Tommy faded in and out of consciousness for hours, but when he finally regained his senses, he realized that he was lying in a pool of blood. He tried to move, but his back cried out in pain. Tommy began to panic; his breathing grew in speed and intensity until hyperventilation set in. Again he faded out.
When Tommy opened his eyes, bright white lights momentarily blinded him. Once he regained full sight, he looked to his left and saw a plump blonde woman putting medicine in an IV bag. Tommy followed the wire and realized the IV bag was for him. He sat up quickly, and the nurse who saw the confused look on his face, sat him back.
“Sit down and relax, honey. I just need to check your vitals and then the police officers outside are going to come in and ask you a few questions. It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes."
As the nurse checked his vitals and replaced his IV bag, Tommy glanced out the window and saw his father talking with two men in uniform. One was writing down information in a small, green notebook while the other seemed to be asking most of the questions. After a short time, the men knocked on the room door and were motioned in by a wave from the nurse.
“Can we have a few minutes alone with the boy? We just need to clarify a few details with him,” asked the taller of the officers.
“I’m actually just finishing up,” said the nurse. She left the room and quietly closed the door behind her. Once she was gone, the officers turned back towards Tommy.
“My name is Officer Willingham and this is my partner, Officer Johnson,” said the one with the notepad. “We just need to ask you a few questions about what happened on the night you were admitted to the hospital.” Tommy didn’t say anything, but merely nodded to show that he understood.
“First, can you tell us what you did that night?” asked Officer Willingham.
“Can I answer these questions later?” asked Tommy. “I’m pretty tired right now.”
The two officers briefly glanced at one another. Tommy thought he could see signs of irritation on Officer Willingham’s face as he took a step back and let Officer Johnson speak.
“We understand that this is a difficult time and that you’ve suffered a traumatic experience, but we need you to answer a few questions so we can help you. I promise it’ll only take a few minutes.”
“So can you tell us what you were doing on the night you were admitted?” asked Officer Johnson.
“Nothing, really. Just sat around the house and read a book in my room.”
“And your father was home as well, correct?”
“Yeah, he was watching some old John Wayne movies in his bedroom.”
“It’s our understanding that he was drinking, too.”
“I saw a bottle of Jack Daniels on his dresser, but I never actually saw him take a sip.”
“How often would you say he drinks?”
“More than he doesn’t,” said Tommy.
“Do you think the alcohol contributed to the accident?”
“Accident? What accident?”
The officers exchanged a glance.
“According to your father, the two of you started horsing around after he was done with watching the movie. He said he’s remodeling the kitchen, and that he accidentally pushed you into some sharp metal scraps.”
As the words sank in, Tommy froze. He couldn’t believe it—not only was his father lying, but these idiots believed his stupid story, too. The whole thing didn’t make any sense.
“Tommy? Excuse me, Tommy?” Officer Willingham’s raised voice shook Tommy out of his daze. “Is something wrong?”
Tommy sat there rubbing his hands together, the sweat building up and soaking his palms. He knew he was in complete control of his father’s life. All it took was one answer, either yes or no. Obviously, the answer was yes, something was definitely wrong! But no matter how hard he tried to muster up the courage to speak, Tommy couldn’t do it. Lightheaded, his stomach twisting itself into knots, Tommy had never felt so weak, so helpless. How could he let the officers know the truth if he couldn’t admit it to himself?
With a lump in his throat, Tommy said, “We’re not remodeling the kitchen…”
“Thank you for your time,” said Officer Johnson.
Not long after that, Tommy watched as Officer Willingham and Officer Johnson took his father away. He wondered if he would ever see his father again. Or if he’d ever want to.
Just a day later, a social worker stopped by to talk with Tommy.
“Hello, my name is Ms. Freeman. I work at the center on MLK and 7th; Officer Johnson called our office late yesterday afternoon and asked that someone come down here to meet with you as soon as possible. Over the next few days, I’m going to help you find a place to stay once your stay at the hospital is up.”
Help. First the officers, and now Ms. Freeman—suddenly, everyone wants to help me out, thought Tommy to himself. Where was all this help before his father attacked him? Hell, it’s not like any of these people actually understood what had happened. Tommy knew he was the only one who could help himself.
