UNITED STATES—Now suddenly, the itch to get away was enormous, Archer felt choked by it. Night had fallen and suddenly, he was his father now, something he had scrupulously avoided becoming. He was his father without the shapeless black, London Fog coat. His father was extremely mild and contrary to the prevailing values. He never left the continental United States. Never owned a motorboat or held a pilot’s license.
His Father liked to walk down to the post office at a moment’s notice. It was only a few blocks away. Now Archer had a couple items to get into the mail for his aging mom. They were compelling reasons to pull on a crew-neck sweater and hustle to the post office. Then it came back to Archer: this was where it had happened. Here in the space on the sidewalk, his father had been stabbed.
That’s the overblown word the newspaper used, and everyone else followed suit. He really was cut by a knife. He came in the house, blood drenching his dress shirt. He hadn’t realized it till he lifted off the overcoat thick as a sleeping bag. It took a couple of stitches to sew up, and it was really lucky that he was wearing that old London Fog that kept the cut from being much deeper than it could have been.
Archer felt bad about how alone dad was left to drive himself to the hospital, later to identify the suspects. He didn’t say, “Kids come along.” That wasn’t his way. It was like he had let the knifing happen. It was so unfair, but there it was. Archer felt better that things turned around for dad, and in age came the honor he deserved, even respect from his son who as a teen mercilessly lampooned him. After he died, people had tears in their eyes remembering how children, fearing the doctor and medicine, get a lollipop or balloon from him. And he delivered prescriptions for free for years.
Archer went to the “new” post office. It had been there on Main Street for 30 years, but being away so long from the town it still struck him as new. He returned, quickly as he could.
He was crossing by the high school now where there were push buttons and stoplights. The town expressed its thwarted yearning for importance through elaborate one-way streets and superfluous stoplights. Just crossing from the high school to the Pista house, a figure loomed behind Archer on the sidewalk.
He stepped up his gait, but he knew it wasn’t enough. He stepped up the pace and then made a point to do what he’d been taught to do in Buenos Aires, look around hard. And he stared back at a featureless cut-out framed by the stoplight glare. The intruder must had had a perfect view of Archer. He saw the darkest shadow, but he stared long nonetheless and hoped to fake out the intruder and get him to believe that he had a bead on him. The other night stroller would feel observed.
After that, he made a show to look sharply to the right or sharply to the left. He supressed an urge to cross to the other side of the street by the halfway house. I will hold to the course, he told himself. Be brave.
Then it occurred how unprotected were the two estates in the middle of the block, where his dad had been attacked. One had been the newspaper editor’s with its water tower and jungly garden, set way back from the street. No neighbors were going to glance out over the kitchen sink and see anybody pass. It was the same for the stone Tudor mansion, nothing in the gaping darkness hovered over the rose garden in front of which the knifing had happened.
The thought of wholly becoming his father, being victimized in the same way, in the same place, terrified Archer.
He relaxed a little when the modest houses started, the Fullers’ (where the librarian and her sister lived), Miss Frasier’s, the Suzuki’s. He made it, he slipped away and resisted a final urge to go around the side of the house. But one could be accosted by the camelia foliage. No, he went right up the porchlit steps. No hands had grabbed him. He made it.
Graydon Miller is the author of the acclaimed story collection, “The Havana Brotherhood,” available on Amazon https://amzn.to/2wMF1ax.