He got his degree and then a job, counseling
students on their futures. He’d see them for
fifteen minutes at a time, juniors and seniors,
all day long. On their way out of the little town
he’d come back to. He’d gone twenty-five miles
away and no further. He only spoke to the
best and the brightest; the vocational kids
weren’t going anywhere, the middle of the
class would end up like him. It was the
college prep kids whose parents pushed
them to him, to make sure they were taking
the right courses, getting involved in the
right activities. He made sure they looked
good on paper, where it counted.
At home, his own kids were out of control;
they smoked, they drank, they let their hair grow.
They talked back to him. His wife said
she could do nothing with them. And so as he
guided the good kids down the
chute towards prosperity and respectability,
his own slipped behind the point he’d worked
so hard to reach: a home in town, nothing much,
but respectable. Each day he’d stare into the eyes
of the children who’d been raised right; each night
he’d return home to find his wife smoking a cigarette
over a frying pan, cooking hamburgers, with no idea
where his boys were or when they’d be back. He
knew they weren’t playing sports, they’d given that
up long ago. He suspected they were hanging out
at the drive-in, drinking Cokes and wasting time, not
making anything of themselves as he had, coming
from nothing—a farm north of town—and going off
to college to get a white-collar job. No, they had the
work ethic of their mother; she’d latched on to him
as the girl he knew at home, the one he could always
depend on being there when he drove back from college.
One day as he finished up at school he gazed long into the
eyes of a boy who was going to college back east; a math
genius, his father a doctor. Why couldn’t my boys be like
that, he almost said aloud as he ushered the boy out his wood
and frosted glass office door. Then he went home,
as if in a daze, opened up the back door and found his wife
smoking, as usual. He opened up the knife drawer, took one
out and said “C’mon—upstairs.” She didn’t believe him at
first, thought he was kidding, but he backed her out of the
kitchen, up to the second floor where the boys’ bedroom was.
There he kept her until the kids came home, trooped upstairs
and ran past him into the room to find her sitting on the floor,
leaning against the wall. Their father told them to sit down next
to her; they were all going to stay there for a good long time
until they’d changed their attitude. The boys complained at
first but after a while realized that their father meant business;
the knife was real, and the look on his face was grim, determined.
“What do you want us to do?” one of the boys asked in a sharp tone.
“I want you to make something of yourselves,” he snapped.
“And you,”he snarled at his wife, “I want you to make something
out of them while I’m gone all day making something out of other
people’s kids.” The mother and the two boys sat nervously, not
moving, like dolls lined up on the floor, the sun from the west
spilling over their shoulders. They stared across the room at the
father, who finally had to get up and relieve himself in the bathroom
down the hall. The elder boy climbed out a window quickly,
shinnied down a pole, and ran to the police station ten blocks away.
The police surrounded the house and the man came out with his hands
up over his head; he’d dropped the knife when they told him to.
They put him away in the State Home of the Mentally Disturbed,
where he advised other inmates on career choices available to them.
From Town Folk & Country People