Memories From A Layover
It was a pleasant time and my thoughts were mostly good, with little effort wasted in regret. For these reasons I found myself searching the walls for a pay phone. I had just arrived in Chicago, en-route to Seattle by train, and as scheduling goes I had a layover. I'd not seen my father in five years.
I could've called the night before, but I didn't want to seem eager; I was curious to see him, but not desperate. "Andrew?" I asked upon his answer, though I knew it was him. I had abandoned the more endearing term dad years before, but when I heard his voice, like a forgotten old record, I was drenched in a deluge of pity, and offered it as a gift: "Dad, it's Stephen."
"Stephen?" he asked. "Son, are you okay?"
I didn't answer his question. To answer would've been to forgive, and I preferred to keep him at a remorseless distance. "I'm at the station," I said, but didn't tell him which station. I had just referred to a stranger as dad, and he replied in form. So peculiar, I was puzzled by the sound, like I had been living in a silent world, and these were the first words ever heard. They hung before me in alternating images: I saw a masterpiece, beautiful and intricate; then a noose. I studied the sound and allowed myself to feel what I would, then continued: "I'm at the train station. I've got some time. Why don't you meet me, we can have lunch."
"Yes, dad, lunch." Again, I called him dad, like a Rembrandt tacked to the gallows.
"Sure, son." And he called me son, like a van Gogh in the arms of a hangman. "I'll take a cab. About ten minutes, okay?"
Ten minutes can be lengthened in many ways, all of which were at work that afternoon. I dismissed his ten-minute arrival as it was heard, and doubled his offering; it would take ten minutes just to find his hat. These minutes, now standing at twenty, would double again through the course of anxiety. I paced between two ornate columns that seemed to support nothing, and was struck with the comparison: my father, little more than an ornate column, he served no purpose, a non-existent man in Chicago, a city I had never visited, never desired to visit, yet he was on his way to meet me for lunch, a meal that would last an hour at most, and then he'd be gone. I had phoned a stranger, no different than if I'd picked a number at random. Except he was my father.
When I caught sight of him, I saw something unexpected: he was nervous. His kerchief wiped his brow and he shifted as he walked, his eyes darted left and right.
The other recollections were what one would expect: he had gained weight, lost hair. The lunch was also what one would expect: little said, less eaten. To recall the details now would serve only to tarnish his memory, and I see no reason for that. He was my dad and for that hour we sat as father and son. As I walked away, he called out, "I'll see you at Christmas." Even still, I've no idea why he said that.
(this story was published in Diddledog a long, long time ago...)