By Laura Schmitt
My uncle parker, a convicted felon, taught me how to drive during my senior year of high school. It was decided that he would be my teacher at my dad’s fiftieth birthday party during a brief conversation that took place between dinner and cutting the cake. I had not actually been present for the discussion, forced to monitor the kid’s table out back where my little cousins were chewing with their mouths open, but I’m sure my mother’s nerves, Uncle Parker’s inability to get a job, and my dad’s desire to constantly be helpful were all variables in setting up those weekend road lessons. On a mid-March Saturday, the day of our first session, Uncle Parker drove over to our house on his motorcycle. My dad and I were sitting on the front porch, Lady asleep in my lap, when he roared down our one-way street, his Harley sounding like a lion’s growl rumbling through the neighborhood. Lady awoke and barked at the strange man pulling up to the curb, her nails digging into my bare legs.
“Lady, quiet!” my dad snapped and pointed at her, his teeth clenched. He stood up from the porch swing and brushed off the pant legs of his navy suit. He walked down the steps to greet his brother.
“We could hear you coming a mile away,” my dad said and gave him a playful punch in the arm. Uncle Parker stumbled to the side as if it had actually hurt him, then laughed.
Lady stopped barking when he took his helmet off and she recognized her sporadic dog-sitter. She jumped off my lap and went to him. I ran my hands over the dimples her tiny claws had made in my skin, trying to rub away the redness.
“Who’s excited to get back behind the wheel?” Uncle Parker said, bending down to pet Lady, then looking up at me. I faked a smile. The last time I’d attempted behind-the-wheel practice I had almost taken off the mirror of a parked mail truck. The incident prompted my mom to conclude it would be best for our relationship, and her blood pressure, if we outsourced the job of driving instructor. That had been sophomore year, and I had been too afraid to try since. I was able to survive without the luxury of a license for the most part, but was starting to feel like my friends were tiring of driving out of their way to pick me up for school, soccer, and just about anything that involved socializing.
“You remember how to turn the headlights on in the Mazda, right Prudence?” my dad asked. I grabbed the keys from his outstretched hand and pressed the button twice to unlock the car. Our silver SUV was already sitting in the middle of the driveway, nose out, so I wouldn’t have to back out of the cluttered garage. My mom had taken the car to get cleaned that morning, wanting it to be spotless so that nothing would distract me or make my allergies act up.
“Yeah, the switch is just on the little lever by the steering wheel,” I said.
“I’ll make sure we go over all the technical stuff first,” Uncle Parker said, walking over to the driver’s side. “It might be smart to just cruise around an empty parking lot, get a feel for the pedals before we go on any major streets.”
“I think that’s a smart plan. Does that sound good, P?” My dad squeezed
my shoulder and smiled in a way that told me he sensed my nervousness. The
edges of his lips were not fully curved, a giveaway that the smile was put on
in an effort to make me feel better. I wanted to ask him why he couldn’t just
take me driving, but that would have been rude to say in front of Uncle Parker. Besides, a bunch of apartment complexes were being finished on the east
side of the river, and my dad had open houses scheduled for just about every
weekend. He was dressed for work, sporting one of his usual pastel button ups,
and looked extra sharp next to his overweight brother’s untucked Giants shirt
and cargo shorts. I nodded and went around to the passenger side, handing the
keys to my uncle as I walked by.
“Thanks for doing this, Parker,” my dad said as I climbed into the car. “Don’t let her get a lead foot like her father.”
“Don’t worry,” Uncle Parker said. “We’ll be good.”
“I left the check for this week’s lesson on the dining room table. Just have Prudence grab it when you guys get back.” My dad cradled Lady in his arm. He waved to us with his free hand as we pulled down the driveway.
Uncle Parker drove us to the abandoned mall on the west side of town. It was the biggest vacant parking lot in Green Bay. Loud cracks echoed across concrete from cranes that were slowly tearing the long building down. He put the car in park, then shifted in his seat so he was looking at me.
