Thursday, April 10, 2014

Sunday Surprise

Sundays, I would always accompany my father to church.  We’d dress in our best and head out, my hand in his, walking like that all the way to St Mary’s.  But instead of going in when we got there, we’d just circle the church grounds, round and round while the mass carried on inside.  We’d walk casually; “strolling” is the right word, without a care in the world, and all the time he’s telling me stories about Jesus and the Apostles, and how the Roman FBI had planted a spy among the disciples who turned Judas against the Lord.  He said that Jesus got nailed to the cross just for being himself, and then three days later he appeared as a ghost to his friends or later on some other people said they saw his body disappear from the tomb and float up into the sky.  My father told me that Jesus was the greatest person who ever lived, even greater than Adam and Eve, and Noah and Moses.  Even greater than Satan, whom my father believed to be the most powerful on earth.

Last Sunday, on the way home, we met a handsome couple on the sidewalk walking he couple stopped, and you could see that they were happy just to follow the wind on such a beautiful Sunday morning.

“You both look very handsome—don’t they son?  Very handsome, indeed.  Truth is, I can’t help but admire that jacket of yours.  A stunning piece of tailoring!  Jack Victor, if I’m not mistaken.  Awesome, just awesome.  And that tie, pure silk, isn’t it?  Jesus wore a tie just like that.”  My father was tracing out an arc with his movements, back and forth, left hand on his hip, right hand to his chin, nodding and smacking his cheeks.  “Tell me about your shoes.  They look like Florsheims, plain-toe oxfords?  Am I correct?” 

The gentleman was confused and amused, but also a bit taken back by my father’s familiarity.  He turned to his wife to say something but my father beat him to it:

“And the workmanship in that bag, Coco Chanel, isn’t it?  The pearl earrings, the necklace; best I’ve ever seen.”  My father was acting overwhelmed, shaking his head in disbelief at the beautiful things the couple had.

The gentleman and his wife leaned into each other, and he put his arm around her shoulder and squeezed her closer.  Glancing at me, they both pretended that I was the cutest thing they had ever seen.  Just as one of them was about to speak up, my father would pounce.

“How much would you take for the gold watch?”  The gentleman wore a blank stare, seemingly in a state of shocked at my father’s suggestion.  “My son would love a watch like that,” said my father, and turning to me, “wouldn’t you love to have one of those?”

Yes, I nodded, I would.  But I could see that the owner of it was not happy with the way things were going, and he had no intention of selling his watch or anything else to us.

“Beautiful pearls; make a fine gift.” my father said.  “Or an investment in my junior’s future.  How much would you take for them?”

“We’re absolutely not interested,” the gentlemen said, “thank you, and have a nice day.” 
He tried to walk off with his wife in his grip but my father stepped in front of them, and asked about the woman’s bracelet.  I had noticed it too: gold bands as thick as spaghetti braided around her wrist.  I thought it was beautiful, the way it glinted in the sunlight.  It looked alive. 

“We have no intention of selling anything, for any price, to you or your kid,” said the gentleman.  “It was a pleasure to meet you, and your lovely son.  We’ll be moving along, thank you.  Have a nice day?”

My father stepped left, then right, then left again, blocking their departure.  “Let’s hear from the woman, let’s hear how she feels about it all.  Let’s hear the woman’s voice.”

The woman spoke immediately: “I agree with my husband.  Now please, let us pass.”

My father rubbed his chin with his hand like you see in the movies when someone is thinking through a situation. 

“I don’t want to say this with my son present, but I’m left with no other option.” 

The man’s face was empty except for the question mark from forehead to chin. 

“Are you really happy with this man,” said my father to the man’s wife, “this man who can give you nothing but trinkets, who carries you on his arm like that handbag you have on yours?  Do you really believe he takes you seriously?”

I was lost.  I noticed the woman’s face pass from pink to gray.  I didn’t understand any of it. 
My father continued: “I don’t want the pearls or the bracelet so much as I want the watch.  The kid wants the bracelet, I think, but what kid wouldn’t?  But the watch will make him and I forget all about the bracelet.  Let’s say I buy the watch—make it 20 bucks!—and you keep the pearls and bracelet?  That sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?”  My father always prided himself on being a reasonable man in an unreasonable world, and was always asking my mother if he sounded reasonable.

The couple traded sour looks.  “I wouldn’t sell it to you for a thousand, or any other price.  Now beat it, jerk off!” 

The gentleman had grown angry with my father, which seemed an exaggeration to me.  I couldn’t understand why he was so upset.  My father was looking at the street or his shoes and scratching his chin again, shaking his head gently, but he must have noticed something going wrong because with his other hand he pulled his pistol from his coat pocket.

“Okay, the watch for 20, or I’ll take it all for nothing.”

I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears.  It was like my father was starring in a movie about strolling on a Sunday afternoon when he gets stopped by highway robbers.  The gentleman partner, face frozen in disbelief, lunged at him.  My father leapt back in time but the pistol exploded, and the man’s wrist was instantly pulverized.  Remnants of his hand were hanging from a sliver of bloody flesh and my father’s watch was broken into parts, glass barbs, brass gears and springs among pieces of bone on the ground at our feet.  At the sound of the gun, the woman on the man’s arm jumped straight up in reverse like a startled cat.  The man’s voice was calm, too calm.  A quiet confusion had him in its grip, while my father and I looked on.  I noticed that his expression had yet to register the pain of his hand’s obliteration.  The woman, in contrast, began to unsnap her jewelry—ears, neck, wrist, and stuff it all inside her purse and then thrust its embroidered leather into my hand.  I was surprised by its weight, and bulk, and I even imagined a herd of creamy cows, creamy pigs, creamy rattlesnakes wiggling off through the parched branch shrubbery.  My father took the purse from me so that I could scrunch down to pick up the gold pieces of watch, though soiled and broken, from the asphalt, stained with the gentleman’s flesh and blood.

For his part, the gentleman held his forearm just below the elbow, dancing on one foot and then the other, rocking and moaning where he stood.  My father encouraged the woman to pull herself together, and to get her man to the hospital as fast as possible, or “he’s likely to bleed to death on the street.”

The woman sprang into action.  She placed one hand on the gentleman’s shoulder and the other on his handless forearm and held tight as she could, like a tourniquet.  My father pocketed his pistol, handed the purse to me, and with my free hand warmly engulfed in his, we walked toward home where mother was waiting for her Sunday surprise, which in all those years of marriage my father had never once failed to bring home.

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