Father of Mine: Chapter One

Anthony Zych

NOVEMBER 22, 1963

Johnny Mesagne

I never should have had kids. I got one. Some guys who got none will add “that I know of,” like they’re trying to be funny, but sort of bragging. I would know if I had any other kids. I never, ever let my guard or my pants down for someone I didn’t know. Every girl I ever slept with I saw again at some point in the next nine months. If any of them ever had a baby, I would have known.

One was still too many for me. I was a bad father. I just wasn’t made for that life. For sleeping when everyone else sleeps, working when everyone else works. She tried to make me fit that way. I went with it for a long time. Longer than I should have. I’m not sure why I ever did.

Really, why did I even try? I didn’t need to get married in order to have regular company. I did pretty well for myself. Handsome, in a hoodlum sort of way. Like Maria always said, I had high cheekbones and low scars. Just good-looking enough to get them interested. Just dangerous enough to get them a lot more than that. I looked like the evil twin of Elvis Presley, at a time when it was very good to look even a little bit like the King.

I guess I loved Maria, best as I ever understood the word. Maybe I didn’t understand it at all. Maybe I still don’t. Love. I wasn’t faithful. But we had a kid. That’s what tied us together. Whether I loved her or not, I had an obligation to provide for him, and for her.

And I did. I absolutely did. The way it matters. He had what he needed. He grew up normal, or as normal as he could. Even after she found Jenkins, I still made sure that boy had enough. I didn’t blame her for getting married again. I didn’t blame her for letting my son take Jenkins’s name. I was the one who couldn’t live that way. I wasn’t going to tell Maria she couldn’t have a real life. I thought maybe she’d have more kids. It would have been good for Junior to have a brother or sister, even if them other kids wasn’t mine.

I left home the night they shot Kennedy. Maria didn’t seem to care that somebody killed the President. I got mad at her about it. She was confused why it bothered me so much. She said the guys in our thing hated him for trying to shut it all down. But his brother was the one who was making it harder for us. I never bought that they had Kennedy killed to get his brother to leave us alone. Why not just kill the brother?

Maria was making dinner. Sauce bubbling in one pot, pasta boiling in the other. My day was just getting started. That’s the way it was. Work most of the night, sleep most of the day. I don’t know whether Kennedy getting shot in the head made her think I would at some point get shot in the head, too. I know she always worried. She worried too damn much. I was the one who stood to get shot in the head or someplace else, and I wasn’t half as worried as she was. I wasn’t worried because I had no choice. That was the life. Someone once said it’s the life we’ve chosen. I don’t remember doing no choosing. If anything, that life chooses us. Draws us in like one of them giant round magnets they hook to a crane.

So she gets a little riled up, I get a little riled up. Next thing you know, she’s throwing a big spoon at me, splattering cooked tomatoes all over one of my best white shirts. She goes in the bedroom and starts smoking cigarettes, one after another. Junior had to know what was going on. The house was too small, with two bedrooms right off the kitchen. He always did his homework on Friday nights so it would be done and he could enjoy the weekend. That was the kind of discipline I never had, and never will. And the kid was only ten.

She stayed in our room. She’d rip through two or three packs, like no one knew what she was doing. As if the smell didn’t make its way to the rest of the house. I decided then and there to go, but my stuff was all in the bedroom.

I went down to the basement. I tried hard to not make noise. The old staircase creaked and groaned with every step. I found a different shirt down there. It smelled a little like the hamper. But it didn’t have tomato sauce all over it, so that made it better than what I was wearing. I pulled off the dirty one and put the clean one on.

As I buttoned up the front, I saw the metal racks across from the washer. There were boxes and coffee cans and jars. I hadn’t really noticed them in months, maybe a lot longer than that. I started looking through some of the stuff. I opened one of the boxes. It was full of old books. That strong smell of mildew made me close it up. Then I peeled a plastic lid from a round metal container. It had dozens of marbles inside. I put my hand in there. They were cool, almost cold. I liked how that felt.

I looked up and saw a shoe box on the top shelf. I recognized it. I pulled it down and lifted the lid. I felt my face get a little brighter. If I wasn’t in such a bad mood, I probably would have smiled.

My birth certificate was on top of the stack. It showed a crease from where it had been folded in half at one point. It was flat and open. John Michael Mesagne. September 1, 1933. Seven pounds, seven ounces. Underneath it was the Western Union that said my father got killed in World War II. I was ten when we found out, same age as my son was on the night I was getting ready to go away. It actually made me feel a little better about what I was planning to do. I wouldn’t be dead like my old man was, just not living at home. I still felt bad about it.

Not bad enough to change my mind about moving out of that house on Poplar Avenue.

I kept flipping through the box. Old gray photos, with white strips on the edges. Cufflinks I never wore, not even once. A watch with a battery that died the day after I got it. A report card from high school, before I dropped out. When I saw them grades, I remembered why I did. The paperwork showing the phony heart murmur that kept me from going to Korea, thank God. A tiny pair of baby shoes. It looked like they once was white, or close to it.

Something was jammed tight inside one of the shoes. I picked it up and looked at it. I had no idea where it come from or how I got it. I stuck it in my pocket. I put the lid back on the shoe box. I put the box back on the top shelf.

As I went up the steps, I started coming up with a story about the thing in my pocket.

12 responses to “Father of Mine: Chapter One

  1. I ordered it after reading your first post about it. This makes me want to keep reading.

  2. I’m already a little confused. It starts November 22,1963, with the father leaving. In the story the boy, which I believe is supposed to be you, is 10. There’s no way you were 10 years old in 1963. That would make you almost 70. What am I missing? What am I not understanding?

  3. Does John Michael Mesagne go to New Orleans to meet Mr. Marcelo? Does he stop by the Carousel Club in Dallas? I will wait for the print edition.

  4. Okay, I’m intrigued. Good start so for the price I’m in. Looks like bedtime reading.

  5. Thanks Mike, I like the beginning! I’m going to buy it, but would really like the audiobook version to keep me entertained while driving my motorhome down the road. Your voice would also be a great addition, as you have super inflection and you are easily understood.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.