The phone rang and a long international number displayed on the screen starting with 011. I thought, who the fuck is this? but before I could finish the thought I knew exactly who it was.
"Hey pop," i said.
"Bill," he said, "How are you?"
I had just seen him the day before at my uncle’s wake. His brother-in-law had died earlier that week, his sister’s husband, and we had run into each other there.
"If i had run into you in the street, I wouldn’t have recognized you," he said.
I remembered thinking that he had said the same thing the last time we had seen each other, at least three years ago.
"I’m good, pop," i said. "What’s up?"
"I saw you at the funeral, right?" he asked.
"The funeral," i said. "I saw you yesterday, at the wake. I couldn’t make it to the funeral," i said. "I had to work."
"You weren’t there today?" he asked. "At the funeral?"
"No," i said thinking, holy shit the old man has finally lost it. He doesn’t know when he saw me.
"You weren’t there today?" he asked.
"No," i said. "I saw you the other day, remember? At the wake."
"Right," he said. "You were there with your son."
"Yes," i said.
"But you weren’t there today?"
"No, I had to work," i said, getting worried now.
"So who was that with your son?" he asked.
"That was probably Jared," i said. "Did you see Jared?" i asked. "He was watching my son. Meredith had to work and so did I so we had Jared and mom watching him. That’s probably who you saw," i said.
There was a deliberate silence then, as if he was putting the facts together.
"That was Jared then," he said. "With your son?"
"Yes," i said. "It was probably Jared."
"I saw him with your son and I thought it was you," he said. "So you weren’t there today?" he asked.
"No, I had to work." i said.
"But I saw you the other day, right?" he asked.
"Yes," i said. "At the wake."
"Oh," he said.
"Why?" i asked.
"No, it was just I thought I saw you today, with your son. And when I went up to you, you gave me a dirty look, like you were mad or upset and I thought, oh my, what happened? Why is he mad?," he said. "Why is he upset?"
"No, pop," i said. "That must have been Jared you saw. I wasn’t there."
"Right," he said. "Jared. He looked at me, he gave me the evil eye and I thought it was you. He looked angry and the whole time I thought it was you," he said.
"He gave you a dirty look?" i asked. "Why?"
"I don’t know but he was upset," he said."Like he wanted to do something about it. Like he was going to tell me to step outside, you know. Because, if that’s what he wants to do, to do something about it, I was ready. We can settle it if he wants," he said.
"Pop," i said, "calm down. Why would Jared want to do that?"
"I don’t know," he said. "He just looked at me that way and I thought it was you. Are you sure you weren’t there?" he asked.
"I wasn’t there," i said. "Jared, he was with my son. He was watching him while Meredith and I were at work."
"Ok, I got confused," he said. "Maybe I was confused. You know, the last time—the last time I was at the house, do you remember?" he asked. "He came at to me, do you remember, he threatened me. DId you know that?"
“‘Cause if he wants to do something about it, I’m ready for him, you know.”
"Pop, wait a minute," i said. "I talk to Jared everyday, why would he want to do that? I can’t speak for him, but I know he wouldn’t want that. Why would he do that?"
"I don’t know," he said. "He looked at me, like he wanted to kill me," he said. "But I’m ready for him, whenever he wants, you know, we can settle it like he wants."
"Pop, are you okay?" i asked.
"I’m fine," he said. "But he was mad, you know. He was mad at me. Like that time, when I went to the house, do you remember that?" he asked.
"I remember," i said.
"You know, if that was true, what he was saying, do you know I would be in jail right now. I would be in jail if that was true, do you know that?"
"…What he was saying that day. It’s not true."
"Pop, I don’t care," i said. "All that stuff, it’s in the past. I don’t care. I know Jared doesn’t care either. Nobody cares about all that stuff in the past," i said. "It’s over and done with."
"Fine," he said. "That’s fine. It’s just I saw him and I thought it was you. I thought you were mad at me for some reason and I wanted to find out…why you were mad at me."
"I’m not mad, Pop. It wasn’t me, I wasn’t there. That was Jared."
"Right, it was Jared. I thought it was you and you gave me that look so I thought…I just thought—"
"Are you okay, Pop?" i asked.
"I’m fine," he said. "I just wanted to get that clear. I wanted to get that right. Okay," he said. "I’m glad that everything’s all right."
