David A. Schwinghammer
· Soldier's Gap
· Seminary Boy, a memoir
· Fisher of Men, Chapter Nine
· Soldier's Gap, Chapter Three
· Honest Thief, Tender Murderer, Chapter Nine
· Fisher of Men, Chapter 8
· Honest Thief, Tender Murderer, Chapter Eight
· Mengele's Double, Chapter Eight
· Bereavement Blues
· Fisher of Men, Chapter 7
· Speed Dating With 'Janeane Garofalo'
· The Three Stooges, book review
· The God Particle
· Empire of Sin, book review
· Science at the Edge, book review
· Obama, a Modern Caesar?
· Americans Need to Pull Together
· Voices of the French Revolution, book review
· Great American Scandals
· Odd Man Out, book review
· Portrait of a Killer, book review
· Widow's Peak
· Alumni Game
· Girls Who Wear Glasses
· The Do Drop Inn
· Ode to Neve Campbell
· Jacks or Better 101
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A fireman anticipates his new child.
When my boy Blake fell out of that apple tree and fractured his arm, I toppled the sucker with my neighborís chain saw. The boy, on the other hand, was thrilled. Six-years-old and the only kid in his first grade class with a cast.
Since she discovered boys, my twelve-year-old, Deanna, is almost as big a handful. Sheís especially fond of Justin Timberlake, of that boy band ĎN Sync. Canít see it myself. Blond curly hair and earrings in both ears. Tinkerbellíd have more testosterone.
Every time I say something lowbrow like that, I get a tongue-lashing from the wife. I say, "Whatever happened to Elvis Presley? I could see why girls went gaga over him. Hell, I was taken with the guy."
She just shakes her head and asks me to run down to Apperts to pick up some garlic pickles. Pregnant again. Donít know what went wrong. She says, "The pill only works ninety-eight percent of the time."
Anyway, Iím out here in the waiting room, working up the gumption to go in and hold her hand. Thatís another thing. My old man never had to do Lamaze at all. And he had ten kids, me the youngest. Got to smoke while waiting, too. When I tried to light up a Lucky, that nurse got so worked up youíd think Iíd taken Susan B. Anthonyís name in vain.
I donít know what Iím gonna do to pay for this baby. Iím the low man on the totem pole at the fire department and the first one gone if thereís another budget cut. A thirty-two-year-old rookie. You should see some of the crap those guys pull on me. Really juvenile stuff. Shaving cream in my boots. Hotfoots when I take a nap. And they call me W.W., short for water works, Ďcause I cried the time we watched a video of To Kill a Mockingbird, during the part where Atticus is sitting up all night with Jem. Couldnít help it. Reminded me of Blake and that apple tree.
If it wasnít for the third-degree burns on my right hand, youíd think those guys were giving me the bumís rush. The flames were licking at the roof of that old Victorian when I tossed the Miller boy out of a third floor window into the waiting arms of Dexter Blake, my best buddy since third grade. Got a commendation from the captain.
The wife said I could name this one if I wanted to, so I went to the libraryĖ-first time Iíd ever been in the placeĖ-and got a baby book. You should have seen the look from that librarian. Youíd think Iíd had a booger hanging out of my nose. Anyway, Iíve got it down to two choices. Alexander, for Alexander the Great, was tops, but when I ran that one up the flag pole with Dexter, he told me Alexander was a fairy, that all the Greeks were fairies. I tried to tell him that if that were the case theyíd have all died out like the dodo bird.
He liked my second choice better. Benjamin for Benny, my favorite uncle who took me ice fishing when the old man never would. Pop used to say it was the only time he got any quiet time for himself. He was always griping about the crashing sounds and the screams coming from upstairs when he was trying to sleep. Fourteen hours of post mauling steers at Ely Packingíll do that to yah. Ben is a real manís name, unlike some of those the wife likes. Sheís been hinting about Scott or Todd. Please.
Oh, I forgot to tell yah. Reason Iíve been thinkiní about boysí names is cause the wife had one of those amniocentrifical tests, and the Polaroid came out a boy. Not that I wanted to know. Nobody has any patience these days.
