Wednesday, November 18, 2015
The Anger Games 1
Dave had just stepped through the door of his small apartment when he heard the phone ringing. He walked quickly over to the phone and looked at the caller ID. It was his mother. Dave nervously rubbed his hands over his short, black hair as his stomach knotted. His mother never called unless there was something wrong. He debated letting the machine pick it up, but if it was news about his father and he didn't answer he knew he would never hear the end of it.
Feeling that he was making a big mistake, he took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to dispel the knot that had automatically formed in his stomach. He reached out, picked up the handset and hit 'On'.
"Hello?" he said, pretending he didn't have caller ID and that he didn't know who was calling.
"David," his mother's disapproving voice came through loud and clear. There was always a hard edge to her voice when she spoke to him that hadn't softened even after he'd moved out a year ago. He'd once had a very pleasant conversation with her, until she realized he wasn't who she thought he was.
"Hello, mom. How are you?" he asked, politely, not really expecting an answer. Azriel had no problem saying whatever was on her mind, or neglecting little niceties such as greeting you or asking after your health, but she'd always been quick to take offense if someone did it to her. He'd had a long, hot, dirty, tiring day at his job at the garage and he still needed to shower and change before he went to his night job and he wasn't in the mood to listen to the tirade that was sure to occur if he neglected the little pleasantry.
As expected, she ignored his question and got straight to the point. "Dad and I are calling a family meeting at 6:00. We expect you to be here."
He looked at his watch. "That's less than a half hour," he stated, trying to contain his irritation. "It'll take me at least that long to get across town."
"If you'd answered your phone earlier you'd have known sooner."
"I was at work, mom," he protested.
"You always have an excuse, don't you, David." A statement. "You'll be here at six." A command.
The next sound he heard was the click of the phone disconnecting and the resultant dead air. He tightly gripped the handset until the recording indicating that the phone was off the hook began to play. He pressed 'On' and quickly dialed another number.
The line rang six times before anyone picked up. "Martinetti's! Joe speaking!"
"Hey, Joker, it's Dave."
"Blueburry! Hey! Howya doin'!?" he responded jovially.
Dave closed his eyes in consternation. He'd worn a deep blue shirt and navy slacks to work one night and Joker had made the comment that he looked like the little girl in Willie Wonka who'd been turned into a blueberry. He'd never worn that combination again but Joe, and a couple of the others, continued to call him that.
"I'm good, Joe. Gotta little problem though. Nothing major but I need to talk to Cam. Is he there?"
"Yeah! Hang on!" Dave shook his head and smiled. Joe could be a royal pain in the rear but he was a good guy, and he always sounded pleased and excited when he spoke, no matter what he was discussing.
A new voice came on the phone moments later. "Dave?"
"Cam? Yeah, it's me. Gotta minute?"
"Heya, Big Blue. Everything all right? Joker said you sounded kind of off."
"Yeah. Well, kinda. Look, my mother called... there's sort of a family thing going on tonight and she wants me to be there."
"Is it an emergency? Is it your dad?" Dave had confided to his manager about his father's condition one day when he'd been called and informed that Damien had been admitted to the hospital.
"I don't know. She didn't tell me what was going on, just that they were calling a family meeting and that they expect me and my brothers to be at the house by six."
"Think it'll be an all-night deal?"
"I don't know. I don't think so. The neighbors will probably call the police within an hour to complain about the noise. Either they'll break us up and I'll be at work a little late, or I'll end up in jail for disturbing the peace. Or murder. It's a toss-up," Dave joked. "But I promise when I get my one phone call you'll be it."
"Well, family comes first, kid. I'll cover for you til eight, ok? If you're going to be later than that or just can't make it, give me a call. I don't know if the call is free so make sure you have fifty cents in your pocket."
"Will do. Thanks, Cam," he replied. Dave fought back the gratitude he felt for his boss. Cam was like a surrogate father, and Joe was, if nothing else, a crusty but lovable uncle. Dave had spent time with both guys and their wives and families ever since he'd started working at the restaurant two years ago, and each time he'd fantasized that he was their son, and that their kids were his brothers and sisters.
Stubbornly refusing to rush, he took the time to take a quick shower and change into clean black trousers and a long sleeved, off-white Henley. He tied his black leather sneakers, picked up his apron, baseball cap and keys and headed out for 'the meeting'. It was mid-November but the weather that day had been unseasonably warm and his jacket was in the car. He took a moment to admire the inky blue black sky before getting into his car and heading out.
