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Whoso would be a man must be a non-conformist. -- Emerson

Gadfly Novels


Excerpt from Street of Dreams

Street of Dreams Image by © Fotosearch
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        My father's controlled rage was unmistakable, and his voice promised another infamous temper tantrum. All the Taneys had the same affliction. My grandfather once killed a man with his bare hands in self-defense. Although I possessed the poison, I had vowed many times never to release the lid on the latent venom inside me.

        My hands in a light sweat, I moved closer. The door was open about six inches, allowing me a peek into the room. Nina stood near the closet, her red hair frizzled out like an enraged lizard. Her hands were balled up into tight little fists. Almost naked, she wore a frilly black underwear and nylon stockings, held up by a garter belt.

        "Look Tish," Dad's voice said unevenly as he talked on the phone to my mother, "I know what we agreed on, but I've changed my mind. It's your turn to take care of him."

        Take care of him.

        Those words had been the summation of my existence since age ten when my Mom and Dad divorced. Was I an heirloom? Something to share because of its intrinsic value? No. I'm a mistake whereby everyone in the family must share the blame and burden. Okay, grandma, you take care of him, then my mother, then my aunt and uncle. Now, for the last three years, I lived with my father again and not a day went by without wishing that I lived with my aunt and uncle again.

        Dad and Nina never missed an opportunity to remind me of my failures. Why are you incapable of doing anything smart or anything right? Two reasons kept me from quitting school and joining the army: my friends and my speed on the track team. I didn't get good grades, but never once did I open any of my text books. My skill was running the hurdles.

        Dad's face reddened, and his voice increased to a higher octave. Like high voltage, tension crackled from the bedroom. "I don't care if it's his senior year or not. What difference does that make?"

        Shock invaded my body and twisted my gut. Live with Letitia again, my dim-witted mother who had to live with her parents after the divorce? I'd often wondered why my intelligent father married my mother.

        "Look, I gotta go. Scott will be moving over sometime this weekend, so you should be expecting him."

        The receiver clanked down hard, along with my heart. Our new home was still inside the school district boundary but not my grandparent's house. Moving those four miles farther away meant leaving West High School. What could be worse? It would be the end of the world for me.

        Dad still possessed an athletic body. He never wore a shirt in the house, not even in winter, and his upper body reminded me of those Charles Atlas magazine ads where some scrawny kid got sand kicked in his face by a handsome weight lifter.

        I was the scrawny kid.

        Dad had a square chin and a rugged face, his biceps hard as steel, his chest broad and well-defined, his stomach like a corrugated washboard. Every summer he cultivated the deep bronze-like tan of an Indian.

        At forty-three, his hair was turning gray at the temples. A slight gap in his front teeth did nothing to hinder his good looks. His blue eyes glared at Nina, his teeth working like a pair of vise grips. "Are you satisfied now?"

        "He's not gone yet," she said.

        "I'll tell him when he gets home."

        "Good. I can't stand him around," Nina growled. "You've got to admit Scott isn't your normal kid. I mean he's eighteen and he doesn't date any girls, which means he's a queer. And you know how dumb he is in school. I hope you don't chicken out."

        Dad stepped forward and smacked Nina hard across the face. "Gripe and bitch. That's all you know how to do."

        She stumbled back a few feet against one of the night stands. In a rage, she opened the drawer and pulled out a chrome-plated .32 revolver.

        Dad's face hardened, and a weird look formed in his eyes, a sort of wildness that produced chills along the nape of my neck. His right hand formed a rocky fist. He stepped closer to her. "Don't push it, bitch."

        Nina raised her arm and pointed the Colt .32 at his head. "You hit me again, and I'll kill you."

        Dad laughed. "Go ahead. I dare you."

        For a minute I thought she'd pull the trigger. My heart thumped against my chest threatening to rip through my rib cage. Tiny droplets of sweat beaded my forehead. After a few seconds, her hand wavered, and she lowered the gun.

        His fist smashed against her face, and her head struck the closet door. She collapsed like a sand bag falling on the hard wood floor.