“Before we do any on-the- road work, I want to make sure you have a good understand- ing of the car,” Uncle Parker said. “In order to operate this big machine safely, you need to know the ins and outs of it.” We switched sides so that I was in the driver’s seat. The leather was warm from his body when I sat down, making my legs tense up in an effort to touch as little of the seat as possible. I put my hands on the steering wheel and tried to relax by thinking about the day I’d be able to hop in the car by myself. I adjusted the rearview to my height and told myself this was worth it.
Uncle Parker walked me through the purpose of all the dashboard gauges, gears, and lights. After a mini lecture on when and where to use what, he stood outside the car and made me flick my lights on and off and look in each of my mirrors to make sure I understood where my blind spots were.
I had visited Uncle Parker in jail two years ago. He’d been sitting behind a glass panel and talking to my grandpa on what looked like a black payphone. Grandpa Baker had been fat and dying at the time and was having a hard time sitting on the metal stool the prison provided. I stood a few yards back as they talked to each other through the glass, aware that I was seeing two people who were speaking to each other for the last time. When the PA announced there were only fifteen minutes left in the hour, Uncle Parker sobbed a loud, drippy sob that caused a bunch of other visitors to stare at our family. My dad sent me to buy pretzels from the vending machine near the men’s bathroom. Grandpa Baker died a month later and we sent Uncle Parker a DVD of the funeral. It was returned to our mailbox the next week.
My uncle tapped on the window and I jumped, my cheeks warming as if he’d known what I was thinking.
“Why don’t you try to get a feel for the pedals,” he said. He pointed out at the parking lot. “Imagine the rows between the parking spaces are streets. Just go slowly. Stay under twenty-five.”
I drove around for the next hour, practicing my right and left turns, pulling into parking spaces, backing up. My biggest issue was that I kept mixing up which way to turn the wheel when backing out. Uncle Parker said we’d work on it, but next time I’d be ready for real roads.
When we arrived back at my house, I ran inside to get the check. Uncle Parker kick-started his bike, and I handed him the white envelope. He looked inside.
“This is all?” he said over the engine. He sort of shoved my shoulder. “Kidding, kidding. Tell your dad thanks, and I’ll see you at the same time next week?”
“Sure thing.” I waved then ran up to our porch and back inside. My mom was mincing garlic when I walked into the kitchen, the smell overpowering the whole room and sticking to my skin. She was listening to big band music and doing a sort of two-step in front of the cutting board. Lady dodged her moving feet and whined for attention.
“How’d it go?” my mom asked. “Dinner will be done in ten minutes.”
I went by the stove to steal one of the noodles that was still cooking. “I suck at backing out,” I said, grabbing a hot noodle with my fingers and dropping it into my mouth.
“You’ll get the hang of it soon.”
“His open house is really busy,” she said. “He’ll be home before seven. Can you set the table, please?”
I got our floral placemats from the cabinet and set three out on the table in the dining room.
“How’s Parker doing?” Mom shouted from the other room.
“I don’t know. Fine, I guess.”
“Is he a good teacher?”
I went back into the kitchen to get the plates and napkins. “He sort of creeps me out.”
My mom stopped chopping the garlic and looked at me. “What happened?”
“No, nothing, like, bad,” I said quickly. I bent down to pet Lady and chewed the side of my cheek. “He just breathes really heavily.” I looked back up at my mom. “And everything about him just seems a little off.”
Her eyes were disapproving. “Prudence.”
“I’m just being honest.”
“It would really hurt your father if he heard you say that.” She went back to work but was no longer moving to the music. “People make mistakes. That part of him is in the past.”
My family only ever talked about Uncle Parker’s crime in abstract terms. That part of him. The hard time. His mistake. I’d only learned he was serving time for child pornography distribution when I looked up his court record online on the day of his release. He was getting sixty days off his four-year sentence based on good behavior, and I was in my school’s library with nothing to do in study hall. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought about looking into his case earlier. Perhaps I didn’t care or was scared of what I’d find. I always knew it had been something related to sex, but so many crimes involve sex. Hell, when I was fourteen and his whole trial went down, I thought sex itself was a crime. I read the first few lines, then shut my laptop, too afraid that someone near me would see. The Baker family can talk about their religion and politics with any- one and everyone, but never their flaws. Being Roman Catholic makes us really good at forgiving sins and even better at pretending we’ve forgotten them.