He arrived at his parent's house at 6:18 and noticed that his brother's cars were already in the driveway. He parked on the street, walked up to the kitchen door and knocked politely, waiting for permission to enter as his parent's had instructed him the day he'd moved out. "You don't live here anymore, it's not your house, so you will not just walk in as though you belong here," Azriel had said.
His oldest brother Devon greeted him at the door with a curt nod. "Have a seat," he said, gesturing with a jerk of his head toward the kitchen table where everyone else was already seated. The rest of the family had glasses of iced tea in front of them. No one offered him a glass and he didn't ask. He briefly wondered why Devon's wife wasn't there.
Dave calmly seated himself on the chair that had been 'his' growing up, rested his forearms on the edge of the table and clasped his hands. He was acutely uncomfortable with Devon and Dane hemming him in on his left, and mom, within arm’s reach, on his right. He fought down his apprehension by taking slow, deep breaths. He was an adult now. He didn't live here anymore. They couldn't hurt him anymore, he reminded himself.
"Nice of you to finally make it," his father had said sarcastically from his seat across from David. "You always were unreliable." His father continued to berate him for several more minutes but Dave knew he'd earned it by being late, and remained silent as his father proceeded to list the many ways he'd proven to be a disappointment to his parents over the years.
Damien would never say it aloud but he approved of the way his youngest was accepting his chastisement. It used to be that David would well up and cry at the slightest hint of criticism. He should have known then that his youngest was a pansy. No real man would cry the way David had over every little thing, but he was taking it like a man now. Damien congratulated himself. He'd obviously done something right with the kid after all.
Dave let his father's words wash over him as he studied the man's features. Damien had always been active and had remained fit. He was still broad across the shoulders, still pretty muscular for a man of 71. If a stranger were to look at him he would never guess that he was even ill. The cancer and the treatments he'd undergone so far hadn't yet begun to take their toll on the man, but to Dave the changes were obvious. Damien's face was more lined and worn. The jowls a bit more pronounced, the grooves bracketing his mouth were deeper. But the biggest, most evident change in his father was his hair. Once thick and dark, his hair was now pure white and hardly more than peach fuzz on his scalp.
At some point Damien had stopped his rant and his wife had taken that as her cue to begin the meeting.
"As you all know, dad isn't well," Azriel began. "We've researched all the available treatments. He's not eligible for some, and he's in the process of trying some experimental procedures. We're doing all we can and we're remaining hopeful, but there's no guarantee."
"I've had my will drawn up," Damien had said, picking up the thread. "That's why we called this meeting. I want to spell everything out to you people so that there will be no disputes or arguments regarding it after I'm gone. It stands as it is. The only question that's left is which of you I decide to name as executor of my will."
"You," he said, glancing at Dane, "definitely not. I don't think you have one functioning brain cell in your entire body. I'm surprised you can walk and breathe at the same time." Dane flushed but remained silent.
"You," he continued, pinning Dave with his dark eyes, "were a possibility, but I don't think so, all things considered." He raised his eyebrows meaningfully. Dave didn't react at all. He'd have been surprised if he'd been chosen.
He couldn't help but to wonder why he'd been invited to attend this meeting if it involved his father's will. Had he actually been named in the will to inherit something, despite how his parent's felt about his 'unnatural leanings'? Or maybe they'd brought him here to tell him to his face that he'd been cut out of it. He filed the thoughts away and focused his attention on his father, who had resumed speaking.
"You are not my first choice by any means but you're the only one left," he'd said to Devon, an expression of distaste clear on his face. "You won't actually have to do anything except make sure that everything I've stated in my will is carried out. Even a sot like you should be able to handle it." A muscle in Devon's jaw twitched but he also, remained quiet.
Strict obedience. Even now with the three of them grown the old lessons were firmly ingrained. No one could say that Damien hadn't trained his boys well, at least as far as that went, Dave thought wryly.
"When I'm gone and mom passes, this house will belong to the three of you. We expect you to sell it and divide the proceeds evenly. None of the monies you receive are to go to your wife, Devon. The same goes for your girlfriend," he said, glancing at Dane again.
"Each of the grandkids will receive a set amount and are not entitled to any more than that. If anything happens to Dane, the house he's living in reverts automatically back to the estate and will be sold." He pinned Dane with a gimlet eye. "It is held in trust and therefore your girlfriend and your kids have no legal claim to it and are not entitled to either the house or any of the proceeds of the sale."
Dane's jaw dropped and he paled noticeably. "What are the kids supposed to do? Go live in the slums with the deviant?" he asked, jerking his head toward Dave.
