by Kai-Eric Fitzner (1996)
I turned fourteen the day Kevin Delaney died.
My father was the first to have the day planned, as always with birthdays. He wanted to be prepared for all eventualities, such as wind, rain, thunderstorms and blizzards. Towards the end of March he had come up with a blueprint for a garden shed he had been working on all winter. My birthday, however, wasn’t due for another month.
„It’s always the same, right? You just can’t rely on it.“
My mother stood in the kitchen that particular Friday in March and listened patiently to her husband’s latest discoveries.
„I mean“, my father continued, „we all know it. Spring. The weather. The first time the goddamn sun’s coming out, everybody wants to sit outside, have a barbeque or a goddamned bonfire. And as soon as I get the fire going it starts raining.“
He was trembling with anger, as always when he got upset about something his mind had been spinning around for the longest time.
„What is it you want to talk to us about, Josh,“ my mother inquired with a sneer. I sat at the far end of the kitchen table trying to mind my own business, even though it only consisted of watching ’Three’s a Company’. My mother’s response shook me up, though. She knew, as well as I did, that he was having one of his fits. True, his fits had increased in number and intensity over the past couple of months. True also, it was hell living with him, even moreso for my mother than myself. Listening to her weep herself to sleep night after night even made me feel hurt. Infact, five months ago was the first time the prospect of her getting a divorce didn’t sound too bad to me. But for reasons I couldn’t grasp she didn’t. They kept on playing ’happy family’ when I was around that I began to wonder whether they thought I was stupid or something.
Anyway, she should have known better that Friday afternoon. She should have known not to approach her choleric husband like that. I sensed an argument coming.
My father looked at her, then at me, as if we were deranged. He moved his hands wildly about, trying to point at his blueprints.
„This,“ he yelled. „What do you think I’m talking about!“
My mother threw a quick glance over her shoulder, spotted his work that looked like he was planning to build a stationary object in earth orbit, and turned her attention back to the dishes.
„Well, Josh, what is it?“
„Well, Josh what is it,“ my father mimicked. „It’s a fucking garden shed. That’s what it is.“
„Mind your language.“
„Why should I? This is my fucking house. I pay the fucking bills, don’t I.“
„MIND YOUR LANGUAGE,“ my mother replied.
„Fuck! It’s not like the kid’s never heard the word FUCK before. What do you think he and his mates talk like when they’re alone.“
„I don’t care what he talks like when they’re on their own. I don’t want to hear it in my kitchen.“ Her voice was trembling and she was close to burst into tears. If my father took notice of that he hid it well.
„Your kitchen? Who paid for the fucking kitchen? You or me?“
My mother dropped the towel and slowly turned around. I could see tears running down her cheeks. She looked him straight in the eye, still shaking.
„Just you wait, Josh Ghallager, just you wait,“ was all she said before leaving the kitchen.
My father lept to his feet and sped towards the door to the living room.
„Don’t you threaten me,“ he screamed after her and, thereupon, slammed the door shut. He then turned around to look at me. I switched off the telly and arose from my seat.
„Where do you think you’re going, young man?“
I tried to put on a pitiful smile, and, even though I knew what would come from my reaction, answered truthfully.
„Away from you, Dad.“
I managed to spot a distinct river of foam floating downwards from one of his mouth’s corners.
„You fucking bastard,“ he cried and to my surprise, he did not hurl anything at me. He tried to reach out for his blueprints but his hands were trembling too much. Then he walked out the back door. A minute later I heard the engine of his Mustang roaring and watched him pull off the driveway. I thought about going upstairs to check on my mother, but for some reason I didn’t feel up to it right then.
For some time I must have stood in the kitchen, trying to figure out what had happened. Sure enough, this wasn’t the first fight my parents had had over some petty nonsense, and it hadn’t been the worst either, but somehow this one had the most impact on me – and I was unable to figure out why.
„Aw, come on. It’s not like they do that every day.“
Kevin just looked at me and tried to raise an eyebrow. He had always been eager to be like Mr. Spock and had earned quite some expertise in behaving like a Vulcan over the years. Only that day, it annoyed me thoroughly.
