Your station wagon turns right onto 33rd, left on Klickitat, roaring up that steep hill that precedes your house. You know this route, but don’t think of the streets in turns and hills, because you could drive home in your sleep. You think about your three children, two daughters out of the house and the son still living at home. They are adults you don’t understand. They’ve all gone religious and you don’t know where they got it. Your daughters go to a southern Baptist church on Grand Avenue, where the preacher thumps the podium so hard during the sermon that the pine edges have begun to chip off. Your son drives his listing Datsun to a basement in Sellwood, where a group of fifteen people have started their own congregation. You have been to each of these churches once. It was enough to tell you you don’t know your children.
Right out of high school, your daughters married, against your wishes. This was how your wife married you, and there are certain traits and habits you don’t want them to inherit. They each wore her dress, to save you money, but spent more on fancy finger food so it was all a wash. Your son-in-laws are both short and mechanics – one for the Army and one for Japanese cars. They themselves are cousins, both raised without fathers. In high school they sold auto parts from their grandmother’s basement.
You wanted your children to want to go to college. You don’t understand why they didn’t. Their friends all went and left them living at home and you think this desertion – a thing they didn’t see coming – contributed to their quick leaps to the altar. You went to college, because your older brother did. Tried to follow his exact footsteps – same school, same fraternity, but you couldn’t stand it. The back-slapping, constant practical jokes, the women brought over to get drunk and in bed. You transferred to a small private college and quit with one term left. Always you could feel the disappointment from your father.
The youngest and brightest, you would say, is your son at twenty. But no college either. Works the Cheese Department at a high-end grocery. Twice he’s been offered promotions and turned them down. He just wants to stock cheese. Brings you wheels of gouda. You don’t understand his lack of ambition. He has no girlfriends or personality. He folds the laundry for your wife.
You were once a top paper salesman. But young family members in the paper company were made officers and they in turn promoted their new brothers-in-law and laid off their veteran salesmen. It was a recession year and they had to make choices. You drove a Sheraton airport shuttle for a while. But you were fired for making an unscheduled trip to get a guest to his plane on time. You have this thing about kindness. Then you started shuttling your eldest daughter’s twins to school and soccer, for ice cream, helped them build solar systems from styrofoam balls. Now your daughter has decided the school system is evil and she’s quit her job as an x‑ray technician to home-school these children. Doesn’t want them exposed to the heathens of public school, she tells you. You begin to spend more time in your wood shop, turning candle holders on the lathe from laminated oak stock. You sell them on the street corner on Saturday mornings and always sell out, but the wood shavings are starting to irritate your nose and you have a rash inside your right nostril. It’s hard to get a real job when you’re over sixty.
This week you’ve offered to help a friend build a garage. It’s a thing you know how to do but it doesn’t pay well. Still, you wish it would take longer to build, it’s work you enjoy and your friend tells jokes about priests and brings you bottles of Miller High Life.
Tonight as you vroom up the hill you may just keep going. Since the kids have left your wife is snippy. You once won a trip to Hawaii for selling the most paper, and she wants those days back. Another trip – Bermuda, Cozumel, even your own coast, which is not warm. But you stall, thinking of a week alone with her lowered expectations.
You’d like to drive to your brother’s – the one who was such a hit in the fraternity. But your times together always result in one Manhattan too many and it pisses your wife off when you come home offering breath bloated with rye.
Another night in the garage turning wood. Maybe this time you’ll make a bowl, surprise everyone. Maybe use ash, or walnut, or something exotic like koa. Carbide tips cutting right to the center and wider and wider to make hollow.
Martha Clarkson manages corporate workplace design in Seattle. Her poetry and fiction can be found in monkeybicycle6, Clackamas Literary Review, Seattle Review, Portland Review, elimae, and Nimrod. She is a recipient of a Washington State Poets William Stafford prize 2005, a Pushcart Nomination, and is listed under “Notable Stories,” Best American Non-Required Reading for 2007 and 2009. She is recipient of best short story, 2012, Anderbo/Open City prize, for “Her Voices, Her Room.”