Breakfast and a Cigarette: A Novella in Four Directions
(page 5 of 6)
The new passenger was restless. He shifted in his seat, muttered to himself, and finally succeeded at catching Ray's glance.
“Good to be back on the road. I hope I never see that fuckin' place again!”
“Been there long?,” Ray asked gingerly, glad he didn't use the word 'in.'
“Eight months, seventeen days. I shouldn't have been in there at all. Hey, I'm lucky I didn't get the goddamn chair with that fuckin' scumbag lawyer they gave me. He slept through half the fuckin' trial!”
The man fell quiet for a few moments then looked at Ray with eyes that seemed to plead for understanding. The hard shell that encased him, his tough language, his bravado began to slowly dissolve. He spoke now in a softer voice, a tone nearly intimate. He stretched out his hand.
The stranger shook hands with a grip designed for survival.
“I've gotta get back there someday.”
“Really? I thought you didn't want to ever come back.”
“Yeah, right. Well, I...”
Clayton leaned across the aisle and looked at Ray as firmly as he had just shaken his hand.
“Shit man, I just met my son for the first time.”
“Yeah. Unbelievable right?”
“And you never saw him before?”
“I didn't even know I had a son. It was the 70s man, everybody was screwing everybody else. How the hell did I know. One day this kid shows me a picture of his mom. I didn't really want to see it—what do I care what some kid's mother looks like. But hey, we were hanging out together a lot. You know how it is. So he shows me this picture. And there she was. I forgot her name but I recognized her right away. I was only with her for a few weeks—I blew outta town before she knew. This was back in Pittsburgh. Hey, you know what I'm saying? You just don't look back, right? Keep moving. How the hell was I gonna know? Well, the kid's all right I guess. Yeah, a little trouble, he ain't bad though. He's tough for sure—don't fuck with this kid. That's good. He ain't big—he's like me—stocky and solid. Just got in with the wrong crowd is all. You know how that shit goes. Just like his old man. Shit, what's that saying about the acorn not falling far from the tree?
Clayton became quiet, lost in some memory. Then he looked again at Ray, tilted his cap over his eyes to block out the stream of headlights and settled low in his seat.
“I told the kid to tell his mother hello for me. Man, she was one sweet... Hey, that was a long time ago. Yeah, I gotta get back there sometime. Yeah man, definitely.”
A warm blue rain settled over Ray, spread from the back of his neck down his arms and legs and settled in a deep pool all around him. He scrunched down in his seat and closed his eyes and tried to imagine the two men, father and son—stud and seed—talking at a table in the TV room, dressed in orange jumpsuits, talking while everyone shouted answers at Alex Trebec; their lives contained and compressed behind the endless loops of barbed wire and walls too high to dream over. He pictured them together as the cold white lights that never go off illuminated everything but the truth. Clayton wasn't ever going back.
The first light of day crept out from behind a ridge of low scudding clouds in the shadow of the Blue Ridge mountains. Ray slowly awoke from a few hours of unsatisfying sleep. Sometime during the night, Clayton had slipped off the bus near a lonely crossroads. Ray had pretended to be asleep as the man rose with a grunt from his seat. Ray peered out the window and watched as he walked deliberately, the dead weight of his duffel slung over his shoulder like a body.
Breakfast and a Cigarette, Part I continues...