“So where are you going to send me?” asked Tommy.
“Well, I’m hoping that we can find another relative for you stay with. Family’s important at a time like this.”
“I don’t really know many other family members,” said Tommy. “My dad and I never really went to any reunions or anything like that; his side of the family is pretty small anyways.”
“Oh, I see. I’m going to need to run back to the office for a few hours, then. When I get back, hopefully you’ll have a new home.”
Tommy waited for hours for Ms. Freeman, and as the afternoon wore on, he was concerned that she wasn’t coming back. Maybe no one wants me, thought Tommy to himself. Finally, Ms. Freeman returned carrying a stack of papers and manila folders.
“Well, I’ve got some good news. We found a relative who’s willing to take you in,” said Ms. Freeman.
“Who?” asked Tommy.
“Her name is Mae Weddington. She’s your great aunt, and she lives down in Nashville.”
“Nashville? That’s all the way down south.” Tommy had, admittedly, never been to the south, but he imagined being shipped off to a remote farm, where his only friends would be the cotton and the cattle. After all, southern cities like Nashville were much different than Detroit. No, Tommy wasn’t the toughest kid on the streets. Not anywhere close. But there was a certain appeal to living in Detroit. The abandoned buildings, with broken windows and graffiti tattooed on the brick, the corrupt city government that stole millions from the people, and the constant guttural hum that came from the automotive factories, as smoke billowed out into the sky--somehow, this bleakness was something most Detroiters took pride in. Like the city itself, Tommy had been through more than most people, and he was always comforted by the fact that, somewhere in Detroit, someone else was struggling just like him. He could wear the city’s rough exterior and feel better about himself, and he wondered if it would be the same in Nashville, where people spoke in slow, methodical drawls and apparently were too nice for their own good.
“I know, but you really don’t have any other options. Now I need you to help me fill out all of this paper work so we can get the process started.”
“What kind of paper work?”
“My office needs to find the proper funding to fly you down south. If everything goes well, you’ll be in Nashville in a couple of days.”
“How long do I have to stay with her?”
“Until you’re an adult.”
Three years, thought Tommy to himself. Then he’d be free.
Tommy met his great aunt Mae for the first time just a few days later. She waited on him at baggage claim. The only reason Tommy knew it was her was because she was holding a large white sign with his name written on it. He grabbed his bags and nervously walked towards her.
“Hi, uh I’m Tommy. Are you Ms. Weddington?”
“I am, but you can just call me Nanny Mae. Now here, let me help you with some of those bags.”
“Oh, uh, thanks,” said Tommy.
He took a deep breath as he watched her waddle towards the parking lot, her body leaning slightly to one side from the weight of one of his bags. She was much different than any old woman he’d ever met, though he hadn’t met many. During his flight from Detroit, Tommy had played out their first meeting a million times in his head. By the time the plane had taxied to the gate, he had convinced himself that he was being sent to live with some old, conservative redneck woman who would complain to him about “the war of Northern Aggression” and other nonsense. However, it seemed Nanny Mae hadn’t lost a step in her old age. Tommy had noticed a certain sparkle in her eyes, one that offered hope. After they loaded his bags into her car, they left the airport.
“The house is quite a ways from here,” said Nanny Mae.
“That’s fine,” mumbled Tommy.
“I really think you’ll like it. I can’t keep it as clean as I used to, but it still makes a nice place to call home.”
“I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
“Is fine the only thing you know how to say, boy?”
“No, I guess not.”
“Don’t be so shy, now.”
“Sorry,” said Tommy.
“It’s alright. My husband was the same way when we met. We were right ‘round your age, I think.
“What’s he like now?”
“Dead for a few years now.”
“Oh. I’m sorry fo-”
“It’s fine, dear.”
The remainder of the car ride was spent in silence, and Tommy watched as the city of Nashville, with all of its country music bars, turned into countryside. Buildings were replaced with endless fields filled with cattle, horses, and of course, cotton. At one point, Tommy even saw a man riding a tractor on the other side of the road. As they sat at one of the few red lights on the road, Tommy noticed a large white home off in the distance. It reminded him of the plantation homes of the slavery era. He noticed that Nanny Mae seemed to be driving towards the house.