My driver’s test was scheduled for the second week of April, and our next two lessons were dedicated to perfecting Y-turns, hill stops, and parallel parking. We mainly stuck to side roads that were populated with yield signs, stop signs, and fewer things for me to potentially hit. Our conversation consisted of Uncle Parker giving me directions, and me filling in awkward pauses with observations about cute houses and budding Hawthorne trees.
The Saturday before my test, Uncle Parker thought we should spend the day driving around downtown to get more acquainted with traffic and navigating one-way streets. We stopped at the gas station on Maine Street so I could learn how to fill up the car and Uncle Parker could get a Diet Coke. I backed out of the gas station parking lot, turning the wheel the right way without even really thinking about it.
“Look at that,” Uncle Parker said. He kept his jaw dropped for a few seconds after as if he’d just witnessed something actually impressive. “I think you’re gonna crush this test.”
“Maybe if it were written,” I said.
“Are your parents going to buy you your own car?” Uncle Parker asked.
I scoffed. “Absolutely not.”
“You know, when your dad was your age he had an orange Mustang.”
“He fixed it up himself,” he said with a laugh that sounded just like my dad’s, low and bubbly. “He was quite the handyman back in his day.”
I tried to picture my dad at eighteen with his shaggy hair and crooked teeth that weren’t straightened out until he could afford braces on his own. I could only picture him leaning over the hood of the car, his dark brown hair covering his face. My imagination was unable to muster up a Henry Baker with tight skin and no stress lines.
“He would always blast the radio when he worked and our mom hated it,” Uncle Parker continued, gesturing for me to take a left at the
next corner. I checked my mirrors and did a lane change that made the
car swerve a little too much. I muttered sorry. “You’re fine. Just ease it over next time. You don’t need to turn the wheel so much.”
Uncle Parker paused. “But yeah, he’d blast the Beatles in our garage and I’d bring in a lawn chair just to watch him work. I loved the sound of metal on metal, the smell of oil. I remember your dad always stopped whatever he was doing whenever ‘Dear Prudence’ came on. He’d just sit with his legs crossed and stare at his greasy fingertips and listen.” He cleared his throat. “One time, I think it was in the summer when he was almost done with the car, he told me, ‘Parker, bud, if I have a daughter, I’m going to name her Prudence, and all her friends are going to be envious.’”
“No one is jealous of my name,” I said. The stoplight at the end of Monroe Street changed to yellow and I took my foot off the gas to slow down. “It’s such a mouthful.”
“Prudence is an awesome name.”
“It’s so old sounding.”
“It’s way better than mine,” Uncle Parker said. He picked up his soda and took a sip. “Par-ker Ba-ker. The K’s are so harsh. I always wanted to be an Elijah or George. Something with softer consonants.”
“The person behind us has been tailgating me for like four blocks.” I glanced back at the red minivan in the rearview mirror. “Am I going too slow? What’s the speed limit?”
“They’ll pass us. Don’t worry about them.” Uncle Parker rolled down his window and signaled for the car to go around us. “There is a guy in my barbershop quartet named Kingsley Butler. How cool is that? He goes by King and wears fedoras one day and cowboy boots the next. Totally changes his persona. No one even thinks it’s weird. He just leaves his old self and style behind. It’s incredible.”
“You’re in a barbershop quartet?”
“Hell yeah.” A commercial for weight loss supplements came on and Uncle Parker turned the radio down a bit. “I’m a tenor for this group called 18 Big Sound. It’s a good time. We do gigs at nursing homes and corporate events mostly. I arrange the songs.” I’d known my Grandpa Baker had been into barbershop, but was surprised to hear the singing gene carried down into at least one of his sons.
“Are you any good?”
“I like to think so,” he said. “I did a cappella in college, too.”
“I didn’t think you went to college.” My palms got clammy against the leather steering wheel as I realized what I’d said.
