Late To Learn

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Father and Son clash

Submitted: August 03, 2011

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Submitted: August 03, 2011



When the phone rings in the middle of the night, part of your sleep-filled brain hopes that it will turn out to be a wrong number, while your rational senses tell you to brace yourself for bad news. Stephen Richards peered at the bed-side clock and seeing 2;15 a.m., told himself that if it was a wrong number he would have no problem getting back to sleep.


"Is this Stephen Richards?" a female voice asked.

"You dialed this number. What do you want?" he was awake, cranky.

"Mr. Richards, this the Dry County Hospital calling. We have a gentleman here, and going through his identification, we discovered you listed as next of kin. Is James Richards a family member?"

Richards sat up on the edge of the bed, fully awake and alert. "What do you mean, family member? Is he dead?"

"Oh! No sir. Sorry for the confusion. He has been admitted but is unconcious so we had to go through his ID to find someone to contact. Are you related, then?"

Shaking his head to get a sense of clarity, Richards was ready to give this woman hell for scaring him. Then he realized there was nothing to be gained. "What happened? Was he in an accident?"

"No sir. He was a victim of an assult. Could you come down and help sort out some information? The doctor on call can fill you in on his condition when you get here." the woman's voice came through the phone like a telemarketer, impersonal and removed. Just doing her job, he supposed.

"Yeah. I guess. Give me an hour." he hung up.

The voice beside him spoke softly "What was that?"

"Go back to sleep. My old man is in the hospital and so they called me. I will be back soon." he leaned over, kissing a cheek.

Driving through the city, streets empty save for stray dogs and homeless people, Richards could feel the anxiety build deep inside of him. The last time he had spoke to his father it had ended badly, and he doubted if it would be any better this time. His mind touched briefly on why the old man had been involved in an assault, but it really didn't matter. He would find out when he got there.

Richards found the nurses station occupied by two nurses, a younger pretty woman, and an older harder looking one. He spoke to the younger nurse. "Hi, my name is Richards. I received a call saying my father was here. Do you know anything about that?"

The nurse looked up and smiled. "Yes, that was me who called. I'm glad you came down." She pulled a file from a slot in her desk, glancing at it as she spoke. "Your dad was admitted just after midnight. It says the police were notified that he was laying on his lawn, badly beaten and bleeding. An ambulance was dispatched and on arrival was found to be unconcious. They brought him here, the doctor on call examined him, x-rays were taken but other than bruising and contusions, he seems to be fine. There may be a possibility of a concussion but we will have to wait to see about that. He is awake now, and as soon as the doctor comes out, you can see him."

"Any idea what happened?" Richards asked.

"No. You will have to speak to the police about that. They are still waiting to speak to your father. If you go to the waiting room, the police are there. The doctor can find you when he is done with your dad. It shouldn't be too long." The nurse pointed down the hall.

When he entered the waiting room, he found a female cop standing in the center of the room, sipping on a coffee. She turned as he approached her.

"Excuse me. Are you the cop that brought my father in? His name is Jim Richards."

"Yes. My name is Tracey Staples.. Do you want to sit down? I need some information from you. Mr. Richards, do you know anything about tonite's events?"

"No." Richards shhok his head. "I got a call saying Pop was in here and that was all. What happened?"

"We received a call that someone was beating an old man. When we arrived at the address, we found your fathewr lying on his lawn, unconscious and bleeding. He had been assaulted by a young man. Some of his neighbors heard the commotion and were able to identify the assailant. My partner is at the station with the teenager now." Staples glanced at her notebook, then at Richards. "Sir, from what the boy is saying, your father accosted him for cutting across his lawn. Supposedly, when your father struck the boy, the oy fought back. That is what the one neighbor said she witnessed as well. And speaking with the neighbors, it sounds like your dad had a history of being beligerant."

Richards took a deep breathe. He braced his elbows on his knees, rubbing his face. Looking at the cop, he finally spoke. "Pop and I don't have a good relationship. My Mom and I are close, but Pop and I, well, let's just say we are better off apart. So I don't know how he is now. But when I lived at home, he was always at odds with the world. That is why Mom left him a couple of years ago. I can see him getting after some kid. He would think he has the right."

The cop looked at him for a moment, then asked "Did you know that your dad has been involved in some other disturbances, before tonite's incident?"

Richards shook his head. "No. I told you, he and I don't get along so we don't talk. Mom never mentioned anything but then she may not know about this other incident. At least, she hasn't said anything to me."

"Mr. Richards, there has been more than one. According to our records, your dad has been in seven different altercations that have been attended to by the police. It seems alll of them are related to kids crossing his property. I personally dealt with one of the incidents about a month ago. A young Afro-American boy cut across your dad's lawn and your dad called him a name and struck him. The boy was only 12 and the parents came close to charging him with assault."

