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Come Home Margaret
I call to him,
"Michael! Michael!! Over here!" .... He's standing
on the steps of the high school auditorium looking
this way and that. All the other kids seem to know
where they're going except Michael.
"Let's go Michael, you know how your mother feels
about supper." -- I roll the window up and watch
him walking toward me. Why did I say -- "Your
mother," -- "your mother," A strange way to refer
to Margaret, as though she was a head mistress.
Never my wife, or "Margaret." Never "We." Never
"Us." .... when did that begin?
No sense asking. I know exactly when it started, it
started when I gave up the job at the magazine and
began writing at home. I could have rented a small
office in town and written there, but the
temptation to write at home whenever I damn well
felt like it was too strong. My best time has
always been late afternoon into evening. So I
kicked around the house all morning and Margaret
found things for me to do -- "After all you're not
really doing anything. There's the hose in the
washing machine, and look at that hedge -- the
clippers are right there in the garage."
If I was in the city, I'd be on the phone talking
to editors, other writers -- people in the
business. That's the way to keep your finger in --
to know what's going on. How's a man to keep his
pecker up while he's fixing the hose in the washing
machine? Is it any wonder I'd find myself in front
of the liquor cabinet at 11 in the morning? Now I
measure my day by the level of scotch in the bottle
and I can see what a mistake it was. Now I wait to
hear Margaret on the phone or see her in the
garden, then I make a bee line for the bottle, grab
a quick one and go back to the washing machine or
the typewriter. When I stop and consider it
carefully, the way things have been going there
isn't much difference between them.
"What kept you so long, Michael?"
"Oh, that picky bastard, Mr. McKibben. He made us
do the second act three times this afternoon."
"Don't call your teacher a bastard, Michael."
Michael and his drama class were putting on "The
Cherry Orchard" that spring. In the light from the
street lamp I could see he was still wearing his
stage make-up. He looked uncomfortably androgynous,
like those teen age boys I remembered hanging
around Columbus Circle at night. He wants to be an
actor! I shook my head at him and started the car.
"You know Michael, Chekhov runs pretty deep. Maybe
Mr. McKibben is trying to bring out the ...."
"Ah, who gives a crap! It's a high school play,
what's the big deal? We havin' anything good for
"I don't know, I've been working."
He turned from me and looked out the window. I
could tell he was on the edge of saying something
about the drinking. He could smell it I'm sure. I
picked up the speed a bit ....
"Dad, there's a police car behind you -- I can see
it in the mirror."
Suddenly there were lights flashing behind me and I
heard a short growl on the siren.
"Better pull over here, Dad," he rolled his window
down quickly. "Wind your window down fast and
turn on the fan."
How quick they are to learn the ropes at seventeen.
As I eased the car to the shoulder of the
road I wondered how often Michael had been pulled
over with four bottles left in a six-pack on the
The patrol car pulled over in back of me but a
little farther out in the road to protect the
driver as he walked up behind me.
"Don't get out, stay in the car please. License and
registration." He poked his head slightly inside
the open window and took a long look at Michael. I
fumbled for a while looking for my papers.
"I'll need your insurance card too -- probably in
your glove compartment or up under the visor, one
or the other, everybody puts them there. Don't
hurry, we got lots of time."
Well we didn't have that much time. Margaret, (our
mother) would be on pins and needles by now,
standing behind the living room curtain -- looking
out the window.
"I'm in a hurry, officer. I don't know what I did,
but I'd appreciate it if you'd .... "
"Hold on Mr. .... Evans, is it? You passed two stop
signs without even slowing down, I clocked you at
45 in a 20 mile zone and from all appearances
alcohol is involved. I'm patrolman Willoughby, by
the way." He held my I.D. up to the light.
"You wouldn't be Leonard Evans, the writer, would
"There goes your rep, Dad." Michael muttered.
"Yes officer, I'm Leonard Evans -- just picking up
my son at school. My wife is waiting for us -- she
gets upset if we're late."
"I'll do my best, Mr. Evans. Just let me check your
papers, Okay?" He looked in the window at Michael
again. "You sober son?" he asked. Michael nodded.