„Curious,“ he said. „Even though you keep complaining about your parents’ inability to communicate with one another, you are trying to redeem their behaviour by diminishing the extent of their quarrels. Fascinating.“
„Cut it out, Kev’. This is for real.“
„If I have not managed to convey the sincerity of my statement, then I should apologize.“
„Yet I sense a fault in your perception of the events. Frankly,…“
„CUT IT OUT!“
„Look, Kyle,“ he said, „there’s hardly a day going by without you bitching ’bout your parents. True?“
He was right, of course. My parents had been at each other’s throats almost for as far as I could remember. Although, there had been times, way back then, before my father got his promotion.
„True?“ Kevin repeated.
„Yeah. You’re probably right.“
I leant back against the pine tree and gazed up at the sky. It was still pretty cold towards the end of March and the air was clammy. I noticed how the back of my pants were starting to get soaked, for we were sitting on the ground of our favourite clearing in Clarisse Woods. In fact, this was the same spot where we had our first double date, about half a year before. I recalled how I was kissing Sarah Spacey behind this very pine tree, with Kevin and Jodie McAllister on the other side of the trunk. I also remembered how I heard Kevin scream, whereupon Jodie started laughing wildly. Then she had called out aloud, that she had always thought Kev’ to be pretty smart, but, judged by the size of his penis, he must be a mastermind. That was the moment, when Sarah had burst into laughter and I gave her a good slap across the face and told her to get lost. She and Jodie left, vowing to let everyone in school know about what had happened. Kevin and I had spent the whole night on our clearing watching the stars, sharing our unspoken thoughts through the magic of the moment, thus forging the bonds of an eternal friendship.
We sat for a while, neither of us saying a word, just watching the clouds go by. Finally, I looked over to Kevin, who in return gave me a gentle smile that sent a shiver down my spine.
„Thanks,“ I said, trying to clear my throat from the lump that had settled there.
„Permission to speak frankly, sir,“ Kevin inquired.
„By all means.“
„You should consider a life in solitude as opposed to that unnerving community you are forced to face at home on a daily basis.“
„You should fucking divorce your parents,“ Kevin screamed and we both started to laugh so hard that we nearly wet the fronts of our pants as well.
Later that night I lay in bed unable to fall asleep. Divorcing my parents sounded just right to me. I seriously wondered, whether that was possible, and if so, whether they would have to pay me maintenance.
It was around midnight when I heard my father’s car pull in our driveway. From the sound of it he drove right into our trash bins, which caused him to get out of the car and to swear vigorously. I noticed that he was drunk, like most of our neighbours must have, and shortly after he had managed to unlock the door, the odour of alcohol and nicotin found its way up to my room. Apparently, he then stumbled into the living room where he crashed into the chesterfield and probably lost consciousness. I took me another while to cry myself to sleep that night.
When I came down the next morning my mother and father were sitting in the kitchen, reunited as if nothing had occurred.
„Good morning, sleepybones,“ my mother cheered. „It is past ten already. Want some cornflakes?“
I just nodded and refrained from telling her that I had been awake since six o’clock, and that I had decided not to come down to find my father had puked himself to death in his sleep or, rather, comatose state. He looked it, too. I had seen him suffer from severe hangovers before, but today he looked like death.
„Morning, pal,“ he patronized me. I gave him a sharp look as I sat down.
„How would you like to go to the Mall with your father this afternoon, honey?“
„Why would I want to do that,“ were my first words of the day, upon which I received a homicidal glance from my mother. „Actually, I wanted to go over to Kevin’s,“ I added, realising my faux pas.
„ACTUALLY,“ Mom stressed, „Your father is going to build a garden shed for your birthday party and we would both appreciate it a lot, if you could give him a hand.“
Looking back on it, I should have answered ’OK. Sure, no problem. Could Kevin come along?’ but I didn’t. Instead of playing along in their little game of ’Forgive and Forget’ I decided to voice my true opinion.
„Look, I didn’t ask for no shed. Nor a birthday party, for that matter.“
This was the moment for my father’s great entrance, though he already sat there with us. He slammed his fist down on the kitchen table. Then he pointed his finger at me, to make sure I knew he was talking to me.
„Fine,“ he shouted, as always when he knew that whatever it was he was about to say, would make no sense. „You didn’t ask for it? You won’t get it! You don’t wanna help me? Fine!“
He paused for a moment to gasp for breath.