Richards chuckled sourly. "Pop doesn't know how to pronounce 'Afro-American' so I can just imagine the name he used. He has a problem with black people."

The cop squirmed in her chair before speaking. "It seems he has a problem with your girl friend as well. When he regained consciousness, we told him that we had called you. All he said was that he hoped you came alone and didn't bring, quote, 'That  black- assed friend of his' with you."

Richards looked at the woman beside him. He guessed there was no advantage in bringing up all the history between he and his father. "So he is awake? How bad is he beaten? Is he going home tonite or what do you know?"

Staples looked at her notebook, realizing that Richards had subtley changed the subject. There was obviously more going on here than what she knew. "The doctor told me that your dad is conscious, has a few abrasions, but no sign of concussion. He should be able to be go home. I have a few more questions for him, but I think you can probably take him home. Will you or someone be able to stay with him overnight to monitor his health?"

" Ma'am, if I were to even mention staying with him tonight, he would end up being in another fight. Most likely with me, and then whoever interferred. I will take him home,if he will let me. After that, all I can say is good luck. He is a stubborn old man. I know better than to try and make him do something he doesn't want to do?"

"Who the hell are you calling stubborn?" a loud voice rang out, echoing through the empty halls. Richards looked up to see his father standing in the waiting room door, a blanket over his shoulders, wearing only a worn out white T-shirt and a saggy pair of boxers. "I ain't stubborn, I just don't like kids running all over my lawn, wrecking the flowers."

Jim Richards had a swollen left eye, a bandage across his nose, and his lips looked as if they had ran into a wall at a fast rate of speed. Stephen stood up to meet his dad. Stephen hadn't seen his father in a long while and he was shocked at how old and withered the man appeared. The old man was close to 70, sure, but he looked a lot older standing there beat up and covered in bandages. Stephen suspected the man had lost some weight as well.

"Pop. You haven't had flowers on the front lawn for years now." Stephen softly reminded the elder Richards.

'How in the hell can I keep flowers growing if those damned kids keep stepping on them? Instead of running the littel bastards off, maybe I will get a shotgun and give 'em a tatse of good ol' rock salt. When I was a kid, by God,.."

"Mr. Richards" Staples interveined "You get a gun and the next time I visit you, you may need to hire someone to care for your lawn for a few years. It is bad enough getting beat up by a fourteen year old kid, but when you start picking up a gun, that's when it reaches a whole new level. Do you understand?"
The cop eyed the senior with a glare, making sure her point reached the man.

"Yeah, yeah. Don't get your britches in a knot. I was just saying." The old man hung his head mumbling. His demeanor reminded Stephen of a kid who got caught doing something he shouldn't have. "At least you didn't bring that darkie with you. Or worse, your mother. The last thing I need is her yelling at me."

The police officer watched the younger Richards as the father spoke. The young man was trying to control his temper, but it showed on his face that it was a battle that could go either way at any time.

"Ok, Pop. Let's get you home. It is late and I have to work in the morning. And you need rest. Do you want me to phone someone to stay with you?"

Mr. Richards stuck his chin out. "What the hell do I need someone to stay with me for? I have been doing just fine on my own, haven't I? In fact since that screwy woman you call your mother left, I have been better than any time in my life."

"Pop." Stephen stared at the man. "Leave Mom out of this, if you know what is good for you."

"Oh that's right. You think the ground she walks on is sacred, I forgot. By God, if you had to live with that bitch all those years..."

With two long steps, Stephen was nose to nose with his dad. The anger on his face was so intense, the old man backed up, obviously afraid. "You sour old man! Shut up about her! You are too stupid to realize it, but you drove the best thing in your life away from you. She is probably the only good part of you, and you let her go. Right now she is living alone, just like you are, when if you had half a brain, the two of you could be enjoying each other's company."

Officer Staples was afraid Stephen was going to strike his father, so she wedged herself between the two. Stephen's anger blinded him to her presence. "You are the most self-centered, bitter old fool I have ever met. That woman cries herself to sleep every night because the only man she has ever loved has turned into a mean, cold-hearted bastard. And all you care about is if some kid cuts across your lawn. And where did that get you? In the hospital, beaten and in pain."

"Okay, Stephen." Staples gently pushed Stephen away."Let's all just calm down. We need to concentrate here. Remember your dad is hurt. Let's just get home so he can relax."

Looking at the cop, he bristled. 'Ya know something? I don't care if he is hurt! He can find his own way home. In fact, here..." Stephen reached for his wallet and grabbing a handfull of bills, tossed them at the old man. "Call a cab, for all I care! You and I are done, you bastard. I don't ever want to hear your whiny voice again,do you understand? I have had a life time of it, and right here, right now, it is over!"

