by Chel-Mari Spies
He pulls a clean shirt over his head. Comfortable. He nods at the mirror. He usually puts the envelope with money in the same pants pocket so he wouldn’t forget. Light brown cargos today. He thinks about how he’ll do anything for the five year old Christian, and how his heart breaks every time the visit is over and he has to leave his son behind. If he could just get Chris away from his vindictive mother. She spares no-one. He has the better job and more stable environment to offer, as opposed to Liz’s semi-permanent unemployment. She has the better acting skills; he has visitation rights. Luckily, Liz’s parents are living with them. Tom and Suzan are still like parents to him and this way at least Chris gets to have food on the table, more stable company and the presence of dependable, present parent figures.
He takes the steps to the front porch two at a time. Three o’clock could not come soon enough. The door of the house he grew up in is open, but the security gate is locked. He pulls at his shirt before he knocks. Please, Liz, don’t be difficult again today. He can see Tom and Suzan sitting inside.
His father-in-law is busy eating something, so just a smile and a wave.
“Hi, dearie. Good to see you.”
Christian comes running to the door. “Daddy!” He puts his hands through the gate to give his dad a hug. Robert complies, his heart swells.
“Did you come to visit me, Dad?” His eyes are sparkling and Robert can see Suzan smile.
Christian sees the envelope in Robert’s hand. “Is that for Mommy? What is it?”
“It’s the money for you guys, remember?” They are still holding hands through the gate.
“Don’t you want it?” Concern.
“It’s what you guys need. It’s for food and clothes and school.”
“Where did you get it from?”
“I go to work and then they give me money?”
“Why doesn’t Mommy do work?”
Liz comes into view. “What do you want?”
“Hello, Liz.” A few months ago he would have still called her Lizzy. “I came to bring you this.” He hands over the alimony. “And it’s Tuesday. I came to see Christian.”
“You can’t come in now – we’re busy.” She pulls the boy back by his arm. Christian’s gaze is fixed on his father and their eye contact is only broken by the closing door.
Robert puts out his hand to prevent the door from closing. “Please, Liz.”
She lets out an irritated sigh. “Fine. Go ‘round the back.”
“Are you not going to let him come in?” Robert hears her father ask as the door closes. Then another one of the tantrums they know so well.
He walks around to the back yard. Tom’s hand is clearly visible in the neat setting.
Christian comes running out, straight into his arms without saying a word. They hold one another for a long time, then sit right there on the grass while Robert asks questions and his little boy tells him all about school and friends. And home. His heart is in a million pieces.
Shortly after, Liz calls Christian back in, watches impatiently as they say their good-byes and hold the door open until he is back inside. She doesn’t acknowledge Robert.
He sat on the grass for a while until he could bring himself to get up when Christian waves from his bedroom window. What does this do to a little boy?
He slowly walks back to his car.
When he gets home, there is a message from Suzan on his mobile phone: she’ll call back later. Not even ten minutes later the phone rings, distraught. Liz was too tipsy – again – and Christian got the brunt of it. Again. They agree that Robert should come pick him up.
When he gets there, there is an ambulance in the driveway.
… No! … Chris?! …
Liz fell. But one of the paramedics saw Christian’s lip and informed the police. They are on their way.
“Hey, Buddy.” Christian doesn’t want to look at his father, just clings to him. “It’s gonna be fine.” Small sobs.
After the ambulance leaves with Liz there’s still Social Services in her neat little pants suit to deal with.
Then it is ominously quiet in the house.
“We’ll, I guess all is fine now. I’ll stay until he falls asleep.” Robert offers.
“Stay. In the guest room. I know it’s not your room, but the rest of the evening is going to be peaceful.” Suzan’s eyes are almost pleading. She looks warm and friendly, the way her daughter used to look. But tired.
He can see there is something they want to tell him. “I’ll put him to bed. Can I beg for a cup of coffee?”
They both smile.
In no-time Robert is back in the living room. He knows they are going to have a weighty conversation, subject unknown.
“Robert, we are going to have Lizzy committed.” He barely gets to a seat in the living room before they drop their thoughts. “This is a terrible thing to do to your own, but we love that child so much. She needs help.” They have made up their minds. “Christian …” Suzan’s thought closes and her eyes well up.
“And we love YOU.” Tom says.
Robert stares at nothing and after a while Tom continues. “We will also have her mental stability evaluated, and I think we all know that she will be away for a while.” Robert can see they are shattered. “Until everything is cleared up, we want you to move in with us. With Christian. Actually, we want to know if we can stay.”