Better get in there, I guess. Take my medicine. Last time she was in labor for twelve hours. Got a narrow pelvis. Hard on the birthing but not too hard on the eyes, know what I mean? Called me every name in the book, and I donít mean the baby book.
As a matter of fact, she ragged on me the first time we met. It was in a singles club down in the Cities. I was a rube from the Range, thatís what we call the Mesabi iron mines here in Minnesota. Fell in the love the second I saw her. Mustíve been the Ali McGraw hair and those big cow eyes of hers. Anyways, when I sidled up to her at the bar, I said, "Donít I know you from someplace? Didnít we go to high school together? Pauline, right?" She called me a Neanderthal. I could tell from the snide sound of her voice that it wasnít a compliment. Later on, Dexter, told me it was a caveman. Anyways, we finally hit it off cause the chick standing there next to her was from Chisholm, and she and me got to talking about Robert Zimmerman, better known as Bob Dylan, whoís also from the Range. Somehow she got the idea I was musical, too. By the time she found out different, she was preggo with Deanna.
The nurse is back. My, sheís a cranky little thing. Peeked face like a constipated Chihuahua. Pipe cleaner legs. Canít weigh more than a hundred pounds soaking wet. But thatís a cliche, isnít it? Dexter he reads all these fancy books for the night class heís taking at Bemidji State soís he can take the sergeantís exam, and he sets me straight when I use one of those moth-eaten expressions as he calls them.
"Youíll have to leave now, sir," the Chihuahua says.
"But my wife," I say. "Iím supposed to be in there helping birth our new baby."
"If you donít leave, Iím going to have to call security. I felt sorry for you those other times."
Iím as addled as one of those steers my pop conked with that post maul. Havenít been in the hospital since Blake was born, and I donít remember ever seeing her. She must have me mistaken for some other schmuck. "Nurse, if I donít go in there soon, my wife will divorce me. First time we had a baby, I didnít know how to deal with it and I had too much to drink . . ."
She punches a button on the wall, and before I can say Jack Daniels, this clown in a Captain Kangaroo uniform gloms onto my arm and drags me outside into the parking lot. "Back again, eh Phil?" he says. "One of these times weíre going to have to call the sheriff if you donít quit bothering people."
Itís misting outside, cold, miserable stuff, like the dampness in a mausoleum. The lights are on and a new shift is just arriving, all of them slouched with their hands shoved in their pockets, like POWís on their way to roll call.
I scan the parking lot. Iíve misplaced my old truck. "Iím confused," I say. "You seem to know me, but I donít know you."
"Benny Askew. We went to school together."
"Youíve put on weight," I joke, since I still donít remember him. "Tell me, Benny, whatís going on here? My wife is in there about to deliver a baby. I need to be with her."
"Your wife ainít in there, Phil. You ainít even got a wife, and you certainly donít have any kids. Kind of funny youíd think you did. Considering."
This has to be some kind of joke. If it is, the boys at the fire department have certainly gotten inventive. Iím going to kill Dexter. "Considering what, Benny?"
"Ah, considering the wound you got in ĎNaam. You want me to give you a ride back to the group home? Nothing much is happening around here."
"Let me get this straight. I take it you mean I donít work for the fire department? I wasnít commended for saving the Miller boyís life?"
"Well, you were a fireman. That much is true . Thirty years ago, before you drew the low number in the lottery."
Benny dumps me off at a brick building that looks as though it were once a school. A shriveled old man with white shocks of hair like corn silk meets me at the door and takes my arm. "Youíre gonna have to quit sneaking away like this, Phil," he says. He steers me to my "room", where I flop down on the lumpy twin bed and scope the place out. Brown, scratchy army blanket. Chest of drawers. Scuffed straight-backed chair. Yellow stucco walls with plaster missing. No pictures.
Tears trickle down my cheek, collecting on my lower lip. Salty. Iím crying like a goddamn baby.
Dexter wouldnít approve. Cliche, you know.†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††
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|Reviewed by Jean Pike
|Oh my gosh, David. Wow. This really took me by surprise. I was reading along, caught up in and enjoying this poor dad's story when suddenly it turned into quite another story altogether. Talk about fantastic use of irony. WOW!|
David A. Schwinghammer