The roads on the rural path were bumpy, and Kyle’s large Range Rover was still having problems navigating them. Sometimes the dips and rises were too low or high, and it would cause the car to jerk forward or backward. Kyle could handle it. He was fine, but Otis, his three-year-old son stuck in a carrier chair strapped to the back seat, couldn’t.
Otis would cry himself to sleep when the roads were smoother and would jerk awake and start crying when the roads weren’t. As Kyle drove in the dim light of the evening, Otis switched from sleeping to yelling at the top of his voice. Kyle couldn’t do anything about it. They had to make it to Newfront before the end of the day, and he wasn’t going to stop the car to address the toddler’s crying.
“Shut up. Just shut up,” Kyle groaned, looking at his son through the driver’s mirror. The child’s face was wet with tears, and his usually pale face was bright red from crying. “Shut up!” Kyle yelled, pulling the gear on break. The sudden stop made the child pause and stare at his frustrated father.
Kyle didn’t like yelling, but he got anxious and confused whenever Otis cried.
He didn’t know what he was doing. He was never responsible for Otis before, and he never had younger siblings to care for. He was just winging it and was failing. Failing terribly.
Jesus Christ, why didn’t she take the kid? Kyle asked himself as he turned away and started up the car again. A month ago, he and his son lived in the suburbs of California with his now ex-wife. If someone had told Kyle at the start of the year that his bank account would read less than four figures, and that he would be closing his automobile business, he would have laughed at them in the face. Problems had started to show themselves in August of the last year. The costs had started to exceed the revenue for running his chain of stores, but Kyle hadn’t been bothered. Sometimes business was bad, but things would usually self-correct with time. In this case, they never did. Month in, month out, his profits were in the negatives, and he was advised to call it quits and file for bankruptcy before he would be too far gone and would be forced to pay the debts he possibly couldn’t.
Filing for bankruptcy was supposed to be the end of a chapter that Kyle wanted to put behind him, but then his wife, Anastasia had walked into the living room with one hand on her hip, and the other gripping a file.
“I want a divorce,” she had said in a calm tone that sent chills through Kyle’s spine.
The young man dropped the mug of coffee in his hands to look up at her. His wife had light brown hair and deep-set hazel eyes. She looked nothing like their son. Otis mostly took after his father with his dirty blond hair and his pale skin that easily reddened.
“Why?” Kyle had asked, looking into his wife’s face. Her thin brows were drawn together in a frown, and her sore attitude didn’t match the peachy appearance she had in her flowery gown and bright makeup.
“Why?” Anastasia repeated Kyle’s words before chuckling. “Why?” she asked again, saying it in a silly voice as she tossed the file with the divorce documents in front of him. “You’re asking me why?” she said, shaking her head as a laugh erupted through her chest. She took in a deep breath, covering her face with her hand.
“Just sign it.” Her voice was soft, but firm and Kyle did as she asked. He signed the documents and agreed to all her terms.
After Anastasia left with her promised share of their life, Kyle was left alone with Otis and a bigger hole in his pocket. He didn’t know how to handle children. He had never really been an active parent and had spent most of his time worrying about his business, but Anastasia leaving had made it just the two of them, and after a week of Otis crying his eyes out and Kyle not knowing what to do, he decided that they should move back to his home town on a whim, believing that he might be able to get his mother to help him.
Kyle sighed, blinking back so that his stinging eyes wouldn’t produce tears. Some time had passed, and Otis had gone back to sleep. It was past eight in the evening and they only had a few miles before they made it into the little town, proper. It was the middle of March now—spring—so it was only starting to get dark.
As they made it into the main town and Kyle began to pass by the houses in the residential areas, snippets from his childhood started to play in his head. He remembered being a teenager and swearing to leave Newfront. He had wanted out from the small farming town that had an aging population with nothing to do, and that was what had pushed him to move into the urban areas of California after high school before moving into a suburban district after his business took off. He’d gone from a small mechanic to a business owner, and now he was back at square one at the age of forty-two.
