Thunder and Lightening
Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac
It was Wednesday night when Bill came home for school, sullen and quiet rather than his normal chipper self. He moped around the house without saying much of anything, giving one-word answers to any question he was asked. Observing the subdued behavior of his son, Jerry became worried that something bad had happened. The worst thing that he could imagine was that Bill had gotten into a fight with his friends. He asked, “Are things okay with your friends at school?”
“Yeah,” replied Bill in a flat listless voice.
Concerned, Jerry asked, “Did everything go okay at school?”
“Yeah.” Again the tone of his voice was listless.
Jerry could tell that something was bothering his son and he had no idea what could have happened. He commented, “You seem kind of down today. What’s the matter?”
Bill wasn’t going to answer, but he decided that maybe his father could help him. Digging into his backpack, he pulled out a book and handed it to his father. Looking away from Jerry, he said, “I read this book today.”
Looking at the book, Jerry recalled having read it when he was in high school. The book was a masterpiece of literature, Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. He didn’t remember much of the story, but recalled his reaction to it. The book had made him angry when he read it then, but he didn’t know how he’d react to it today. Rather than commenting, he said, “Let me read it tonight.”
“I read Grapes of Wrath and thought I would read another book by the same author. I’m sorry that I did that,” replied Bill. In a way, he had hoped that his father would have an instant answer for him. When that didn’t happen, he became even more depressed.
Recognizing that his son needed cheering up, Jerry suggested, “How about we go get some Mexican Food?”
“I guess that would be okay,” replied Bill without his normal enthusiasm.
The pair went to the restaurant in the truck. The trip was subdued with Bill staring out the window the whole way there. After parking the truck, they headed for the door. One of the customers leaving the restaurant pointed to the truck and gave an okay sign. That happened to him a lot when he took the truck out and he returned a thumb’s up sign in response. Bill walked on as though he hadn’t noticed anything.
The regulars were getting used to the fact that the large white man was going to visit the restaurant regardless of how they felt about it. As a result, his entrance didn’t cause the kind of silence that used to be the norm. The waitress, recognizing them, brought over iced teas and asked, “Dos Tres Tacos?”
Jerry looked over at Bill who shrugged and replied, “Si, gracias.”
After the waitress delivered the food, Bill ate without conversation. It was not a very pleasant meal and Jerry knew that the book must have upset his son a lot. He said, “Bill, I don’t remember the story. I’ll read the book and then we can talk about it. Okay?”
“Sure,” replied Bill realizing that there might have been a very good reason why his father hadn’t a ready answer to his problem. If he knew the story, he would have known what to say to make him feel better.
After the meal was finished, the waitress came to the table with another individual. She talked to the other individual in Spanish, who then translated what she said. “Sonya says that you run a business. Is that true?”
“Yes,” replied Jerry wondering what she wanted.
After a minute of conversation between the waitress and the translator, the man turned to Jerry and said, “She says that her cousin needs a job. He speaks English very good and will work hard.”
“Does he have a high school diploma?”
“Si. Ah, yes,” replied the translator. He added, “He has a little college.”
Jerry nodded, pleased to hear that the guy had a little college, and said, “Have him come by the Auto Parts House on Main Street around ten in the morning.”
The translator turned to the waitress and talked to her for a moment conveying the information that Jerry had given him. Her face lit up at the news and she thanked Jerry profusely in Spanish. Jerry smiled and nodded, not understanding a single word that she was saying, but getting the gist of it from her manner and tone of voice. He hoped the guy worked out because they were still short a full time person. As he thought about it, he realized that he could possibly improve the business among Hispanic auto repair shops.
After paying for their meal, Jerry and Bill returned to the house. Once there, Bill went into the kitchen to work on his homework while Jerry sat down to read the book. The evening passed quietly as each went about their individual pursuits. The more that Jerry read of the book, the more depressed he got.
Around ten, Bill came out of the kitchen. Seeing that his father hadn’t finished the book, he said, “I’m going to bed now.”
“Okay, we’ll talk in the morning,” replied Jerry as he looked up from the book. He was almost finished with it, unable to put down the story. The story struck too close to home. Two men were trying to pursue a dream to improve their lives. The large man, unable to control his strength, destroyed that dream. It was no wonder that Bill was depressed, since Jerry himself became depressed as a result of reading it.
The character of Lennie, the big man in the story, was too familiar. With the smallest provocation, Lennie would unleash his strength damaging even the things that he cared most about. When he read about Lennie choking the woman because he was afraid, a shiver of revulsion ran down his spine. As a big man, Jerry knew how easy it was for the rage to escape. He knew that if he ever failed to control it, then incredible damage would result.
