JM received the unexpected invitation not long after Bruno’s newly extended consultations began.
The special occasion was to honour three outstanding dentists, in New York City, a month from Saturday. Being an award recipient, requested of him was a short lecture at the seminar, the afternoon of the event.
I am honoured, but surely, there are others more worthy? JM thought, with mixed emotions.
After formally accepting, he commenced drafting a speech. With it forefront in his mind, and being preoccupied with his patients, he failed to give Bruno any consideration. The awards presentation happened to coincide with one of Bruno’s pending appointments. Becoming aware of the anomaly, his receptionist asked, “Should he be scheduled to another dentist?”
“No. Just reschedule him, when he comes in next Saturday. Give him a new appointment, but make sure you give it to him in writing.”
“Okay. If he asks why, what should I say?”
“He is not the type of person to ask questions. Just give him the new date.”
Barbara was hesitant about travelling to New York without Katherine, but she knew the importance of her husband receiving the award. He deserves it. “Can we make arrangements for Katherine to come with us. She can stay in our hotel room, and we’ll pay any extra charges.”
JM felt an unease. “The seminar and dinner will be lengthy. I would not feel comfortable knowing she is alone in the room. Being a teenager she would probably enjoy it, but for some reason I do not see it as the right thing to do. Wouldn’t she be safer at home with Mrs. K?”
“Probably, but wouldn’t it be nice if she could see New York?” Barbara was hoping to convince him of its merits.
“I’d worry about her, and concentrating on my speech would be impossible. I know that’s selfish, but these things don’t come along every day.”
“Okay. Let’s leave it the way it is.” Although she agreed, she would have liked Katherine with them.
JM was in no doubt the seminar would draw some of the finest specialists from all over the country, and many of the most innovative minds in the business.
“What if we leave on the Friday afternoon rather than in the evening? It will give us the opportunity to dine at the hotel’s restaurant. I’ll reserve a table,” he said, as they sat in bed.
“I’d like that.”
Here is my chance to buy some new dresses and shoes. I also need a new coat, and a handbag. It’s been a while since I’ve indulged myself, she thought, as she turned a page of her a magazine.
With Katherine’s fifteenth birthday approaching, Barbara had planned to buy her a black dress for her violin recital. I could get her one while we are in New York. Now, that would be something special.
Bruno, meanwhile, concluded that if he could not catch sight of Katherine in the evenings, he might do so on a weekend. By parking his truck close to the building, he was hoping he could sit in its warmth, and not stand in the persistent wind and snow. His nightly vigils would not be necessary.
Sophia exited the building early Saturday morning, wearing a camel-coloured long winter coat, scarf, gloves, and short black rubber boots, and carrying a cane shopping-basket. Bruno thought she appeared cautious as she descended the snow-covered steps to the sidewalk.
I wonder who she is. Where’s she going? I’ll just have to wait and see. He looked at his watch; 7:20 a.m.
Having cleared snow with her gloved hand from the windshield of a car parked directly in front of the building, she drove away.
The absence of other people not vacating the building caused Bruno some concern. I think I’ve made a mistake. I’ll have to come back in the night.
Not long after Sophia was approaching the same parking spot, but was driving slowly. “About fuckin’ time!” He glanced at his watch. She’s been gone about an hour and a half.
She trudged uneasily up the slippery steps, but on reaching the stoop, she placed the laden cane basket down to unlock the door with a key. Turning the handle, she then gathered up the basket and entered the building.
Bruno smiled broadly, as the front door closed. You’ve just given me what I want.
As he drove away, he silently declared, I’ll bring hot coffee and a newspaper next week. He also remembered his 11 o’clock dental appointment.
Having his own apartment allowed Bruno to come and leave, as he pleased, which meant almost no interferences from his uncle. He’ll be happy to have the couch to himself.
He had developed the habit of saving a small amount of his income each week. He was fearful of being like Jack and his uncle. Being poor and drunk was not for him. Permanent employment, a place to call home, although rented, money in the bank, were achievements he always considered were for others, and never himself.
