John Baum ~ Teedub Leaves Home

Even before he got out of high school, Teedub told peo­ple he might as well be an orphan. Not for any atten­tion, just to heave the truth out there. Trying on the old man’s lan­guage, he’d say, “My daddy’s of no-count.” He didn’t need him, not at all.

He was ten when his mama died. His dad­dy might should’ve gone and done the same thing, too, for all the effort he put into being a dad­dy. Teedub the teenag­er worked when he could and went to school because he had to, while the old man talked more to the tv than to him, until one day, Teedub start­ed plan­ning, and when he was ready, he pulled out the army duf­fle from the back of his clos­et, and stuffed it with clothes, an extra pair of work boots, a hat, a map, his note­book, and walked into the back room where the tv was always on the mon­ey chan­nel. He announced his plans.

When he was done, his dad­dy said, “I guess you’ll do what­ev­er it is you want, so go on and do it.”

I’m not ask­ing per­mis­sion.”

I’d wish you luck if I believed in it.”

I’ll be alright,” Teedub said.

His dad­dy sur­prised him by get­ting up from his chair and fol­low­ing him to the front door where he stopped, but Teedub kept on, down the two gray con­crete steps, and about halfway across the yard. He looked back. This felt famil­iar, stand­ing in front of the pale slouch­ing house with its scrub of weeds and yel­low­ing mon­key grass, his dad­dy watch­ing, hunched and already fad­ing behind the screen door. Teedub didn’t want this pic­ture to stick, but some­how, he knew it would lodge in his head a long while, and whether that was good or bad, he didn’t know.

Well, then,” his dad­dy said from behind the screen door.

Yep.”

This was the only house on the road, a stunt­ed off­shoot of State Route 32, a wind­ing black­top that snaked its way a mile and a half into down­town Ericksonville, and then beyond, out to the lake, the coun­ty line, the world.

Behind him, the door creaked shut, his dad­dy gone back into the house.

That was that.

Teedub start­ed walk­ing. There had been con­crete in the dri­ve­way once but that had long since cracked and crum­bled, with weeds sprout­ing up in dry wisps beneath his daddy’s car, an old cop cruis­er he bought at auc­tion. The car and the house shared the same dingy white col­or, the same patched-togeth­er look of some­thing close to a mis­take, and, like the oth­er cruis­ers he’d owned over the years, this one, too, had a sil­ver rough-edged square of duct-tape on each side that cov­ered the fad­ed star of the coun­ty sheriff’s shield.

His steps were already heavy. Here it was, damn near nine­ty degrees, the duf­fle bag strap dig­ging into his shoul­der, his back already damp. He looked at the car and back at the house where his dad­dy was prob­a­bly shuf­fling back to the tv room where he’d fall back into the tired chair to watch the mon­ey chan­nel, those num­bers and let­ters glid­ing across the bot­tom of the screen, as if the old man had mon­ey.

Teedub turned and walked back to the car, threw the duf­fle onto the passenger’s seat, and walked around to the driver’s side. Despite the scorch­ing heat on the under­side of his arms as he lay across the front seat of the old cruis­er, work­ing to pry off the pan­el beneath the steer­ing col­umn, he was grin­ning, near­ly laugh­ing. In the days before his mama died, his dad­dy had taught him this after he’d lost the key. The old man had said, “Don’t for­get this trick, but for­get I’m the one who showed you, espe­cial­ly if it’s your mama doing the ask­ing.” And then, just like now, the engine rum­bled when the wires touched and sparked, but now, it was his dad­dy, red-faced and hol­ler­ing at the door. While his mama had smacked open the screen door and come blaz­ing out into the yard, his dad­dy stayed put behind the screen door.

Teedub put the car in reverse, and shot back­wards into the street, but when he jerked it into gear, it lurched for­ward twice and stalled out. That was when his dad­dy final­ly pushed the door open and came down the steps. He was hold­ing his pants up with one hand and shak­ing the oth­er, fin­gers in a tight fist, at Teedub, who ignored the brief, sting­ing pity and maybe even a lit­tle sad­ness he sud­den­ly felt for the old man stand­ing there with a tat­tered rib­bon of toi­let paper cling­ing to his left heel, the bro­ken-down house behind him.