„You don’t wanna help me,“ he repeated. „Then you won’t go out, either. How about that? Infact, go to your room now. NOW!“
And that was breakfast for me. I went upstairs, slammed my door shut and lay down on my bed.
After about two hours, during which I had listened to my father cleaning up the driveway, swearing, and then leaving for the Mall, my mother knocked at my door.
„Kyle, honey! Can I come in?“
„What do you want?“
„I want to talk to you.“
She opened the door and peered into my room.
„Are you alright, honey?“
„No, Mom,“ I truthfully responded, „I’m pretty far from alright..“
She came in and closed the door behind her.
„You know, you’re not making things easier. For neither of us.“
„I didn’t know that’s what I’m supposed to do.“
„Look, Kyle,“ she sighed. „You shouldn’t be so rough on him. He works so hard to pay for the house and everything. Why don’t you give him a hand when he comes back? It would mean a lot to him.“
She tried hard to sound as if she believed in what she was saying.
„If it means so much to him, why doesn’t he say so?! I mean, he’s not building the darn thing for you or me.“
My mother looked at me sternly. It was, if only for a moment, that she could not find a way to contradict what I had just said, though she tried desperately. Then she shook herself slightly, as if to wake from a daydream, which maybe was what she was trying to do, and then taught me the daily ’right-from-wrong’ lesson.
„You know, honey, your father works very hard. Very hard. All he wants is our best. He wants us to be happy.“
Given the fact that I was thirteen by that time, and, furthermore, that I was tired from arguing and because I hadn’t slept too well, I can say my answer bears no surprise to me; not now, and certainly not then. Though I know I should have jumped up and screamed ’bullshit’ as loud as I could, I had neither guts nor nerves. „You’re probably right,“ was all I could proffer. Thus, we agreed I would help my dad that afternoon to build his garden shed, which, of course, he wanted to build to make me happy.
„Looking good,“ my father said and bit into his hamburger.
Kevin and I looked at one another not without pride. We had managed to complete the shed mere minutes before dusk. And that, I might add, only because Kevin was allowed to come over and help.
My father gently padded us on the shoulder. „Good work,“ he kept saying, „good work!“
That, from him, was high praise and we knew it. I admit it filled me with pride and I’m pretty sure Kevin felt the same.
We sat on the porch of our brand new garden shed, or rather our brand new garden house. For my father had not stopped short of constructing a building that could host up to twenty people, plus ten outside, on a veranda, which he had intented for extensive barbeque usage. And that was exactly what we’d been doing since the sun had set. We had made hamburgers, which we ate with the pleasure and satisfaction of a lumberjack having been out in the woods all day.
My mother went to bed fairly early and after we had carried the dishes into the kitchen we sat outside again, on our brand new porch and listened to my father telling us how proud he was and what an incredibly good job we had done. He then went inside in order to inform Kev’s parents as to the whereabouts of their son and asked permission for him to stay overnight to which they ’happily agreed’ as my father put it when he came back to tell us. What he did then caught me by surprise. No doubt, he had not been this happy since the day he found the old car wreckage which he now called his Mustang. He gave us a beer each and left us with half a pack of cigarrettes. „Mom needn’t know about this. Good night,“ was all he said before he left.
„Wow,“ Kevin groaned and I caught myself doing the same thing simultaneously. We hastily reached out for the smokes. After the first drag, and after the overwhelming dizziness had worn off, or at least that’s what we thought, we gazed in awe at the two bottles standing on the table. So this was finally what life was all about. Carefully Kevin reached out for the first bottle and picked it up with all due respect. He held it up for a moment, slowly waved with it in my direction and then put it to his mouth. He then placed it on the table again and let out a deep and satisfied sigh.
„What the hell are you doing,“ I asked.
He looked at me as if I was stupid. „Why?“
„Look! If you want to drink, you have to open the bottle beforehand. Same as with juice.“
„I know that. I’m practising,“ he replied and started to giggle hysterically. For reasons beyond me I joined in.
About an hour later we stood in our backyard, still giggling, smoking our third cigarette each and trying to pee at the same time.