He was still was not aware of Barbara’s and JM’s imminent trip to New York.
Barbara was behind schedule with a patient, which caused an overlap with Bruno’s appointed time.
“Barbara’s coming to see you on Saturday morning, to pick out a dress. She said she’ll be there about nine,” said the receptionist, into the phone.
There was silence.
“She’s been to New York City once before, but she’s still excited.”
She then explained Barbara’s excitement, JM giving a speech, their Friday afternoon departure.
A brief silence, before she continued. “No, Katherine’s staying home with Mrs. Kowalski. Please don’t tell Barbara I’ve told you.”
Fortuitously for Bruno the receptionist was a mine of information. He was not one for showing his emotions, but his excitement was brimming over. I need to keep calm. That’s why the dentist changed my appointment. They’re goin’ to New York City and Katherine’s stayin’ home with someone else. I have to be outside their place early on Saturday, to see who comes out. With any luck, Katherine will be goin’ with her mother.
Barbara greeted him as usual, but with his mind in a state of mixed emotions, he paid her scant attention. Even though excited by the revelations, he thought Barbara had betrayed him. She should’ve told me about the trip! Why wouldn’t she? Doesn’t she trust me?
Being in a misanthropic mood, he focused his attention on two paintings hanging side-by-side on the wall opposite the window. Both were of seaside sceneries, however, one, more than the other, had a greater appeal. The ebbing tide had stranded two small wooden rowboats on a white sandy beach. Its tranquillity was easing his conflicting feelings. Maybe it was somewhere she’s dreamt of, but never had the time to go.
He wanted to broach the subject of the New York trip, but he suspected she would lie if he asked.
Jack’s words flooded back. Try to remain calm against an enemy.
As Barbara spoke, he allowed the words to be forefront in his mind. In response to a question, only a one-syllable word he gave. Distrust for her had left him guarded.
Bruno’s yes or no abrupt answers warned Barbara of his tenseness, and having become accustomed to his fluctuating moods she decided to desist with the questioning. It’s apparent he’s preoccupied with other matters.
While she was going through her thought process, Bruno was thinking, why didn’t you tell me you were goin’ away? What are you afraid of?
Even though a large thermos of coffee and the morning paper helped alleviate the surveillance’s boredom, he was relieved to see the same woman he had seen previously.
He looked at his watch. 7:15a.m. At least she’s on time. She’d be a hard boss to work for. I like her. He admired those who were considerate of other people’s time.
“Barbara must’ve left the building by the rear door. It’s eight-fifteen,” he mumbled, as he sat in his truck with a coffee in hand. What if I’ve missed seeing Katherine? Has she already gone? I should knock on the door and tell whoever’s there that I need to talk to Barbara urgently?
Because his paranoia was running rampant, muddled thoughts were bombarding his brain. “Pull yourself together!” he yelled angrily.
Suddenly his stress level eased. The solitary figure of Barbara stood on the stoop.
“She’s copying the other woman,” he muttered, as he watched her do almost the same routine. Walk down the steps, clear the snow from a car’s windshield, then drive away.
Even though the snow had ceased, the ambient temperature was uncomfortably cold. It, too, was almost a copy of the previous Saturday. Witnessing an elderly man trying to remove the accumulated snow from the front steps gave Bruno an idea. If no one’s ’round it’ll be to my advantage. I need a front door key. I could follow the old woman next Saturday and steal hers. What if I’m caught? That’s no good! I need a better plan before Barbara leaves on her trip.
With Sophia’s return, his thoughts turned to a hot breakfast at the diner. His stomach was starting to growl. His hunger always increased in colder weather.
The sweet pungent odour of freshly brewed coffee invading his nostrils gave him a sense of comfort. The diner, being a micro cosmopolitan, also gave him the opportunity to observe others while they drank coffee or ate.