Teedub reached for the wires again and heard his dad­dy say, “You ain’t smart enough to steal a god­damn car, how the hell you gonna make it on your own?”

The engine rum­bled alive a sec­ond time. Teedub put it in gear and hit the gas.

He didn’t want to look in the rear-view. Something told him not to, just keep on across town to the bus sta­tion. He knew the sched­ule, had the tick­et, was ready to go. Be gone, don’t look.

He looked any­way. And then he slowed at what he saw: the old man bent at the waist, one hand on a knee, the oth­er paw­ing at the ground. Was he sick? Dying? Teedub stopped and turned around and  real­ized what the old man was up to. Teedub watched him pry a chunk of the crum­bling asphalt from the end of the dri­ve­way. He stood up as straight as he could man­age, and hurled it at the car, the chunk land­ing well short. This pathet­ic moment filled Teedub’s dreams and thoughts for years to come, drenched in dif­fer­ent tones and emo­tions, and some­times he tried to parse out what hap­pened just then and what he may have learned, rec­og­niz­ing this to be what he called a cor­ner moment.

So, what did he learn that day?

He learned that when you leave a place you know well, you can’t hard­ly do it with­out look­ing around and try­ing to drink it in a lit­tle, to remem­ber this and that in lit­tle sips. Like the net­less bas­ket­ball hoop out­side of Sweetpea’s Store a half mile clos­er to town. Used to be, he was all the time rid­ing his bike through the woods to play on that goal, buy a Coke after­wards, and, then lat­er, when he could dri­ve, he bought cig­a­rettes. Sweetpea wouldn’t ever tell. Or the dull glint at the met­al pay­phone at the Sing Gas Station in town where he and Wayne Snyder once called the cops to bust a par­ty at Margaret Gibson’s house because they hadn’t been invit­ed. Or the green dump­ster behind the Family Mart on the far side of town where Carla Miller drank a six-pack of Coors Light with him and showed him what it was like to have some­one else jerk him off. Or the bend in the road where John Rafferty careened into a tree, and then the ceme­tery along the straight­away a mile fur­ther where Rafferty’s dad­dy wept at the grave­side and then threw up. Or just the sim­ple way sun­light through the dog­wood trees might be a pret­ty thing to remem­ber instead of an old man hunched at the road­side, worn out from the pathet­ic efforts of fling­ing coun­ty asphalt at his own stolen car, his son the thief at the wheel.

And even if it took a great hunk of time to real­ize it, Teedub would even­tu­al­ly learn what it felt like to do the wrong thing at the right time, but he wasn’t study­ing that just yet. He was just like that stu­pid chick­en try­ing to get to the oth­er side. And maybe he was too young—or maybe like his dad­dy said, too stupid—to shine a light on the exact emo­tion, but some­thing shift­ed and swirled inside him when he caught the last red light on the oth­er side of town where he was forced to think, and then work hard not to, because a half block from that light sat the bus sta­tion and beyond that, the sun-baked stretch of road curved around past the indus­tri­al park and then, final­ly, the inter­state.

The tick­et had been in his pock­et a week. He’d known where he want­ed to go and hadn’t been wor­ried about get­ting there because there’d be a dri­ver, a bus­load of strangers. Perfect. But now he had his own car. A new choice hun­kered on his shoul­ders.

His dad­dy wouldn’t have trou­ble catch­ing a ride out to the bus sta­tion to pick up his car. The old man might even do some yelling, won­der­ing why in hell they’d sell a tick­et to a kid dri­ving a stolen car. Teedub smiled at this scene, but when the light turned green, he didn’t move, and when the car behind him honked, he stepped on the gas and shot through the inter­sec­tion and right on past the bus sta­tion. He rolled down the win­dow and lit a cig­a­rette, his hand bare­ly shak­ing, and he said, “I wasn’t look­ing for per­mis­sion.”

~

John Baum’s work has appeared in The Massachusetts Review, Jellyfish Review, The MacGuffin, and else­where. He lives in Atlanta with his wife, two boys, and three dogs.