Doves, White Doves
In life, he was famous for bad decisions and misbeliefs. My grandfather, voted for Nixon and believed the moon landing was a fake—sat next to me and said, them boys ain't on the moon. He believed the world was flat, the proof being he hadn't fallen off, yet. He believed smoking cleared his lungs, Jesus was a comin, and the guv'ment was out to get him. Him.
Equipped with a world view limited to the Arkansas cotton farm he'd owned and run most of his life, he'd argue his positions all night.
That roof won't leak.
This country will never run out of oil.
Why, cholesterol prevents constipation.
In death, he troubles my dreams.
Last night, I'm riding in his black on red, finned-out, gas-guzzling '59 Chevy with my eleven year old son, who my grandfather didn't live long enough to meet. The old coot's driving, talking, and smoking, going on about the Muslim threat and how FEMA is secretly rounding up patriots. He's driving too fast for the conditions, weaving in and out of traffic, shooting up ramps, and leaning into curves.
I say, Papa, would you mind slowing down?
I'm all right.
No, I mean, I'm afraid for my boy.
I'm within the law.
You don't even have seat belts.
The old man tosses his cigarette. Hell no, I ain't got seat belts. Cut you in half someone hits us.
Look, slow down, or let us out.
He swerves onto the shoulder, nearly running into a ditch. Fast flowing water froths and snaps below. A cotton field stretches beyond, far as the eye can see. Black men, women, and children shoulder pick-sacks in searing sunlight, heads bobbing. What was moments earlier a busy freeway has become a country road.
My boy and I climb out of the car. The boy asks, Which way, Dad?
Well, we can't go back.
My grandfather rummages in the trunk and comes out with a tattered family Bible. He hands me the over-sized, leather-bound volume and says,Believe, and be saved.
My boy scuffs at the dirt. Which way, Dad?
My grandfather hollers as he pulls away, gravel flying. Turn left at the fork. Whatever you do, turn left.
Right at the fork, I tell my son, definitely right.
We start walking, the heat as heavy as that big ole Bible. I'm about to leave it behind when it bursts into a handful of flutter—white doves on the wing. Amazed, we watch them out of sight, my boy and I, like clouds set against the pale blue of an ever-retreating horizon.
I come here a couple of nights a week. I like the lighting, wide aisles, and scents. I enjoy a little friendly banter with the folks in Electronics, maybe wander over to Toys—listen to the kids beg and whine.
I consider myself a guru of sorts and can spot My Guys an aisle away. Mid-thirties to mid-forties, dressed in jeans and dirty t-shirts, bags under their eyes and two-day’s growth, they’re easy to identify. Some continue to wear wedding bands, but the tell is the skillets, shower curtains, and cheap dishes in their carts.
They’re living in dumpy, unfurnished apartments so they can make child support. No doubt, the ex got the house and boat. Her boyfriend's moved in. He’s sitting on their sofas, feet up, watching their wide-screen TVs. My Guys are lucky to see their kids on weekends.
Tonight, there’s a guy in Produce needs my help. One peek inside his cart and it’s obvious how lost he is—canned ravioli, hair gel, and two cases of beer. I could offer advice. Stock up on organic vegetables and learn to cook. Never underestimate the value of routine tasks, such as food preparation, in combating loneliness and despair. And, lay off the booze. I mean, we’re not talking a few cold ones with the neighborhood guys or a glass of wine with the ex-wifey. No, we’re talking shots and beers until we pass out on the floor while listening to the guy next door bang his girlfriend silly through the paper-thin walls.
Oh, yeah, there’s plenty I could tell Produce Man. Instead, I hover, waiting for him to ask. I’m disappointed when he moves to Snacks, but it’s better if they seek me out.
Some evenings, I gather My Guys at the Super Target Starbucks. Over coffee, we discuss the importance of Maintaining the Appearance of Being OK, toss around tips on How Not to Break Down in Front of Your Kids when Taking Them out for Pizza. Maybe share ideas on Impressing the New Girlfriend on a Tight Budget.
If none of My Guys are around, I chat up the barista. She probably doesn’t notice my belly or the bald spot on the back of my head. One of these nights, she’s taking me home. I know it, just know it.
Next, I visit Lady’s Lingerie. A certain type of woman enjoys helping a man, so I let on I’m shopping for that new girlfriend. What do you think, B cup or C cup? Who knows? One thing can lead to another.
Before calling it a night, if I feel like a good cry, I hang out in Greeting Cards. I advise My Guys to avoid this section until they’re more experienced. The birthday cards for fathers are killers.
At check-out, I’ve got plastic razors and laundry detergent. Produce Guy is ahead of me. He eyes my purchases, grins, and asks. "How goes it, man?"
To which I reply, "Fine, dude, just peachy fucking fine."
Gary V. Powell is a former lawyer and stay-at-home dad. His stories have appeared in Bartleby Snopes, Literary Orphans, Thrice Fiction, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, and other fine places. In addition to winning the 2015 Gover Prize for short-short fiction, his work has placed in other national contests including The Press 53 Prize (2012), Glimmer Train Short-Short Contest (2013), and The Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize (2014). His first novel, Lucky Bastard, is available through Main Street Rag Press. A novella in three stories, Speedos, Tattoos, and Felons, is a prequel to Lucky Bastard.