Items Not Under My Control That I Plan Not to Worry About
I learned early. Don’t worry about what you can’t control. My Dad told me this after I fell off my bike. He said he was sorry after I blamed him. My Mom pointed out the apology lacked sincerity. Dad shrugged and said “There’s only so much I can do.”
He reiterated his outlook after Mom left him because he refused to move to Florida. “This is not my fault. Fifty states and I only get to choose one? Your Mom must have a homing device in her brain that only allows her to live on a peninsula between specific longitude and latitude.” I stayed with him because the idea that he hated being constantly surrounded by turquoise and pink made sense to me.
Dad had opinions on females that were much more definite than the rest of his life. Once, after watching me eye a pretty neighborhood girl walk by, Dad said, “Don’t let your eyes write a check your dick can’t cover.” The girl barely acknowledged my exaggerated smile and wave with a forced smile. Later on in high school, she actually became my girlfriend, and then dropped me mercilessly. Her name was Petra.
The day Petra dumped me, Dad and I were on the porch and he had lapsed into deflecting blame for political issues. “I don’t vote, which doesn’t make me any less of a citizen. Even though I don’t participate in public discourse in any meaningful way, once I signed a petition to allow a liquor license …” I had heard the petition story before, so I stopped listening and concentrated on the way all our blades of grass bent at the same height. The edges hovering over our neighbor’s lawn in an intimidating manner, as if waiting for it to vacate so our grass could set down stakes. Make a claim. Claim bumpers.
I caught back up with Dad mid-sentence on “… phone calls precisely when you sit down to dinner. I can’t complain, but that privilege is beat for miles by being blamed for consequences of politics I voted in. Priorities are important for a man. That’s just my opinion, but don’t hold me to it.” Yes. Never hold him to it was the moral.
In case he had plans, I told him my social schedule. “I’m staying in tonight. Petra broke up with me.”
“It’s not your fault son. Her father hates you.”
“No way. He treated me like a son, except when he was telling me to go home after I finished doing my chores over there.”
“You don’t even do chores here. Why are you doing chores over at some guy’s house? I’d give you money if you’d rinsed your god damn dirty dishes.”
“Why do you have to swear that way? Did you know he had me baptized?”
“Oh my God.”
“Don’t worry, Dad. I don’t believe in it, he was just so upset when I told him I didn’t have a religion. Not even in a nonpracticing way, like most of my friends.”
“What’s their religion?”
“I don’t know. Something Christian. I’m a nonpracticing, nondenominational.”
“What happens if you got the wrong nonspecific religion and the real one has some kind of eternal damnation?”
“First, you’re upset I was baptized now you want a fundamentalist in the house.”
“Well, you want to be in the money. I’m just surprised. What kind of chores did you do over there?
“No way, then you’ll expect me to do them here.
“Them? Now I’m really curious. Like what?
“Sometimes Petra and her Dad would have a picnic on the back deck while I pulled weeds and watered their vegetable garden. I’m going to miss that, especially the zucchini. One day you have a gherkin and two days later it’s the size of a bat only a roided-up Barry Bonds could swing. I used to make them zucchini loaves and muffins. We had zucchini boat races. I used to pour gasoline meant for the lawn mower on the insides of a halved vegetable boat shaped like a bowling pin and blaze it out in steel tubs they use to wash the dog. That way, the bottom stays wet and it won’t burn a hole through the hull. It’s ripe anyway, so it’s not the best material to light.”
“Would you stop with the god damn zucchini?”
“I thought you were interested in the chores. Sorry.”
“Kyle Kennard. That’s your ex-girlfriend’s father’s name.”
“She just broke up with me. Ex-girlfriend seems a little harsh.”
“I’ll slow down.”
“I know his name. His daughter has the same last name and I used to see mail in their house addressed to that name. I even have some return address labels. Remember when I cut my hand on their garage window while playing basketball? I was over there one day and my stitches started coming out. Mr. Kyle Kennard stuck his address labels over the stitches to keep the wound closed. He let me take home the rest of the sheet of labels in case my cut started to open up again.”
“I didn’t know you were on a first name basis. Everyone has different levels of respect accorded to them. I can only control kids in my house from calling me by my first name or god forbid, giving me a nickname.”
“That’s not what I said.”
“He hates me for marrying his high school sweetheart and blames me for her heading south to the land where every other wall looks like it was painted by a Navaho jeweler. He must have been your Mom’s high school sweetheart too, right? Not that she ever addressed the subject specifically to me. It makes sense, but whatever makes sense ain’t necessarily true either. That’s probably why your mother never asks for anything. She thinks I may be raising somebody else’s kid.”
“Jesus, Dad. What are we talking about?”
“It’s just an expression.”
“If I were you, I would want to get back at your ex. You could fuck with old Kyle. Give him extra long looks like you recognize features when gazing into the smooth, reflective surface of a koi pond you could install in the backyard…”
“You promised,” I said.
“… Since now I know about your capacity for doing chores. I always wanted a koi pond since my trip to Thailand before your mother and I got married. She told me to get it all out my system.” Dad scratched the chest hair visible from the top two open buttons on his shirt and said, “Get him off balance. He was probably worried about incest and how it was all going to have to come out.”
“He was always polite to me when I went over there. Incest? Which way?”
“He might think you’re his biological heir. The courtship of your mother overlapped at the end of their relationship. I had a paternity test done and confirmed you were mine, but I never told your mother.
“You never know what card will have to be played. I’m not showing mine until I have to.”
“Well, I wasn’t there.”
“Doesn’t matter. It’s all in the bloodlines. We could have a long-standing feud here if only you and I would agree to participate. We have deniability on our side. Trust me, I can cover the over/under.”
I was used to Dad’s betting metaphors. Another reason why Mom left. The actual betting I mean, not the metaphors. “Why was Mr. Kyle Kennard so good to me if he was worried about a relationship?”
“Reverse psychology. Surest way to get her to fall in love was to dislike you.”
“Why didn’t you do that with me?”
“It wouldn’t work with you. She doesn’t have a penis. Kennard had it easy. You’re a seventeen year old male. You’d fall for an affectionate goat.”
“Jesus Christ, Dad.”
I don’t think that religion is taking hold the way it’s supposed to.
“You barely noticed when Petra was around.” When Dad was feeling especially sociable around Petra, he’d let out an expressive grunt.
“I didn’t want to commit. This was going to happen”
“Why are you telling me all this stuff now, Dad?”
“You won’t appreciate it now, but your girlfriend/potential half-sister did you a favor.”
“Half-sister? I thought you said there were tests.”
“It’s not out of the realm of possibility. Tests were done, but not for everybody.”
“Oh my god.”
“Stop with that, you’re barely a Christian. It’s a boxed bet. We covered all combinations. Why do you want to gallop with the mustangs before you giddy-up with the rustlers?”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Says you.” Dad paused and then added, “It usually doesn’t.”
About the author:
Paul Handley's short fiction and humor has appeared in Monkeybicycle, The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, Treehouse, Gone Lawn, The Legendary, Ostrich Review and is forthcoming in Gargoyle Magazine. Cartoons are forthcoming in Hobart.