“Whose house is that?” asked Tommy as he pointed at the plantation home.
“Oh, that’s mine. It’s beautiful ain’t it?”
As they pulled into the driveway, Tommy looked on with amazement. The front porch was much bigger than anything he’d ever seen in Detroit, with two massive pillars on each side. From the porch, Tommy could look down over the whole countryside, the hills rolling like waves down into the valley. It was unlike anything he’d ever seen before. Once they were inside, Nanny Mae gave him a full tour of the house, including the library that her husband had added on himself before he died. Finally, they reached his room.
“This here’s your room, boy. I know it ain’t much, but you can fix it up however you’d like,” said Nanny Mae.
With dark hardwood floors the color of maple syrup, a bed big enough for three people, and a large window overlooking the farmland below, it was the biggest bedroom Tommy had ever seen. “This is fine,” said Tommy, still trying to hide his sudden excitement. That night, after a first meal of fried chicken, biscuits with gravy, and mashed potatoes—apparently the truest of all southern meals—Tommy unpacked his bags and tried to soak the day’s experiences in.
Despite Nanny Mae’s attempts on that first day, Tommy still felt a little uneasy about his big move south. It’s not that he didn’t like her, but he just found the whole rural, Southern lifestyle very odd. However, as he lay in bed that night, it began to storm, the brief flashes of lightning filling up his room. Like most other things, Tommy had never quite experienced such a thunderstorm. Soon, he realized that these thunderstorms happened all the time, and that the best time for watching them was in the late afternoon. Because of this, he spent most of his time sitting on his great aunt’s porch waiting for storms. Tommy watched as the bright yellow sunlight and white clouds turned into an ominous mixture of black and grey, he listened as the herds of cattle mooed, their cries for help as loud as the booms of thunder, and sometimes he felt the storm. He loved the way the wind blew across his face, the way the hairs on the back of his neck stood up with each crack of lightning, the way the earth vibrated after each clap of thunder, and most of all, the way the cold rain felt on his skin. Occasionally, he would walk outside and sit in the rain until he was soaked to the bone. These were the moments when Tommy was at peace.
One day as he sat through an especially rough storm, Nanny Mae came out and sat in the chair next to him.
“You like these storms, don’t you?” she asked.
“It’s my favorite thing about being down here.”
“I don’t mind them so much myself, as long as they don’t do no damage or nothing.”
“Yeah, but if they ever did, you know I’d help you fix this old place up.”
“That’s mighty sweet of you to say such a thing. I’ll keep that in mind.”
After a few moments of silence, Nanny Mae spoke up again.
“Listen boy, there’s something I need to talk to you about.”
“Ok, what is it?”
“Well, I think you know I’m not one to do much socializing or nothing like that. I really do enjoy living all the way out here, but it can get a little lonely, too—after all, it’s just me and God’s creatures. There’s a couple old friends of mine who come out here from town every once in a while, and I was wondering if you’d be alright with me having them out here for some supper on Sunday? I know you haven’t seen much of anybody since you got here.”
“Yeah, I guess that’d be OK,” said Tommy.
Throughout the rest of the week and weekend, Tommy helped Nanny Mae pick up around the house. He’d never had so many chores in his life—from cleaning the gutters and mowing the lawn to washing windows and scrubbing toilets—Tommy was doing it all. He didn’t mind it as much as he though he would, either. Nanny Mae even showed him how to cook a few things from scratch. However, what Tommy liked best about these moments with Nanny Mae was the way she treated him. If he made a mistake or didn’t do something quite right, she didn’t yell, curse, or punish him; instead, she’d give a soft smile, the wrinkles of her spreading across her face like a sign that she’d seen it all, and then she’d tell him to try again. For the first time in a long time, Tommy was starting to believe in himself again.