"Too bad you weren't drivin'. Got a good reason to
be wearin' lipstick?"
"Yes sir -- it's stage make-up."
I could see what was on Patrolman Willoughby's
mind. I clumsily tried to explain. "He's my son
Officer -- he's in a school play -- "The Cherry
"That so?" Said Willoughby as he walked back to his
vehicle. Traffic cruised past and curious people
stared at us as we waited in the glare of officer
Willoughby's spotlight. Why couldn't he at least
turn off those damn flashing lights?!
"If we get out of this, don't breathe a word to
your mother," I whispered to Michael. No sooner had
the words escaped me than I realized there was no
place to hide in a small town like this. How many
neighbors had driven past this light show on our
quiet two lane street without recognizing Leonard
Evans and his teenage son?
Willoughby's head appeared in the side window
again. "You got no prior convictions, Mr.
Evans -- that's in your favor. But I don't have to
tell you that you're DWI do I? I could pull you in
for that, you'd could lose your license, maybe even
your car. Suppose you ran into something or
somebody in this condition?"
"It won't happen again, officer. It hasn't happened
before -- I wouldn't have had a drink if I knew I
was going to get my son." Out of the corner of my
eye I saw Michael shift in his seat and look out
"Tell you what, Mr. Evans. We'll put it down to
experience, Okay? But I'm trailing behind you the
rest of the way home. I want to see you get this
car off the street and in your driveway, then I
want to see you lock it up. I'll be parked right
We drove home, well within the speed limit and
stopping, (really stopping) at every stop sign. We
even slowed down at intersections without stop
signs. To impress officer Willoughby even further I
used the turn indicator when I pulled in the
driveway. Michael and I got out and I locked up. At
that point Willoughby turned off his flashing
lights, waved to me and drove off.
Except for the ceiling light in the kitchen the
house was dark.
"Where have you been, you knew supper was ready?
What was that police car following you for?
What have you two been up to?" She had been waiting
for us in the dark, looking out at the street.
Silently, we marched like prisoners in single file
to the kitchen; the same kitchen that has seen so
many tearful confessions, angry confrontations and
weary forgivings. For some married couples, the
bedroom is the confessional, for us it has always
been the kitchen.
"I got picked up for running a stop sign. We had to
wait downtown 'til the cop checked my I.D. -- right
"Like he says," he shrugged indifferently, "I'm
going to wash off this make-up. Is supper still on,
We stood at opposite sides of the table, Margaret
and I. There, between us, was an overdone pot roast
and a bowl of boiled potatoes, turnips and carrots,
all of them the color of the varnished food in an
old Flemish painting.
"You knew dinner was almost ready when you left. If
you have to get in trouble, would you please do it
on your own time, and for Heaven's sakes don't
involve your son!" That shade of difference again
-- "Your son." Sometimes "My son," but never "Our
Thank God Michael walked in.
"Gee, Ma -- looks burned, what's it supposed to
The three of us ate in silence, as though someone
had died. I didn't want to say I was sorry for
being late; it would have started all over again.
Had I been that bad a husband that I couldn't say I
We were about through when she put her napkin down
and said, "Oh, with all your shenanigans I almost
forgot. Your agent, what-his-name, Waterson? -- he
called and said he got an advance from Bedford."
"Way to go, Pop, any chance of a new leather
It had been so long I'd almost forgotten it -- yes
"Resurrection." 10,000 words. A long short story,
almost a novella. I made a quick mental calculation
allowing for the agent's commission and it appeared
that Margaret could get her new washing machine
after all. We had talked about it, but it seemed
fruitless to bring it up now. It was a long time
ago, just about the time the booze took hold. I'd
probably written it between bouts with the sump
pump, the washing machine hose, and the liquor
"Actually, Michael, I promised your mother a
washing machine. But, we'll see, okay -- there
should be enough."
"When did you promise me a washing machine?"
"Oh, it's got to be three years ago, now. It's
funny, I can barely remember the story at all, but
I remember saying if I sold "Resurrection" we'd get
a new washing machine."
"Not exactly a present for me, is it?"
"No, I guess not."