“Yep, studied business management. I don’t think I drank any water the entire time.” I laughed with hesitation, not entirely sure if I should be condoning his youthful alcoholism. “Your dad and Uncle Steve visited once, I want to say I was a freshman, and this was right after your dad moved to Newport. He was wearing all these fancy sweaters and shoes and had real Ray Bans. All the kids on my floor treated him like a movie star. Then he bought us a keg and became God. It was the best.”
Uncle Parker’s cell rang, the ringer the sound of a loud, old-fashioned telephone. He apologized, pulled it out of his pocket, and sent it to voicemail.
“Did you ever visit my dad when he lived in Newport?”
Uncle Parker shook his head. “I never made it out there. I heard it was beautiful though. He had this condo near the beach, was really good at making friends. Apparently quite the bachelor, too.”
“Nope. Don’t want to hear that.”
He slapped his leg and laughed harder than I expected. His cell buzzed and he pulled out his phone. He started typing then waved his phone. “I’m only doing this because I’m the passenger.” I nodded and stayed focused on the road.
It was 6:00 pm and we drove into a burnt orange sky that hurt my eyes. I had to squint to clearly make out the color of the stoplights. Uncle Parker’s phone buzzed again. He read the message and scratched his eyebrow.
“Hey, how about as a treat for your last lesson we swing by Pete’s Pub?” he said. “Two of my buddies I haven’t seen in a while are there. It’s really close, only two blocks away. I’ll even buy you a burger, how ‘bout that?”
“I’m a vegetarian, but I guess I could go for a milkshake or something.”
“Milkshake it is.”
Instead of continuing on Maine Street back to my house, we took a right
onto Brookridge Avenue. I was momentarily relieved. The road was heading south and I no longer had to look directly at the bright, sinking sun.
Pete’s Pub was a small brick building with Irish flags and green neon signs decorating its exterior. It looked as if the front door had just been painted, a deep red covering the entrance while the brown around the windows was chipping. Inside, the room was dark, and the yellow light fixtures, incandescent. I could feel their heat as I walked under them. I followed Uncle Parker to a booth near the back. Two men who I assumed were in their late thirties were already seated on opposite sides of the table. My uncle sat next to the bald man with glasses, giving him a slap on the back.
I looked at the torn leather of the booth then slipped in next to the blonde man with slightly red facial hair.
“If I’d known it was ladies’ night I would have brought myself a date, too,” the man next to me said.
Uncle Parker shook his head. “This is my niece, Prudence,” he said gesturing to me. “This is Craig”—he pointed to the bald man with glasses—“and that’s T.J. I’m teaching Prudence how to drive.”
“Ah, to be sixteen again,” T.J. said. Craig laughed. The pub smelled of cigarette smoke and something stale.
“Actually, I’m eighteen,” I said. “I just didn’t feel like getting my license right away.”
“I was a late bloomer, too.” T.J. said. Uncle Parker gave him a look, then passed me a menu.
“So how’ve you been, Baker?” Craig asked Uncle Parker. “Last time I saw you, you were all jazzed about that bait shop job. Was Cindy able to hook it up?”
“Didn’t pan out,” Uncle Parker said. He opened his menu.
“I feel that,” Craig said. “Say, guess who got out three weeks ago?”
Uncle Parker shrugged. “Beats me.”
Craig licked his cracked lips and folded his arms. He thought whatever information he had was good. He waited a few moments then leaned forward, his palms flat on the table. “Tony Charles.”
“No shit,” T.J. said. “Good behavior. Took off for Philly.” I realized then that they were talking about someone they all knew in prison. I stared at the menu to act like I wasn’t listening. The font was some loopy Celtic design that was difficult to read.
“Now there’s a man who’s actually crazy,” Uncle Parker said.
“Remember when he flipped out about Top Chef not being on in the rec room?” Craig pounded his fist against the table as he let out a high and choppy laugh.
“Dude just liked it ‘cause of the knives,” T.J. said.
“Guys, come on,” Uncle Parker muttered and I felt him glance at me.
A waitress with a dark pixie cut and green apron came over to our table. “What can I get y’all tonight?” She snapped her gum and wobbled the pen between her fingers.
