The morning was unscripted, tired and seemed to pass in grim ritual. The cereal bowls, mugs, juice glasses and separate refrigerator door seal breaches, crumbs of toast, discarded bags of tea had been consumed privately, each mouth and set of hands as segmented as waffle grid borders, these late morning meals chomped in isolation as Dad grunted his subtle forecast and the subtle forecast, letting out hints in octaves and syllables, on his knees, gardening in the late guttural morning, and how as he put mug to lip how he began to map out his attempted conquest of the backyard garden, with mutterings, how he would try to make the menacing zucchini sprawl see it his way – its green prickling tentacles and leaves had pronounced themselves vivid past the lawn’s original border. Something had to be done: his way, non-stop.
Holly was in the shower; I filled a glass of water in the kitchen and returned to the den.
Outside, Dad was in the thick of it, digging hard, just a bit too hard. Adding vacant earth and erasing lawn with his cracked spade.
Mom was antsy and full of tasks. “I have to go to the library at some point today I, do you want to go?”
We were emptying the dishwasher. “And if you have any clothes for the Salvation Army drop box.”
“I guess I do, I’ll check.” I said.
Minutes later I was lounging by the television, soaking up the nothing. I flipped through the stations, never landing on anything for more than a few seconds. Past the television through the window, I could see his father’s veiled outline coming in and out of frame as he dug and stretched large. I saw my mother’s hands gesturing, then she stopped. Dad went out of frame again to dig.
She was behind Dad’s dig stance.
I turned the television off.
“David stop digging! Stop it!” My nose was at the window.
Mom repeated, “Stop it!”
“It’s my own damn garden!” Dad snapped back, on his knees and his red plaid shirt a big round back of sweat and sun and digging.
“Stop it David!”
The thirty-seven seconds I took to approach my father in the backyard from inside the house were without sensation; it seemed to take forever to reach him. I felt nothing but voluminous shaking coursing through my body as I moved from the window past the couch, through the hallway, across the sticky kitchen floor, down the side door stairs and opened the screen door. He was taking off his red shirt, revealing a yellow mountain of cotton tshirt and a pair of dirty brown cords.
“She doesn’t want you digging up the fucking back yard, you psycho. Stop!”
Dad didn’t budge. “Both of you get inside.” He wanted to keep digging.
Mom kept screaming. “Don’t!”
I pulled at my father’s shoulder. Dad pushed me away. I returned to the frazzle, now pulling him from the garden into the driveway near a pile of wood. “Stop it.” Dad shouted at me.
“You stop it!”
Now both of us were clogging the driveway. He pushed me away, into our neighbour’s house. I shoved back, knocking him into the wood pile. Dad dodged the logs and swung at me. “You asshole!”
The language was barbed as the combatants struggled; each taking quick breaths and clenching hands and fists while mom screamed like a banchee.
Upon passing the driveway one might assume a competitive road hockey game was going on, but no hockey sticks or nets were in play; they lay dormant in the garage, and now Mom began to shout at both of us to stop.
Dad began to instruct mom to get inside the house. “Stop it David, calm down!” I ran inside and went into the kitchen and found a wooden tea tray. I returned at full speed, watching my father trying to shove my mother inside.
The shouting continued, each of us taking turns, the sun’s spotlight and high noon’s battle call. I raced inside and found a wooden tea tray.
“Get inside!” Dad shouted.
“You’re scaring me David!” Mom screamed.
I slammed the tray across my father’s back.
As always, I could smell his father’s stale smoke alchemizing with his crap cologne and this blend now conquered the air that separated us. I stared deeply into my father’s steel wool eyes.
“Just get inside!” Dad shouted, as I dropped the tray on the driveway.
“Nate!” Mom screamed.
“Diane, inside!” Dad barked. “Call the police!”
“You’re insane!” I cried. “When they get here I’m gonna make sure they lock you up forever!”
“Diane, call the police.”
“You’re such a piece of crap!” I said, shoving his father into a nearby pile of logs that rested on the side of the house.
He was behind the screen door, glaring at me. He slammed the side door shut.
I stood in the driveway alone, the wooden tea tray at his feet; the sun now fully outstretched in the cloudless sky.
Several neighbors gathering in groups across the street.
I ran down the street towards the clutter of people, shouting with ribbons of tears streaming off my hot face. “Call the police, he’s insane! He’s going to kill her!”
The show-stealing antics were rewarded in kind, two police cruisers showed up, just as Dad was fidgeting with the car’s engine.
“What’s he doing now?” I asked hysterically, looking at his father playing with the car’s guts.
The police moved up the driveway; one officer taking Mom to a police car, the other, as far as I could see, talking with Dad beside the car.
Dad closed the hood.
I disembarked from the group of local spectators and crossed the street towards mom.
“What’s going on?” I said, sidling up to his mother who had lit a cigarette. She dubbed it out after three tiny puffs.
“They need a statement from me,” Mom said. “This is so embarrassing.”
As I gazed through the sun towards his house, feeling as if a sinkhole had risen up and formed. In it they would now — all of them — slide towards, this new fangled dent in the property’s schematics.
An officer was speaking to Dad. He nodded, and walked towards Mom and the other officer, passing a few neighbors who had frozen along the way.
“What?” Mom said, her voice rising as she continued, “they’re letting him go!?” She was marvelling at the police officer standing next to her, face in a twist of creases and astonishment.
“He’s putting the spark plug back in,” Mom said, sobbing. “He took it out so we couldn’t leave!” she cried, snot dripping from her nose.
I stepped back from the police car and watched as Dad finished operating on the car’s engine.
Fucking asshole, I thought, watching Dad drive away. “He’s going to cool off at his folks place,” the officer told Mom. “He said in Kingston, right?”
Mom was dripping with tears and mucus. She nodded shamefully, not making any eye contact. “We just need to take your statement Mrs. Moore.”
Slowly the gaggle of neighbors and onlookers withdrew, and we returned to our domestic shell. “You want to call someone, a friend, go out or something?” mom asked, blowing her nose with Herculean pomp. She tossed her cigarettes in the trash.
Later in the afternoon, Andrew came over with a baseball bat. Mom served us lemonade on the front porch. Telling Andrew what had happened both excited and shamed me; as if sharing the malicious porch gossip was fodder for future judgment and ridicule I had known my best friend capable of propagating. We rented two movies and ordered a pizza, my mother and I engaged in a silent pantomime of facial recognition and flat-line near smiles.
Nathaniel G. Moore is the author of Wrong Bar. This excerpt is from his forthcoming novel The Last Savage. Visit his website at www.nathanielgmoore.net.