BY JONATHAN WEST
Published March 8, 2001
He stared past his reflection in the window and towards the sun rising over his back yard. His dull eyes shrank to slits, unaccustomed to the light that began to stream into the house. He was born with dark brown eyes but decided late in high school that he would look better with a set of baby blues. All his contact lenses did now was make him look like he was trying to be too young for his age. His forty fifth birthday had passed him by three days ago and the reality of his life was setting in.
A shrill, demanding whistle shot from the top of his stove and he shrank away from the window towards the kitchen. Gavin stood at 5" 8" but was always hanging his head and sagging his shoulders, making him seem even shorter. He used to smile at how young women joked with him that in order to be short and handsome at the same time, you had to have a certain type of sex appeal. If there was one thing that Gavin lacked, it was sex appeal. Gavin wasn"t unpleasant to look at but he had mousy, common features that let him become just another face in the crowd. His 145 pound frame supported a large head that had a thin pale face surrounded by a mass of wavy, dark blonde hair. An only child born to two Native Americans, his appearance led to constant arguments between his parents about his mother"s possible infidelity. It was two days before his sixth birthday when his father came home from work to find the postman delivering a package. In a flurry of fists and curses, his father beat the mailman senseless, and then silently abandoned Gavin and his mother.
The rest of his childhood was spent with an alcoholic mother who made sure everyday that he understood whose fault it was that his father had left them. She took him to the mall one afternoon and told him that she was going to the restroom. When the mall closed at nine o"clock he began to walk home alone. He walked into the house three hours later, exhausted and scared to death. His mother lifted her head up from the couch, still clutching the half-empty bottle. She lay back down and loudly cursed herself for not picking a mall any further away. Gavin had wondered ever since if he would ever belong to a real family.
He mixed the boiling water with oatmeal, preparing breakfast for his son. Suddenly hungry he looked at his watch and realized that he hadn"t eaten for two days. Oh well, he thought, I"ve lived through worse. Setting the bowl on the table he added a glass of orange juice and two pieces of toast. Hearing the sound of a toilet flush coming from the bottom of the stairs he felt a wave of inspiration come over him. He raced over to his computer, opened it up, and began to flow with his emotions.
Gavin was a writer by profession but could never decide what it was that he wanted to write about. As a young novelist he was partial to writing non-fiction. Then after a few years of writing shorts for a college periodical, he moved on to writing for a science fiction journal switching his flavor to fiction. This, however, left quite a sour taste in his mouth. No matter what his discipline, Gavin couldn"t produce anything interesting, due mainly to his lack of ability.
He heard his son making his way up the stairs before he ever even saw him. Gavin thought, Hunter walks about as gracefully as a rhinoceros with a glandular problem. He watched Hunter yawn loudly and scratch his crotch. Gavin turned back to his computer as Hunter looked over at the table and saw that his father had fixed him breakfast. Hunter sighed and looked over to his father to tell him that he shouldn"t have, but his face was buried in his computer.
"Hunter, did you see that I made you breakfast?" His father"s voice let him know that his attention wasn"t fully on his work.
"Gavin, you spend time preparing my breakfast but have you even had your own yet?" He put his hands on his hips and spoke in a voice demanding his father"s full attention.
"Well actually I"ve been ," Gavin"s voice trailed off as he lifted his head, searching for an excuse as to why he hadn"t eaten yet.
"I know that you"ve been up all night, too. Dammit Gavin, that"s not healthy. You have enough time to eat breakfast. You"re story is going to be there when you finish. I don"t think that it"s going to get up and walk away." Frustrated at his father, Hunter looked over at the coffeepot.
"I"m also making you another pot of coffee, too." His face crinkling in disgust he said, "Jesus, how long has this crap been in here?"
Gavin got up from in front of his computer and went over to the table. His son stood almost a half a foot taller then he and had jet-black hair that shone slightly blue-black in the light. Hunter had a set of blue eyes that were natural and sometimes looked gray, depending on the weather and even more upon his mood. Gavin smiled once more at how much his son looked like his mother before turning his back to his meal. Whether he was hungry or not, he was going to eat the oatmeal. Hunter had told him to and after all, Hunter always knew best.