“I’ll do an Old Fashioned,” Craig said.
“Make that two,” T.J. seconded.
“Prudence, you can go first,” Uncle Parker said.
“Can I get a milkshake?”
“We don’t actually have milkshakes here, hun,” the waitress said, tilting her head and sticking out her bottom lip. “Can I get you a soda or iced tea or something?”
“Sure. Um, iced tea is fine.”
“I’ll just take a water.” Uncle Parker collected all of our menus then handed them to the waitress who made her way back to the bar. T.J. watched her walk away. I checked my phone. 6:20pm. The waitress returned with our drinks while the guys were discussing their basketball brackets and how the whole system was rigged. I didn’t even like iced tea very much but was thankful I could sip on my drink and not feel guilty for being so quiet.
The waitress came back again a short while later and T.J. and Craig put in an order for another Old Fashioned.
“You sure I can’t get you anything?” she asked Uncle Parker. He shook his head.
“Oh, come on,” T.J. said. He threw a crumpled-up straw wrapper at Uncle
Parker. “Don’t be a drag. You’ve even got a built in DD!” T.J. lifted his chin in my direction. “It would be good for her. Real-world experience.”
“One’s a beverage,” Craig added.
Uncle Parker sighed and looked up at the waitress. “I guess I’ll do a Stella’s.” She went to put in the order.
Uncle Parker pointed at me. “You won’t tattle on me, right?” He was smiling, but I felt like he meant what he was saying. I laughed uncomfortably.
She came back with more drinks and brought me another iced tea even though I didn’t ask for one. I looked at her name tag. Angela. The guys put in another order right away, this time adding cheese curds and one round of shots to the list. Angela came back with the food and a tray topped with little glasses and limes.
“Have you ever done a tequila shot before?” T.J. asked me. He licked the side of his hand and sprinkled salt onto his thumb.
“T.J., seriously?” Uncle Parker said. “She’s in high school.”
“Oh, like you didn’t drink in high school?”
“Not in my household,” Uncle Parker said as he reached for the salt. “And definitely not in hers.” The three of them tapped their shot glasses together then tossed their heads back. Uncle Parker’s face scrunched up as he gulped down the alcohol. He swallowed hard and was the first to bite into a lime.
Craig smacked his lips together. “I still got it.”
“Yeah, let me know if you’ve still got it tomorrow morning.” Uncle Parker rolled his eyes. The two of them got on the topic of gas prices, and T.J. shifted his body towards me.
“So what’s your deal?” he asked with a smile that revealed his oddly small teeth.
“What do you mean?”
“Like what do you do? Tell me something interesting.”
“I’m in high school and play soccer, I guess,” I said.
“You guess you play soccer or you do?”
“I do. I’m on varsity.”
“Well, excuse me.” He put his hands up as if I’d given him attitude then let them fall back into his lap. Uncle Parker got up to go get Craig a water and T.J. took a deep breath as if he were thinking. He stroked his weird, red beard.
“What’s your favorite position?”
“I’m a forward. We don’t really switch it up.”
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
“No,” I said and swirled the ice in my glass with the thick black straw.
“Not even a little crush?”
I took a long sip of my drink. “I guess I liked this guy in my history class, but then I found out he owned a bunch of hamsters. That was sort of a red flag.”
“Look.” He tapped me on the arm to make sure I was listening. “You’re a smart girl for not dating. High school boys, they will rip out your heart and nail it above your headboard. Believe me.” He leaned in just a bit. “Just make sure you’re always being smart. Girls gotta be smart or they get in trouble. They gotta be smart about two things, their hearts and their bodies.” He stared at me for a moment too long, his brown eyes moving around my face, and I suddenly wanted to leave. I excused myself to go to the bathroom.
The women’s restroom in Pete’s Pub was just as repulsive as the rest of the place. The tiled floors were cracked and the mirror was smudged in the corners with specks of rust. I took out my phone and dialed my mom. It went to voicemail. I tried her again but there was no answer. My dad was probably at an open house. Hearing about what Uncle Parker was doing would send him on a tirade, but as I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror, my faded lip gloss and my pink V-neck shirt, I just wanted to be home in my bed with Lady at my feet. I dialed my dad and closed my eyes as the phone rang.
