As Jemma slept Paul watched through the window, waiting for a beaten cherry Chevy to roll too fast down St. Charles Way and swing into the driveway. Mrs. Wright was already home, back from the farmer’s market and shouting at her kid who dropped half the tomatoes. Alan’s television was glaring in his window and Bob was walking his Rottweiler down the sidewalk. It lifted a leg and sprayed the edge of Paul’s lawn. He thought about standing up and shouting at the old man stop his dog, but he feared that Jemma might wake up. She slept soundly and though his arms ached from her weight he couldn’t bear to put her down.
Bob tugged the leash and started back the other way after a minute or two. That creature must have been so miserable, Paul thought. It wasn’t old, and Rottweilers weren’t meant to be lap dogs. They needed to run and play and be free. With Bob’s kid in college now it would surely start to get fat and weak. His daughter was the only person in that family who could be bothered to take care of it. Paul wondered if it was that breed have hip problems or was it something else?
Paul felt his stomach churn. The sun was beginning to set. These damn winter days were too short. Why he moved so far north was beyond him. The winters were too cold – he was in sweaters through most summer days and thick coats all through winter– and his family was so far away. His parents he didn’t much care about. They had never fully came to grips with who their son was. His sisters and his nephew, the ones who did, they were all still in Atlanta too. 690 miles away; about 10 or 11 hours on the road. It had taken at least twice that when he went the Chevy. That was before Jemma. For some reason he’d agreed to make travel to Memphis first, “since it’s on the way,” he’d told Paul. That cut a few days off their vacation. That fight lasted all through the trip home and for weeks after. Maybe it was still going on. Just thinking about it made Paul want to drive his fist into the lavender wall in his living room. No doubt the plaster would get in the carpet, and the repairs would call for a whole new coat of paint. The room wasn’t that large, though, the the house was already falling apart. It would be no great loss.
Memphis was a cute place though, and Graceland was fun, while it lasted.
For all of the shit he dragged into Paul’s life, at least that man was fun.
A red sedan turned onto St. Charles Way on the north end. It drove south, toward Paul and the slumbering bundle in his arms. He ventured out to the porch, squinting against the headlights.
The sedan sped past Paul and Jemma, tossing a meagre gust their way. It wasn’t the Chevy. It was too new and shiny and lacked the dents and scratches Paul once took the time to memorize. Jemma shifted in his arms. The quiet street erupted into a cacophony of tear-wrenching cries. Paul quickly walked back inside. A few houses down he could hear Bob’s dog barking. He pat her back and cooed to her things like “your daddy will be home soon,” and “what’s wrong, my love?” She spat the pacifier onto the floor moments after he put it in her mouth. After the second attempt Paul walked into the kitchen, panicking, sweating. He heard the clatter before he realized he was falling and jerked his body to stay upright. His side hit the edge of a countertop. He shouted “shit!” and saw the dollhouse that had been left in middle of the floor. Jemma sucked in a deep breath and wailed. Paul held his baby girl close and cooed to her, looking the pieces of the plastic pink house over, wondering how long it would take to superglue the roof back on and if Fisher-Price sold replacement plastic windows.
Jemma fell asleep in the van. It was a new lease, something Paul picked out for his growing family. The ride was smooth. Paul just wished it had better milage. A 690 mile trip would call for a couple of stops for gas. That was fine, though. Things would be better when they arrived. Paul looked at his rear-view mirror, past the sleeping baby and the suitcases, and scratched his neck where the collar of his sweater made him itch. The night was clear and the road was empty save for a bus behind him on the highway. Slowly, he out sped it. He considered calling Bob to ask him to keep an eye on the house. The paperwork would be a nightmare…he could already see his husband aghast shouting about how he was overreacting, the hours he would spend debating custody and how money will be split up. It would be worth it, he hoped. Jemma deserved a father who came home every night. It wasn’t like that bastard commuted far for work. He was a fucking bartender on Main St. It was ten minutes from home. Maybe twenty in traffic.
Paul asked the car to call his sister. The voice recognition software thought about the request and a second later Lisa’s name came up on the screen and a dial tone sounded off in the car. Paul turned the volume down, listening for any fussing in the back. He did not want to pull over.
Lisa didn’t answer. She was probably asleep, like he should have been. Her voice rose from his car’s speakers, cheerfully asking him to leave a message. The voicemail message sounded old. The smoking had gotten to her and lately her voice was all kinds of raspy. This was done before then. She sounded good.
A flat tone filled the van. Paul said “I’m coming home” and pressed the end call button on his steering wheel.