        This fight had been the worst since my Dad broke her arm and Nina slashed his leg with a straight-edge razor. A week didn't pass without a serious fight. In a day or two, however, the violence always produced amorous sighs and moans from their passionate make-ups that I could hear through wafer-thin walls.

        I retreated down the hall to my bedroom, sat on my bed, and gathered my most prized possessions around me: my letter jacket and collection of western novels.

        Dad must have heard me, because as soon as I got settled, he walked through the door. He had a unique way of talking through his teeth when he was mad.

        "Scott, stop cowering and act like a man for once." He motioned with his forefinger.

        I followed him into the living room and as I passed the bedroom, I stole a glance. Nina lay unconscious on the floor, the gun still in her hand. A trickle of blood oozed from her lips.

        From the coffee table Dad picked up a pack of Chesterfield and a Zippo lighter, selected a cigarette, and lit it. He sat on one end of the sofa and blew smoke toward the ceiling. His reaction amazed me. His hands were steady as if nothing significant had happened in the bedroom.

        I eased down on the opposite side of the sofa, ready to run. My father had never physically abused me, but there was always a first time for everything.

        Whenever he lectured me or berated me for my ignorance, he averted his eyes looking at something else, anything else but me. "You heard everything?"

        I nodded affirmative. "I couldn't help it."

        He shrugged his shoulders. "Scott, I'm going to be very busy with my new business, and Nina works harder than I do. We just don't have time for you. Besides, your mother wants you."

        He always lied with conviction, his avocation. I think in his mind, his excuses weren't lies but distortions of the truth. Nevertheless, he had a gift for making my life miserable. Somehow, everything was my fault. Who else?

        "Dad?" My throat constricted, and I forced the words out. "School starts next week. I'm already enrolled for classes."

        I longed with all my heart to say more. I couldn't imagine losing my friends. My mind dwelled on Lorraine Vogler, the best cheerleader and the most beautiful girl in school. Sweet Lorraine, prettier than Elizabeth Taylor. Someday I was going to ask her for a date. Whenever I thought she'd be around, I made sure I wore my letter jacket.

        He kept talking as if I hadn't said a word.

        "I think you'd better keep your job at the grocery store so you can finish paying for your car."

        My hearing must have been impaired by the violence in the bedroom. He didn't mean it, he'd promised. "You said you'd finish the payments so I wouldn't have to work when school started." Working after school meant loosing out on the most important aspects of my life.

        Calmly, he continued as if reading from a legal document. The fingers of his right hand were yellowed from nicotine. "Work is good for you. When I was your age I was already driving a team of horses during harvest time. Now look at me, and I only finished eighth grade."

        I knew he didn't give a damn whether I graduated from high school or not, and going to college would be a complete waste of time and money.

        The room whirled, my ears buzzed, and a massive pain penetrated my head. As I leaned back on the sofa and stared at the patterned swirls on the ceiling, a plan began to jell. I'd need the car for transportation to go from my grandparent's house to school and also to work. "Can I use your new address?"

        His eyes met mine for a second. "What do you mean?"

        "If I don't tell the school office I've moved out of the district, I can stay at West."

        Dad's face scrunched up for a second, and I was sure he'd say no. "Fine with me."

        My breathing returned to normal. Maybe the move wouldn't be so bad after all. I'd be away from Nina's hateful looks and spurious remarks, and I wouldn't feel like a dummy when Dad put me down.

        I'd be able to finish my senior year with my friends and defend my titles as city and state champ in the hurdles. I had a shot at a track scholarship at Illinois Central, the local college. My father had already told me he wouldn't pay my tuition.

        Dad's eyes relayed the message. For a moment, I thought I detected fear in them, but I knew that was ridiculous. He was implacable, the great unbendable. Then I heard a noise behind me and turned at the waist.

        Somewhat unstable, Nina stood under the arch leading into the living room, her eyes malignant and brimming over with magma. A shiny bruise had already formed on her left cheekbone. The gun was still in her hand.

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