The day of the promotion Junior felt a surge of excitement which he had not felt in a long time. Last time he had this feeling, he had been accepted into his architecture program, which he still hoped to complete one day. He kept the acceptance letter in his desk drawer at work, occasionally taking it out and reading it over again, thinking about how it would have felt if he had been able to graduate. Now, however, he had another letter, one that informed him of his promotion. He carried that with him in his breast pocket so he could show his father.
He parked his car in front of his fathers’ house. As he went around the hood of the car, he almost stepped into the puddle of water which was slowly draining into the street gutter. The rain had just stopped on his way over here. Luckily, he caught himself and was able to skip over the puddle and onto the neatly kept front lawn. He went and knocked on the front door, which his father had built himself. It was made of thick red oak wood and it hurt the knuckles but you had to knock because the doorbell didn’t work. It was as if you had to pay a price to see him. His father’s footsteps fell upon the floor with authority, whose verdict he felt under his own boots. Something stirred inside of him from merely feeling the vibrations of his fathers’ footsteps, his presence coming nearer, and he straightened his posture and he held his wrist behind his back like a young solider does when a drill sergeant enters the room. He eased out a long, drawn-out breath and waited. The steps were not hurried. His father did not rush for anyone. He was always in control. The door sprang open and his father stretched across the gaping entrance. Junior could tell his father had not been expecting any company for he simply wore his robe with no undershirt and he could see his father’s broad chest and specks of grey hair that covered it. Junior found himself lowering his head as if he were bowing, a natural reaction.
“Is it Friday already?” His father voice was deep and his lips barely moved. There was some stubble on his chin.
“No, it’s still Wednesday.”
“Of course I know what day it is, you think I’m that far gone?”
Junior smiled, embarrassed at taking his father’s question literally. His father often joked and asked questions that didn’t need answers but he found himself answering them anyway.
“I thought you only came to see me on Friday?”
His father stepped back, granting Junior space to come inside. Junior squeezed past his father who closed the door behind them. His father was a big man, shoulders still strong for someone his age, chest still stuck out further than his belly even though men his age often had fuller bellies. He pulled him in for an embrace. There was a musky smell to him as if he had just been exercising. When he let him go, like a little child, Junior found himself staring up at his father.
“So, what’s the special occasion?” He asked patting Junior on the back which made him stumble forward a little. Before Junior could answer his father started for the kitchen and Junior hurried to keep up with his long strides.
“I was just making some coffee. You want some?”
“Sure. Two teaspoons of sugar please.”
“I don’t have any. The doctor said to lay off so I’ve been having it black. It might be too bitter for you.”
“I think I can handle it,” Junior said.
“You sure? I guess you’re a grown boy now.”
The sound of the news anchors filled the open room as the shifting light from the television set fell upon the yoga mat that was set in front of it. The mat was flanked on either side by two sets of dumbbells. You had to take a step up from the living room onto the kitchen floor where the table was lightly decorated with just a crystal bowl in the middle with a couple bananas in it and a war novel lay on top of the morning paper. The table was surrounded by a few chairs and his father pulled one out, gesturing for him to take a seat as he went to pour the coffee.
“This any good?” He asked his father as he picked up the novel and read the back summary.
“Junk,” his father replied, “none of them can ever capture it correctly.”
He put the book back down.
His father joined him at the table, placing a cup of coffee in front of Junior.
Junior felt the warmth through the mug as he lifted the cup to his lip. His father was not lying about the coffee. He had to consciously stop himself from making a face as the bitter drink went down his throat because he could tell that he was being watched. He took another sip for good measure.
“Better now, she’s almost over her cold,” Junior said, lowering the cup down to the table.
His father spread out on the chair and faced Junior. Junior felt as if he was back in school, in the principle’s office having to answer for some wrongdoing, that he hadn’t done. The silence alone was heavy enough to cause him discomfort as his father calmly sipped his coffee. He cleared his throat and attempted to say something but his father cut him off.