Finishing the book, Jerry found that he wanted to rip it to shreds. He remembered why it had angered him when he had read in school. Not only had he been subjected to the insults of his fellow classmates, he had to be insulted by a book that portrayed big men as dangerous idiots.
Rather than ripping up the book, he set it aside and prepared for bed. As he undressed, he stared at the book wondering what he could tell his son in the morning. Once the Futon was configured as a bed, he turned off the lights and lay down staring at the ceiling. It took him a long time to fall asleep, as his mind wouldn’t let go of the story.
In the middle of the night, he woke out of a dream in which he was strangling Jenny in the same manner in which Lennie had strangled Curley’s wife. He shot out of bed breathing hard and sweating. The dream had been too real. He swore he felt her neck in his massive paws.
Sitting down on the edge of the Futon, he held his head in his hands as he struggled to breathe. The tension in his back nearly paralyzed him. It took him five minutes to recover from the nightmare. After staring at the book for a moment, knowing it to be the source of his dream, he swore, “F•©k, that was horrible.”
After a minute spent recovering further, he became aware of groans coming from Bill’s room. He knew that Bill was in the midst of a bad dream and went to the room. Sitting down on the edge of the bed, he shook Bill awake while he said, “Wake up. It’s just a bad dream.”
Bill came awake, his eyes opened wide in horror at the dream. Frantic, he looked over at his father and cried, “I dreamed that Woody was going to kill me because I strangled Sandy.”
Hugging his son, he replied, “You didn’t strangle Sandy and Woody isn’t going to shoot you. We aren’t like Lennie.”
Very upset by the dream and the message that he had taken from the book, Bill cried out, “But we are.”
“No we’re not,” countered Jerry trying with quiet desperation to believe his own words. “We’re nothing like him. Sure we are big and strong, but we understand our strength. Lennie didn’t.”
Sitting up in his bed, Bill said, “I’m not sure that we are that different.”
“Yes, we are,” replied Jerry in as comforting a voice as he could manage. He sat there for a minute trying to figure out what he could say that would comfort his son. Considering that he had the same dream, what could he say that would change his son’s mind about the hopeless feeling that the dream created within the boy? Sighing, he said, “I had the same kind of dream.”
“Really?” asked Bill looking over at his father.
“Yeah, I dreamed that I strangled Jenny just like Lennie did the wife,” answered Jerry wondering if admitting it was wise. Thinking about it, he realized that they worried about their actions and didn’t try to pretend that they didn’t happen. He added, “You know, Lennie kept petting the puppy even after he had killed it. He didn’t understand what he had done nor why he had done it. After killing other pets, he wanted another one without learning his lessons from the past. He didn’t worry about killing his pets in the future. We understand what we do and we worry about our actions in the future. I think that makes us very different.”
“You ever totally lose your temper?” asked Jerry realizing that he was close enough to an answer that would satisfy both of them.
“Not in ages.”
“Because I’m afraid what will happen if I do,” replied Bill as understanding started to illuminate the darkness in which he had found himself. He smiled and said, “Thanks, Dad.”
“What are dad’s for?”
“Raising my allowance,” replied Bill with a grin.
“You’ve been around Abe too much,” Jerry joked as he patted his son on the shoulder. He could tell just by touch that his son had relaxed. Standing, he said, “I’ll go back to bed now.”
Jerry returned to his bed and settled down to sleep. This time, he fell asleep much quicker. His reassurances for his son had reassured himself, as well. No one had told him that being a Dad had such rewards.
Morning came too early and he wandered into the kitchen to start the coffee. His sleep the first half of the night had been disturbed by nightmares, but after the discussion with Bill he had slept much better. It was almost enough to be refreshed, but not quite. Yawning, he spooned coffee into the filter and then filled the brewer with water. Once the coffee was started, he went to his son’s door and knocked on it to wake him.
Returning to the kitchen, he pulled out two bowls, spoons, cereals, and milk. They would have a cold breakfast this morning so that he could get Bill to school early enough so that Jerry could reach the store in time to open it. He remembered that he was going to have the cousin of the waitress coming into the store to apply for a job.
Realizing that Bill hadn’t gotten out of bed, he returned to the bedroom and knocked on the door. Through the closed door, he heard Bill complain, “Leave me alone.”
Knocking on the door with much greater force, Jerry replied, “Time to get up! School! Fun! Cereal! Coffee!”
“Do I have to?”
“Yes, you have to get up now.” It was unusual for Bill to protest that much in the morning, but he could understand his son’s behavior. He couldn’t have gotten a good night’s sleep because of the nightmares.
