Thunder and Lightening
Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac
Abe and Bill wanted to ride back to the house in the back of the truck with the scooters, but Jerry wouldn’t let them. For Abe, the bike meant a seventy-five dollar a month payment for the next year and a reason to keep working. For his son, it was a sign that his father did care about him. Jerry smiled as he thought about the happiness that the scooters would bring.
Pulling up in front of the house, he parked the truck and helped Abe get his off the back of the truck. The poor kid was so excited that he could hardly stand still and was ready to ride off in it.
Jerry said, “Whoa, there! You’ve got to get a license first, and for that you need to study the booklet they gave you at the motorcycle shop.”
Laughing at the exuberance of the young man, Jerry said, “Why don’t you two study the book together? When you are convinced that you can pass the test, I’ll give you a short test and when you pass that we’ll go get your permit.”
The two young kids sat down on the futon and studied the driver’s manual with their heads bent over as they read each paragraph aloud. While they were doing that, Jerry brought the scooter that he had bought for Bill and put it in the bedroom with his tools. While there, he noticed the stack of Polaroids and picked them up. He shuffled through the pictures appreciating the body of the woman that had posed for them. Only a few showed her face. Deciding it would be best if neither of the kids found the pictures, he put them on the shelf in the closet.
Returning to the living room, he watched for a moment as the boys studied the motorcycle driver’s manual. Clearing his throat, he said, “You’ll have to get your mother to come with us, Abe.”
“I know. We just covered that part of the manual. She has to sign some papers.”
“When will she get off work?” asked Jerry.
“She’ll get home about three,” answered the young man.
Bill looked up from the manual and said, “I have to be home about six or mom will kill me.”
“No problem,” replied Jerry thinking that he would try like hell to get the kid home before five. That would leave an hour for unforeseen events. The more he thought about it, he decided that he would get his son home early in the afternoon. Working out the logistics, he said, “After you guys have finished studying that, I’d like to take my son out to lunch. When your mother gets home, you bring her over and we’ll go get you a license.”
Both boys agreed with the plan and went back to reading the manual. Jerry wandered into the kitchen and brewed a pot of coffee. The kitchen was barren compared to the majority of kitchens. He had bought a set of dinnerware that provided a basic setting for four, silverware for six, and glasses for eight. There was the coffee maker, microwave, hot plate, and mini-refrigerator that completed his kitchen. There weren’t any pots, pans, or mixing bowls. Without a kitchen table, there was nowhere to eat.
When the coffee finished brewing, he poured three cups and carried them out into the living room. After handing each of the boys a cup, he sat down on the floor enjoying the cool of the air conditioner and the heat of the coffee. It was nice sharing the house with his son. They hadn’t argued or fought once.
The boys finished going through the manual and set it down on the floor. Turning to Abe, Bill asked, “Do many blacks ride motorcycles?”
Jerry almost choked on his coffee, but didn’t say a word. Abe was silent for a while before he answered, “I guess not.”
“So I guess you’ll be a trendsetter, huh?”
Laughing at the idea of being a trendsetter, Abe said, “Shit, yeah. I’m gonna be da big man on campus.”
Sitting back watching his son and Abe interact was a pleasure for Jerry. He had liked Abe the moment he had met the boy and it was clear that his son liked him as well. Rather than interrupt, he let the two boys talk about teenage topics, of which the mysteries of girls figured highly. Not surprisingly, his son was a lot less knowledgeable about the fairer sex than Abe. Two years of age difference tended to have that effect. Still, Bill came with some interesting insights from watching his sister interact with the boys.
After an hour of relaxed conversation, Jerry said, “Hate to break this chat session up, but I’m beginning to get a little hungry.”
Picking up the manual off the floor, Abe said, “I’ll head home and study some more. I’ll be back when my mother gets home.”
“It’s been nice meeting you, Abe,” said Bill.
“Hey, dude. I’ll be seeing you around, won’t I?”
“Yeah, I think so,” answered Bill as he glanced at his father for confirmation, and received it in the form of a nod of the head. The day had been very unexpected and he was still trying to sort out events in his mind. It was rather difficult to consider his father living in this neighborhood and having friends not much older than him. He had never thought of his father as a friendly sort of person.
As Abe went to the door to leave, Jerry said, “I know it is going to be tough, but don’t ride the scooter until we get you your license.”
