The Saturday morning looked to be another scorcher in the making. Joshua had no desire to leave his cool bedroom, where the air conditioning had been set at a comfortable temperature, to combat the hot and humid August day. Joshua didn’t want to get out of bed period. It was barely ten in the morning. He enjoyed hearing the hum of morning cartoons from downstairs. There were also sounds coming from the kitchen where his wife of six years made breakfast for their two sons, Jake and Chris ages four and two respectably. Susan woke up along with the children who had no sense of sleeping past seven, even if it was on a weekend. The only day Joshua slept in was on Saturdays. But not this current Saturday because he was expected to do household chores such as cut the grass that hadn’t been mowed in over a month and tinker inside the house fixing things like the leaking pipe in the bathroom. Joshua didn’t want to do any of these things. He wanted to lie in bed and sleep his Saturday away.
Once upon a time he didn’t have any of these responsibilities. No wife or children to take care of. The only one that mattered was himself and that of his father and brothers. Once he had a mother, but she’d been out of the picture for a very long time.
Now he’d become much like his father, a man who once had many people counting on him to keep a house over their heads and food on the table. Joshua felt sick about the whole thing.
Last night as his two boys slept and he made love to his wife, he couldn’t concentrate, although his body seemed fine in finding its own release without his brain being overtaxed. Susan fell asleep soon after. He knew he’d given her pleasure from the snores coming out of her mouth. His body enjoyed the exercise, but as he lay in that bed beside her, with the sweat drying on his body and listening to the hum of the air conditioner, he came to the conclusion he had become sick of it all.
He wanted to get up and leave, turn his back on the women he loved with all his heart and his children who he cried over the day they’d been born. He was sick and tired of life and wanted to throw in the towel.
The guilt ate away at him. That emotion he felt proved he wasn’t such a cold bastard. He should be very grateful for what he had. His father sacrificed so much for his family, especially after what happened with their mother.
Joshua turned on his back and pounded his fist against his forehead. The sounds from the television grew louder and he could hear his boys fighting with one another. A slight headache formed behind his eyes and in the comfortable temperature of his bedroom, Joshua felt the need to get out and breathe somewhere else.
He suddenly felt suffocated.
There was one place he would feel free– his dad’s or the house he grew up in as a boy and where he felt safe and secure until he turned twenty-two. That was when his whole life came crashing down, as well as his father’s. Perhaps the time came to confront the dirty little secret his family never talked about, the topic that was never bought up and now over a decade old.
It was time to face the music. Then perhaps he wouldn’t feel like running away.
The time was a little past eleven. Joshua came downstairs wearing a gray t-shirt and khaki shorts with brown flip-flops. As soon as his youngest saw him he squealed and ran into his father’s arms.
“Da!” Little Chris scampered over with his Tonka truck in one hand, his faded blue sippy cup in the other. Joshua smiled, but one that didn’t reach his eyes. Still, he grabbed his son and swung him around the room. Chris squealed and Joshua blew a raspberry into the boy neck. Chris let out a giggle and Joshua placed him back on his feet and steadied him, making sure he didn’t look too dizzy where he would fall. Jake walked over and gave his father a hug around the hips. Joshua patted his eldest boy’s auburn curls. Susan watched from the kitchen smiling over her coffee cup at her big man and little men sharing their love for one another.
“Daddy! Let’s play ball.” Jake grabbed Joshua’s hand and tried to pull him toward the backdoor near the kitchen and out into the backyard.
“Hold up buddy. Daddy has to go out. We can play ball when I get back.”
Jake let go of his father’s hand and crossed his arms. He pouted and stomped back into the living room where Chris played with his trucks. Another time Joshua would have disciplined his son, but because he was already in a sour mood as it and didn’t care, he turned away to grabbed a quick cup of coffee to go.
Susan didn’t say a word as she watched her husband grab a plastic coffee cup out from the cabinet and pour some coffee into it.
“Are you going to mow the lawn? I think you should before it hits noon. It’s going to be at least one hundred today.”
Joshua looked out the window at his grass that was overdue for a cut. He grimaced and held back a sigh. He wanted to tell Susan to shut her trap but he knew she wasn’t harping. She was always so easy going and just concerned that he wouldn’t overheat.
He took a sip of his black coffee and turned around with a neutral look on his face. “I might wait till later in the afternoon when the sun’s not so high. I need to go see my dad.”