Jerry returned to the kitchen and poured two cups of coffee. He looked at the cereals and picked the one loaded with sugar. No self-respecting adult would choose that one, but it was his favorite and he didn’t care what anyone thought. Filling the bowl with cereal, he added milk and started eating.
Bill shuffled into the kitchen, yawning and stretching with a roar. He looked at the cereal his father was eating and picked up the box of healthy cereal. Yawning again, he set the box down and took a sip of his coffee. The hot liquid woke him and he went back to fixing his cereal. He commented, “They ought to call that cereal Super Sugar Shock Junk Food.”
Shrugging off the comment, Jerry replied, “I like it.”
“I know you do,” replied Bill. It amazed him that his father ate that junk almost every morning. He started to eat his cereal, realizing that he was running behind schedule. After the first few bites, he paused and said, “Thanks for what you said last night. It helped a lot.”
“I’m glad,” replied Jerry after swallowing the latest spoonful of cereal. He said, “Today is Thursday.”
“Yeah, it’s our long day,” replied Bill. This was the day of the week that he had to wait at the therapist’s office while his father talked to her about his anger. It meant that they wouldn’t be home until almost eight that night.
“Where do you want to eat tonight?”
“How about the Chinese Buffet?”
If Bill had answered with any other place, Jerry would have worried about him. Every Thursday, Bill wanted to go to the Chinese Buffet. The fact was, it was the best food deal in town and the quality was pretty good. Jerry laughed and said, “We’re eating breakfast and talking about dinner.”
They finished their breakfast and took their bowls to the sink to rinse them out. Once the bowls were thoroughly rinsed, they each took their coffee cup and went to dress. Bill went to his room and Jerry went to the spare room where he kept his clothes. As he pulled his clothes out, he realized that he should probably move into the bedroom.
Dressed and ready to go, Jerry waited by the door. When Bill came out of his room with his school backpack, Jerry handed him the book. Bill looked at it and then slipped it into his pack as he said, “I guess it is a good book.”
Surprised by the comment, Jerry asked, “Why do you say that?”
“If a book can have the kind of effect that it had on us, it must be good,” replied Bill.
“You’re right. I didn’t think of it that way,” replied Jerry.
They walked out to the truck for Jerry to take Bill to school. As he walked, he thought about the book. It played upon the myth that big men were strong but too stupid to control their strength. From experience, he had decided that it wasn’t that big men were too stupid to control their strength, but were often too weak to control their stupidity.
Jerry pulled into the parking lot of the Auto Parts Shop. It was five minutes before opening time and he was the first one to arrive. He entered the store through the back entrance, glancing around to make sure that all was well. As he walked to the front of the store, he noticed that the store had been improving in appearance over the past few months. Abe and Sammy had taken to dusting the shelves before restocking the goods after a suggestion made by Karen.
It was a well-coordinated team of people that he had gathered together in the store. Abe was a hard worker who listened to all suggestions on how to do his job better. Mike had taken to his duties as Assistant Manager and actually enjoyed performing them. Karen had installed a computer to take care of inventory and was preparing to fill it with data. Martin had a good rapport with the customers and enjoyed his work. Sammy was nearing the end of high school and had told Jerry that he would work through the summer before leaving for college. The lack of another full time person meant that no one had been able to take a day off in ages and he hoped to correct that problem.
Opening the front door, he went to the cash register and checked the money in it. Turning off the answering machine, he sat down to take calls. Martin walked in the back door and called out, “I’m here.”
“I’m up in the front of the store,” called Jerry.
Martin came up to the counter wearing new clothes that really looked sharp on him. Standing beside Jerry, he said, “Today’s the day.”
“Sold the Caddy last night and we’re picking up new cars today.” Martin looked proud of himself at the news. He had gotten more for the car than he had thought possible, particularly considering the state in which it had been when he started restoring it. His mother and he were going to pick up some practical cars at a reasonable price.
“What are you going to buy?”
“Mom is going to get a simple Toyota sedan and I’m going for a truck. Having been around you, I’ve come to realize that there are a lot of advantages to having a truck.” Jerry had been a major factor in his life and he tended to model his decisions after the kinds of things that Jerry did. His mother was supporting Jerry’s view of financial management. The clincher was that Henry Buckman echoed Jerry’s advice on many occasions.
Jerry was quiet for a minute as he thought about it and then said, “That’ll cost you more than you got from the Caddy.”
That was an understatement. He figured it would cost an additional five thousand dollars to buy both cars. He replied, “I know. I’ve been saving two thirds of the money I’ve earned here. I felt that it would be better to use the money to make sure that my mother had a good car and that I had something that would last for a number of years.”