Slipping quietly into the bedroom, Stephen stripped down to his underwear and gently eased himself into his side of the bed. He rolled onto his side, facing the outside of the bed, replaying the night in his mind. The bed moved and then an arm reached over him, caressing his chest.

"Are you okay?" A whisper asked.

Yeah. Sorry I woke you." Stephen responded.

""I gather it didn't go well. You are so mad I can feel you vibrating."

"Just another wonderful meeting with him. Go to sleep. I will explain in the morning."

The warm body slid closer to his back, the hand sortly explored its way down his chest. He felt a breathe on his ear "It is pretty clear neither of us are going to get much sleep."

Stephen smiled in the dark. "Em, stop. We have to get up in a couple of hours. I am going to be tired as it is."

"So? Would you rather go to work tired and grumpy or tired with a goofy grin on your face all day?" The hand moved from his stomach and tenderly reached into his briefs. " Oh. I guess I found the answer."

"Stephen?" Sandy, his secretary,  stuck her head in his door. "Your Mom is here."

"Really? Show her in." Stephen stood, wondering if there was something wrong. His mother had never visited his offive before, preffering to see him at home.

His mother came in, and the first thing he noticed was how good she looked. Stephen hadn't had a chance to get together with her for over a month, and since then she looked like a changed woman. She had been to hairdresser, if Stephen was any kind of judge, and it looked like she was wearing make-up. It lifted his spirits to see her looking so happy again.

"Mom? What's up? You never come to my office. Is everything ok?"

His mother came around the desk and reaching up, kissed him on the cheek. He could smell her perfume. Something was definitely going on, and he liked how it was affecting her.

"I just wanted to stop in quickly. Tomorrow is Saturday and you and Em are going to your Father's. No arguements, don't even think of coming up with an excuse. You two will be there by ten o'clock in the morning." Mrs. Richards grinned at her son. "No, Stephen. No discussion. I mean it. Just be there, both of you. Now get back to work, honey."

And with that, she turned and walked away, leaving Stephen standing with his mouth open, his head doing cartwheels. Why would she want him to go to his dad's, he asked himself. She knows how they don't get along, the troubles, the history. And why did she look so happy? It had been close to two months since he had left his dad at the hospital. What was this all about?

The next morning, driving through the city, Stephen's mind was wandering. He couldn't figure out why his mom had been the one to place the demand for this visit, why she had looked so revitalized, why she had stipulated that both he and Em be there when she knew his dad didn't approve of Em. Had something tragic happened to his father? No, he decided, if it was bad news, Mom wouldn't have looked so happy.

"Hey." Em placed a hand on Stephen's thigh."Whatever it is, we will deal with it. Stop worrying."

"I know. I know. It just has me confused. Why would Mom ask that both of us be there? You have never even met my dad, he hasn't wanted anything to do with you. Why now? Is the old man dying? I don't think she would have looked so alive if he was. I just can't wrap my head around all this, Em."

"It will be fine, whatever it is. We have dealt with a lot in all our years together. We will deal with this too. Now concentrate on your driving. I will be upset if you kill us on the way." Em grinned.

"Yeah, yeah. If you were me, you would be a little stressed. Admit it."

"If I were you, you would be me. That would piss your dad off even more!" Em burst out laughing, which made Stephen grin. Em could always swing his mood around, usually with just a silly comment.

Moments later, as he turned onto his old street, Stephen brought the car to a sudden stop, causing Em to brace against the dash. Stephen was looking down the tree lined street with his mouth hung open. Em grabbed his arm, scared. "Stephen! What? What's wrong?"

"See the last house on the left?" he whispered. "That is my house. My dad's house. But it is all different. Somethings wrong."

Em saw the fear in Stephen's eyes, it was written all over his face. "Hey. Drive up there. Let's just see, ok? Tell me what's different."

As he let the car idle down the pavement, Stephen explained. "It has a new picket fence, Em. Dad always swore he would never put up a fence because it was too much like a wall, holding him in. Mom always told him that a fence would stop the kids from cutting across his lawn but he said no. So why is there a damned fence now, Em?"

"I don't know. There must be a good reason. Is there anything else?"

As they made their way closer, Stephen could see the house more clearly. "What in the hell? That is new siding, new eavestrough. New shingles on the roof, too. Oh something is all wrong here. Look at the flower boxes on the porch. Dad always said that boxes made a house look old. I wonder if he sold the place?  The driveway has been paved! Mom bitched about dad tracking mud in from the dirt drive for years. Oh this isn't good."

"Drive in, Stephen. We can't find out anything sitting in the street like this. Go on. Someone is here. The front door is open, just the screen door is shut. We can ask whoever is here."