Susan placed her own mug on the counter and walked over to Joshua. She glanced over and saw the boys playing. She wrapped her arms around her husband and gave him a kiss. He kissed her back and they stood there for a moment in one another’s embrace.
“Is he doing okay?”
Joshua patted her back and looked down into her hazel eyes. “Last time I checked the old man enjoying sitting his barker lounger and watching his digital cable.”
Susan chuckled, gave Joshua one last kiss, and went over to pour herself more coffee. Because her back was turned away from Joshua, she didn’t see him frowning at her. Joshua felt very overheated and again that feeling of the walls closing in on him almost overtook him. He wished he could have stayed back in bed in the cool confines of his air-conditioned bedroom.
“I haven’t been to the house to see dad in a few days. I’m going to stop over there and spend some quality time with him and then… I don’t know.” Joshua muttered the last part.
“Huh?” Susan said as she emptied the dishwasher.
Joshua shook his head. “Never mind. Just speaking aloud to myself.” He finished his coffee and poured another cup to take with him for the ride.
Susan looked up and smiled. “Tell Poppa Joe I say hello and that the boys miss him. We should have him over. Perhaps we should have a barbeque next weekend? I know how much he loves to get out of the house and play with Chris and Jake.”
Joshua’s hand tightened around his mug. “Sure. I’ll ask.” He turned away to grab his keys when Susan called out to him.
“Hey there mister, aren’t you forgetting something.” She crossed her arms and gave a pout, much like Jake had done.
Joshua wasn’t amused, but smiled anyway and raised a hand. “Love you.” He walked over to where his keys hung on the wall and out to the garage. He didn’t even say goodbye to his sons. They didn’t seem to care either.
Susan stood there frowning. She had a wife’s intuition after all and she knew when something was wrong with her husband. She shrugged and hoped that by Joshua seeing his dad he would be in better spirits. She didn’t like the recent feeling she had, where her thoughts haunted her. The fear she could be loosing him brought tears to her eyes.
The ride to Joshua’s father’s house took less than twenty minutes. He usually drove the freeway but this time he decided to take the scenic back roads through the suburban areas. This route allowed him to play his Simon and Garfunkel greatest hits CD and blast his air conditioning in his three-year-old Lexus. No child’s seat or grubby fingerprints were allowed in this car. That was for the Jeep Liberty Susan drove.
Joshua felt somewhat better as he belted out “Cecelia”. He loved driving and didn’t mind his normal thirty-minute commute to work every morning. Those mornings were his time to think and lose himself in his own world. He could pretend to be anyone in that short time. There was no wife or children to bring him down. He felt like a god on the freeway for that short half hour. But then it would be all over as soon as he drove into the parking garage. He also felt the same on the ride home from work when he pulled up into his own garage. He needed to take a few minutes to pull himself together and put on his game face; the same one his wife enjoyed seeing and didn’t question.
A feeling of nostalgia came over him as he pulled his car in front of the brick house he lived at for the first twenty-one years of his life. This was where he’d been born and raised by two incredible people who loved each other and very dedicated to their family. Joshua had always admired his parents, especially his dad. Not a day went by where he didn’t think of the man who made him into what he was today.
The air felt thick and wicked hot. By the time Joshua walked up the front steps, the back of his t-shirt was already damp with his sweat. He rang the doorbell and opened the door. He always rang the bell so not to scare his father.
“Hey Pop, it’s Josh.” He yelled as he walked into the foyer and closed the door. The smell of glass cleaner and wood polish was strong. The housekeeper must have come yesterday to dust and vacuum.
“I’m having lunch in the kitchen.” A deep resonating voice spoke from the back of the house.
Joshua smiled. He always loved hearing his dad’s voice. It came from a man who knew what he wanted and wouldn’t be told otherwise.
Walking down the hall and into the sunny kitchen where he had eaten many meals, he noticed his father sitting at the kitchen table drinking glass of orange juice in one hand while he ate a piece of bagel smothered with butter and jelly in the other. His small clock radio on the counter was set to a station playing light music. Joseph Mcilroy enjoyed all types of music but his favorite genre was jazz. His enormous jazz collection proved his music obsession and when he passed on Joshua would be the new owner.