After a week of exhausting, yet fulfilling work, it was finally time for the Sunday supper. Tommy a little nervous about meeting Nanny Mae’s friends, especially since none of them had probably ever heard of him or his father. He imagined them asking so many questions—why are you here? Where are your parents? How long are you planning to stay for? —Questions Tommy wasn’t sure he was ready to answer. Just thinking about them made him sweat through one of his shirts so that he had to change again before the meal. He came down the stairs just as all of Nanny Mae’s friends were sitting down for supper.
“There you are, boy. I’ve been looking all over the place for you,” said Nanny Mae.
“Sorry, I was getting ready up in my room.”
“That’s alright. Just come on and sit down so we can bless this meal.”
At first, supper went by smoothly as Nanny Mae and her guests mostly chatted amongst themselves, with Tommy chiming in occasionally. Eventually though, as Tommy feared it would, the conversation shifted in his direction as Nanny Mae’s friend Otis started asking questions during dessert.
“So Tommy, how are you liking Nashville so far?” asked Otis.
“Yes sir, it’s not too bad so far. A lot different than Detroit, but I like it a lot,” said Tommy.
“He likes to sit out on the porch during storms. Remember that real big one we had last week? The boy sat out there for nearly three hours, even with wind blowing the rain every which way,” said Nanny Mae.
“Well ain’t that something; I never heard of something like that before. Mae, which school you sending this boy to in the fall?”
School. Due to all the free time he’d had so far, Tommy had nearly forgotten that school would be starting shortly. He hadn’t gone to school with a different group of kids since elementary school. The idea of meeting new people in a new place terrified Tommy. What would they say about his scar?
“Well, I was thinking about Andrew Jackson since it’s nearest to me.”
“That’s a mighty fi-“
“I didn’t realize I was going to school,” interrupted Tommy.
“No school? An education’s the most important thing to a man nowadays—except for his family and good manners,” said Otis.
“I don’t know if I’m ready.”
“Ready for what? The War of Northern Aggression’s been over for a long time now, ain’t nobody going to bother you just ‘cause you’re from Detroit,” said Otis, trying to lighten the mood. “Plus, it ain’t like you’ve got some sort of defect or something. You’re a normal boy, just like any other kid your age.”
“No, I guess you’re right. If you’ll excuse me, I’ve been a little tired lately so I’m going to try and get some sleep.”
Tommy glanced over at Nanny Mae, stood up, and walked upstairs to his room. He didn’t come downstairs for the rest of the night.
The next morning, he awakened to the smell of fresh buttered toast, crispy bacon and scrambled eggs as Nanny Mae sat at the foot of his bed with a tray full of food.
“Sorry about Otis last night. He didn’t know any better, he was just trying to be friendly and make conversation,” she smiled softly.
“It’s alright,” said Tommy.
“If you’re Uncle Buck was here, he would’ve straightened him out real good.”
“Did they not get along?”
“Oh no, nothing like that. Your uncle was just an honest, good-natured man. He didn’t like to see anyone hurting. I remember this one time; I think it was fall of ’86 or maybe it was ’87, anyways, the crops didn’t do too well that year and your Uncle Buck and I were struggling a little more than usual. Every year up to then, he’d been giving Christmas gifts to children at the local foster home—he’d pick a new child every year and it was really something to see. Well, since we weren’t doing so well on account of the crops that year, your great uncle didn’t have enough. That crazy old man couldn’t sleep for days, until finally he went back into town and got a short-term job at the hardware store so he’d have enough for one of the children at the foster home. Sometimes, he did the darndest things.”
“He sounds great, I wish I could have met him”
“Me too, boy. Me too.”
The rest of summer flew by, but Tommy enjoyed nearly every moment he spent with Nanny Mae. They went to concerts, the rodeo, and she showed him all the great spots in Nashville, including the home of Andrew Jackson and the Grand Ole Opry. By the time August rolled around and it was time for school, Tommy felt more comfortable in Nashville than he had anywhere else, in a long time.
On his first day, Tommy walked slowly up the concrete steps of Andrew Jackson Memorial High School. It was certainly different than his school back in Detroit. For starters, you didn’t feel threatened immediately after you walked in the front door. Also, the hallways and classrooms were well lit with natural lighting from windows, giving the school a certain liveliness that the dark, damp classrooms back in Detroit could not provide.