“I have been meaning to thank her for letting me stay with you for those few months.”
“Oh, that was nothing. It was the least we could do.”
“I must have been a real nuisance for you to get rid of me so quickly.”
This time there was only the illusion of silence as he tried to think of a way to counter his father’s ruling but instead, he sank further into the chair or perhaps his father grew larger. Junior stared at the tabletop where his coffee cup was, watching the steam rise. Although his father had been a difficult house guest because he needed so much attention, Junior could never bring himself to tell his father the truth.
“No, it was never like that,” Junior muttered, his voice was subdued, barely above a whisper, a courteous man would have leaned closer but his father kept his imposing position. It was as if his father’s gaze could change his tone, manipulate his words, cause the letters to come out quickly, in a hurrying manner as if he were breathing hard, trying to catch his breath.
He reached for the novel again but stopped, instead he folded his hands in front of him.
“Come on, I’m only joking,” his father’s loaded hand patted Junior on the shoulder, “we can joke with one another, can’t we? That’s what men do. Your mother never understood it but I told her that it’s all play between us.”
Junior replied with a smile and a soft, “yes,” that was barely audible and sounded more like a deep exhale.
“But I must say, I would like to see you and Emily more than once a week. I’m getting up there, not much left for me. If I can’t even get my boy to come to see me, what am I still doing here?”
“Don’t say that, please, I know I should come more often but I’m just trying to do for what you did for me. I’m trying to make it easy for you. Also, while we are on that subject of work—” he went to take the envelope out when his father asked, “How are you liking my old job?”
“Do they still talk about me or have they forgotten about the old workhorse?”
“They remember, of course, they remember, how can they forget someone like you?”
“What good is a horse if he can’t gallop,” his father said, his voice flat and toneless as if he were making a statement to himself.
“Mr. Edwards speaks so highly of you there that I’ve had trouble keeping up.” He said which made his father smile. “I’ve been working so much overtime recently so that I don’t fall behind on anything.”
“Just make sure your bride doesn’t mind. That was a good thing about your mother, she understands a man’s need to work.”
“Emily is a doll. She’s always putting up with my headache but I’ll take her on a vacation or something one of these days.”
His father finished his cup of coffee. He stared at Junior’s almost full cup, knowing he had been right about his son’s taste. He took his own empty cup to the sink and started to rinse it.
“I can do that for you,” Junior said, joining his father at the kitchen sink. There was a window above the sink but the curtains were drawn. The faint sound of the drizzle outside could be heard tapping against the window. He noticed the lack of dust on the windowsill.
“I’m not that old yet,” his father replied.
“I didn’t mean that,” said Junior whose voice was drowned by the flow of the tap water. His father shut it off and placed the cup to dry on the cloth that was placed beside the kitchen sink.
“So they still remember the old bull?” He asked.
“Oh, very much, in fact, Mr. Edwards was talking to me about you today.”
“My works got you looking soft,” his father poked Junior in the belly. “Here, look at mine, still solid,” he slapped his own stomach with an open palm, “Now you must know how hard I used to work to keep in shape.”
“I guess Emily’s been keeping me too well fed,” Junior smiled.
“That’s no excuse. A man has to stay tight. Softness is an illness to his character. How can you expect others to follow you if they see this belly of yours? You can’t lead men if you can’t even control what you put in your mouth.”
“Of course I’m right, I’ve been doing your job much longer than you have.”
“I saw the doc the other day and you know what he said?” His father didn’t wait for an answer although Junior opened his mouth to reply. “He said I’m in the top percentile of his patients when it comes to physique. I told the doc I’ve never missed a day of exercising. Every morning I exercise. You should do that too or else you’re gonna fall apart when you get to my age.”
There was a hint of a joke in his father speech and so Junior smiled, weakly. His father patted him on the shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, you’ve got plenty of time to straighten up.”
“But listen I got some good news for you,” Junior said.