Not that Joseph was ready to go to the great beyond just yet. At seventy years of age he looked like a man fifteen years younger. Joseph had been the same age Joshua was now when his beloved son came into the word. Joshua had been an accident, but his favorite son even though he would never admit it. Joshua had been conceived from a night of such anger and passion between Joseph and his wife Rebecca. Joseph smiled over that wonderful memory.
Joshua sat down across from his father. “What’s the smile for?”
Joseph took a bite of his bagel. “Just thinking of the night your mother and I made you.”
”Let’s not go there.” Joshua held up both his hand and let out a shudder. Joseph let out a loud a booming laugh and hit his knee.
“Boy, you do make me laugh.”
“Old man, you make me laugh also.” Both father and son shared a smile together.
Their laughter died out and Joshua watched his father finish eating his breakfast. Joseph ate slowly so he could savor his meal. Just another thing Joshua admired about his father. No matter where he was or what he was doing, he would take the time and enjoy a meal placed in front of him.
“Instead of sitting here watching me eat, why don’t you make something for yourself or grab a cup of coffee?”
Joshua sat back in his chair with his hands on his knees. “That’s okay dad. I’m not hungry. Susan put on a pot of coffee before I drove over here.”
“How are Susan and the kids?” Joseph asked as he finished his bagel and took a sip of his coffee.
“They’re great. Typical Saturday morning at casa de Mcilroy ”
Joseph put his mug down and stood. He took his plate over to the sink to clean it. “Something must be up then. Why would you come here when you could be spending the day with your family?’
Joshua rubbed his sweaty palms on his shorts. “Does there have to be a reason to see my father? By the way, Susan and I want to invite you over to a barbeque next weekend.” Joshua rubbed away at the sweat on his forehead. His father wasn’t a fan of air conditioning, and even though the house tended to be cool enough in the summer, today was just way too hot for it not to be on.
Joseph didn’t seem to mind the heat and looked comfortable in his own white t-shirt, black shorts and bare feet.
“Sure. I would love to see my grandsons and my daughter-in-law who is one hell of a cook. She can’t hold a flame to your mother who was one of the best cooks I ever met. She sure knew her way around the kitchen.”
“Dad, about that… can we sit where it’s cooler? I’m dying here.”
Joseph placed his plate in the dishwasher and grabbed the newspaper lying on the counter. “Let’s go sit out on the front porch. The shade is great there and I won’t have to hear you complain. Your generation has it so easy. Back when I was growing up-”.
“Yeah dad, I know.” Joshua stood and stretched.
Joseph gave his son a disgruntled look. “You always had a bad habit of interrupting others. Do you know that?”
Joshua rolled his eyes and followed his father who walked out of the kitchen and to the front of the house. Joseph didn’t wait for him to follow and left the front door open. Joshua walked out. His father sat comfortably in a chair placed in the corner. Joshua sat across from him with his back to the street. Joshua had a fond memory of his mother who liked to knit out here. After dinner his mom and dad would sit out here. He and his brothers were always busy doing their own thing such as homework or some late night activity that they never sat with their parents. For a moment Joshua felt remorseful he never did join them.
Joseph used the newspaper as a fan even though it felt a bit cooler outside. In a few hours the brutal sun would be high in the sky. For the moment both father and son felt satisfied.
“What’s the deal Josh?” Joseph asked without preamble.
Joshua turned to the side and watched a squirrel climb up a nearby tree. “This morning I woke up and decided I hated my life. I didn’t want to be married or bothered with any children. I wanted to just lie in bed someplace where it was cool and not deal with any responsibilities.”
Joseph stopped fanning himself with the paper and squinted his eyes as he looked at his son. “Where the hell is this coming from?”
Joshua shrugged. “I don’t know. Lately I have been feeling… depressed, unfulfilled. As I lay in bed this morning and heard my family downstairs I felt detached. Then I began to think about mom.”
“What about your mother?”
Joshua ignored the defensive tone in his father’s voice. “You know dad. The night mom died. I know you don’t like to talk about it with the twins and me but it has been over ten years. I can’t help but wonder if the way I’m feeling is the way mom felt.”
Joseph wiped at his forehead with the back of his hand and let out a loud breath. “Ten years isn’t long enough. Hell, fifty years will never be enough. I guess I can’t blame you for asking. It’s not like you are some young kid after all. And if you have what your mother- no, I’m not going there.”
