Dad, You're Dead - Chapter One
Quiz time and math class is quiet. A few sniffles, Brent’s rat-a-tat size ten foot tapping the floor at jackhammer speed beside me. The hum of a mower out in the fields. A few distance show squeaks in the hallway.
I scan the questions, searching for ones I know right off the bat. It’s not a lengthy scan. I look up, back down. I have to pass this quiz, have to, I’m already headed for a C- and sinking towards a D. Dinner conversation has taken a turn for the worse. Mom’s making threats, she’s talking about a loss of privileges, meaning my Xbox, cell phone confiscation. I fear another family hike at the parkway is on the horizon, although that would mean time away from her boyfriend, so I’m not too worried about that last one happening.
Another glance to the window, as though a cheerleading squad might come parading past the school, rolling out a banner with the answer key. It hasn’t happened yet, but you never know.
The hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention.
“Thrash. Number four. I know that one, it’s B. The answer is B.”
A jolt of confusion before I take a breath, and ever so carefully look around the room, where all the heads are down, pencils to paper. Conclusions drawn. Answers are being circled. It’s like some secret I don’t know.
No. Not now.
I should have known he’d show up. I peek to the doorway where I find my dad. He’s got on the baggy Independent Trucks shirt and low-hanging cut off shorts like he always had on. His chain wallet bounces with his excitement. I close my eyes, squeeze them tight, thinking maybe, just maybe he’s not really there. But he is.
I whisper through clenched teeth. “Dad. Stop. Not now, please.”
Some heads turn my way. I’m new at the art of whispering, just like I’m new at the art of talking to my dad, a guy I only recently met but and who likes to show up at the worst possible times.
Like a goofball, he makes a show of sneak-walking over to me, where he leans over and taps the page. When he does I get a whiff of him. A slight metallic smell, oil and grit of the machine shop turned skate house, same way he always smells (still not sure how I can I smell him) even though it was demolished a few years ago.
I look around again. “It’s B,” he says, getting excited, jumping around. His worn out Van’s squeak on the floor. Part of the sole is hanging off.
Even now I can’t help but study him. My dad was a skateboarder. He was even in the X-Games. He was really good, like, had the attention of a few sponsors, good. Things were looking up, until…well.
Mom said he used to duct tape the soles back on.
I cut my eyes away from his lure. His energy is his charm, you can’t look at my dad and not believe every word he says. His bright eyes and crooked smile make you think he’s right, that you can live dangerously, that nothing bad could ever happen. Even though it can. It did.
Again, I talk out of the side of my mouth, quietly. “I do now. Please, stop.”
Apparently my dad was a big fat cheater. And he’s distracting, still thumping about, hopping up and down, jingling, flapping, and— can’t anyone else hear this? Man, it’s a wonder I even manage C’s.
My face goes hot and splotchy, my brain pounding to get out of my head. I turn and snap at him. “Just go away.”
Crap. More faces whipping back to me. Unfortunately, one of the faces is Mr. Leonard—he of old tweed and gray grizzle. His chair squeaks as he shifts dramatically, his eyes flipping to the class then back to the book.
Dad stands up straighter and scowls at my teacher. He had Mr. Leonard too, which trust me, does me no favors. Quite the opposite. At first I wondered whether he could see Dad, in here, dropping by from time to time to check out his old stomping grounds. Then I realized that’s ridiculous.
Still, as Dad walks up to the front of class, stops and smiles at his old teacher and nemesis, I can’t help but hold my breath.
Mr. Leonard fixes his wire frame glasses, lowers his novel. His as in his—he’s reading his own novel. “Charlie? Everything okay back there?”
Double crap. Dad looks at me, then again to Mr. Leonard. He hooks his thumb at the teacher and says, “Man, this guy’s getting old, huh?”
“Da—” I cover my mouth before I say it. Dad scrunches his face, leans close, less than two inches away, inspecting Mr. Leonard’s every wrinkle. I smile despite my fear. Mr. Leonard cocks his head.
“Excuse me? Is your quiz amusing?”
“I uh…” The entire class is now looking back to me. Of course they don’t see Dad doing a chicken dance in the front of the room, only me giggling.
“Charlie, do you need to take a trip to the office. Or perhaps to see the nurse?”
I shake my head, trying my hardest to keep it together. Meanwhile Dad scoots up behind Mr. Leonard, his arms flailing over his head as he clucks around like he’s possessed. How can Mr. Leonard not see it, or at least feel it?
“No sir,” I manage. Dad stops dancing. He cranes his neck over Mr. Leonard’s shoulder, scanning the answer key to the quiz. He nods his head triumphantly and says, “Told you it was B.”
I shake my head no. Mr. Leonard takes this to mean I really do not need to see the nurse.
“Very well. Shall we get back to it?”
I nod, set my pencil to the guesswork that is my quiz. Dad pouts. He looks so out of place in a classroom, on earth, in my life. He looks like someone you’d run off from the community market. The guys skating on the steps. I’m trying to read the tattoo on his arm when he slumps his shoulders in defeat and begins stomping up the aisle. His soles hit the floor, slap…slap…slap…
He isn’t done causing trouble. If anything, I’ve learned that about my dad. He slides up next to me, in the empty desk beside me. “Shall we, Thrash?” Dad mimics my teacher in a stuffy accent. He taps my quiz. “Shall thee get back to thou assignment? Thou shalt not fail thou assignment if thee listens to thou father.”
I can’t help it, he’s too funny. Before I realize it I’m cracking up hard. I cover my face, but not before I see the entire class whips to gawk at me like I’ve blown a gasket. Maybe I have. I’m talking to my dad.
Mr. Leonard takes a deep, nasally breath through the thick forest of nose airs. He slaps his novel down. I peek between my fingers, knowing I’ve done it now. I’ve failed this quiz and gotten kicked out of class.
“Could you at least share what’s so funny, Charlie?”
I no longer have to hide my smile, it's gone. This isn't funny anymore. I stare at my desk. “No sir.”
Dad arches his brow, as though he’s disappointed in me. Like he has any right. I should be disappointed in him, crossing that train trestle when Mom was pregnant with me. What was he thinking?
Again, Dad mouths “B,” before he makes a show of walking backwards and ducking out to the hallway. He sets two fingers to his eyes and then points them to me. He eyes me until I look down. I fill in number four. B.
It’s probably the only answer I’ll get right anyway.