Nodding, Abe said, “Yeah. I read that if I get a ticket now then I won’t be able to get a license for six months. That would really suck.”
Smiling, Jerry said, “Yes, it would suck.”
Once Abe had left, father and son looked at each other wondering who was going to be the first to say something. Jerry broke the silence when he said, “I know it has been kind of strange visit. I hope that hasn’t disappointed you.”
“I’m not disappointed, but I am hungry.”
“Are you up to some Mexican Food? There’s a nice little place not too far from here that serves pretty good food.”
“That sounds good to me.”
Taking the time to lock up the house, Jerry led his son to his truck. A few minutes later they pulled into the parking lot of a Mexican Restaurant. This place was on the other side of the area where he lived, the part of town that was totally Hispanic. At this restaurant, the help didn’t speak English and the food was authentic. Climbing out of the truck, Jerry said, “This is a good place for us to eat and talk. Most of the people here don’t understand English.”
Bill shrugged his shoulders and went into the restaurant. It was hard to ignore the fact that it suddenly got very quiet the moment they walked into the place, giving the impression that they were trespassing where they weren’t wanted. His father just looked around the room searching for an empty table, but folks quickly looked away once they took in his size. They might be trespassing, but no one was going to make a comment about it.
Seating himself, Bill followed after him and asked, “Do you eat here much?”
“This is about my third time here. Why?” Jerry asked, surprised by the question.
Glancing around the room and taking in all of the stares, Bill said, “It doesn’t look to me like people are all that happy to see us here.”
People turned to face their plates when Jerry looked around, suddenly interested in their meals. As a result, Jerry didn’t see that he wasn’t really wanted. Shrugging his shoulders, he replied, “Doesn’t look that hostile to me.”
They were there for a few minutes before the waitress showed up at the table. Bored, she asked, “Que?”
“Dos Tres Tacos, por favour. Dos iced tea.”
Raising an eyebrow, Bill said, “I didn’t know you spoke Spanish.”
“That was it,” laughed Jerry at the suggestion that he spoke Spanish. Sitting back, he said, “You know something. I know very little about you. I don’t know what you like or dislike.”
“I hate school,” replied Bill shaking his head. Although it was the kind of thing that most kids would say without really meaning it, Bill was very serious. He detested school and the kids at school.
“You’re big like me. The new kids want to prove how tough they are by fighting you. The other kids mock you, treating you as though you were stupid and without a brain in your head. Nobody feels comfortable around you because they’re afraid that you’ll get mad at them and rip them a new asshole,” replied Jerry. “Did I get that right?”
“Nailed it,” replied Bill shocked that his father was able to summarize his situation so clearly.
“I guess things haven’t changed much about school since I was there,” replied Jerry with a trace of sadness in his voice. He understood the hurt and pain that came from being large.
The waitress came and set iced teas on the table. She didn’t say a word, but Jerry said, “Gracias.”
“Do I have to return to school?” asked Bill. In seven days, he was going to return to school and the continued misery that school meant for him.
“Yes, there’s nothing more important than school.”
“I was kind of hoping that since you understood about how horrible school was that you would let me stay at home,” replied Bill. Even as he said it, he knew that it was an unrealistic expectation.
“No. I couldn’t do that.”
There was a long pause in the conversation as both of them thought their own thoughts on the matter. When the waitress brought over the tacos, Bill stared at the dish. It wasn’t like the normal taco. Instead, it was a soft corn tortilla with a smattering of tomatoes and some herb that he didn’t recognize with some chunks of beef on it. Looking at his father, he asked, “This is a taco?”
“Yes. It’s the real thing. Try it.” Jerry picked up a taco, rolled it up and took a bite.
Following the example of his father, Bill did the same thing. He was surprised at the flavor as it was as far from the tacos that he knew as an enchilada was from a burrito. Swallowing, he said, “Hey, I like this.”
“Good. I thought you might,” replied Jerry before he took another bite of his taco. He made a low humming noise from deep in his throat signaling how much he was enjoying it. The noise brought a funny look from his son since it sounded more like a bear growling than a noise of appreciation.
Returning to the previous subject, Bill asked, “So what can I do to have a better year at school?”
“How about you find a friend?”
Scoffing, Bill replied, “Not much of a chance of that.”
Thinking about it, Jerry realized that the first friends he had made were Abe and Martin. Shaking his head, he thought about how Bill could go about identifying people that might give him a chance. He said, “You know that someone is going to want to fight you in the first week of school.”