Just as Tommy expected, everyone at Andrew Jackson High was just as nice as Nanny Mae and spoke in a similar drawn-out drawl. At the end of first period, he was introduced to his student guide for the day, Jason.
“Nice to meet you, the name’s Jason,” he firmly shook Tommy’s hand.
“Hi, I’m Tommy. Nice to meet you too.”
“We don’t usually get too many newcomers around here. Where are you from?”
“Oh, uh, I’m from Detroit.”
“Detroit, huh? I ain’t ever been there. Is it nice?”
“No, you’re not really missing much.” The boys grinned at each other.
Tommy spent the rest of the day traveling around with Jason, getting to know the ins and outs of AJMHS. The more he walked through the hallways and interacted with the students and faculty, the more he could sense how much different his new school was from his old one. Back in Detroit, most of the students dressed like they were auditioning for a spot in an Eminem video—pants that sagged way below the waist, sometimes event below the butt, all kinds of fake gold and silver chains, and a t-shirt. Drugs were on every corner, class attendance was poor, and the chances of getting mugged on the walk home were higher than the city’s unemployment rate. Nashville wasn’t like this at all; instead, the boys walked around in jeans, with their shirts tucked in and a big pair of cowboy boots, while the girls wore floral-patterned sundresses. There were no guns or drugs, at least not that Tommy had seen, and the faculty seemed supportive. It was like a whole new world.
Over the next few weeks, Tommy began to thrive in his new academic environment. Before, he’d always been a poor student—typically straight C’s—in order to keep himself from getting beat up in the locker room or in the hallways. Now, he was practically a straight A student. Nanny Mae kept him on track by insisting that all homework was done before he could sit on the porch or do anything else. But best of all, Tommy felt like he was starting to make a new group of friends—he’d even been invited to play basketball later that day by Jason. Tommy knew he wasn’t very good, but the opportunity to compete and joke around with his new classmates was something he didn’t want to miss.
“Hey Tommy, good game,” said Jason.
“Thanks, you too. Thanks for letting me play.”
“It ain’t no big deal. C’mon, let’s go grab our stuff from the locker room, then maybe we can head into town for a few hours.”
“Sounds good to me.”
As Tommy walked into the boy’s locker room, he felt a wide grin spread across his face. What a great day, he thought to himself. Suddenly, he noticed that Jason and the other boys were taking off their gym clothes and heading into another room.
“Hey Jason, where you guys going?”
“Well, we have to shower before we leave, don’t we?”
Tommy hadn’t thought about his scar or his father in a few weeks, but the memories suddenly came flooding back, bringing all of his anxieties with them. As he walked towards his locker, Tommy felt like the entire room was watching him, their eyes penetrating his back like his father’s knife. He opened in locker door and stood there for a moment, unsure of how to handle the situation. Should he risk grossing out his new classmates, or just try and sneak away unnoticed? After standing there for what seemed like forever, Tommy finally gathered the courage to take off his shirt. Once he walked into the showers, the room suddenly grew quiet and Tommy knew that everyone was staring at his scar. He was beginning to wonder if he had made a huge mistake, when Jason spoke up.
“Hey, what’d you do to your back? That’s a big scar.”
“Oh, uh, just got into a random bike accident over the summer,” said Tommy.
“That must’ve been one hell of a bike accident.”
“Yeah, you have no idea.”
After showering, Tommy walked around town with Jason for a bit before being picked up by Nanny Mae.
“How’d your day at school go?”
“It wasn’t too bad, I guess.”
“Well that’s good, then. Those friends of yours seem real nice.”
“You seem a little quiet, boy. Everything ok?” asked Nanny Mae.
Tommy sat in silence, staring out the window as he decided whether or not he wanted to tell Nanny Mae the truth.
“Some people saw my scar this afternoon,” said Tommy.
“Oh honey, don’t listen to what any of those good-for-nothing kids say.”
“It’s fine, no one said anything bad. They all just asked about it.”
“Did you tell them anything?”