“Dad, can you come get me?” There were voices in the background and someone asked where the master bedroom was.
“Honey, I’m finishing up at an open house and pretty tied up. Where are you? Can you call Mom?”
I took a deep breath and felt my chest quiver. “Um, Uncle Parker took me to this bar. He’s with these guys from prison, and I’m really uncomfortable.”
“What the hell?” My dad’s voice was raised and urgent. “Are you serious? What is the name of the bar?”
“Pete’s Pub. It’s on Brookridge I think.” My eyes were starting to hurt and I 23 looked away from my blurry reflection in the mirror.
“Are you still with them?”
“I’m in the bathroom.”
“Stay right there. I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
I came out of the restroom after fifteen minutes, but my dad was not in the bar. Angela was serving another table filled with old men and Uncle Parker, Craig, and T.J. were at the pool table near the women’s restroom about to start a game.
“There she is,” T.J. said tapping Uncle Parker, then raising his glass in my direction. “He thought he’d lost you.”
“Hey, you feeling okay?” Uncle Parker asked me. He was chalking up his pool stick and his mouth was full of cheese curds. Some old rock song was playing from the jukebox behind him which made it hard to hear.
T.J. waved Uncle Parker’s comment away. “Girls always take long in the bathroom. Prudence, be on my team.”
“That’s okay,” I said. “I’m fine watching.”
“We need teams of two, though.” Craig grabbed a pool stick from the rack and walked over to me.
“I’ve never played before.”
He took a swig from his beer and handed me the stick. “It’s not hard. That’s why people play it in bars.”
I reluctantly walked over to the end of the pool table where T.J. was moving the triangle filled with multi-colored pool balls to the center. He took away the border and they all stayed in place, free to roll anywhere but remaining pressed up next to each other.
“We get to go first,” he said. T.J. bent forward so he was at eye level with the table and placed the stick between his middle and index finger. His knuckles were pronounced and I could see small black hairs on top of them. He snapped his arm back and there was a loud pop as the white ball smacked into all the others. The blue one ricocheted off the side then dropped into a pocket near Uncle Parker. T.J. turned to me for a high five that took me a little too long to return.
Craig took the next shot. He first circled the table and looked for the most strategic ball to aim at. He settled on the yellow one. When he took the shot the pool stick sort of slipped through his fingers. The cue ball just hit the side of the table.
“Shit.” Craig finished his drink. “It’s this goddamn music. Who the fuck put the Stones on?”
Uncle Parker scoffed and walked over to the jukebox to put on something else. The Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends” started to play.
“You get to take the next one, girlie,” T.J. said and winked at me.
“That’s okay,” I said, trying to sound nonchalant. “I don’t know how. And I don’t want to bring you down.”
“I can show you.” He moved behind me.
I took a step to the side and looked towards the front entrance, willing my dad to walk through. “No, really it’s okay,” I said with a choppy laugh.
“Why not?” T.J. raised his right eyebrow in a challenge. “Do I scare you?”
I had learned in music class the week before that there are people in Mongolia known as throat singers. They can produce multiple tones with a single voice, two pitches layered on top of each other like powerlines. It takes a special kind of ear to hear the overtones, and when Mr. Hill had played the track for our class I had only heard the low chant, the one everyone hears. He told us we’d maybe learn to hear the high wobble accompanying their chants with time. It takes a trained ear, an ear that knows what to expect. T.J.’s voice was just above a whisper, but I clearly heard two tones and they made my jaw lock up. The low one was accusatory and harsh. The high one, wishful. Desiring me to be afraid.
I shook my head.
“Come here then.” He waved me closer and took the pool stick from my hand. His large hands were on my shoulders and he lined me up so I was centered at the edge of the able. “We are going to aim for the green one,” he said in my ear. “If you hit it with enough power, it will bounce off the side, knock into the red and orange balls, and send them into the left pocket.”
