Staff Sergeant Clyde “Haymaker” Periwinkle and his wiry little boy rarely mention the accident, but tonight the gloomy topic has loomed its skulking shadow. Clyde has been imbibing an obscene volume of malt liquor all day, dinnertime has come and gone, without dinner, nor the mention of dinner, and Hapson knows his father’s expressions as distinctly as letters of the alphabet. This one he sees now includes Clyde’s lazy eyelids half concealing the boiling, glazed eyes, red where they should be white, the wetness at the crow’s feet, and three distinctly etched lines like heartbeats across his father’s forehead. Hapson thinks of this expression as the letter F, for fire.
“It was your fault,” Clyde says from his recliner. “Your poor mother and little sister.”
“I didn’t do anything,” Hapson says, straight-faced, ten years old and standing his ground beside the TV, hands jammed into his pants pockets. He knows not to show weakness. If there is one thing Clyde Periwinkle hates, it’s weakness, and he’ll be damned if his one and only progeny will grow up to be some pinky-out tea drinker, some sensitive fairy, some goddamned coward who’ll duck and cover rather than try to pull his buddy out of the line of fire; and he sees his boy’s spine stoops forward with all that flimsiness, and Hapson’s mop haircut kind of makes him look like a girl, and it’s Clyde’s own fault for not beating him into fighting shape. He kills the warm swallow of foamy Old English 800 and drops the bottle, thinking: scar tissue is stronger than skin that’s never been forced to heal.
Clyde tips forward so the armature squeals as the chair lever collapses from vertical to horizontal and the footrest slams into the base of the stuffed chair. He clips his prosthetic leg in place while maintaining a hold with his eyes on his son, the boy who looks on as though he has no notion of danger, like a doe viewed through a rifle scope, dumb to the cold hard reality of reality. Clyde has gone red, sweating as he balances himself at the worn chair edge. He blames Hapson for the head-on collision that changed everything, that left him legless, that left him daughterless, loveless. In his boy he sees only what has been lost, and tonight he may just kill him for having survived, for having to remember the others each time this kid enters his field of vision. He stands on his artificial femur and grabs one aluminum crutch, wobbly from the beer, breathing fumes.
Hapson slide-steps backward, fumbling in his pocket to make sure he’s got his key. He sees his two options in the form of side-by-side holographic images. He can either grab his coat from the couch or leave immediately. The results of both register—he will be hurt badly if he goes for his coat; he will see a black Labrador retriever on the street and later drink a free soda if he doesn’t hesitate another second. The doorknob turns in his hand as Clyde takes his first full step forward, and Hapson is out of the apartment, door slammed, down the hall and outside in less time than it would take to say: Staff Sergeant Clyde “Haymaker” Periwinkle.
Hapson breathes heavily, slowly descending the building’s front steps. He’s never told Clyde about his visions, or that they began on that fateful day when their family was cut in half, at the precise moment when the firemen cut into the car with the Jaws-of-Life and a pinwheel of fire rained sparks against Hapson’s seatbelt.
(To be continued)