„You know,“ Kevin said, fumbling the cigarrette between his lips „there’s nothing like a good, healthy pee amidst the grand achievements of our glorious nature.“ At this point his cigarrette decided to jump out of his mouth and to hurl itself directly into the jet of urine emerging from Kevin’s penis. Our giggling turned into hysterical laughter. Unable to control himself, Kevin stumbled forward and slipped on the moist ground. He tried to regain balance but failed, only to end up falling flat on his back before my very feet. It took me three seconds to realize, another three to contemplate plus three more to react. That left Kevin lying there for nine seconds exposed to my peeing on his pants. After I had withdrawn I couldn’t help but notice how Kevin had grown dangerously quiet. I managed a shy shrug followed by a rather silly smile.
„I…I didn’t mean to do that!“
Still, no response.
„Are you pissed off?“
He looked at me angrily, or at least that was what he was trying to do. I noticed little contortions around his mouth as if he was trying to withhold a smile. I gave him an inqusitive glance.
„No,“ he said „I’m not. I’m…“ He tried to continue, however, another seizure of the jocular kind shook him so hard, he couldn’t. I didn’t join in this time for I wasn’t sure what would happen next. He kept rolling around on the moist ground which caused me to smile – at least. After a minute or so he had regained control of his vocal chords.
„I’m not pissed off,“ he said, gasping for breath, „I’ve been pissed ON,“ he cried hysterically and this time I joined in.
The remains of the evening are merely a blur to me. I recall Kevin telling me about a movie he’d seen with his dad the other week called Blade Runner. I asked whether it had been another Hongkong ninja production whereupon Kevin enlightened me as to what this film was about. Apparently, some guy, Harrison Ford, who was a police officer, was sent out to hunt androids, which was why the movie was called Blade Runner. I didn’t quite catch the connection then, but that was due to the way Kevin told me the plot. Anyway, the next morning held another chapter ready for us on what life was really all about: do not drink unless you have no plans for the day after in the first place; do not smoke (for the same reason); do not, under any circumstances, I repeat, do not do both things at the same time (see above). We felt like deep- fried racoon dung, or at least, I felt and Kevin looked it. He insisted he felt it, too, but I was too concerned with my own ill-being. And despite an oath we took, never to drink and/or smoke ever again, this was a feeling I was to get quite used to in the future… and Kevin was not.
Birthday breakfast, leaglized torturing method for sado-masochistic parents, designed to decrease child’s annoyance threshold for the day, thus causing parents’ mood to drop below zero. I still haven’t figured out why anyone would want to go through with this. That year, I had specifically told them I didn’t want any breakfast on my birthday. Just a cup of coco would do, thank you very much. And they agreed until the morning came.
I (the child) sat in the kitchen, scrutinizing the corner of my birthday table through the ajar living room door (left open on purpose by sado-masochistic parents) while they (the parents) kept telling me not to look until breakfast was over. My father insisted on having champagne (cheap bubbly wine) with our ’Eggs Benedict’ (sunny-side-up with sour cream he had prepared himself). I told him, truthfully, what I thought of his breakfast-extravaganza (despite the fact that I didn’t like eggs, which he knew, I hadn’t recovered from my alcohol experience with Kevin and the mere smell of the bubbly stuff seemed to turn my stomach inside out), which caused him to take my plate and dump its contents in the garbage bin. Furthermore, he decided, having neglected my upbringing for the longest time, to send me to my room. Upon a mumbled ’screw you’ from my part he gave me a good slap right across the face and that was it. I lept to my feet, tears in my eyes… tears of anger. I looked him straight in the eye. For a moment I thought of all the things I had always wanted to say to him, but refrained from doing so. Instead, I knocked over the bottle of champagne. It fell and its contents splashed into my dad’s lap. Then I left the room as dignified as possible. I walked upstairs ignoring what he kept yelling after me and slammed the door to my room shut behind me.
I stood by the window and watched him leave, his Mustang’s engine roaring with fury. Deep in my heart I felt the satisfaction of having won this battle. Yet my mind refused to share this premature feeling, sensing the premonition of a lost war.
Mom wasn’t angry with me at all and gave me my presents shortly after dad had left. In fact, she was quite pleased with what I had done, though she didn’t admit it. I deduced that from her not telling me he only meant well.
„Don’t worry, sweetie, he’ll get over it,“ was all she said.
