Yoharie: Old Flames
Thanks to this habit of thinking things through, idled in fair contentment on his adjustable bed…maybe prompted by all those daytime shows (Yoharie liked his TV going, the noise didn’t bother the birds), during which all those women hosts called a lot of bullshit on a lot of people, he had been counting his faults.
Not that he never the whole time hadn’t figured himself in the wrong…even the first failed marriage, Michelle from high school…
Who might be anywhere now…
She might turn up on the TV.
He thought he wouldn’t know her face, and her last name would be something different. On reflection, he couldn’t recall what it had been to begin with. Johnson came to him…and he was sure it hadn’t been. Like that, though.
He’d dropped out, cause he’d been given a job driving a truck, and what could be sweeter? The two of them got hitched… They were going together, and he wouldn’t see her at school any more, and there were no adults to say otherwise. His mother more or less favored the idea.
(“Because she’s like Tina,” Dawn had said, and in a three-pack-a-day rasp mimicked, “No, he’s not mine…he’s my grandson!” She did another voice, “Oh, hon, you can’t be forty yet!”)
Michelle’s had said, “Yeah, if you guys’re fuckin around, you better.”
Yoharie chuckled, remembering the ten dollar hole. The way his uncle lectured him, reamed him out, for getting the root ball set too high, not peeling back the burlap right…
And then there’d been all the taping and the staking. His smart daughter, who’d (knowing where you did, anything) looked it up on the computer, what the birds wanted…
She’d ordered him that little bubbling fountain.
He’d watched her through the glass, back stiff, white booklet in hand, waving directions over a crossed arm. The pond liner, that Dawn and Val hid under the rocks…
Yeah…these rocks were a tad, maybe…
“Putt putt golf.”
Val said it, twitching the corner of his mouth, like he did.
“Flintstones.” Yoharie almost heard Giarma say this. Louder: “But the plants will fill in…they’ll get moss after a while. It’ll look okay.” Most of the handiwork, planting and raking in mulch and so forth, had been Dawn’s. The kids helped her dig the hole. Yoharie laughed. Hundred-bucker at least. Giarma had stood reading off the instructions for the pump. Val dug a little channel to bury the cord.
And only native plants for his feeder station…his daughter’d steered him to a sumac, a viburnum… Kind of flowering bush. A dwarf hemlock…who knew they had those? Nick used to carry blue spruce, barberry, Norway maple… But coneflowers for Giarma, and big bluestem grass out in the sun, ferns in the shade. Lots of pretty things were in the catalog you weren’t, by her rules, allowed to put in a pond. But some irises you could plant on the margin.
“That’s a way of putting it,” he’d said. “Margin.”
“I didn’t make it up.”
To finish his thought, Giarma had said also…and, he thought, ticked again, “You don’t have to stake trees, Dad.”
His uncle was still living, down in Florida. Nick had never met Giarma or Val. Now…he might ask Giarma if she could hunt down the address. For a year of staying with her dad, she was starting to ease up.
Yoharie scanned round and spotted his phone. He had the hang of this, too, calling his kids, even though they were in the house…a thing that would not have occurred to him. He hated phones, basically. From his growing up years, when his mother would pick up the receiver, sometimes just cut in and say, “Bub, you better hang up.”
Grandma would’ve called Uncle Nick…or an ambulance…why wouldn’t she? He’d told his mother that.
“Shit, you don’t even know what kind of thing could happen!”
Anyhow, his talks with his buds or Michelle were local…mostly. They had comedy shows on HBO, and he would stay on the line, tell all the jokes over again. Yeah, his Mom paid for cable. It was time he’d been wasting, he guessed.
She saw it that way, the son (like his dad) loafing on the sofa… From junior high on, Yoharie never bothered doing homework. They were gonna flunk you, so what? When you were sixteen, you’d leave. And no lie, at sixteen, he’d got down to the real work. Not until the accident ever stopped working.
No…he finished this second thought…he’d always be getting a call at five a.m., the answering machine always catch it before he could haul himself out of bed. It was always one of his bosses, wanting him to fill in someone’s shift. Yoharie had got the habit of dreading that sound, the ring, ring, half-ring.
The person at (whatever his number had been) is not available to take your call. Please leave a message after the tone.
So they’d called him. There you go. He’d been on the rig ’til nine the night before, working under lights…company hell-bent to get the job done. Penalties in the contract.
(2018, Stephanie Foster)