“Not the truth,” said Tommy.
“That’s ok, you’ll tell ‘em when you’re ready.”
Later that night, after helping Nanny Mae clean dishes and pick up around the house, Tommy went outside onto the front porch just as a storm was beginning. Slowly the storm progressed from a light drizzle with low rumbles of thunder to a torrential downpour with earth-shattering booms. As the storm worsened, Tommy moved from his chair up on the porch and down onto the sidewalk in front of Nanny Mae’s plantation home. The cold rain reminded him of the events that took place in the school showers earlier that day—the way everyone stopped and stared at his scar, but then moved on as if it was nothing special. Ever since the night he was admitted to the hospital that was all Tommy had wanted: to be seen as nothing special again, for people to forget about his scar. Now, he was in a new place with new people and suddenly he seemed to be realizing that no one was bothered by his scar. Sure, they might ask questions, but they don’t judge. For the first time in a long time, with the Tennessee rain coming down all around him, Tommy let out a sigh of relief.
“Boy, what are you doing out there? It’s raining cats and dogs!” said Nanny Mae through the screen door.
“Just enjoying the storm for a little while, I guess.” He turned around.
“Get back up on this porch while I grab you a towel.”
“Yes ma’am,” he grinned.
A few moments later, Nanny Mae walked out onto the porch and draped a towel over Tommy’s shoulders as he sat in one of the rocking chairs.
“I don’t know if now’s the right time for this or not, but what happened between you and your daddy?”
“He got me pretty good with a kni…”
“I know what he did to you, boy, I’ve seen the scar. I want you to tell me the story, it might be good for you.”
“Oh, uh, ok.”
“Go on then.”
“Well, I was in my room asleep when I heard the sound of glass breaking coming from the kitchen. At first, I wanted to try and calm my dad down, but the sound of the glass shattered my nerves. Shortly after that, he barged into my room while I was trying to hide myself.”
“Did he do this often?” asked Nanny Mae.
“He’s always been into the whole macho, tough guy thing. The drinking, too.
“That just don’t seem right—a daddy hitting his little boy like that. It’s just awful.”
“He came into the room and started yelling at me belligerently, calling me a ‘sissy’ and a whole bunch of other crap. He was yelling so loud that he started convulsing and his eyes started twitching. I swear to God, I almost pissed myself. He didn’t stop, either. I thought he’d get tired, but he didn’t. I didn’t know what to do and I was afraid of being hit again. Finally, I tried to escape the room by crawling through his legs. It was so dark in there; I couldn’t tell that he had a knife in his hands. I’m not sure if he would’ve used it had I just stayed put, but I tried to get out of there and he stabbed me. I lost consciousness and woke up in the hospital a few days later.”
“Oh my God, bless your heart,” said Nanny Mae after Tommy was finished.
“That’s the first time I’ve talked about it since it happened.”
“Well, I’m glad you told me. But, there’s something else I want to ask you, too.”
“What is it?” asked Tommy.
“Why would your daddy act like that? I ain’t had any trouble out of you since you got here.”
Tommy paused. “I don’t know, I guess it’s because of my Mom.”
“She died, didn’t she?”
Tommy’s eyes glistened in the light and he wiped them away. “Yeah, from complications due to childbirth.”
“Oh honey, that ain’t your fault.”
“I wish someone would’ve told my dad that; I guess that’s why he started drinking. I remember watching those old Loony Tunes cartoons with him, and even then, he was drinking something. Seems like he’s always blamed the whole thing on me.”
“Don’t worry about him now, Tommy. He’s in jail and you’re here with me, it’ll be alright.”
As time continued to pass, Tommy continued to feel better and better about his scar, and about his time in Nashville. Who knows, he thought to himself, maybe I’ll live here someday, too. Still, despite all of his newfound happiness and comfort, something was still bothering him in the back of his mind. Tommy walked into the kitchen, where Nanny Mae was sitting at the table.
“I think I want to go visit my dad in jail,” said Tommy.
Nanny Mae peeked over her crossword puzzle towards Tommy. “You sure about this?”
