Walks

Walks

For Dan Lowry

My son worries me. He only leaves his room for long walks and he treats me like the hired help. I ought to throw him out, but I cannot. He is my son and I love him and I share his pain, though I am uncertain what that pain is.

Even as a little boy he was strange. Always strange. After his mama died he only got stranger. He was eighteen then, and of course it was a bad thing for him, but I thought he would have coped better at that age. It was not as if he were ten.

He certainly misses his mama.

He goes into the attic and digs through the trunk that holds her keepsakes. Perhaps I should have destroyed the trunk long ago, but it never occurred to me. I am one of those people who hangs onto everything.

These days he sits in his room at his desk and cuts things out of the newspaper. He does not think I've seen him, but I have. I walk quietly. I learned that when I was a boy. You did not walk quietly, my old man would fly off the handle. He hated a heavy walk. Me and my sisters got a lot of beltings because of the way we walked. My old man taught me to walk softly. When he was not drinking he would take me hunting and he would teach me how to walk like an Indian. When he was drinking, that was the way he wanted us to walk around the house. He never taught my sisters how to walk, he just expected it. He used to say girls ought to walk like girls, not water buffalo. My old man was a horrible, cruel drunk, and I am thankful that I managed to be a better father to my son.

But now the boy has pushed me out, will not let me in. I wish he respected me. I never did to him what my father did to me. I never made him walk quietly. I even let him come back home and take his old room when he lost his job.

When he was a child we used to talk about everything. Even the weird things he was interested in like horror movies and comic books and pyramid power. I did not like any of it, but I talked to him just the same, tried to understand his interests.

After his mother's death, he became quieter, more withdrawn. He will not accept she stepped out in front of a car and was killed and will not be back. I think he keeps expecting to look up and see her walk through the door.

I am sorry for him, even if his mother and I never got along. It happens that way sometime.

And these clippings of his, they worry me. Why is he cutting them out and saving them? That makes me very nervous. He thinks I do not know about them. Thinks I have not seen him cutting them out and pondering them, gluing them in his scrapbook, putting them in the bottom desk drawer under the family photo album.

And these long walks. Where does he go and what does he do? I wonder all the time, then feel guilty for wondering. He's a grown man and can take walks if he wants to. He probably walks and worries about not having a job, though he has not yet pushed hard enough to find one if you ask me. But I am sure it worries him. The walks probably help him get his mind off things. Then he comes back here and collects his clippings as a sort of hobby.

I hope that's it. Hope that explains his fascination with the clippings. I hate it when I think there is more to it than that.

One time, when he went on one of his walks, I snuck in and opened the desk drawer and got his scrapbook and looked to see what he was cutting out.

It was articles about the Choker murders snipped from a dozen newspapers. Local papers, out-of-state papers. Just about everything the newsstand sells in the way of papers. He cut out the pictures of the whores who had been strangled and glued them all in a row and underlined their names in red.

That worries me. And he has a scrapbook full of articles about the Choker from a half dozen different papers.

And the way he acts around me. Strange. Nervous. Sullen.

Today I asked him if he wanted some soup and he glared at me and would not answer. He turned his back and stared at the window and watched the rain gather on the glass, then he got up and got his raincoat and umbrella and went for a walk.

It was like when he was a little boy and he got mad about something and started being obstinate for no real reason, or sometimes because you disappointed him.

That is always the worst thing, disappointing your son. Him knowing you are not the man you want him to be.

After he was gone, I went to the window to see which way he was going, then I went to the desk drawer and took out the scrapbook and looked at them.

He had a lot more clippings. He had his mother's picture in the scrapbook. The photo used to have me in it too, but he had cut me out.

Guilt or not. Grown man or not. I had to know where he went on those walks.

I put on my raincoat and pulled up the hood and went in the direction he took. I am getting old, but I am not getting slow or weak. In fact, I am probably in better condition than my boy. I do exercises. I can still walk fast and I can still walk quietly. My old man's legacy, walking quietly.

After a short time I saw him way ahead of me, walking over toward The District, where the poorer people live. It is a very bad place.