"Okay, pop," i said.
"So, you’ll call me right?"
"Yeah, I’ll call you."
"I’m glad everythings all right," he said. "I’ll talk to you later, okay?"
"Okay, Pop," i said.
"So everythings okay," he said. "All right, i’ll talk to you later then."
"Bye," he said and hung up the phone.
The day had started to take a turn. The happy faces from earlier had been replaced with scowls and tension.
We were all at least five beers in now, some of us more than that. Who knows how many shots the others had taken. I stopped after two but I knew the others had had more.
I looked up and saw my brother, Andy, step behind his girlfriend.
"Move," he said; not happy about it. Irritated. She moved back and out of the way. The look on her face showing she wasn’t happy about it either. But she didn’t say anything.
"Geez," said Melanie, "don’t talk to her like that!"
Andy ignored her. He picked up the two iron horseshoes out of the pit and readied to throw again.
Melanie looked at Andy’s girlfriend. “Does he always talk to you that way?”
"Easy, Melanie," said her boyfriend.
"What?" she said.
"Easy," he said again, sternly this time with more seriousness. Almost to indicate that they’ve talked about this before. About how Melanie should mind her own business next time or simply stay out of it or something to that effect.
Melanie shrugged, acknowledging her boyfriend’s implied indication as Andy lined up to shoot again.
Andy’s girlfriend just stood there holding her cocktail. She said nothing but she didn’t fool me. I could tell things were going to get ugly.
I went to the cooler and pulled out a beer hoping I’d be able to get another before the cops showed up.
One of twelve short stories the late science-fiction legend wrote for Esquire. And, weirdly, perhaps the most lasting.
Originally published in the February 1951 issue of Esquire
"What would you do if you knew this was the l…
RIP Ray Bradbury…
"I’m ready to go," she said. She, being the pear-shaped Latina in front of Courtroom Eleven. "I got a babysitter for her and everything," she said as she repositioned her hands on the handles of the baby stroller.
She was talking to a man, a skater-type, in long ragged shorts, white socks pulled to his knees and skate shoes on his feet. Vans or DC’s, I couldn’t tell. His face looked thirty-five but he was dressed like a teenager. Dark sunglasses, white T-shirt, a black ball cap cocked on his head. He was slouched on the bench, arm hung on the back of the seat next to him.
"I was suppose to be here at eight," she said. "But I couldn’t make it. So if they take me, I’m ready." She said this proudly, loud enough so the rest of us sitting on the bench could hear. She wanted to show how responsible she had been securing a babysitter for the child before the judge shipped her off to jail.
"I was here at eight," said the skater-man. "They made me come back," he said. "My son, he’s been in seven days." He sounded like a surfer, not the exaggerated-Keanu Reeves-type you hear in movies. It was an authentic sound, the kind you hear in Pierpont or Silverstrand. An I-don’t-give-a-shit tone in his cadence; his idea of cool-under-fire, perhaps.
"How long is he in for?" asked the Latina.
"He was sentenced for five—"
"Five years?" she asked.
"Yup," he said.
"Five years is a long time," she said.
"Nah," he said. "He’ll do two-three."
”Still,” she said. “That’s a long time. How old is he?”
"Eighteen," said the man.
"Is it his first time—in jail."
"No, not jail, he’s been to jail. Five or six times. This is his first time in prison, though," he said.
"Tha’s still hard, for his first time," she said. "He gets in a lot of trouble." She said this as a statement of fact. She wasn’t asking.
"We all get in trouble," he said. "My whole family does."
The guy sitting beside me turned to me and asked, “Is it one-thirty yet?”
He had dark features, this man. Dark hair, combed back, held together with hairspray, dark eyebrows and eyes. I couldn’t tell if he was Latino or Middle-Eastern. I noticed an Arabic symbol tattooed on the inside of his arm.
I checked my watch. It was five ‘til. “Almost,” I said.
An unattractive woman in a red dress coat with shoulder pads and black slacks and heels moved down the hall toward us. She reached the doors to Courtroom Eleven, tried to go in. It was locked. She knocked on the heavy doors, then knocked again. Moments later the bailiff unlocked the door. He was a stout prick, military cut, a kevlar vest under his department issued uniform. The woman, obviously a lawyer, entered first. The rest of us got up and filed into the courtroom after her.