As the car rolled up the drive, it was obvious that a lot of work had been done recently. New sod had been layed in the back yard, the garage at the end of the paved drive had new siding and shingles to match the house, a gazebo sat in the corner of the rear yard. Stephen was shaking as he and Em exited the car. They walked up to the gate to the rear yard, and there were his parents sitting on two wooden lawn chairs, laughing.

"Stephen! Em!" his mother jumped from her chair, smiling as she walked toward them. 'You made it. I am so happy to see you. Come and give me a hug you two."

As he hugged his mother, Stephen watched his dad approach. He could feel the tension in his body build, even though he tried not to let it. When his mother went to exchange kisses and hugs with Em, Richards Sr. stepped up to his son.

"I'm glad you came, son. It means a lot to me."

"Well, mom didn't leave much room for arguement. She demanded we come, we came." Stephen response was flat, matching his mood. "So what happened here? To the house? I didn't recognize the old place."

"Your mother and I will explain later." Sr. grinned."I think right now, I would like to meet Em. Your mom says I am missing out on a lot."

Stephen could feel his fists clench, waiting for the fireworks. If that old man says one thing...

"You must be Em." Richards extended his hand to Em. "I am sorry we haven't met yet. I can be a stubborn old fool, as my wife will tell you. I hope we can get to know each other and not let my stupidity get in our way." That was as close to an apology as Stephen had ever heard his father offer.

"Mr. Richards " Em took the other's hand "It has been entirely too long. I have looked forward to this day for a long time."

Stephen watched what he always thought would never take place, the two people in his life that were at opposite ends of his emotional chart, meeting. One, his Father, the man who disliked blacks, who refused to accept Stephen's differences, who had a permanant chip on his shoulder, who just couldn't find it in himself to show his only child the barest of concern.  The other, Michael or Em as everyone knew him, the man who taught Stephen that being gay was acceptable, the one who let Stephen discover himself at his own speed, who considered being black as monumental as brushing one's teeth, the man who had so much love to give. Tears threathened to overflow, and rather than weep in front of his father, Stephen broke awaty to turn to his mother.

" So what is going on, Mom? What happened to the house and why are you here? I thought, well, I thought you and Pop had split. Start talking."

His mom grabbed his arm, pulling away to the back of the yard. "Come look at the flowers, Stephen."

Richards Sr rolled his eyes and said to Em. "We might as well go in, young man. When she says it is time to look at the flowers, that means she wants to have a private conversation. I have seen her drag him out to 'see the flowers' in a foot of snow! Do you drink beer?"

Em grinned. "Does a bear have a fuzzy butt?"

Once the two had entered the house, Mrs. Richards faced her son. "I have been with that man for too many years to just walk away without trying one last time. I told him, and I am telling you, if this doesn't work, I am gone. I am too old to put up with so much anger.'

Stephen's temper flared. "Maybe if that old bastard would lighten up, there wouldn't be conflict. Mean old fuck!"

In a flash, Mrs. Richard reached up and slapped Stephen, startling both of them. "Mom! What the hell?"

"That man is my husband, for better or worse, and I won't stand by to let anyone call him such names. Including you. And I hate you using language like that in front of me. I raised you better than that.  You know I love you more than life itself, Stephen, and it hurt me to hit you, but I love both of you and, just like I explained to your father, I am done watching you two at odds. I am old, son. Who knows how long I have left before I die. No, no. I am fine. But if I die tomorrow, I want to see us a happy family before I go."

Stephen hung his head, hiding the tears his mother had produced with her plea. "Mom, I will try but he has to change. Em and I don't deserve the shi, I mean the crap he dishes out."

I know. I told him that. And he wants the same thing as I do. It was hard on him when you came out. He knows now that is just who you are. When you left him in the hospital, it finally hit home. If he doesn't change , he will loose the two people he loves. So let's go in and try to be a normal family."

"Hang on.' Stephen paused. "The house. What's with the changes?"

"We are selling it. It is too big for two old fools like us to wnader around in. So we hired a contractor to spruce it up. We have found a seniors condo complex. We are moving just as soon as we sell. And we have an offer." his Mother glowed.

"Wow, Ma." Stephen grinned. "When you get a bee in your bonnet..."

Whatever he was going to say was cut short by the roar of Mr. Richards from the kitchen. "What the hell is wrong with you!!"

Stephen and his Mom looked at each and broke into a run for the house. Sliding into the kitchen ahead of his mother, Stephen anticipated the worse. Instead he found Em leaning against the sink, grinning. Richards Sr was bent over, head in the fridge.

"What is all the yelling about?" demanded Stephen.

His dad stood up , handing Em a can of beer. "I don't know where you found this guy, but you should take him back and get a full refund! He seems to think The Vancouver Canucks can win the next Stanley Cup!"

Mrs. Richards, trying to regain her breathe, looked up at her son, and grinned. "Not what I was hoping for, exactly. But it is a good start."


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