'You Owe Me': Read Chuck Taylor's short story that is as sublime as it is human

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'You Owe Me': Read Chuck Taylor's short story that is as sublime as it is human

Short fiction by Chuck Taylor.

These are the words I'd write to you, dad, if I were the kind. Sitting in this cell at the county jail, I got plenty of time to think.

I'm remembering what happened fifteen years ago when I was ten and Mack was five. We'd just moved from Fort Worth into this new Las Cruces apartment. You know how we were always moving back then? You and mom were always getting laid off. Before Fort Worth we lived in Shreveport, and before that Tyler, and before that San Angelo, where Mack was born.

Anyway, you put Mack in this day care a block up from the apartment, and me in this elementary school farther up closer to downtown. You and mom were excited cause you both had found better paying jobs. You were building frames for houses, and she was doing secretary work for the same construction company.

The second day we were there you drove down to El Paso and took us across the international bridge. We walked around the crowded plaza of downtown Juarez and heard Spanish spoken everywhere. It was amazing. The Mexicans were all dressed up, the men in black suits, the women in frilly dresses, and just getting out of church.

But things settled soon enough into the old routine. I got out of school at three-thirty. This yellow van loaded with kids picked me up in front of my school and took me over to Mack's day care around four. Either you or mom picked Mack and me up there around five-thirty.

We got to the apartment around six and mom started cooking in that narrow little kitchen we had. You sat down with us on this mattress. We slept on the floor of the living room, and we watched "X-Men" on that little portable TV.

Then we ate supper, squeezed around the card table near the front door. After that you'd take a beer and go for a walk in the desert behind the apartment while mom gathered up the dishes and cleaned the kitchen.

Mack and I went to play with neighbor kids till it got dark. There was this Wes kid Mack liked. The two of them would take pieces of cardboard and slide down this rocky dirt incline next to the apartment. I don't remember who I played with--maybe I just watched Mack and Wes do their thing.

On the weekends, a couple of hours after lunch, you'd take us swimming at this park up high in the foothills of the Organ mountains. I remember you telling us about how precious water was in the desert. They had this big blue circular slide Mack and I went down. You'd be at the bottom smiling to catch us and make sure we didn't drown.

You also started teaching me how to play pool at the apartment clubhouse. Mack would watch cartoons on the big screen TV they had there.

Life was OK--not easy--but OK, just like it’d always been. Then one night after supper you had to go back to work. No big deal. You'd done it lots of times on your other jobs. Mack and I sat on the mattress and watched TV. Later mom had us take our baths and put us to bed.

Very late that night I woke up. I went to the door and peered down the hallway into the living room. All the lights were on and I could hear mom talking to different people on the phone, apologizing for waking them up. Between calls she cried a little and wiped her tears on a napkin.

When we got up the next morning, you still weren't there. Mom said you were staying at a friend’s in Albuquerque, helping on a job up there for more money. She said you'd be coming back soon. I asked mom when and she said "I don't know, hon, but soon." We got dressed and mom fed us cereal and juice and took Mack to day care and me to school.

But that job lasted a long time, and you never came back. I remember finally you did come and get some clothes and fishing equipment. Then I remember you came for Mack's birthday. Mom got mad about how you hung the piñata on this tree in the back. Later I remember you taking us to Burger King and how the shakes were bad because the milk was spoiled.

One night mom got drunk and went into the back room and dumped over all your boxes of tools and stuff. It was the first time I had seen anyone drunk. I didn't understand what was going on, and it scared me to death. We were supposed to be asleep but mom was playing the Eagles so loud it hurt my ears. Mack and I put our fingers in our ears and got out of our bunks and peered out a crack in the bedroom door.

When I woke up in the morning the place was a total mess. Mom’d gone through all the closets and drawers and pulled out everything and ripped it all up. Sharp pieces of broken dishes were on the kitchen floor.

Then I remember, after a month or so, mom calling up this guy at work and talking all the time, and later this guy coming for dinner and staying the night. David ended up being around for several years, even after we'd left Las Cruces and moved to Waco. He was into running, and for a while I'd go running with him. From then on all the rooms smelled of marijuana.

A good while before we moved to Waco, we all went out to eat at a Mexican restaurant and met your girlfriend Betty. Later Mack and I'd come over weekends and play with Betty's kids. The oldest liked to do the things I did. I suppose Stacie's the best friend I ever had. I hear she is in Austin working at a gas station.

So that's the story. If I worked at it I could remember more--but why bother? This is why I don't write to you in Austin, and why I don't call. It's also why I've had problems. If you don't believe, you can call the counselor at the drug treatment center I was in before ending up in jail.

This is also why, if I do call, or if I do come by to see you and your new third wife--what's her name?--why need to be nice. You owe me. I’m your son--not some horrid Jason guy like in the Friday the Thirteenth movies.

When I get out of here, you need to come and pick me up. It ain't far from Austin to Waco. After you pick me up, you need to take me out for a steak dinner, and then drive me back to Austin and let me stay in one of those extra bedrooms in that fancy new house on the lake they tell me you got since you became a contractor.

Then, you should give me money. A lot of money.

That way, I won't break in your house and steal your things--like I did to mom and at brother Mack's.

Chuck Taylor teaches American literature and creative writing at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. Taylor has published two novels, three story collections, and numerous books of poetry. He is also an amateur photographer who found that by combining photography and poetry in a single book he could say things about both he had never seen said before.

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