E.J.’s half-sister Pammy calls him. “Your poor, discarded bio dad.” Then she says like a kindergarten teacher, “Mitch kept repeating, ‘No one loves me anymore.’” She lets out a laugh. “Mom says she called him Ditch em’ Mitch em’ every time he was supposed to take you out for father/son time.”
“I’d wait at the front window for his car,” E.J. says, “even way into the night. Watching headlights splash by again and again.”
“I told him that I love him,” Pammy says. “That you love him. That Mom still—”
“I never said I don’t love him,” E.J. says, muting his TV and getting up from a small recliner. “I just wish he’d call me for a change, instead of you back in Virginia. Or Mom in Nevada. I’m fifteen minutes down the freeway from him.” E.J. paces around his small apartment, from the narrow galley kitchen to the window.
“When’s the last time you talked to him?”
“I saw him! Seven months ago he shows up at my office just before lunch.” E.J. parts the curtain, his face on either side of the coarse fabric. “He’s all excited that he won two hundred at a casino, and I thought he was there to take me to lunch. Dreaming, huh?” He stares out at the parking lot and cars and trash bin. “No, he was off to pay a buddy he owed. Even though this same buddy owed him money, he said, but that didn’t matter. He claimed that he was the bigger guy, always.”
“Sure, that’s Mitch,” Pammy says and snorts. “If he calls back, I’ll tell him to call you.”
“I’ll call him,” he says, irritated.
After a few rings, E.J. figures he’ll leave a voice message. Then Mitch picks up.
“This so-called friend keyed the hood of my vintage 280Z.” Mitch sounds croaky. “All over a misunderstanding about a broken guitar. And some wakeboards. I’ll tell you more about it another time.”
“I’ve got time now.”
“No, I’m checking out another place.”
E.J. waits for more and then says, “Hello? Hello?” Mitch isn’t there. He calls Mitch back. After all the ringing, a recorded message informs E.J. that the voicemail is full.
So E.J. calls Pammy. “Mitch is checking out another place. Did he say he’s moving?”
“No. Just that no one loves him.”
“I’m going over to see.”
“Call me later when you find out what’s what.”
When E.J. drives up to the curb in front of Mitch’s duplex, he sees a big truck parked backwards in the driveway. And when he walks across the tiny lawn, he sees Mitch’s amplifiers and two guitar cases sticking up from the truck’s bed. Two men emerge from the garage, each holding the ends of a heavy looking box. Layers of packing tape crisscross the top and sides of this box, looking like the sheen of oily skin under the late afternoon sunlight.
“I’m Mitch’s son.” E.J. notices more boxes stacked in the bed of the truck, also taped up like mummies. “Where is he?” The Datsun isn’t inside the garage
The one wearing a polo shirt and aviator sunglasses says, “He’s on his way back.”
The other man wears khakis and thin sandals. His expression is dull-witted. “Very heavy,” he says.
“Do you know if he’s moving? Are you guys helping him move?”
“Sure, what are friends for?” the one wearing sunglasses calls out.
Both men grunt as they place the wide box into the bed of the truck. The one wearing khakis delicately scratches the very tip of his nose. “On the move,” he says very slowly, grins.
“You’ve got a little vehicle,” the one wearing sunglasses says, “but we can get in some shit.” He taps on one of the guitar cases. “There’s a Stratocaster inside.” He thumbs toward the duplex. “And we’ll help you get some boxes in your trunk when you come out.”
E.J. walks into the garage. There is a mountain of boxes against the right wall. Also a few wakeboards and an ancient stationary bike. Oil stains splotch the concrete floor like throw rugs and stink up the whole place. He gives a quick look over his shoulder before going through the door; both men are watching him.
In the small living room, there is leather couch and a low glass coffee table and a few plastic lawn chairs. It all looks the same as the last time E.J. visited, over a year ago. The kitchen counters are bare, not even a toaster. But there are glasses, mugs, and dishes in the cabinets. Bottles of beer, take-out cartons, and bread in the fridge. Nothing looks packed up in Mitch’s bedroom. Clothes are squeezed so tightly together in the closet that he doesn’t bother looking for a guitar case anymore.
Just as E.J. opens the door leading out to the garage, he hears squealing tires. The truck guns it onto the street and disappears. The mountain of boxes has shrunken some. The wakeboards are gone.
E.J. goes back into the house and sits on the leather couch. He tries Mitch again. The voicemail is full. He stares at the TV, sitting on the box it came in.
Later on, E.J. stands at the top of the Mitch’s driveway. It is getting dark early. And since this is an older neighborhood, there are no streetlights. The other duplexes seem abandoned. Mitch’s garage bulb is the only light shining on the empty street.
Pammy calls to find out what’s what.
“Mitch isn’t moving,” E.J. says tiredly.
“So you’re having some quality father/son time?”
“He hasn’t shown up.”
“He’s not there? All this time?”
“Why am I here?”
Pammy mentions her bio dad. A counselor. And how they’ve talked about Mitch’s debilitating fear of rejection, and how Mitch does everything possible to make others reject him. E.J. half listens, watching a car turn onto the street and speed up. The headlights inundate everything.
Dan Crawley’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in a number of journals, including Wigleaf, CHEAP POP, Jellyfish Review, Spelk, and New Flash Fiction Review. Along with teaching creative writing and literature courses, he reads fiction for Little Patuxent Review. Find him at dancrawleywrites.wordpress.com.