A lump formed in Kyle’s throat as he thought about it, but he shook his head, squaring his shoulders as he continued driving ahead. He had already promised himself that he wouldn’t let his misfortune faze him. He wasn’t a failure, and he had done a lot more than many of the people in this town could ever dream of. He had nothing to be embarrassed about.
As Kyle started to approach his childhood home—the little brown dot at the end of the street, Kyle noticed the human figure that got up from the garden chair. As they got closer Kyle could see his mother in full. The old lady was leaning on a walking stick as she waved frantically at his car. Kyle came to a stop in front of the house, and his mum climbed down the porch stairs before heading to stand by the driver’s window that Kyle had wound down.
“You’re here! I can’t believe you’re here!” the old woman said in a high-pitched tone, excitement evident in her voice.
“Mum...” Kyle trailed, smiling at his mother. He was a little shocked to see her fragile figure, but he was happy. She’s aged a lot since he last saw her. Her hair was fully gray now, and she had an arch to her posture now. It was expected, she had pushed past seventy, but seeing her up close made Kyle feel guilty for bringing his worries to her. She had sounded so excited at the prospect of taking care of her grandson, but Kyle didn’t believe that she could take care of even herself from the looks of her.
“Is that my grandson! Is that Otis!” she chirped, looking away from Kyle to stare at the boy in the backseat. Otis’ eyes were wide open, and he was staring in awe at this old woman he’d never seen before.
“Yes,” Kyle managed before his mother had ventured to open the door to the back seat. She couldn’t carry the baby chair, of course. So, she just stood by the door and held Otis’ tiny hand as she spoke to him. Otis didn’t speak much in general, and he was a lot quieter around strangers. Kyle came along soon after to get Otis out of the carrier seat, and the three wandered into the house.
Kyle’s family home had a basement, one proper floor, and an attic built into the roof. As a child, the attic had been his bedroom, and he could remember sitting on the roof and looking out into the rural town. He couldn’t help remembering his father as they went to the living room to talk. He had died sometime after Kyle had moved to California from untreated diabetes, he’d been struggling with all his life. Looking at the house. As Kyle looked around the house—as he looked at the house that was more of a Frankenstein of bad repairs and patchworks Kyle was reminded of why he didn’t want to be poor as a young boy.
Whoever said that money didn’t buy happiness had never lived with the consequences of poverty. Being poor was the reason his dad couldn’t get the treatment he needed to live a full life. Being poor was why after his mum broke her ankle after slipping on a wet floor, she had to live with a limp that could have been prevented if she had gotten a cast. Being poor for such a long time was why Kyle still had problems with reading and writing even after ‘ascending’ to the higher class. The schools were bad, the food was bad, the healthcare was bad—everything was terrible.
And he was back in the pit of poverty again.
He was back at square one.
“You’ll have to enroll him for preschool,” Kyle’s mother said, making the man remove his attention from the pictures that decorated the living room walls.
“Preschool?” Kyle asked, getting a bit panicked. Otis used to be in preschool, but after everything went to shit and he couldn’t afford it anymore he had to pull Otis out. Preschool costs an arm and a leg.
“It’s not expensive,” his mother said, bouncing her grandson on her lap. “The preschool here charges per day, and you could just not take Otis to them on some days,” his mother continued to explain.
“I’d like to be with him always, but I can’t. I still have to take care of things at the grocery store.” Kyle looked down at the old carpet. His mother was in her seventies and she was still working.
“You plan to start working too, right?” she asked, making Kyle look into her eyes. They shared the same blue eyes and facial features, only that his mother’s features were more feminine and softer.
“Yes, I’ll look at what I can do with father’s old garage,” Kyle said, and his mother smiled at him, cradling a now sleeping Otis to her chest.
“That’s good, he’d be happy to hear that if he was here,” his mother said, and Kyle just gave her a weak smile in response.
The discussion moved on to other things, and Kyle started to find himself settling into this new reality.
He was back at Newfront.