Around three o’clock in the afternoon my guests started to drop in. We sat on the porch, had hot chocolate and cake and watched gigantic black clouds gather on the horizon. I didn’t mind too much since the barbecue had been cancelled due to dad’s absence.
„Uh uh,“ said Thommy Davis, „that doesn’t look too good.“
„The weather forecast said ’sunny and warm throughout the metropolitan area’,“ Kathy Barnes added.
„It might rain in Frazer Valley, they said, though,“ Thommy replied.
Some of the other kids joined in and soon we had a discussion on how the weather was supposed to be like today – only it wasn’t.
Around four o’clock in the afternoon the anxious parents of my guests started to drop in to pick their children up, thus crashing my party. The population of the metropolitan area had been warned of a heavy hailstorm due to hit the north of Vancouver late afternoon. All of these caring parents decided their children should rather spend their evening at home, alone, afraid, than happily at my party, in the company of their friends.
My party lasted ninety-six minutes. Only Kevin and myself remained on the brand-new porch of our brand-new garden shed. Ironically, this was precisely the occasion my father had in mind when he planned the damned thing.
„It’s time for you two as well,“ my mother said when she started to clean the table. „The clouds will be here shortly and it’s gonna be quite messy around here.“
What was she talking about? This was Dad’s garden shed. His manifesto against all of nature’s petty quarrels. His castle, his… his castle?
„Aw, come on! It’s only a hail-storm. Dad built it especially for this occasion, right?“
„Right. And that is exactly why the two of you are going inside.“
„Your Dad built it!“
Nothing could be said against this wonderful piece of maternal logic. We helped her clean up the table and went upstairs to my room.
The hailstorm started shortly thereafter. Hailstones the size of rice grains (or maybe even smaller) fell from the skies and did damage to… virtually nothing. I was disappointed. The entire storm lasted for about five minutes. Five minutes. My birthday party was cancelled for five minutes of miniscule hailstones. Sorry, Kyle. No birthday in an eccological disaster area. Maybe next year.
„Look at it,“ Kevin said. He stood by the window, laughing. „It’s pathetic.“
„I can see that myself, thank you very much indeedy.“
That was all I needed: my best friend telling me how superfluous the panic had been. I was furious. How are all these idiots, these so-called parents, how the hell are they supposed to give parental guidance if a simple weather forecast freaks them out like this. I thought for a minute about switching on the radio, to listen to the news; that bands of berserk parents were rioting through downtown Vancouver looting supermarkets and hardware stores, just to be prepared for the great hailstorm.
„Why are you so upset“ Kevin interupted.
„Why? You want to know why I’m so upset? I’ll tell you why I’m so upset. I’m so upset, because my whole life is a failure. My father’s a fucking drunkard with an attitude! And my mother’s a timid fairy! Plus she’s married to that asshole, which doesn’t really help a lot! I’m surrounded by idots and assholes! Look at you! I mean, you’re supposed to be my best friend and you didn’t even get me a present for my birthday!“ That was a fact that had just occurred to me while I’d been wailing and, even though it was unfair and below the belt and everything, I had to get it out. I hoped he’d understand.
„You are mistaken. If your grief is based upon the absence of a present from my part, then sigh no more.“ He produced an envelope from his pocket. „You will find that I have not forgotten to give you an appropriate birthday gift but chose to wait instead.“ He then handed me the envelope. „Happy birthday, sir.“
I took it with a sheepish smile. „Thanks!“ I fumbled with it for a moment and added, „I’m sorry.“
„Don’t mention it.“
I opened the envelope. There were two tickets inside. Movie tickets. Blade Runner, of course. Plus a voucher for a XL Pizza at Sawmill’s. Heaven. I looked up to give him a gentle and grateful smile and saw him leant against the windows staring outside. It had started to rain.
Kevin seemed to be staring into empty space. Then his lips started to move slightly, as if he was trying to speak but couldn’t. It was most peculiar. Then, after a long pause, he finally ended the silence.
„I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe… attack ships on fire off the shore of Orion… I watched seabeams glitter in the dark near Tannhauser Gate… all those moments will be lost in time… like tears in rain… time to die.“
He then closed his eyes and let his head drop forward a couple of inches. His performance was stunning. I didn’t know what he was talking about, but it was stunning. I noticed how I had a tear in the corner of my eye and a lump in my throat.