"Don't you start again about where I live, Dane," Dave retorted, keeping his voice level and his hands on the table, ignoring the personal slur. None of his family had ever visited him at his apartment but they'd recognized the neighborhood when he'd mentioned the street name, and every time he saw them they made some derogatory comment. Dave admitted to himself that it wasn't much, but it was his home and he paid for it, as well as everything else he needed, with money earned working two honest jobs.
"Truth hurts, doesn't it fat ass?" Dane asked smugly.
"Truth?" Dave asked in dismay, "The truth is that if mom and dad hadn't bought that house for you you'd either be in the 'slums' with me, or still living in that little one bedroom apartment with your kids sleeping on the floor in the hallways. If I'd known all I had to do to get them to buy me a house was to have a pack of illegitimate kids and move in with a ..."
Dave's mentally kicked himself, closing his eyes and his mouth when he realized what he'd been about to say. He dropped his gaze to his now tightly clenched hands and silently berated himself for saying as much as he had. Past history dictated that this gathering would end up in a shouting match but he'd been determined not to be the one to start it.
Devon did not have a problem completing the sentence. "Slut," he said succinctly.
"She's not a slut!" Dane yelled.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Devon said with mock regret. "I meant to say whore."
"Devon!" Damien snapped in warning, glaring at his eldest son.
"Are you saying she's not?!" he demanded of his father. The calm he'd felt as a result of the half pint of vodka he'd tossed back before getting out of his car was beginning to fade and he was too far gone to heed the warning in his father's voice.
He focused back on Dane. "Then where is she now, Dane?" Devon shouted. "The last I heard she'd gone off to Alabama to be with her sugar daddy and left you with six kids. Two of them aren't even yours!" he said, referring to Mariam and Royal, her two oldest children from two other men. "Or was that some other woman named Tracy you were talking about? And then you go right out and find yourself another one just like her and move her in a month later!"
"I warned you about Tracy when you first started going out with her!" Azriel shouted. "And I told you I didn't want that other one to move in with you!" She slammed her fist on the table top, causing the glasses to jump. "You had no business bringing in another woman to live with you when you still have young children in the house!"
Dave, effectively sandwiched between the three outraged people, stayed still and quiet, willing his breathing to remain steady. He could feel the panic building in his chest. Moving slowly he drew his hands under the table and placed his sweaty palms down on his thighs. Guilt ate at his stomach. He hadn't meant to start an argument. Stupid! Idiot! Jackass! He swore at himself. The desire to run was strong but he sat quietly to avoid attention being directed at him.
"If you were smart you'd have gone out and had paternity tests done on all of them as soon as they were born! I'm positive that at least one of the four she claims are yours, isn't," Devon added, snidely.
"And you're perfect, Mr. DWI? Mr. I Can't Keep a Job Because I'm a Frigging Alcoholic? Mr. I Put My Beer In A Coffee Cup In The Morning And Think I'm Fooling Everyone?" Dane shouted. "Your wife is talking divorce and your kids can't stand the sight of you! Or the smell! You reek of cheap aftershave, cigarettes, booze and sh..."
"I'm an alcoholic!?" Devon yelled. "At least I never got so stinking drunk that I couldn't tell the difference between the bathroom and the closet! And who was it that mommy and daddy bailed out of jail when he was arrested for possession?"
Damien stood up, gripped the edge of the table lifted it up and then slammed it back down onto the floor. The glasses tipped and rolled, one fell to the hard wood floor and shattered.
"That's enough!" he bellowed.
"And we haven't even mentioned our resident pervert yet!" Devon shouted to be heard over his father, hoping to take the focus off of himself and put it onto someone else. "Probably sleeping with every fruit he finds that'll have his fat ass. At least you'll never have to worry about him coming here and telling you he's got some girl pregnant or popping out one bastard after the other! I'm just waiting for the day when we hear he has AIDS!"
Dave's heart beat had been increasing little by little as the argument escalated, but when he heard those words he raised his head and looked impassively at his brother. He shoved down the deep hurt his brother's callous words had caused. Allowing his father or brothers to see that anything they'd said had hurt him had always been an open invitation for them to continue. It was a game to them... each trying to come up with the most hurtful, cutting comments to outdo the others. When he'd been a young child, the winner had been the one who made him cry. He'd learned a long time ago not to cry.