After Hunter straightened up the house and made his way out the door for school, Gavin took a shower and got dressed. He had developed this routine over the past six years, but that never made it any easier. It was only a quarter-mile walk to get to her, so he really didn"t mind it. It gave him a chance to look back on the time spent together when she was alive.
Fiona and Gavin met after she had finished up her dual bachelor"s degree in Mechanical and Packaging Engineering at State College. Gavin was working at the caf that she showed up in regularly and one day after his shift he noticed that the young woman had car trouble. It was brutally cold and her car"s ignition was frozen solid. He gave her a lift back to her apartment and they called a tow truck. They ended up spending the evening together discussing each other"s past and present over pizza and hot chocolate.
His mother had passed away from cancer a few months before he graduated high school and left him about twenty thousand dollars in life insurance and the house. He had no other family, so he sold the house and packed everything else up. He went to college for a couple of years and then dropped out. While actually in school he took a few English courses and found out that the best writers came from bad environments. Figuring he was a perfect candidate, Gavin began to write. The only problem was that he wasn"t very good. So after dropping out he lived on the money he had left from the house and a steady paycheck waiting on tables. But he still tried to write the best that he could.
By the third time that he had gone out with Fiona, he couldn"t live with out her. She was from a white-collar background, but had blue-collar blood running through her veins. She enjoyed nothing more than watching B-list horror movies and reading a cheesy romance novel when it was raining outside. Gifted in mathematics and the sciences, she hoped to discover the way our bodies converted raw materials into energy and implement this design into the field of robotics. And she was hopelessly in love with Gavin.
This was a shock to her friends and would have been a shock to Gavin"s if he had any. She was of Italian American blood, with wonderful tan skin and a nice physique. Her face seemed a little long and she had large eyes that drooped, making her look like an incredibly affectionate hound dog. She wasn"t the most beautiful woman in the world, but she was intelligent and very hard working. She also thought Gavin was "to-die-for" cute, and an excellent writer. It was no surprise to the family when she said that they were going to get married. When Hunter was born, they actually began to establish Gavin as part of the family.
The doctors said that it was an aneurysm and there was absolutely nothing that anyone could have done to prevent it. One day after Fiona had tucked Hunter into bed she came into her bedroom and complained of a headache to her husband. Convinced it was no more then the stress of being an over achiever, he got her a few aspirin and rubbed her temples for her. What did I ever do to deserve such a family, he thought falling asleep, unbeknownst that his wife would never wake up the next morning.
Weaving in and out of the tombstones was no longer difficult for Gavin. He knew exactly where her plot was and he could get there in the dark or during the day, even with a blindfold on. Many times he would stop by other gravesites just to say hello. Every once in a while he would bring flowers for young May Parker, she had died at only two months of age, a victim of sudden infant death syndrome. He would always say good day to Norman Osborne, an old man that had died of a heart attack during his 95th birthday party. Sometimes he would talk to him about sports, and other times he would just bring him a few of his old baseball playing cards. He never knew these people in life, but considered them his best friends in death.
Rising up over a small hill, he crossed between two birch trees and came to rest twenty paces to the right of the smaller one. Gavin slowly sat down and let his head drop into his hands. He wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand and let his shoulders heave. With one arm folded tightly across his chest, he draped the other around the gravestone. It was one of the only things that he could ever imagine loving him back.
Hunter walked in his house announcing his arrival with the slamming of the door and a loud shout.
Walking past the living room and into the dining room, he glanced over the counter to see his father perched in front of his computer.
"Hey Gavin, how was your day?" he boomed.
"Okay," he said, a little startled at his son"s powerful voice. "I think that we"ve almost got this book licked."
"All right! My day just keeps getting better and better." He made his way over to his father and gave him a rowdy bear hug. Hunter was the captain of the school"s wrestling team that put his tiny high school on the map. They were known state wide for their tradition, and he was the 178-lb. State Champion the year before as a 16-year-old sophomore. Gavin would never miss any of his meets and a few times went to watch Hunter practice during previous regional and state trials. Many times Hunter would find amusement in wrestling his father and making him say uncle, in order to let him go.
"Hun-ter. Can"t-breathe" Gavin choked out, his face draining of any color. Hunter dropped his father and patted him on the back as he took long gulps of air.
