Tom Williams ~ Third Verse, Different from the First

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.