“The music I love is by dead people,” my father says.
We’re headed to Mom’s in his truck, but he’s on a different trip.
“Dee Dee, Joey, Johnny, Tommy. All gone.” He turns up the volume over the blast of the heater, and I eye the screen of his stereo. The blue letters spell out the title, “Cretin Hop,” but most Ramones songs sound the same to me, especially when we’re headed to the house where we all once lived. On these drives his questions leave little time or space before he asks another or shouts I never listen to a word he says. Usually he scowls when I answer wrong. I’ve also gotten out of the car with a sore shoulder from a punch or two. Mom doesn’t know and doesn’t really need to, I think.
“You hear me?” he says, taking his eyes off the road and staring until I answer, “Yes.”
“Sad, don’t you think?” He gets us back in the right lane.
Four signals remain before the turn to Mom’s, where they argued about music. That wasn’t the only thing they fought over, but whenever my father would list the Ramones, she’d say, “Salt, Pepp, and Spin.” My father would groan like he’d been kicked, while Mom would complain she’d already heard enough Ramones to last her the rest of her life. Same with Bad Brains, DRI, and the other loud, buzzing bands my father still prefers.
At a red light, he smacks the steering wheel. “I’ll be joining these motherfuckers soon,” he says.
I want to touch him but that’s never been our way. “Don’t talk like that,” I say.
“Don’t tell the truth?”
A car honks behind us, seconds after the light turns green. Ordinarily, my father cusses that kind of impatience. He sees it in others, Mom says, just not in himself. But he lets this one pass and accelerates.
“Most times I’d be the one black dude at these shows,” he says. “Maybe a security guard.” He laughs. “Only thing blacker than me was Dee-Dee’s jacket.” He laughs again and I’m about to join him but he sighs and shakes his head, rakes his nails through his hair. Is it grayer than our last time together? I can’t be sure. “Long time ago,” he says. “But you don’t wanna know about that.”
I’m puzzled. Our Friday night through Sunday afternoon was better than our last. We had ribs and links from Hog Pen, watched college and pro games on a huge TV he’d just bought, and talked about the knuckleheads at the Autozone he manages. He asked about my grades and the girls I’m getting nowhere with. He didn’t drink more than four High Lifes each day. Now it occurs to me he was pacing himself, worried Mom had told me to keep track. Of course, she always does tell me just that, right before she drops me off. I’ve split my 14 years with them married and divorced. Both say it’s a good thing they only had one child, and they’re better off apart. Still, the little flutters in my chest that they could find some reason to get back together show up on these drives. The volume of the stereo keeps them from forming today.
We slide through a green light at German, and my father taps his horn, waves at the guys at Eight Days a Week Tires. I’m not sure if I want this trip to slow or speed up. And then another Ramones song comes on and my father somehow finds a higher level of loud and sings along. This is one I know, “Judy is a Punk,” most of the lyrics being the same. And when he turns to see that we are mouthing the words together, I wouldn’t mind more traffic.
No such luck. We’re turning down Amity and pulling up in the drive, helicopters popping beneath the tires. Mom walks out of the house where we all once lived together. She doesn’t wave or check her watch. She tucks a stray dread behind her scarf and crosses her arms. I’ve got my bag in my hands and am out of the truck. Walking toward Mom, the wind has me wishing my hoodie wasn’t in my bag. Mom turns around as I hear my father say, “Third verse.” I turn to say, “Different from the first,” but he has the windows rolled up and is backing out of the drive.
Tom Williams is author of Among the Wild Mulattos and Other Tales, Don’t Start Me Talkin’, a novel, and the novella, The Mimic’s Own Voice. His shorter fictions have appeared in such publications as 5 Points, cream city review, MonkeyBicycle, New Flash Fiction, and New World Writing.