This is from a novella called Number Eight. It’s the chapter my students read that I refer to in the poem posted just before. Kieran is 16. He’s narrating.
The air conditioning on Dad’s truck wasn’t working, and it was hot out. We were both sweltering on the drive home.
“Let’s go in here,” Dad said, pulling into the nearly empty parking lot of a sports bar.
“I can’t go in there. I’m under age.”
“Nah. It’ll be fine. Jed runs this place.”
Jed was one Dad’s old friends. He was a one legged, ex-con with three ex-wives. Dad always seemed to know what bar he was tending. Twice when I was a kid Dad had left me out in the parking lot while he went inside to ‘have a talk with Jed.’ Once I’d waited two hours. Once it was four. That time, Sara was in her car seat. It had been cold, and I’d had to dig a filthy, tattered, stinking dog blanket out of the trunk to drape over us. We’d huddled together, watching the clouds our breath made until we fell asleep. A social worker had woken us up hammering on the window.
Dad moved out after that.
We sat in a corner booth in the nearly empty bar. Jed limped over and slapped Dad on the back in greeting. “About time you came to see me!”
“A pitcher of your best on tap,” Dad announced, grinning, “for this fine young man and me.”
Jed didn’t even ask for my ID. He just headed back to the bar, grabbed a pitcher, and set it under the tap. “So how’s life in Fort Mac?” he asked Dad.
“Profitable. You should head up there. You’d make a fortune.”
Jed laughed. “I like my climate milder.” He set the pitcher on the table, and put mats and mugs beside it.
“You’re getting soft,” said Dad, reaching for the pitcher and pouring us each a mug.
“I’m tired of rough life. I’ve got a comfortable girl, a comfortable job, and a comfortable house. You should try it.”
Dad laughed. They started to reminisce about their youthful adventures which seemed mostly about drinking, driving too fast, and other times they should have died, but didn’t.
I tuned them out. I inhaled the beer. It was sweet and pungent. I sipped cautiously. It was cold and golden. I tilted the mug and drained it.
Dad grinned as he talked to Jed, and re-filled it.
I stared at the mug, then turned my attention to the football game playing on the big screen. I drank and watched. I imagined riding a turbo dirt bike through the hills, far from my troubles. I watched the players running like ants across a striped green sock.
The mug never seemed to empty. Three more pitchers were delivered to the table.
Dad played pool with a couple of guys who challenged him. There was laughter, groaning, and shouting.
I watched the football game as the players wove their way unsteadily across the field. When they were tackled, I closed my eyes. It hurt.
Eventually, as the quarterback fell to the ground, I groaned, and tipped onto over with him into blackness.
When I came to, it was to find Jed and Dad tugging me to stand. I staggered out to the truck.
A hammering woke me up. My eyes were glued together. I forced them apart, and squinted from the white hot glare they revealed. I shut them again. It was so hot, that it was like being in a beer steam bath.
“You’re drunk,” Sara announced.
“I never get drunk,” I muttered. My voice echoed painfully in my head.
“Then why are you sleeping in Dad’s truck, stinking like a brewery at seven in the morning?”
I swallowed. My tongue felt hairy.
She hit the button and unlocked my door. The click sounded like a grenade going off under my ear. I groaned.
“Come on, stinko. Let’s get you into a shower.”
“You can’t lift me. You’re pregnant.”
“Yeah, well, then I guess you’d better walk yourself, hadn’t you? Come on.” She pulled my arm and I squinted through the narrowest slits I could make and still see something. I unfolded my legs and slid them onto the ground. I waved back and forth like a flag pole in a hurricane.
Sara giggled. “I’ve never seen you drunk.”
“I’m not drunk. I don’t drink. Remember?” I squinted down at her. “You’d better not drink, either. It’s not good for babies.” I stretched out to put a hand on her belly. It seemed like I reached for miles until I found it. “You’ll turn its brain to lace if you drink. I’ve seen pictures. Don’t drink!”
“I am not drinking, Kieran. You did. Get inside before you ruin your reputation as the sober, responsible kid.” She smirked at me, and tugged harder.
I took one unsteady step and then another, guided by her firm arm on my elbow. “There you go. Good job!” she said. She pushed me into the bathroom, and shut the door. “I’ll call the dairy and tell them you’re too sick to come to work today,” she said. She sounded just like Mom.
I stared at the water in the toilet, and suddenly I was desperate to pee. I reached down to undo my fly, but I couldn’t make the zipper work. My fingers couldn’t find the pull tab. I fumbled, cursing my fingers, the zipper, and my dad. Then I pissed myself.
I stared at the yellow puddle underneath me. I folded onto the floor, tears dripping off my chin, piss burning my leg. Disgust rose in my throat. My mouth not having a pull tab, I stuck my head in the toilet, and vomited my self-revulsion. I was my father all over again.