It was very dark because of the rain and it was getting darker because it was closer to nightfall.

He went into a bar and I crossed the street and stood under an old hotel awning and looked across the street at the bar and watched him through the glass. He ordered a drink and sat and took his time with it. I started to feel cold.

I waited, though, and after a bit he had yet another drink, then another.

Now I know where the money I give him goes.

I was about to give up waiting when out he came and started up the street, not wobbling or anything. He can hold his liquor, I guess, though where he got a taste for drink I'll never know. I do not allow it around the house.

I followed him and he walked deeper into the bad part of town, where the Choker murders take place.

It grew dark and the sun went down and the neon came out and so did the hookers. They called to me from the protection of doorways, but I ignored them.

I thought of my son. They had to be calling to him too, and up ahead I saw him stop and go to a doorway, and though I could not see the girl, I knew she was there and that he was talking to her.

I felt very nervous suddenly. It hurt to know that my son was frequenting the bad parts of town, the way his mother had. Perhaps he knew about her. Perhaps he was trying to understand what she saw in places like this. And perhaps he was very much like her. God forbid.

I stopped and leaned against a building and waited, pulled the hood tight around my face to keep out the rain.

Then I saw my son go into the doorway and out of sight.

So now I knew where he went when he took his walks. He liked this part of town like his mother liked this part of town. Maybe, if he had a job, less to worry about, he would not need it anymore. I hoped that was it. Whores and whisky were a sad way for a man to live.

A girl called to me from across the way. Something about "old man do you want to feel younger." It bothered me she could tell I was old from that far away. I had a raincoat and hood on for Christ sake.

Guess it is the way I hold myself, even though I try to keep my back straight and try to walk like a younger man.

But I guess there is no hiding it. Even though I am strong and healthy, I have always looked old, even when I was young. My wife used to say I was born fifty years old. She used to tell me in bed that I acted eighty.

I do not miss her at all. If she were alive, I wonder what she would think if she knew her son was seeing whores. Would she feel proud he liked this part of town the way she had? Or would she feel ashamed?

No, I doubt she would feel ashamed. She loved the boy, but she was a bad influence. When I thought of her I always thought of her coming home with whisky on her breath, her skin smelling of some man's cologne.

I crossed the street and the girl smiled at me and talked about what she could do for me. She reminded me of my wife standing there. They all do.

I smiled at her. I thought of my son and what he was doing and I felt so sad. I thought of his mother again, and how she had been, and I was glad I had done what I did. A woman like her did not deserve to live. Just a little push at a dark intersection at the right moment and it was all over. It was not as good as getting my hands on her throat, which is what I would have liked to do, but it was easier to explain. More efficient. The police believed it was an accident.

And now, when I am with the others, I pretend each of them is her and that it is her throat I am squeezing.

But my boy, does he know what I do? Is that why he collects my press? Maybe he takes his walks not only for the whisky and the whores, but because he suspects me and does not want to be around me, thinks what I do is wrong.

I hope that is not it.

God, I hope he does not get a disease from that slut. Can he not find a nice girl?

I smiled at the whore again, got under the doorway with her, peeked out and looked both ways.

No one was coming.

I grabbed her and it only took a moment before I let her fall. I am old, but I am strong.

God, I hope my son does not get a disease.

As I went away, walking my quick but quiet walk, I told myself I would talk to him when he came in. Try to decide what he knows without giving myself away. Maybe he does not know it is me. He might collect the articles because he likes what he reads. Sympathizes with the Choker.

If so, if he would talk to me and try to understand, I think we could have the relationship I have always wanted. One like we had when he was little and we talked about the weird things that interested him, anything and everything under the sun.

I certainly hope it can be that way.

I do not want to have to choke him too.

 

 

"Walks" was originally published in 1997 in The Good, the Bad, and the Indifferent, a collection of Lansdale's short stories published in a limited-edition hardcover by Subterranean Press, and later in Bumper Crop, a collection published 2004 by Golden Gryphon Press. "Walks" 1997 Joe R. Lansdale.

Be here next Thursday for another piece of Mojo madness!