Dave had been aware of his preference since he was twelve, but he'd never been with another man sexually. He knew that his family would never believe the truth, they never did, preferring to believe the worst of people. As far as they were concerned, being gay was the same thing as being a man whore or a pedophile. Devon refused to leave his children alone in a room with Dave on the rare occasions he'd been invited to the house. Dane's girlfriend had been equally if not more homophobic and had refused to allow him to see 'her' kids at all. Dane had never objected.
Devon's harsh comments signaled the beginning of the verbal free for all. Accusations, recriminations, and foul names flew and stung like hot ashes in a high wind. They came relentlessly from all sides. No sooner would one pause to take a breath then the next would pick up the thread and continue, all of them shouting to be heard over the other, no one actually listening to what anyone else was saying.
Dave tried several times to get a word in. Each time he'd taken a breath to respond to something that had been said he'd been interrupted and shouted down. Every sin he'd committed from the time he'd learned to walk to the present day, real or imagined, was dredged up and thrown in his face. Every failure was pointed out and expanded upon. Every shortcoming reviewed in great detail. Every flaw magnified. Hurt and frustrated, and frankly seeing no resolution or end to this blue ruin, he stood up, preparing to leave.
"Oh! That's right!" Damien yelled. "Run! That's always been your answer when things don't go your way! Sit down! You're not leaving yet!"
Dane stood, grabbed Dave by the arm, dug his fingers in a vice like grip, and shoved him back down onto the chair.
"You never could take constructive criticism!" Azriel threw at him.
Dave turned on the chair to face his mother and gaped. "Constructive!? Is that what you're calling it? There's nothing constructive about anything any of you have said! It's destructive because it's constant! It's vicious and hurtful and irrational! Jesus himself wouldn't stand a chance against you people!"
He knew it was the wrong thing to say as soon as the words had left his mouth, but it was too late to take them back. His mother shrieked in outrage. His father's face was suddenly suffused with anger and the blood rushed to his face.
It happened quickly, without warning, as it had so often when he'd been a child. The hand came at him with lightning speed, a blur with long nails and clear polish. He ducked his head to the side instinctively but he'd reacted too slowly and hadn't been able to entirely avoid it. The back of her hand connected with the right side of his face, either a knuckle or the tip of one of her fingers caught him in the eye, causing it to burn and tear up immediately.
When it came at him a second time, Dave impulsively threw his own hand up, knocking hers away and accidentally catching her fingers, causing them to bend awkwardly. She gasped in pain and clutched the affected hand to her chest.
Not realizing that he'd hurt her, Dave stood up, wanting only to put some distance between himself and the hand. Before he could move another step, Damien lunged across the small ellipsis shaped table and grabbed Dave by the front of his shirt. He hauled his son over the table so that Dave was forced up onto his toes, the edge digging into his thighs. Dave only prevented himself from falling face first by propping himself up on his fingertips.
"Don't you dare raise a hand to your mother! How dare you!?" he bellowed, the dark veins standing out on his temples.
Damien backhanded Dave across the face, catching him across the right temple and cheek, and inflaming his already injured eye.
Dave, stunned, was vaguely aware of the taste of blood in his mouth. Damien viciously slapped his son across the face repeatedly, forward and back, before Dave gathered what was left of his wits, pushed himself backward and threw his arms up, forcing Damien to release his hold on his shirt.
Incensed that his son would dare to raise a hand to him, the man began to unbuckle his belt.
Turning swiftly, Dave pushed past Dane and Devon and bolted for the door. Blocking out the angry words that followed him, he ran to his car and got in. He locked the door, terrified that one of them would chase him and try to pull him from his car, and fumbled for his keys. His hands shook so badly that he missed the ignition several times and had to steady his right hand with his left before he could get the key in the starter. Unable to control his muscles for the shaking, he revved his engine and hit the gas, burning rubber before the tires finally caught and the car accelerated, taking him quickly but by no means fast enough away from his loving family.
He had no idea how far he'd driven, he was not even fully aware of where he was driving as long as it was 'away'. He'd run a stop sign and nearly had an accident. The screeching of tires and the honking of horns shocked some sense back into him, and he realized that he couldn't safely drive in the state he was in. He pulled over, turned off the engine and sat back, breathing deeply and concentrating on making his panicked breathing and rapid heart rate return to their normal rhythm.
His sweaty hands clutched the steering wheel in an effort to still the violent shaking. He blinked his eyes several times trying to clear the fog that seemed to have formed over them, finally settling on keeping them closed as he tilted his head back against the headrest. His right eye burned and the pain in his face flared in sync with his rapid heartbeat as the tears continued to fall unbidden.