I nodded and ducked my head away from his warm whiskey breath.
He set his hands on top of mine to position the stick at the right angle. “Get
I bent my knees a bit and took a deep, silent breath. His fingers were dry and big and I only wanted to take the shot so that they would get off mine.
“Give it some umph,” he said.
I pulled my arm back fast and secretly hoped the back of the stick would catch under T.J.’s ribs. It didn’t, but when it came forward the tip of the stick collided with the white ball and there was the loud pop of a good hit. The green ball rammed into the side of the table then into the red and orange ball. They both dropped into the left pocket, just like T.J. said.
“We’ve got a natural on our hands!” T.J. raised one fist above his head and held it there for a moment. Uncle Parker and Craig gave me a slow clap.
The front door chimed and I turned to see my dad rushing into the bar. His suit coat was unbuttoned and he was taking long strides, his whole body leaning forward just a bit. He was only halfway to the pool table when he started yelling, but his voice was everywhere.
“What were you thinking?” he pointed at Uncle Parker.
Uncle Parker handed his pool stick to Craig as if he were getting rid of evidence and walked towards my dad with his hand on his forehead. The few patrons in the bar stopped whatever they were doing and turned to look at my family.
“I don’t want to hear a word from you or your scumbag friends.”
“Who’s this WASP?” T.J. said.
My dad didn’t even look at T.J. “Get in the car, Prudence.”
“Let the girl stay,” T.J. said. “She’s having fun.”
“You shut up,” my dad snapped. He grabbed my wrist and led me to the door.
“Bye, Prudence,” T.J. yelled as I left the bar. “It was a pleasure meeting you.”
Uncle Parker followed after us as we walked outside. It was dark now, and the pub’s parking lot was lit by two tall streetlights. A swarm of bugs hovered beneath them. I made my way over to my dad’s truck. It was parked across two spaces.
“Henry, it was a dumb move, I know!” Uncle Parker shouted. “Please, let me make it up to you.”
I was about to get in the car but turned around to see my dad and Uncle Parker standing about five feet away from each other. My dad’s arms were tense at his side and his face was scrunched up and shadowed.
“All I do is give you second chances, Parker!” my dad yelled. “Grow up.” His face unwound then, the anger evaporating and leaving behind a dry, blank face. “Dad would be so disappointed.”
I was told again to get in the car but continued to watch them through the back window. My dad tried to walk away, but Uncle Parker called him back, reaching out to grab his shoulder though not actually touching him. My dad turned around and put his hands in his pockets. Uncle Parker was talking but looking at his hands. He rubbed his palm, then gestured to the bar. My dad shook his head and folded his arms, his feet planted far apart. Uncle Parker dug the tip of his sneaker into the blacktop and ran his hand through his thick hair. He put his hand in his pockets, too, and said something, looking up and my dad, staring at him even when his mouth stopped moving. My dad was motionless for a few seconds, then turned away and walked towards the truck.
He opened the car door, but didn’t get in, just grabbed his checkbook from the credenza between the front seats and wrote a check.
“Dad, you can’t be serious,” I said.
He looked up at me, and I thought for a second I might get yelled at for talking back. It was only a look, but somehow it was worse than any time he ever yelled at me. He looked old and young at once, like a person, not just a parent. He ripped out the check and walked back to Uncle Parker.
I don’t know whether I wanted my dad or Uncle Parker to rip up the check, but I just wanted to see it fall to the ground and scatter across the lot into two pieces that would never find each other. But my dad handed it to his brother, and Uncle Parker slipped it into his back pocket. He turned away and walked back into Pete’s Pub, the red door closing behind him.
Laura Schmitt is a recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin Madison where she studied journalism and English. In 2018, she won the Eudora Welty Fiction Prize for her senior thesis, a collection of five short stories entitled “Late Bloomers.” Her reporting has received awards from the Society for Professional Journalism and the Milwaukee Press Club. Her fiction has appeared in The Write Launch and The Elm. She currently lives in Nashville and works as the fiction editor for the Rare Byrd Review, a literary journal for young writers.