NOT MUCH ELSE by Bill West

His door opened and some broad in a man's shirt and little else looked me up and down, then let me in without asking who I was.

"Who the fuck is it?" I heard him growl and I called, "It's me, your son, Ben."

Then he was there in the cabbage stink of the hallway in shorts with the belt cinched tight under the hairy bulge of his belly.

"Come in, sit down" he said without a smile "I ain't got no booze but we can sit awhile."

We sat by the window, street side. I wanted him to ask me how I was, where I'd been for the past five years since Mum died, anything. I couldn't look at him so I gazed out the window, watched a convertible with whitewall tires pass by, half listening while he bitched about the landlord and the guy upstairs with the wooden leg who banged all night, and I nodded and grunted and watched women in the street, their tight skirts and heels.

He went quiet, just his breath kinda ragged. And when I looked at him he said in a whisper, "I still miss her, your mother."

And in that moment he looked shrunken, not frightening, his sagging flesh loose beneath his chin and a thin tear sliding down his boozer's nose. And for a second I wanted to rest the meat of my hand on his knuckles. A chance for reconciliation. But that moment passed and I remembered his fists swinging, the thump as they landed.

Then he went to the john with the door open and I heard him piss and cough and hawk up. I looked around the dirty walls. No pictures, no memory of her.

"You want coffee?" the skank called to me in a sing-song voice. I turned. She posed in the doorway showing too much leg and the rest and I said, "I gotta go."

I walked fast, out into the street, breathed in free air. I bought a bottle and sat on a low wall to watch the sun set across the river. And the water sparkled and I toasted absent loved ones. Toasted the sun sinking, the clouds blowing fast, and the cat chasing a rat in the alley behind.


- 2008 - West

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