I always wanted my dad to be proud of me. I know he is, always will be, but there were some doubts along the way. See, I am not sure I am the son he wanted. He loves me, and I love him, but I was not the ideal child to be born to a country boy Marine from Mississippi.
In many ways we are just alike. I got a healthy dose of his sense of humor, an ironic sarcasm mixed with absurdity said in a low, deadpan tone from the back of the room. One of my favorite examples of this is a picture he took as a paratrooper. In the small photograph, you see a panaromic vista of farm land and ocean taken from high in the sky. In the very bottom of the frame are the tips of a pair of boots. The caption written in block pencil on the back simply reads, "My boots."
I also got his willingness to travel, to try new things, and to do the job right the first time so you can move on to do more. Always do more and revel in the doing rather than the accomplishment, the journey rather than the destination. Maybe that last part was learned, but he was a good if sometimes strict teacher.
We are also alike in our rejection of our father's position. Dad walked away from the library and left his mother to run it while he joined the Marines. Fate can be fickle, however, as he met a pretty young friend of his sister's that also happened to be a library student. After they were married, my mother worked at the library as the children's librarian under my grandfather until a year after I was born, when my grandfather passed away and and she took over. Dad worked offshore for years after while Mom ran the library.
Like all fathers and sons, we had our clashes. He is a healthy, active person that enjoys watching sports and being out working the land. I can be rather mired in sloth, prone to sit and read or play video games than see the sun shine. It must have hurt him when I rejected sports, as I am a rather large and imposing figure, the type that would have gone well on a defensive line had I gained muscle and worked on coordination.
But we worked it out and have a quiet understanding. My father and I love each other from afar, talk when we can about subjects we sometimes agree on, but are different people with the same goal. We both want me to do good, to be happy. Maybe as we get older we will both stop being as standoffish, and I know he's trying. I am trying to.
I could go on, but I think you see why I was not surprised to see him standing at the dispatch desk picking me up from the Banned Library Police Department and Bowling Center.
As I walked out and collected my envelope with my wallet, keys, Betty's note and other items, Dad was off to the side talking to Captain Stein. The large black man's hand swallowed my father's hand as they shook. My lawyer,Trent Darby, sat on the bench and rose when I walked out.
“We got you out as fast as we could, but the phone records were hard to get until your dad stepped in,” the lawyer said.
I had been sitting in the cell for just under forty-eight hours. Detective Parker had brought me in and from what I could tell, sat next to the door the entire time. I mean, yeah, he did find me standing over a dead body, but what the hell?
“No worries,” I said, “It’s not so bad.”
Captain Stein and my dad walked over. I shook both their hands.
“I was just convincing Tom here to come down to the station and bowl a few lanes,” Stein said.
Dad smiled, took off the blue Chevy ball cap and wiped his forehead, “Yeah, don’t think my arms are quite what they were, Rob. Maybe I’ll come down and have a beer when you’re off duty sometime.”
“I’ll hold you to that,” Stein said.
Dad and I walked out the door. I groaned when I saw the Gray Lady.
The Gray Lady is the first car I ever drove. A 1983 Delta 88 Oldsmobile, the Lady is a tank that stands out against any modern car on the road. She also stands out because of several modifications my dad has made over the years to keep her running. And because there were two goats in the backseat anytime she moved.
After retirement, Dad had begun work on my family’s ancestral land where he and my mother lived. Eighty acres of pine forest and sandy-bottomed hollows, the land was overgrown and almost too much for one man to farm on his own, so Dad went into goat herding. Soon, they were his pets. The animals would come when Dad called and followed him around like dogs. The problem came when the goats would get sick.
The land itself is split by U.S. Highway 35, with Dad and Mom in a house on one side with forty acres and the goats with the other forty surrounded by one big fence. When the goats would get sick, they would either go off into the forrest and hide themselves or socialize more and spread the illness. Dad, much to Mom’s displeasure, built a small pen for the sick animals and pulled the seats out of the Grey Lady to use as transport so the animals would not have to run across the busy two lane highway.
So as I walked up to the car I began to steal myself to fight a goat. I opened the door and jumped in, bruising my tailbone on the bucket dad had screwed to the floorboard. Two goats were in the backseat, a black and white one laying down and a small brown one chewing on what looked like the interior covering to the door. Dad opened the driver’s side door and pushed the goat back with one hand as he climbed in.
“Pop, they gonna throw up on me?” I asked.
“Nah,” Dad said, “Least, I don’t think.”
He turned on his bucket and pointed to the one laying down, “That’s Phyllis. She’s gonna give birth here soon and I was trying to get her cross the road when Rhoda jumped in. I was pulling her out when your mama called me on my cell and said she was stuck at the library and you were still at the jail. I was gonna jump out when that lawyer... whatever his name is...”
“Darby,” I said.
“Well, whatever, he said I needed to come down right away. So here I am.”
“With Phyllis and Rhoda.”
“They couldn’t drive themselves.”
I laughed at that, “Why didn’t you just take the truck?”
“Cause he said I needed to come right away.”
“Well, thanks. You call Aunt Judy for the library phone records? Prove it wasn’t me?” I asked.
Rhoda edged between us and made a lunge for my envelope of belongings. I elbowed the goat in its bony forehead and felt a bruise start to form for my trouble.
As we pulled out of the parking lot, I said, “How’s Mom taking Betty?”
He shook his head, “Your mama. She’s tough, that’s for sure.”
I knew what he meant. Mom was dealing because that’s what Mom does. Then, behind closed doors she falls apart.
“Could you take me home, then go pick her up? Tell her I’m getting a shower and will take over the library tonight and I’ll see her tomorrow. Darling can handle it until I get there.”
He nodded, “She probably won’t come. But... Hell. Damn library. I knew... I knew you were gonna end up there. Knew it.”
He slammed his hand on the steering wheel. His lips were pursed and he blinked for a second. I recognized the expression. Another thing we shared.
He dropped me off at my apartment. I went in, showered and shaved and looked longingly at my bed for a moment before walking back to the library. I let Darling go home, wanting to be alone. The night was slow, people only coming in to give condolences about Betty and use the Internet.
When Darling left, I pulled out Betty’s note.
EVAN 299 ? Z
I went upstairs to nonfiction and quickly found the book. It was little, bound in red leather. The cover was elaborately designed, what looked like Nordic runes engraved into the soft material. I turned to the title page and read.
Das Buch von Feuer und Vernunft Band Drei
Um meine liebevolle Söhne Stephan und Thomas, können Sie finden, was Sie suchen.
I looked through the rest of the book and sighed.
This is great, I thought, it’s in German.
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