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He drives all of one block to Laney’s Pizza, but he pauses at the entryway. Pablo is hands-on, dancing among register, oven and counter, touching up the rough edges, nudging his workers this way and that. Pizza management is not civil engineering, or graphic design, or teaching, but look how good he is.
David makes his entrance to the usual greeting.
“It’s my old man! How ya doin’, Pops?”
Pablo offers a sloppy grin and four knuckles. David delivers the fist-bump and follows with the finger-pistol salute.
“Hey!” says Pablo. “New school/old school. Coolest father in town, man. Gets it from hanging out with teenagers all day. Am I right, Cube?”
The Asian kid with the white Mohawk thumps his chest and flips a peace sign. “Word!”
“I’m here strictly on business,” says David. “Your mother would like a large combo with anchovies.”
Pablo makes the Yuk Face, his rubbery features sucking toward the center.
“What is up with that?”
“It’s Ocean Shores, son. Ocean. People here like seafood.”
“I’m gonna be sorely disappointed tonight when I raid the fridge and find fish all over the pizza.”
David moves toward Cube at the cash register. Pablo waves him off.
“Yer money’s no good here, old man.”
“Hey, I’ve earned some freebies. Just don’t tell my cheapass friends. Now go play. I’ll come getcha.”
David wonders why he never feels like the father anymore. It’s a long downhill road, one that began with Pablo’s first command, at the age of five: “Not that jacket, Dad! Nobody likes that jacket.”
David heads for the arcade and finds The Sopranos in working order. Who wouldn’t love a pinball machine with its own stripper pole? He cherishes this tiny island of time created by the cooking of pizza. It’s mindless, it’s fun, and – thanks to the thousand wasted afternoons of his youth – he’s good at it. The last thought before he slips into the noise and blink is this: I have got to find a singer.
God knows how he got so many sharks in the family, but Derek’s into the anchovies, too. Unfortunately, the little buggers have decided to pursue a second life, swimming laps around David’s stomach. An hour into the struggle, he gives up on the idea of sleep and rises to the edge of the bed. Elena moans and shifts; the mounds of her flab settle into place like cooling lava. He cannot imagine how he will ever again venture into these territories, but he knows that someday he must try.
This is not a positive track. He wanders to the laundry room, finds an extra pair of jeans and heads outside. It’s one o’clock. Pablo’s not home yet.
Out of sheer habit, he walks into town. Past the ice cream shop, his personal albatross, toward the hotel, his primary irritation. He takes a left toward Laney’s.
Pablo’s pickup is out front. The front door is wide open, the lights are on. The anchovies in David’s stomach have gathered in a tight pack. He stops in the entryway and listens. Nothing. He steps inside, light on his feet, the way he feels after he releases a pitch. The place is unnervingly perfect, like a museum of a pizza parlor. He hears the faraway roll of the breakers.
A small sound from the back. He steps into the hallway past the arcade.
The response sounds like the mewling of a cat, somewhere inside the walls, but then it gains consonants.
He finds a doorknob around the corner, takes a breath and turns it. It’s a tiny, dark room, smelling of ammonia and vomit. The light slides across to reveal a figure huddled next to the wall, his head buried in his knees. David crouches next to him; he’s breathing in short, gasping intakes, like an engine about to stall.
“Pablo, it’s okay. It’s Dad.”
He manages to get an arm under his knees, another around his shoulders, and carries him to a bench. Pablo smells of urine; he’s shaking uncontrollably. David holds him on his lap and tries to remember all the old tricks: smoothing the hair, gentle rocking, the whispered chant of “It’s all right, it’s all right.”
Pablo looks up, his pale blue eyes bigger than ever. “They had guns, Dad. I thought… I thought they were gonna…”
He buries his head in his father’s chest and shivers, the adrenaline working its way out.
“It’s all right,” says David. He pulls his cell phone from his jacket.
Photo by MJV