Dinner was over and if anyone asked me, I couldn't
have told them what I'd eaten. I was thirsty though
-- hadn't had a drink in over three hours. I looked
across the table at Margaret -- there was a
tenseness in her like a drawn bow. All women
undergo their changes differently, but it's been
especially hard for her. Not too easy on Michael
and me either. She was staring with narrowed eyes
at the plate in front of her. She fidgeted with her
napkin and raised her left hand nervously to her
brow. She looked at us as though we were strangers.
"I have a splitting headache, I'm going to bed as
soon as the dishes are done."
"Don't worry about the dishes, dear, Michael and I
will do them -- right Mike?"
"There's a cast party at Peter's house, Pop. I'm
gonna be late as it is." He turned to Margaret, "I
won't be late, Mom. Be home by eleven."
It didn't bother me. I knew he'd be gone for an
hour or two and Margaret would be upstairs. Maybe I
could get some work done after the dishes -- after
a drink or two. Margaret stood up and said a weary
good night to both of us. How tired she looked.
Fifty-two and utterly exhausted. Had Michael and I
taken that much out of her?
So here I stand .... by the kitchen sink listening
to the noise of the party coming from Peter's house
across the street. The great writer with a story in
Bedford's, wearing a "Kiss the Chef" apron. "The
Resurrection!" It finally came back to me, that was
the one about the old woman on the internet who
finds a man who left her sixty years ago. I
remember writing it now, it was not between the
sump pump and the washing machine hose at all, it
was during the occasion of the flood from the
There is a window above our kitchen sink that looks
out to the north over a tangle of old azalea
bushes. They will bloom shortly and loudly announce
the middle of May. They need pruning, many of their
lower branches are leafless and woody. They were
young when Margaret and I moved here, as young as
we were. Deep green glossy leaves and blazingly red
flowers. We have all grown old together, the
azalea's, Margaret and I -- idea for a sentimental
story there -- growing old with the shrubbery.
I've had one drink too many. My experience with
scotch should make me a better drinker that I am. A
wiser drunk. Writing comes easy after two. After
two the words flow effortlessly, they have a heft
to them that plumbs the depth and breadth of
whatever ability I may have. But if I take one more
I'm all thumbs. I can't put two words together that
I haven't put together before with greater grace
There is nothing on television and my mind drifts
to Margaret as I read. I should go up and talk to
her, but with an apprehension born of experience I
put it off until tomorrow. Tomorrow can get so
crowded with the things we ought to do today. The
night, what's left of it, is balmy, and I take up
my post on the front porch to wait for Michael.
I must have dozed. Michael is standing with another
boy at the end of our driveway. I don't recognize
the other boy. Taller than Michael -- probably
older. I find myself wishing he was standing there
with a girl -- it would seem more natural after a
party. What can two boys have to talk about after a
party at this hour?
"You can get into the Actor's Studio at seventeen,
Dean was already out in California at seventeen."
"I'd have to have better marks to get out of high
school at seventeen. I'll be lucky to get out at
They seem to be breaking up, and somewhat
unsteadily, Michael approaches the porch completely
unaware of me. He stumbles on the top step ....
"Oh! Hi, Pop. You didn't have to wait up." He
stands there, a touch unstable. I recall him
stumbling like that as a child of eighteen months
planning his next step from the coffee table to the
sofa to show his mother and me how small a step it
is for a man.
"I wasn't waiting Michael -- are you okay?'
"Yeah, fine -- good party. How's Mom?"
"Asleep, I guess." He stifled a yawn and looked at
his watch in the light from the living room window.
"It takes a little time Michael, you know? It's
something all women go through. They're not like
us, you know."
"She's got her problems I suppose. I don't know a
lot about women, Pop. You going to bed?"
"I'll be right up." He's got his balance now, and
he's alert enough to hold the screen door from
slamming as it closes.
But, it's not the response I expected, and I feel I
should call him back from the edge of a dangerous
precipice. There is so much I want to tell him and
if I put it off until tomorrow it will slip my
mind. He is our son after all. If Margaret were
here, together we might be able to keep him from
going over the edge, but she's not here and I can't
do it alone, I know too little of life to do it
alone -- along with everything else it will have to
wait until tomorrow.
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