Mind you, Paul hadn’t
seen any of his five children since they laid poor Annie to rest nine months earlier, yet here they all were without so much as a phone call. Before he spotted the first of them snaking down his drive, he was ready to grab a pole and spend the day snagging bass and catfish out of the creek. With a half-cup of coffee still to go, he figured he’d at least stay and see they wanted. After all, maybe one of them had died or something. He soon realized he should’ve snuck out the back while the getting was good.
Not that he didn’t love his family. He did. He devoted most of his life to them, a fact he wished they’d remember every once in a while. Like those dark days after his wife died, or the previous eight years, when Paul slowly watched Annie shrivel to nothing after she caught the cancer. But Thanksgiving came and went. Then Christmas. Easter. When he hadn’t heard a peep from anyone at Father’s Day, he wrote the lot of them off.
Must’ve gotten ready on the ride out, Paul figured. Jerry certainly didn’t make him think otherwise. He had to’ve had his wife sit on it for him all the way from town before he decided to put it on, and just for good measure, it seemed, he doused himself with what looked like a bread sack full of croutons. Sizable chunks of whatever he’d eaten on the way clung to the ratty beard he had, as well as all down the front of that wrinkled shirt.
Paul didn’t want to know what the inside of their car must look like.
“There you are!” she squealed.
“Oh Daddy, you’re such a kidder.”
“Hold your horses, dadgumit,” Paul said, finally stepping forward. “You’re gonna break my door.”
Day late and a dollar short, he thought as Janice and her crew piled inside. She bee-lined for the kitchen; and Jerry, the bathroom. The boys flopped on the furniture, instantly whining about how bored they were. Before Jerry was back outa the crapper, three more carloads of his children and their children arrived, each dragging more bags of crap inside, the girls all making some overly practiced greeting, smiles just as plastic as Janice’s cake box.
“How’s the birthday boy doing today?” they said. Or, “Guess what a little birdy told me? Somebody’s having a special day…”
Yeah, Paul thought. He sure is. It’s Jerry, probably napping in his own stench, right now. At least he had the room to himself.
Before long, the girls were all lost in their own conversations, the men were flipping through his channels, and the kids migrated to the back where they started rifling through dresser drawers like it was a rummage sale.
“Hooowee!” Jerry announced, finally emerging. “I wouldn’t go in there on a bet. I been saving up on that one, apparently. I guar-OWN-tee. I’m smooth empty, Now, which one of y’all brought the brewskies?”
Jerry went straight to the TV, smacking its side three good whacks before giving up and flopping back into Paul’s favorite chair. “I keep telling him he need to get him a Satellite. You can’t catch a damn thing out here,” he said to one of the other son-in-laws. Jerry figured out a long time ago he’d never be buddy-buddy with Paul. He’d say something every time he walked in and then again right before he left–coulda been calling him an asshole, for all he knew–he always mumbled whenever he spoke directly to him. Yet Paul couldn’t hear anything BUT him when he got to talking with the rest of the bunch. And the cackle of his–Paul knew he’d still be hearing it days from now. Still, at least he tried. The other two in there hadn’t spoken to him in so long, Paul wasn’t even sure he remembered their names anymore. He sure as hell couldn’t tell who was who with the grandkids. In fact, he was pretty sure the one with the purple hair wasn’t even family. He hoped she wasn’t, anyway.
Every so often, one of the daughters would walk past, say something birthday-related and disappear in the kitchen. Unbeknownst to any of them, apparently, they were actually four days to any festivities that should’ve been had. Paul’s actual birthday was on Sunday, four days ago. He hadn’t gotten so phone call.
Joey, Paul’s youngest, finally pulled up in his Mercedes five hours behind schedule. He even had the nerve to hit the old man up for gas money, so him that fruitcake little friend of his, Javier, could make it back home. You’d think a couple retired college professors would have enough brains between them to budget some travel money, but what could you expect from two grown men still pretending to be just colleagues after all this time?
“I’ll just add it to that graduate school bill you’re always saying you’re gonna pay back someday,” Paul said, sliding his son a couple twenties. Would’ve thought he doused them with a bucket of warm piss, the looks those two gave him.
By the time they finally got to cutting the cake and flashing their pictures, thirty-seven people had piled into Paul’s house. The sun had already set, and his head throbbed from all the noise. It took him a full week to put everything back in its place. He couldn’t have been happier when the last set of taillights finally pulled out his gate, even if it did cost him forty bucks, that fancy silverware set he’d never used, and most of his late wife’s jewelry, divvied up between each of the daughters. He’d made out better with burglars.
If he had the good sense God gave a mule, he would’ve packed up and moved, right then.