“Hi, Nick!” Bruno said, as he seated himself at the counter. The sound of Stan’s booming voice announced itself, above the chatter of other diners. He’s probably drunk, he thought.
Instead of ordering a coffee he walked toward the kitchen; curiosity had the better of him.
Because the scene in the kitchen was completely unexpected, his immediate reaction was one of apprehension. Sitting on a stool was Jack.
What the fuck is he doin’ here? Bruno had given him almost no thought from the moment he had driven from the trailer. How did he track me down, and what’s he fuckin’ after?
“What are you doin’ here?” Bruno asked suspiciously. He’s the last person I want to see.
Jack ignored the sound of disbelief in Bruno’s voice. “That’s a great welcome, especially from a son.
Aren’t you glad to see me?”
“Yeah.” Bruno lied. He looks the same, he hasn’t changed. Except, he’s awake and upright, and not as drunk.
“You’re looking okay. Stan said you’ve got a good job.” Bruno, suspecting Jack was fishing for information, did not reply.
“It’s okay … nothin’ special. I’m lookin’ for somethin’ that pays better.” He threw in the latter comment as a deterrent. He’s goin’ to ask for money.
“I can understand you leaving. Living in a trailer’s not the best.”
Livin’ in the trailer had nothin’ to do with it! He still doesn’t get it! The anticipated action Bruno was expecting never eventuated. He envisaged Jack coming at him wildly throwing punches. I don’t want to fight him. But if I’m forced to, I will. “I have to go somewhere, I’ll see you later,” he said, as he looked at his watch.
Stan did not reply; he was too busy cooking breakfast orders.
“I’ll be staying with Stan for a while. I’m going to check out some bars to see if they match Texas hospitality. I needed a break from the rigs so I thought I’d come and say hello to Stan. I’m glad we caught up.” Jack’s words were monotone; emotionless.
He’s come a long way just to say hello. Jack’s visit was already a regret.
Jack’s unannounced visit had given Stan a feeling of unease. With Jack around it usually means trouble is coming, he thought. He was happy to see the end of his shift. Being a Saturday, and a shorter working day, the cooking had been easier. His lazy shift he called it.
Bruno wanted to talk to his uncle, but he knew he would have to wait until Jack was not present.
“Don’t say anythin’ to Jack about me seein’ the shrink. He’ll think it’s a sign of weakness … and we know what he thinks of weak people.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t.”
Bruno knew from experience that the evening was sure to end in one hell of a bender, so he needed an excuse not to attend their bar crawling.
Stan, meanwhile, thought, boozing’s okay, but I’m too old for fighting. However, Jack shouldn’t involve Bruno.
It had been a long time since Stan had been in the cooler, and he wanted to keep it that way. Some local cops, who frequented the diner, would drive Stan home if they found him drunk on a sidewalk. They considered it a better option than locking him in a cold cell. He could sleep in his own bed.
Jack was Stan’s opposite when it came to bar crawling. Stan was quiet, not wanting to be confrontational. Jack, on the other hand, was volatile. If he had returned from a night out, was not drunk, did not have a black eye, a busted lip, and grazed bloodied knuckles, not had was a good time.
Stan agreed to provide Bruno with the excuse that his girlfriend had made prior arrangements. If Jack’s not happy, bad luck!
Stan and Jack’s yelling and whooping, as they entered the building in the early hours of Sunday morning, woke Bruno.
They probably woke everyone in the buildin’, but they don’t care. One thin’s for sure; I won’t see or hear from them until Monday mornin’.
Jack entered the diner’s kitchen still hungover, mid-morning Monday. Stan was in a similar state, except his duty was to prepare customer’s orders, begrudgingly.
Deposited onto the bench in front of Jack, by Stan, was a plate of ham and eggs. His sudden appearance had caused Stan angst. “Eat it and get out of here!”
The sounds created by Jack’s scooping and slobbering, as he ate, were similar to those of a pig at a trough.
In a foul mood, and tired of listening to Jack, Stan decided to issue an ultimatum. “I’m staying home tonight. I’ll buy some beer, but if you want anything else, you get it.”