"My aren"t we happy." Gavin said, a bright red color creeping up his neck to his face.
"School was real uneventful." Hunter said, grinning. "Enough to where I was able to finish all my homework in class." Gavin looked at his son, envying his cool composure and solid strength. Every once in a while this tugged gently at the chords of jealousy. Only every once in a while, though.
"So since I finished my homework I was wondering if I could go out with Melissa tonight? I know that it"s a school night and I usually stay home but I would really like the chance to get to take her out to the movies instead."
Gavin liked Melissa. He had met her once a few weeks ago at one of Hunter"s preseason wrestling meets. She was pretty in a very plain type of way. She was short but muscular with thick legs and large breasts. She had a loud laugh, but she was so cute that no one ever got annoyed with it. Hunter and Melissa reminded Gavin of himself and his wife, during school.
"No, no, no please go out." Gavin said, sitting back down. "Melissa is a great girl and you two need to spend more time with one another."
"Thanks Gavin." Hunter smiled as he picked his father back up. Spinning him around Gavin felt the floor go out beneath him and in the wave of slight nausea, he laughed.
Hunter sat at the edge of the cliff and threw another stone into the ravine below. Melissa was sitting with her back pressing against his, her head resting on the ridge made between his two shoulder blades. She blew the smoke of her cigarette into the air, looking up at the moon.
"Hunter are you going to take me away with you?"
"Now why would I ever want to cart your ass around, kiddo?" Hunter said throwing another rock.
"Hey watch it bub." Melissa emphasized this by lifting her head and thumping Hunter on the back. He laughed at this and even though he couldn"t see her face, he saw her bottom lip inching forward pouting ever so slightly.
"I guess it depends on if I decide to go anywhere." Hunter knew that his grades and his wrestling ability were good enough to take him to any college in the state, even the University of Pittsburgh, in the Ivy League. But Pittsburgh was a long way from home, someplace that he never really wanted to be.
"What?" Melissa said, spinning around to face Hunter"s back. "You would be insane not to go! You have the talent and the charisma, to go anywhere."
"I know." Hunter said, no longer with Melissa. Instead, he was in the second grade and asking his mother what wresting was. He had heard a few boys in school talking about Terry "Hulk" Hogan and Randy "Macho Man" Savage wrestling in a big match on television the upcoming weekend. His mother told him that it was a sport of endurance and pride that began back before Christ was born started by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Not really understanding, he told her what he had heard at school and his mother laughed out loud. She told him No Hunter those men are professional wrestlers, which really means actors. They are entertainers. Wrestlers are people like your grandfather, who really do battle like present-day gladiators.
This left a riveting image in young Hunter"s head, so when he found out that the
community had a juniors wrestling club he begged his parents to let him join. They were delighted in Hunter"s interest and signed him up immediately. For five years he wrestled for the club with his parents in the stands at every one of his meets. He used to be embarrassed at his mother"s cheers, which would sound out through the entire gymnasium. After his match, whether he won or lost his father would ruffle his hair and smile proudly. His mother would never let him cry and always rewarded him with a hug. She said As long as you try your best you will always be our little warrior. After three years, however, the "us" had become only Gavin. Not that he minded. It was just that his mother was so
"Hunter, you"re doing it again." Melissa flicked her cigarette into the ravine and looked into her boyfriend"s eyes. There was no sign of recognition. Tears began to well up in the corner of her eyes, as did Hunters.
"Oh baby." She took his head gently and let it rest on her chest. Hunter slowly brought his arms up to give her a hug. The two had originally met when they had to take a class over the summer together because neither could fit it in their fall schedule. They began as lab partners and would always talk of what was going on in their lives. More times then not, Hunter would talk of his family and Melissa would just listen. She knew that when Hunter drifted that he was thinking about his mother. She didn"t personally know anyone that knew Hunter"s mother besides her boyfriend or his father, but she must have been a wonderful woman in order to have left such an impact on the lives of two men.
"Melissa, when I go you"ll be the second person to come with me." Hunter came back to her and began to slightly shake.
"I know Hunter, I know." Melissa rocked back and forth, with Hunter in her arms. She had always pictured Hunter being a handsome stranger that would take her away and care for her for the rest of her life. She never imagined how strong this stranger really was, and that what he really needed was someone to take care of him.