He turned and grinned at me.
„Blade Runner,“ he said. „What else?“
What else indeed. I didn’t quite know what to say, but I felt I should say something.
„What’s a seabeam?“
Kevin looked startled. He thought about it for a moment, then shrugged.
„No idea. But that’s what he said.“
„Rutger Hauer. You’ll see tomorrow.“
„Yup. Wanna come along“ I said waving the tickets.
„I’d love to!“
„Then it’s a date?“
„It’s a date.“
Outside dark clouds had gathered. It was pitch dark and it had begun to rain even more.
„You know what,“ I said to Kev’, „You should become an actor.“
He gave a satisfied grunt.
„Why, thank you. I’m glad you liked it.“
„Really. It was brilliant. It was… „
A knock on the door interupted my praise.
It was Mom.
She opened the door and stuck her head in.
„Your mother just called. She asked you to come home. Something about your grandmother.“
Kevin looked slightly worried.
„What is it,“ I asked him.
„She’s been ill for the longest time. Maybe she’s finally made it.“
„You mean, she died?“ I couldn’t believe how casual he was about the death of a relative.
„I sure hope so. She’s suffered enough already. I’ll call you later!“
And with that he picked up his jacket, quickly walked past my Mom and sped down the stairs. I heard him hurry out the front door and watched him rush down our driveway from my bedroom window. I saw him turn and wave at me. It was pouring like hell. He looked as though he was walking through a curtain. It was impossible to see for more than ten yards.
And then I saw the lights.
Like evil eyes lurking in the darkness.
For a fracture of a second, they seemed to watch me.
Then, like slow motion, frame by frame, they moved around the corner.
I was petrified.
I tried to yell something, anything, but my lungs refused to provide the air.
He stared dead into the headlights of my father’s Mustang.
Without the noise of the pouring rain there would have been a loud crash – but there wasn’t.
Nothing was heard when the Mustang picked Kevin up and hurled his body casually over its shoulder.
And then a scream.
It must have been me, but it sounded so far away.
I turned and raced downstairs, out the frontdoor.
„What’s up,“ my mother asked. She hadn’t heard. There had been nothing to hear.
I ran past the car that had finally come to a halt amidst the trash cans. I heard the door open and my father, swearing. I didn’t care. It didn’t get through to me.
He lay there. Flat on his back. Pale as chalk. His breathing was hasty and superficial. His eyes wide open.
I knelt beside him, afraid to touch.
I saw blood coming out his ears and nose. I reached out for him, stroked his hair.
He blinked again. His lips moved, but I was unable to understand a word.
„What the hell…,“ I heard my Dad say behind me.
I turned my head vigorously.
„Shut the fuck up! Call an ambulance, will ya!“
He turned instantly and ran inside.
„… permission to…“
I turned. Kev’ was trying hard and by now a stream of blood came running out the corner of his mouth. He coughed.
„… to speak… frankly… sir?“
Despite the lump in my throat I heard myself answer, „Granted!“
He smiled and coughed once more.
He had to swallow and I could see how much it hurt.
„… go… get a… divorce…“
And with that he passed away.
I don’t know for how long I held his head in my lap and stroked his hair. I only remember being pulled away by somebody. I saw red and blue lights flashing through the rain. Somebody was kneeling over Kevin’s body… Kevin’s corpse. A woman in a dark blue coat and white pants.
„He’s dead“ she said.
The rain hadn’t stopped. And as I took a final glance at my best friend I saw how the rain had washed the blood from his face. He lay there, still pale, yet peaceful.
A hand gently moved across his face – the woman’s. She had closed his eyes. Then two guys, who seem to have appeared out of nowhere picked Kevin up, put him on a stretcher and carried him towards the blue light. I watched them disappear in the rain.
Slowly, I stood up. I walked back to the house. It was like going through a tunnel with no light on either end. My father didn’t dare to look at me when I walked past him. I went inside, into the living room where I stood in front of the phone for a while. I realized that I picked it up and dialled a vaguely familiar number. On the other end of the line I heard a familiar voice say ’Hello?’ – Kevin’s mother. I tried to speak but didn’t know what to say.
So, finally I put the receiver down and stood there.