Finding Cronos

Francisco_de_Goya,_Saturno_devorando_a_su_hijo_(1819-1823).jpg

1.

I knew Marie was finishing late tonight, so I ate an early dinner at the pub. I had a couple of pots with a counter meal and was feeling good when I stepped out into the crisp, dry, mid-winter evening. I was crossing the parking lot when I saw something I didn’t like.

This guy, his wife and two little kids were milling about a late-model Ford station wagon. The streetlight above flickered on and the circumferent spill of yellow light illuminated their car.

The wife was bent over in the rear passenger door, baby on her hip, struggling with the baby capsule. The little girl played nearby. The little boy was spinning around, arms out, singing to himself.

“Come on, what are ya doing?” The father demanded. He walked around the car and stood behind his wife. “What’s wrong with ya? Hurry up – we’ll be late!” The father pulled her away from the car by the arm. “Get out of it,” he said. I heard the belt click just before he turned around and shut the door.

“Come on kids,” the mother said, giving the impression she was used to marshalling the children when their father started to lose his cool. The little girl ran to her mother’s side, but the boy kept spinning; utterly absorbed in his careless, carefree circles.

Streetlight glinted off the paint and chrome of the cars. Shards of glass winked amongst the coarse grain of the bitumen.

Dad stalked over and smacked the kid on the arse, so hard it knocked him off his axis of rotation and he fell onto his knees. And immediately burst into tears. Dad yanked the boy to his feet.

“Holes!” the father cried. “Holes in the knees of your pants!” He bought back his big, hard hand like a tennis racquet and started smacking away, using the impacts to punctuate his remonstration.

“See-what-happens-when-you-don’t-do-what-I-tell-you?!” He released the kid, who went screaming around to the far side of his mother and clung to her dress. She shushed him and ushered both children towards the pub.

“Jesus Christ,” said Dad to himself. He took a packet of cigarettes from where it was tucked into the sleeve of his t-shirt and lit one. He exhaled a cloud of smoke on a gust of relief and walked several feet behind his family towards the gaming room. The little boy pulled open the door for his mother and they went inside. I broke into a run to catch up.

I was wearing sneakers, so the father hadn’t heard me approach from behind. I reached over his shoulder and held the door shut. I closed the other hand around his bicep, the way he had grabbed his wife.

My hand almost fully encircled his arm. I drew him out of the doorway and pushed him back against the building.

“You want to watch out,” I told him. “That kid might grow up to be like me.”

He looked shocked for a minute – after all, who’s crazy enough to pull you out of the pub doorway by your arm? But given the subject, he knew himself to be the expert. His face shriveled into a mask.

“Whadda you care?” he demanded.

“Listen,” I continued, pulling him a little way forward and slamming him back against the wall, “It’s my business if I say so. Now, shut your mouth or I’ll shut it for you.” His eyes went from mine to the free hand that dangled at my side.

“What’s going on?” demanded his wife, appearing at the top step with the baby in her arms. A child peered out from behind either side of her dress.

“Why are you doing this in front of my family?” he asked, skilfully turning the tables. It was at this point he reminded me of Stevo.

“Cause you’re an arse hole,” was my reply. I swung him away from the wall and let him go.

“No!” cried the woman, wanting to go to her husband, but anchored by the baby. The two children ran to their father. He struggled to keep his feet as he skittered to a halt. She seemed embarrassed and avoided my eye, but the kids didn’t.

“Leave my daddy alone!” the boy said. “Leave my daddy alone, you big bully!”

Three men appeared in the doorway; an older man in a suit, wearing  glasses and two younger men. They both wore the uniform of Pokies staff. The lights of the pub shone bright and fuzzy behind them.

“What’s going on here?” asked the man in the suit. I was embarrassed to discover I had no appropriate answer. I thrust my hands deep in my pockets, turned my back and walked to the car.

The house was dark when I got home. Marie was still out. I sat and read for a while, but I had to put the book down. I thought about the family at the pub, and that started me thinking about my mother and father. And Stevo, and Mrs. Petracevic, and finally, Leonie.

When Marie came home, I was awake. We made love and then she went to sleep, snoring like she was unzipping the wall with her mouth. I stared at the roof.

No answers. I got out of bed and I guess that’s why I’m still up. Sitting here, writing to you. Hopefully, a disembodied voice is better than no voice at all.

You know, the most difficult thing, the rock that I strive against, the one that sits on my chest when I wake up in the middle of the night, has a character. I cannot fathom, I cannot understand, I cannot find the words to form the ideas which will explain… why a parent would seek to actively destroy a child.

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