Joseph held up his hand. “Listen. I will say my piece about your mother but after today we will never, ever bring this up again. Sometimes things are better left quiet or not meant to be understood. The only reason I’m talking to you now about this is because of these feelings you have. Do you understand me?”
Joshua slumped down in his chair. “Sure dad.”
Joseph nodded. “Good. I’m not going to rehash history because you know most of it, but the first time I saw your mother I knew she was the one and only for me. I was this scrawny fourteen-year-old about to enter my first year of high school. Your mother moved in across the street much like a day like today. It was hotter than heck. When I walked out of my house to go play some ball, I looked across the street and saw your mother with her hair pigtails and wearing a white summer dress. I fell head over heels in love. We became friends. And from that our love grew and one thing led to another and we married. Well, your mother and I left some things out.”
Joshua frowned. “What things dad?”
Joseph looked off into the distance, lost in his memories. “The love I have for your mother is deep and beautiful. It warms me. I adored that woman, so much so that I would have done anything for her. She cared for me but not the way I cared for her. We had always been very good friends but she didn’t feel the same way I felt for her. She liked to be alone, where she would be lost in her own world. I used to get so jealous because I wanted to be her whole world. She became quiet and sullen at times where no one could reach her. She went through some very hard times because she felt so miserable and I… I was one of the reasons for it. When she went off to college she met another man… things didn’t turn out so well in the end and she became a bit ruined because of it. But I was there to pick up the pieces, the one to take her back and cherish her. The ideal solution was for us to get married, which we did. And for almost twenty fives years we had many ups and down. Our greatest joy was the birth of you boys. Rebecca never looked happier when she took care of you. My thrill was seeing her happy. But at certain times, when she would look at me, the light in her eyes dimmed a bit. I was never the man she wanted to be with. Her heart always belonged to that man who broke her heart in college. There are some things I have done that I am not proud of. One of them is knowing I had your mother and she was mine and no one could take her from me. I was greedy and jealous and wanted all her love. I would only share her love with our children and myself. And because I had it, I thought I won. The sad thing of the matter was that your mother could take it all away from me. And she did that night she hung herself in the bathroom.”
Joshua sat in silent shock as he watched his father sob. He’d seen him cry only once in his life and that was at his mother’s funeral. Joshua reached out his hand to comfort the old man but Joseph knocked it away,
“I’m good. None of that now.” Joseph wiped away at his eyes and sighed. He sat there in the summer shade looking at nothing in particular.
Joshua licked his lips. “Dad… I never. Jesus.” He bent forward and placed his arms on his knees and stared at the chipped wood floor of the porch. Sweat poured down his back. He didn’t care.
“I never thought to run away from my life, even as I figured it all out about your mother. It almost destroyed me knowing every time I held her in my arms she longed for another. But I was so grateful because I had one small piece of her. You on the other hand have so much more. Susan loves you as a woman should love her man. Can you say you feel the same way about her?”
“Yes.” Joshua said in a strong voice and looked back up at his father.
Joseph nodded at his son. “Good. I believe you. Anytime you’re thinking such horrible thoughts, think back to this conversation we had about your mother and I.”
“I will Pop. I will.” This time Joseph allowed his son to place a hand on his shoulder. Father and son sat on the porch a little while longer until the heat became too intense and then they moved inside. Joseph turned on the air conditioner because it had become too hot for even him.
Joshua drove home with the windows down and the radio blasting. After sitting in his father’s house for a few hours, where the air conditioning was set on full blast, Joshua longed for the natural summer air against his skin. For some reason he wasn’t sweating as much as he did when he first drove to his father’s. The sudden need to feel cool didn’t matter to him any longer.
After the discussion on the front porch, Joseph made a pitcher of lemonade and he and Joshua sat in the living room, enjoying the cool air. They chatted of nonsensical things and all too soon Joseph dozed in his lounger his wife bought for him many Christmases ago. Joshua left his dad with a hug and a new sense of optimism.
When Joshua reached his home, he saw the sprinkler was on and his two boys running in and out of the spray. Susan sat on the front porch watching them and when Joshua pulled the car into the driveway she smiled and waved. Joshua honked his horn, turned off the car and watched his family for a brief moment.
A sheen of sweat formed on his forehead, but Joshua didn’t care. He felt so happy. The depression he had a few short hours ago disappeared much like a slight breeze during this hot and humid summer day.