommates, picking out of the box of pepperoni. Nathan was a Hawaiian pizza kind of kid until he got sick one time and lost his dinner on the shoes of his dad's lady friend. “Can we have ..something different tomorrow night?”

“If you promise your homework is completed before I walk through those doors,” his dad pointed out after grabbing a slice himself. By rolled sleeves, his white dress shirt was clean and crisp. A small detail, Nathan noticed about the man whenever he got home from a long shift. Sometimes it was driving taxis, then it was operating trucks, and the main occupation was shuttling the wealthier sons of bitches, to important places made for important people. The nod of a promise was caught by his eyes and the both ate in silence. Ingesting food from a pizzeria that wasn’t the best but it was as good as any quick food could get in their shifty town. While David didn’t have to say much to convey how he cared for his boy, the subtle smile or ruffling of Nate's soot hair said enough.

He did so again, just as his two slices became one and one was gone. He sat back hand on his gut before pounding his chest with the acid reflux doing a small number on his esophagus. Nathan escaped after the acknowledgement, arriving back with the homework and his pencil that was in need of being sharpened. “I couldn’t finish the last part. Can you help me?” It wasn’t often that he asked for help and when he did, there was always a stern can’t of his father's head. Not out of disappointment but from knowing that his son knew his way around whatever assignment was given. “Please, pop. It’s the only one left!”

“Simmer down, son. Here take this,” he passed on the crust of his last slice. A quick departure from the table and he came back with his ashtray, a can of Bush, and his glasses that was sitting idle on the kitchen counter. Nathan gobbled the rest of the crust after his piled slices were picked off by toppings first then the base of bread with some sauce remaining. His father looked on with some disgust, twisted nose in the air but being unable to keep the face on for long. Nathan failed to wipe his hands with proper care and did so by using his dingy shirt. The pencil he used to start the work was taken after pushing the now closed pizza box to the side. The both of them were lurching over. One who strained to see even with specs on, and the other who was sighted enough to keep up.

By the hour in passing, one homework's problem became a betting match of sorts. Talking shop about the upcoming world series to wishes for the next few months instead of a solid future because of news recently with layoffs. Both father and son made a silent pact each evening when routine felt like the thread that held them closely together, especially with surmounting concerns that any parent carried with them.