UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
ZACHARY AMENDT

Scapegrace

He has two sons, the caretaker of the park. Sixteen months apart. He does
not love them equally. The one, away to California for college, has the
greater share of his father's heart, but telephones only for money. As for
the rebellious younger, the old man is slowly building respect for .... they
live together on the premises, in a brick building that once contained a
swimming pool.

Augustus Wilson, the caretaker of the park, yawns and tucks in his shirt. In
his cork soles, scratched by gravel, he makes the rounds. Both of his sons
feel far, far away, a distance that isn't the physical proximity between
them, but something else -- a generational obstacle, a way of striking at
the world. The chips on their shoulders are turning into troughs. Wilson
can't exactly figure it out.

To the park's daily patrons, he is the consummate caretaker, dedicated,
vigilant. One, a pregnant nurse who walks with her hands on her belly, is
his favorite, glowing and serene. Another, a high-school fullback, dashes in
the dirt infield. There's a Polish engineer who works on his golf swing,
laborers and cooks who organize soccer matches after work. The balance of
Wilson's day is spent thusly; cordial to strangers, strolling, picking up
trash, and chasing the teenagers, who congregate after school, away. What
he hates especially are the frisbee players.

"I can't wait to be eighteen," his son says over dinner.

They subsist largely on canned meats, on frozen dinners; they sit on the
floor in front of the television to eat. Talk is only permitted at commercials.

"Neither can I," Wilson says.

He cannot afford school for both of them. Always he is pushing, pushing the
boy toward a trade, his mother off in Kansas City somewhere.

"You ought to pursue carpentry."

"Yes," the boy will mutter. Then, "I'd make a good living at it."

"You're creative like that."

"Sawing wood?"

"There's more to it, I'm sure."

"I'd rather paint."

"You'd starve."

"In order to buy paints and brushes, yes."

Wilson is appalled at the color of his son's clothes, his thinness. The way
he wears his feelings, right there on his face. It's a dangerous way to
live.

The show resumes. Outside the wind whirls. Two squirrels sneak up on a
beverage left on a bench.

"There's no future in it. Have you talked with Jeff?"

"Yesterday."

"What does he say?"

"His classes are all right. I think he has a girlfriend. He wouldn't tell me
her name."

"That's long distance," Wilson says.

"I know."

"I'd disown him if he let this mystery woman screw up his studies."

"He won't."

"You're right. Not my son."

"He's his father's son all right."

Wilson grabs at the clicker. Its buttons sometimes stick. He beats the
device against his knee.

"I'd turn him into a eunuch," he adds.

With his knuckles for leverage, Wilson pushes himself out of the reclining
chair and takes a set of keys from off the nail in the cubbyhole by the
door.

"I'll make the last rounds now. A little tuckered out. You know what these
are?"

"Sure. Big brass keys."

"The keys to the city," Wilson says.

He locks the door behind him. As he walks in the sobering cold his mind
clears somewhat. To his left, a couple harmlessly necks under a quilt
beneath the sycamore. Ahead, a gaggle of five or six boys, clad in thick
woolen coats, walk aimlessly. The park reflects on him, its appearance and
reputation. He has sworn never to neglect it. Walking, one cannot tell his
cigarette exhales from his breath.

Once inside, Wilson smooths out his trousers. "Tell your friends not to hang
around here at night."

"It's a public park," the boy says.

"Encourage them to go elsewhere."

"They're not my friends."

"They loiter. They alarm the birds and children. This is a family park."

"You make the rules," the boy says. "You say what goes. The rule you set is
law. After all, you're the caretaker of the park."

"I'm your father, foremost. Now go wash your fork."

Later, when the boy announces, "Bedtime", Wilson lingers for a moment in the
kitchen. Upon the countertop he has laid out his finances. He cringes
writing a postdated check to Jeffrey, whom a little poverty would not hurt.
They, however, are hurting; they are going without. They live at dilapidated
Devlin Park. "The Devlin Arms," Wilson has heard it called.

"You don't have to tuck me in, Papa."

"Don't think I won't if I want to." Wilson sits on the edge of the sofa bed.
"Now what is it you're reading here?"

"Nothing." The boy grins. "The inside of my eyelids."

"Funny," Wilson says, "I've got Sleepless Nights at my bedside."

***

It must be after midnight. The boy wakes to some commotion. He can see,
vaguely, for he wears contact lenses, constables speaking to his father
outside.

"What's wrong," he asks.

Wilson, still in his bath robe, says, "We caught some of your friends with
these."

Lined up neatly on the sidewalk are several canisters of spray paint.

"Oh, is that all?"

"Only primitives draw on walls." Wilson turns to the constable, who nods in
corroboration.

The power rattles as it surges through the cables overhead, hissing. The
boy blinks rapidly, not seeing it straight. Yet the lamplight where his
father stands is suddenly quite clear.

"What are you saying about us, Papa?"

Outside, the morning cold coming on, the night shift lets off at the
automotive factory down the street, its workers' losing lottery tickets
stuffed deep in their pockets.


Zachary Amendt is 23 & new to Brooklyn, a native of Southern California. After
college (University of California, Davis), he worked as a bureau chief for City News
Service, Inc., the nation's largest regional news wire service. Last year
he authored a short novel, Onset of Trembling, which is awaiting publication
in the bottom shelf of his writing desk.







2007 Underground Voices