Memories from a Layover
It was a pleasant time. My thoughts were mostly good, with little effort wasted in regret. For these reasons I found myself searching the walls for a pay phone. I had just arrived in Chicago, en-route to Seattle by train, and as scheduling goes I had a layover. I had not seen my father in five years.
I could’ve called the night before, but didn’t want to seem eager; I was curious to see him, but not desperate. “Andrew?” I asked upon his answer, though I knew it was him. I had abandoned the more endearing term dad years before in favor of his first name, but when I heard his voice, like a sad, forgotten old record, I was drenched in pity, and I offered it up as a gift: “Dad, it’s Stephen.”
“Stephen?” he said. “Son, are you okay?”
I didn’t answer his question. To answer would’ve been to forgive, and I preferred to keep him at a remorseless distance. “I’m at the station,” I said instead. I was yet to say which station. I had just referred to a stranger as dad, and he replied in form. So peculiar, I was puzzled by the sound, like I had been living in a silent world, and these were the first words I’d heard. They hung before me in alternating images: first, I saw a painting, beautiful and intricate; then I saw a noose. I studied the sound and allowed myself to feel what I would, and continued: “I’m at the train station. I’ve got some time. Why don’t you meet me, we can have lunch.”
“Yes dad, lunch.” Again, I called him dad, like a Rembrandt tacked to the gallows. “Sure, son.” And he called me son, like a van Gogh in the arms of a hangman. “I’ll take a cab. About ten minutes, okay?”
Ten minutes can be lengthened in many ways, all of which were at work that afternoon. I had dismissed his ten-minute arrival as it was heard, and doubled his offering; it would take ten minutes just to find his hat. These minutes, now standing at twenty, would double again through the course of anxiety. I paced between two ornate columns that seemed to support nothing, and was struck with a comparison: my father also served no purpose. He was a non-existent man in Chicago, a city I had never visited, never desired to visit, yet there I was, and he on his way to meet me for lunch, a lunch that would take an hour at most, and then he’d be gone. I had phoned a stranger, no different than if I had picked a number at random. Except that he was my father.
When I caught sight of him, I saw something unexpected: he was nervous. His kerchief wiped his brow and he shifted as he walked, his eyes darted left and right.
The other recollections were what one would expect: he had gained weight, lost hair. The lunch was also what one would expect: little said, less eaten. To recall the details now would serve only to tarnish his memory, and I see no reason for that. He was my dad, and for that hour, we sat as father and son. As I walked away he called out, “I’ll see you at Christmas.” Even still, I’ve no idea why he said that.
Foster Trecost writes stories that are mostly made up. They tend to follow his attention span: sometimes short, and sometimes very short. His latest publication can be found in Peacock Journal, his next in r.kv.r.y.