It was the reality of the dream that caused Gavin to thrash around so violently. He was sitting in the kitchen with his wife, whose girth was overblown with their first child. They were talking about what to name their first born, baby boy.
"I would really like something strong. You know like Spike." Fiona joked with Gavin, flexing her biceps and crinkling her eyebrows together.
Hunter looked at her with "No" written all over his face, and gave another suggestion.
"Tough, huh? What about Takio?" Translated from Japanese, Takio means warrior. Gavin had been obsessed with this name since reading it in an article that appeared next to his in the science fiction journal he wrote for a long time ago.
"You want to name him what?" She asked patting her growling stomach.
"Takio, it means," he began, getting his wife a bowl of double fudge death by chocolate ice cream.
"I know what it means," she said impatiently, reaching greedily for her ice cream. "It"s just that Jesus, where are my sprinkles?" She began to get annoyed with her husband"s lack of attentiveness towards her food.
"What? It"s just that, what?" He rooted through the cupboard, emerging with two different types of sprinkles.
"It"s not what I had in mind when I said tough, that"s what." She looked at the sprinkles the same way a tiger looks at a lame gazelle. Tearing the top off of both boxes she poured both types of sprinkles into her bowl. "What about hmmm, something like, oh that definitely hits the spot I don"t know," she said in between mouthfuls.
"Hunter?" Gavin gave it a shot.
"Dat"s purfek!" she said, cheeks bulging. Ice cream spat from her mouth all over Gavin"s face. Her eyes went wide as Gavin grabbed the tub of ice cream from her hand and launched his counter attack. Laughing the two erupted into a mess of ice cream and kisses, and sprinkles and love.
Gavin shook himself awake. Waving his arms about for a second he became very still, trying to gather his bearings. He must have fallen asleep at the table and he had woken from some type of dream. Had he been dreaming? He wasn"t exactly sure but damn, it seemed real whatever it was. Looking over at the clock on the wall he saw that it was 2:30 a.m.
"Must"ve fallen asleep at the table." Gavin rubbed his eyes
"Gavin you can"t keep doing this to yourself." He got up and walked over to the kitchen window to see if his son"s vehicle was in the driveway. His whole body stiffened when he saw that it wasn"t.
"Stay calm, everything"s okay he must just be with Melissa," Gavin assured himself, even though he was still very worried. His son had told him that he would be home at 1:00 a.m. and it was not like Hunter to miss his curfew. Gavin sat down slowly and tried to shake the sleep from his body. Taking a deep breath he remembered that Melissa had also had a curfew of 1:00 a.m. and Hunter would have never allowed for her to be late. Going to get his coat, Gavin sighed and tried to remember what it was that he had been dreaming about.
Even though her husband didn"t know it, she did. She new something was wrong but she had no idea what it was. It just scared her. She went to go tuck her only son in for the night and she was scared that this would be one of the last times that she"d have the chance to talk to her boy. Call it a mother"s intuition, she just knew. So lifting the blanket to his chin she knelt next to his bed.
Hunter was a bright boy for his age. He knew that something was wrong with his mother. But she was asking him not to be frightened and that it was her job to be scared for him. She also asked him to always help look out for Gavin.
He thought the world of his mom and she was scared now, asking him to be strong
and take care of things that she wouldn"t ever be able to. He wasn"t scared anymore but confused, and didn"t know what was going to happen. She kissed him on the forehead, and offered a solemn goodnight for her little warrior.
Hunter remembered this over and over again while sitting in the dark in front of Fiona Donahue"s grave. He usually only visited his mother during the weekends but tonight was different. He realized for the first time that he truly was in love with Melissa. Another person to take care of. Shit, he was still a kid and he couldn"t imagine doing this forever. Not like his mother could.
He reached out and traced the letters on his mother"s headstone, quickly at first and then slower. Ending on the "E" in their shared last name, he heard the snap of a branch behind him as footsteps made their way smoothly between the two trees and then veered to the right. Without looking up Hunter said aloud.
Gavin sat down next to his son, and thought of his wife.
"Hello, Takio. How"s our girl doing?"
Slowly the wind began to pick up, carrying with it the flowers given to May and the cards given to Norman, and the prayers Fiona blessed upon both of her boys.