“Right. I’ll probably have a fight the second day of school.” That had been true last year and the year before.
Shaking his head at the very negative assessment, Jerry said, “Maybe you can use that to your advantage.”
“How?” The disbelief in the young man’s voice was unmistakable.
“If you walk away, everyone is going to call you a coward. Right?”
“If you hit back, you’ll get in trouble and help propagate the mean guy image. Right?”
“That’s right. I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t,” replied Bill thinking about his situation.
“So what happens if you do nothing?” asked Jerry not really having an answer to that question. He had never done that when he was in school.
“I’ll get the shit beaten out of me,” replied Bill in scorn.
“I know that, but what else will happen?”
The question stunned Bill as he sat there thinking about it. If he were just to stand there and let someone beat the hell out of him, it would definitely be told throughout the school. He wondered if he could allow someone to hit him without responding. Shrugging, he answered, “I have no idea.”
“Neither do I.”
“So you are suggesting that I just stand there and take it?”
“The decision is yours. If you were to do that, I’d be sure to wear a cup. You and I both know the first thing those idiots try to do is kick you in the balls,” replied Jerry. The days of schoolyard fights returned in their full ugly details. Even thinking about it awakened the rage.
Sitting across from his father, Bill said, “It still makes you mad when you remember high school.”
“Yes. The only one that would have anything to do with me was your mother. I married her after high school.” Thinking back to those days, he realized that his wife had married him because she thought she could control him. She was right. He was so desperate to have someone in his life that he put up with her for eighteen years. Sighing, he said, “Don’t make the same mistakes that I made.”
“So what am I supposed to do while some guy is beating me up?”
“You might make sure that you don’t get hurt. After it is over, look around at the people to see who is looking at you with respect or admiration. They’ll be your friends,” suggested Jerry.
Nodding, Bill went to work on his second taco. As he ate, he realized that he actually liked his father and that his leaving the house was probably the best thing that could have happened. At home, he would never have had a chance to talk to his father like this. After swallowing, he asked, “What do I do if this doesn’t work?”
With a wink, Jerry replied, “You beat the shit out of the next guy that tries to fight you.”
The two of them laughed and went back to eating. Occasionally, one of them would chuckle at some idea that flitted through their mind. The meal passed peacefully. When they had finished and sat back to sip their teas, Jerry said, “I didn’t realize it, but I haven’t had a meal with someone in ages. It’s nice having company over lunch.”
“Same here,” replied Bill looking sad. He lived a pretty miserable life. At home, his mother and sister treated him like he was dirt. At school, he was an outcast that ate alone at his own table. Thinking about it, this was the best day he had in years.
“As much as I’ve enjoyed your company, I’m afraid that I’m going to have to take you home now. I don’t want your mother to know about this. I fear that she’ll try to destroy it.”
It was a somber assessment of his mother, but Bill agreed with his father. If she knew that he and his father actually liked each other, she’d throw a fit. “I understand. I won’t say a word about the scooter.”
“How about we get together Mondays after school? I can pick you up there, and we can have an afternoon together.”
The idea appealed to Bill and he nodded his agreement. Smiling, he said, “That would be great. I guess rather than dropping me off at home, you could drop me off at the mall.”
After paying the bill, Jerry took Bill back to the mall where he had met his son earlier that morning. Traffic was picking up around the mall as mothers went shopping for back to school clothes.
Driving back to the house, Jerry noticed an SUV stuck in the middle of the three-lane road. The cars behind her were honking their horns and shouting things. Pulling over to the shoulder of the road, he got out and approached the car, much to the irritation of the driver that was forced to stop for him to cross his lane. Others honked their horns at the delay.
The driver, a woman in her late twenties, was sitting in the car with a baby in a baby seat. It was easy to see that she was upset at being stuck in the middle of the road and had no idea what to do. When she saw Jerry coming towards her car, a look of fear crossed her face. The guy was huge and if he wanted to hurt her, there was nothing that she could do to stop him. With a quick movement, she hit the door locks, but her windows were open a crack.
As he approached the car, he could hear the locks. It was obvious that she was afraid him. Rather than get too close and scaring her further, he shouted, “Put it in neutral and release the brake. I’ll push your car. You’ll have to turn the key to the on position so that you can steer it over to the shoulder. Once you’re on the shoulder, hit the brake.”
The woman shouted, “The car is hard to steer.”