Tommy nodded. “I need to talk to him one more time. It’s for closure, I think.”
“When were you thinking of going?”
“Well, fall break is next week. I could go for just a day or two and come back.”
“I guess we better get a couple of plane tickets to Detroit, then.”
Nanny Mae and Tommy sat in the upright position as the plane slowly lifted up off the runway and into the air.
“Lord have mercy! You sure these things are safe?” asked Nanny Mae.
“Yeah,” he chuckled. “By the way, I just wanted to say thanks for everything; I wouldn’t be doing this without your help. I really appreciate it a lot,” said Tommy.
“Oh, it’s nothing boy. You have a good time up here. Make sure you say whatever you need to say to your daddy, you hear? Don’t hold nothing back.”
“I shouldn’t have said that,” said Nanny Mae. “Don’t worry about your daddy, I’m sure everything will go fine.”
“I know it will. I just want to do this by myself, if that’s ok with you?”
“You do whatever you need to, boy. I’ll wait in the parking lot if I have to.”
The two-hour flight back to Detroit felt like it took days, as Tommy rehearsed what exactly he would say to his father. After years of drinking, mental, physical, and verbal abuse, and lie after lie, Tommy had so much he wanted to say to his dad. He imagined all the different ways he could call him a shitty father, all the ways he could make his dad cry, all the chances he’d have to call him a sissy. Tommy looked forward to being the aggressor for once. After arriving in Detroit, Tommy and Nanny Mae rented a car and headed straight for the penitentiary.
Once they passed through security, the two of them made their way towards a private booth with a payphone on the right wall. Tommy had watched enough movies to know how this worked.
“I’ll be right over here if you need anything,” said Nanny Mae.
Tommy saw his dad walk through the heavy metal door on the other side of the booth, an officer on both sides and his hands cuffed together. As his father sat down on the other side of the glass, Tommy reached for the payphone.
“It’s really great to see you, I feel like it’s been so long.”
“Yeah, nice to see you too.”
“How’s Nashville? You enjoying your new school?”
“It’s good, a lot safer than Detroit. School is good, too. I’ve made a lot of new friends since I classes started.
“That’s good, son. That’s really good to hear; I’m happy for you.”
“How’s Nanny Mae doing? She’s something else, isn’t she?”
Tommy raised his eyebrows. “You know Nanny Mae?”
“Well, I only met her once—at a family reunion years ago, but I remember her being quite the firecracker.” Tommy’s dad smiled.
Tommy laughed. “Yeah, that sounds about right.”
“That was years ago, though. Long before you killed your mother and then put me in this place.”
It took everything he had, but Tommy held the tears back. “Me?! How in the hell can you blame any of this on me?”
“I wouldn’t be in here if you hadn’t been such a sissy!”
Sissy. Tommy hated that word more than anything else in the world, except maybe his father. When he heard the word ‘sissy’, all Tommy could think about was his father, standing above him, his face red and shaking with fury. Tommy knew his father was trying to break him down, and he knew he had to resist or else he’d never get over what happened.
“So protecting myself makes me a sissy? But drinking every day and beating the shit out of your teenage son makes you a man? I think I’d rather be a sissy.”
“You little shit, don’t talk to me like that! I’m your father!”
“You haven’t been a father to me since mom died.”
Suddenly, Tommy saw his father’s eyes sink towards the ground.
“D-d-don’t say that, son” said Tommy’s father. “You know I love you.”
With that, Tommy stood up and looked at his father for what he hoped would be the last time. As he walked towards the car, he stopped and took one last look at everything around him—the skyline of Detroit, the epicenter of his pain, the prison, where the cause of that pain, his father, was now trapped, and finally, Tommy looked at Nanny Mae and smiled. Suddenly, lightning flashed, thunder boomed, and it began to rain harder than Tommy had ever seen it rain in Detroit—maybe anywhere. He stopped, letting the torrential downpour consume him.
Nanny Mae stuck her out the window. “You ok, honey?”
“Yeah,” Tommy smiled. “It’s just time to go home.”
© Copyright 2016 Sam Robinson. All rights reserved.
Short Story / Literary Fiction
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