Archive | August, 2010


20 Aug

Push. He’d had this experience before, this thought before, this word before. There on the tip of his tongue and the lobe of his ear, push, one quick exhaled syllable between a thought and a whisper. Push, spoken with urgency by a strange woman, coming to him from far off as his mother squeezed him through her birth canal. Meaningless then, just a noise, prophetic forty years later with a sudden, final act. There was no coming back from this push, no turning back to defend himself from a new world rushing at him. He could only fall in anticipation of a hard landing, hold his breath convinced he would need it soon.

He was on his way to the barber. His wife Patricia likes his hair kept short. “It makes you look ten years younger, Stan,” she lies every time. She used to say five years, when the difference and the distance were not so obvious; the lines around his eyes, the gray at his temples he can’t yet bring himself to dye, require this exaggeration. Someday the Cuban woman who cuts his hair while she calls him Mr. Burke and alternates between chatting with him about the foot traffic on Columbus Avenue and speaking rapidly to the other barbers in Spanish will make him look fifteen years younger, then twenty with a little plastic surgery from some greasy surgeon on the Upper West Side, and finally just old.

He still attempts to please Patricia after eighteen years of marriage. It’s the groove he treads, as reliable as it is predictable. He sees nothing wrong with this, finding the people he knows who can’t seem to sit still, who thrive on change like a drug of which they must have periodic doses, sad and dissatisfied. He is neither. He likes his apartment on Seventy-second Street. He likes his season tickets to the theater. He likes his job, investing other people’s money in blue chip stocks and watching their joy at taking control of their lives, mastering their own destinies while collecting shrinking dividends. He performs his service with a smile, like the gas pump jockey he remembers from his youth, when his father would pull into the station three blocks from their house and say, “Hey, Scott, fill ‘er up.” Scott would expose his crooked teeth in a loopy grin, roll his eyes at Stan’s older sister Jeanette, and set about being the best darn gas station attendant anyone had ever seen in that town. “Good kid,” his father would say, as they drove off with the window clean of bugs and the smell of gas wafting around them.

Stan wanted to be a good kid, too. It is something he pushed for, a goal from the age of three. Even then, staring up at the towering figure of his father who, at six feet two inches, was as immovable and inscrutable as a mountain, he knew it was an ambition he could never achieve.

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