His father turned towards him, leaning onto the kitchen counter, arms folded across his chest.
Junior pulled out the letter from his supervisor.
“I’m being promoted,” He said, presenting the letter to his father.
His father did not accept it.
“About time we got that position.”
He turned his back to his son and picked out a glass bowl from the cabinet above. “The son always eats the sweet fruit of his father’s labor,” he said, as he poured cornflakes into his glass bowl.
“I am very grateful.” Junior’s arm hung beside him and his hand still holding the letter.
His father spoke, as he poured milk into the bowl, “I suppose that is what the purpose of being a father is, I lay the foundation, build upon it, make it nice and pretty for you to come and see further than I ever did. Congratulations.”
His father took a spoonful and aggressively shoved it in his mouth, some of the milk dribbled down his chin which he wiped with the back of his hand.
“I was thinking,” Junior said, “This new position can allow me to hire some help to look after you the days I can’t come.”
His father chewed, his jaw flexing and relaxing, his eyes staring right at Junior and Junior’s own shifted back to the tabletop, where his coffee had lost its steam.
“So you’ll be coming to see me even less?” His father asked.
“No, no, nothing like that. I just felt it’ll be good for you to have someone around to talk to and be with.”
“Why can’t that someone be you?”
Junior’s voice softened. “These past few months I’ve been neglecting Emily too much and I just thought the two of can spend more time together.”
His father did not reply. Instead, he quietly finished his bowl of cereal, the metal spoon scraping the glass bowl after each bite. Once the bowl was empty, he let out a sigh and leaned back into his chair.
“It makes sense, more time for your bride and less time for your old man. Don’t worry, I’ll be gone soon, you’ll have plenty of time after that.”
“Please don’t talk like that.”
“All these years I spent working, I only did that so I could see you do good in his life. So, I’m happy for you and now, if it means to watch you from afar, then I suppose I’ll do that, I’ll clap for you from the stands.”
He stood up, towering over Junior, “You do what you think is best, after all, you’re the man of the house now, right?”
Junior looked down, staring at his father’s strong legs and feeling the weight of his father’s touch as he lightly patted him on the cheek. His father picked up the coffee mug and carried it with the empty bowl to the sink. He poured out the coffee into the sink and rinsed out the cup before cleaning the bowl as well. He left both the cup and bowl to dry beside the other mug.
He seemed to be waiting for Junior to say something, perhaps apologize, to take back what he had said, thank him for the promotion but Junior stayed silent, his voice not allowed to speak.
“Well you must be a busy man these days,” his father said, “I shouldn’t keep you away from your mistress much longer.” He started for the door and Junior stood up without a word and followed his father’s strides.
His father held the door open for him and Junior stepped through.
“It was good seeing you,” his father said.
“Please, I would come more often if it wasn’t for Emily and the work—”
His father smiled, quieting Junior with his look.
“Your grandfather would not tolerate such words, in fact, I think he wouldn’t like you one bit for saying such things. I’m different than my father, I don’t judge like he used to. He would have judged you to be a lousy boy. Inconsiderate. He was a hard man from a different time but I still loved him and took care of him because that’s the duty of a son. But me, I don’t judge you. You do what you think is best and send my regards to my workers and also to Emily.”
The light from the sun cast his father’s shadow upon Junior whose gaze was fixed upon his father’s feet, unable to raise his head and meet his father’s eyes.
“I’ll try to make it work,” he said.
“You do what you like, son, you’re the man now.”
His father closed the door.
For a moment he stayed in the silence that was only present in his heart as the street behind him busied itself with an utter disregard. He felt so alone and so small. That silence that was within him began to break and it started as a whisper first but in seconds it turned into screams, screams of yearning, screams for acceptance, screams which wanted to hear his father simply say “I’m proud of you”, screams which were ultimately just the tantrums of a child, he understood. He took the letter and crumpled it into a little ball and threw it down the gutter as he got into his car and headed back to work. The rain fell tearfully from the skies.