Jack did not reply.
Stan hoped he would not be staying more than the week, brother-in-law or not. I’ll go crazy if he stays longer.
With Bruno having his own apartment, Stan had reverted to his old self. He liked living alone, so Jack’s presence he loathed. The stench in the apartment was also becoming unbearable.
Jack thought showering, or washing his clothes, was a wasted energy, and he had not taken a liking to Boston.
It’s crowded and the buildings are jammed together. It’s like being wedged between the walls of a ravine, with no way out. It was good to see Bruno and Stan, but they’re not my drinking buddies. Home. I’m goin’ home.
“I’ll stay ’til Friday, then I’ll make my way back to Austin,” Jack said, as he leaned back against the chair. To counter the lean, his right knee was jammed against the kitchen table’s edge, while in his left hand was a mandatory can of cold beer.
Although Bruno wished Jack was already on his way, the unexpected announcement was still good news.
“I’m going to trawl some bars on the way back, make the acquaintances of a few new girls . . . if you get my meaning. I’ve got a little over a week before I have to be back on the rig, but anything’s likely to happen between now and then. It’ll depend on how much cash is left over,” Jack explained, laughingly.
Stan and Bruno looked at each other. They knew Jack better, than he knew himself. There would not be any cash remaining; it would all go on booze and women. However, the announcement surprised neither of them. His whole life revolved around living and working in Texas; and his meagre belongings were there. An odd assortment of clothing in a rundown trailer, while the truck he was driving had seen better days.
I have never known him to be without a beer, Bruno thought, as he studied the sorrowful sight representing the person he would have liked to call Father.
If it wasn’t for Roy, we’d be livin’ on the streets, and not in the trailer. It’s not much to look at, but at least it was a roof over our heads. Come Friday Jack will be on his way to Texas. Thank God he’s goin’. Uncle will be at work. Bringin’ Katherine back to the apartment should be easy.
As Stan and Jack sat at the table, Bruno had no doubt about their intentions, for they were already into the groove of drinking. Stan had been true to his word; he had purchased some beer, but Jack had also bought plenty of his own. Crushed beer cans already lined the table, a reminder of their conquests. Scattered on the table, and underfoot, lay pieces of pizza crust, while four empty pizza boxes lay open on the small kitchen bench.
“I’ll see you next time I come to Texas. I won’t tell you to stay sober … it’d be a waste of time,” Bruno said to Jack, as he shook his hand.
I won’t tell him I’m never goin’ back. He threw a farewell over his shoulder as walked from the apartment, “See you tomorrow, Uncle.”
“What bee has got up his arse?” Jack growled, just before pouring more beer down his throat.
Stan, having tired of Jack’s attitude, let loose with an alcohol-fortified verbal spray, “Have you looked in the mirror lately? You’re a lousy father. I wouldn’t want you as my ol’ man.”
“Fuck you!” Jack shouted, as he attempted to raise himself from the chair. “I’m okay. Don’t talk to me about being a bad father … at least I am one.” Jack was now upright, but starting to sway.
“Fuck’n sit down before you fall over!” Stan yelled.
Stan’s raging mood gave Jack a reason to give way to his demand. “Let’s have another drink . . . we can fuckin’ fight later.”
Jack stumbled into the diner and sat at the counter. “I’ll have the usual, Nick,” he mumbled.
Even though his head had a tendency to droop, he managed to scoff his food. He wiped the back of his right hand across his mouth and walked into the kitchen.
“See you, whenever,” he said, as he slapped Stan between the shoulder blades.
Not waiting for a reply he walked from the diner and threw his old bag into the rear of his truck, before getting into his truck for the long drive to Texas.
Stan gave a miniscule of thought to wishing him a farewell, but decided against it. Why waste the energy.
He desperately wanted Jack out of his life.
Bruno was thinking of Jack as he drove to work. I won’t be seein’ him again! Goodbye, and don’t come back.