Our Fathers by Kerry Johnson

“It’s like the first time you hear your mom say the fuck word, y’know? Real uncomftahble-like,” Johnnie said, spitting a chewed bit of éclair onto my plate.

“Yeah, yeah. Like you’re about to be in some deep shit.”

“So I’m lookin’ into her eyes, y’know, tryna get a read on her…”

Johnnie lifted two split fingers up to his eyes and slowly pointed the tips of them back and forth between our faces. He’d always had a flare for the dramatic.

“And I say, real carefully, ‘So…you gunna keep it?’ And she breaks down sobbin’ all dramatic Andy!” He said throwing his head back, “I swear it, that’s all I said. Next thing she’s slamming the door, peelin’ out in the Toyota.”

I’d known Johnnie long enough to know he’s a notorious ommitter. The type who leaves out the parts he feels scummy saying out loud.

“There must have been something else, John. I mean, Annie’s a good girl, you know? Not all tacky like the other girls,” I said.

“I swear it. It’s gotta be the hormones, with the crying and the anger and all. You think?”

I let the last gulp of my coffee swish inside my cheeks before swallowing it down. His beady eyes met mine, begging for some sign of affirmation.

“Right, yeah. Just be easy on her, alright? Finish up we gotta go.”

Johnnie and I had been working the glamorous job of busting bottom-shelf junkies with the Boston Police together for three years now. The real cute kind with the track marks to match the oozing sores. We both decided we weren’t the college type at sixteen after we got benched in hockey for shitty grades. This was a noble man’s job, though. It was what our fathers did. Their chests puffed out to the brink of collapse the day we graduated from the academy. I think they forgot how rough a deal cadets are cut right out of the gates. Johnnie and I spent a couple years hesitantly screwing over pretty high school chicks at parties and tracking down rogue Alzheimer’s grannies. Junkies felt like an upgrade by our third year. I don’t think the chief could deny Johnnie and I as partners once we finished training. It’d seem wrong any other way.

“Coffee’s on me,” Johnnie said. “Pull around the cruiser, yeah?”

*****

Dispatch radioed us just before midnight. She snorted back laughter as she buzzed through my walkie-talkie.

“We got a 29 year old female. Address 65 East India Row. Harbor Tower Apartments number 406. Says she’s stuck in her bathtub.”

Johnnie’s neck nearly snapped off to turn to me. His smirk reminded me of the time we found his dad’s Playboy collection when we were twelve, completely unsure of whether we’d just come across a goldmine or a landmine, but either way we were going to see a naked lady.

He looked at me giddily, “No shit!”

“Dispatch, you said a bathtub?” I radioed back.

The woman’s fuzzy voice came back through instantly, “Affirmative. Civilian on the sidewalk heard her screaming down that she can’t get out of the tub and called it in. Reported she’s been stuck there since 9 p.m.”

Johnnie let out a squeal as he threw the blues on. At least it wasn’t another junkie wandering the grocery store naked. I couldn’t help but laugh too. His face brought me right back to high school.

“Bettah than the Southie titty bahs am I right buddy?” Johnnie yelled over the sirens in an accent as thick as his greased back hair.

The elevator up to the fourth floor reeked like spoiled milk and piss. It was the kind of August humid that’d drench your body in sweat before you could dry off from the shower. I usually let Johnnie kick in the door when we come across one of these calls. It makes him feel like one of those cops in the movies—the important type.

He motioned toward door 406, “Nah, Andy this one’s all you tonight.”

I could tell Johnnie felt like he was doing me a favor, giving me the big bad cop’s responsibility of shoving a boot through the lock. He’d always been the macho Italian greaser looking out for his little Irish sidekick. People used to be surprised to see an Italian kid hanging out with an Irish kid when we were younger. My orange hair and freckle-splattered skin paled next to the coarse black arm hair, which I resented him for growing first.

After two heel-bruising attempts the lock broke free and sent my body sailing through the frame. Johnnie yelled out to the woman inside and started towards the answering voice. He opened the bathroom door and light flooded the dark room behind him. His two big boots came to a squeaking halt on the tile floor.

“Ah shit,” he looked back at me and said, “Might wanna get in here.”

She was the largest woman I’d ever seen. Water pooled underneath the clawfoot tub from her attempts to wriggle out. The low water level seemed to have wedged her hips further down so her whole midsection was stuck. The woman’s feet were dark purple. She tried to cover up what she could of her naked body as a deep red stained her cheeks.

“Please, I can’t feel my legs,” she choked up, tears starting to fall down her rapidly contorting face.

“Uhh. Hold tight ma’am, we’re gunna get you out,” Johnnie said without moving an inch.

I couldn’t tell if he was still in shock at the scene in front of him, or at his own stupidity in telling the immobile woman not to move. I looked around for a towel.

“What’s your name sweetheart,” I said as I laid two towels over her vulnerable body.

“Catherine.”

“And how long you been like this Catherine?” I felt Johnnie inch closer to the tub from behind me.

“Couple hours maybe—maybe two, three hours,” she said, her breath quickening, “I-I dunno.”

Her hands had pruned beyond recognition. I got behind Catherine and pushed while Johnnie yanked from the front. I caught Johnnie’s eye for a moment and couldn’t help but think that the same helpless, repugnant expression would devour his face if he ever decided to join his pregnant girlfriend in the delivery room a couple months from now. I imagine in that sense I’d be the bigger man for once. Catherine’s body wasn’t budging. We stepped back, trying to hide our heavy breathing.

“Andy, maybe we gotta, ah, you know use some lubricant. Like, some oil or somethin’.”

Catherine looked up at us, mortified, and began to sob. I could have killed Johnnie right then and there.

“No. I’m calling in the fire department and a bus,” I said, trying to ignore the loud squishing sound coming from inside of my waterlogged boots. We were in over our heads.

The silence in the bathroom, broken only by Catherine’s sobs, was almost unbearable until the firemen and ambulance showed up. They yanked at the naked girl and I couldn’t bear to watch anymore. I waited in the dark living room until Johnnie came out with a paramedic.

“Good work tonight guys, but we gotta cut her out of the tub. Her legs are going fast.”

I shook his hand and walked back through the front door, it’s knob dented and dangling by a loose screw. I promised myself I’d go back and fix it for the poor girl being sawed out of a bathtub by a bunch of sweaty, middle-aged men. Johnnie punched my bicep and turned to me in front of the elevator doors.

“I knew that titty bah comment would come back to bite me the second I said it,” he said, letting his laugh fill the hallway, “I mean, did you see that chick?”

The power saw started up in the background. I should have killed Johnnie right then and there.

*****

I met Annie at our usual spot. My shift at the station ended at five and she liked to get to the salon by seven, so we’d meet half way between the two places around five-thirty. In the wintertime it was early enough to catch the sunrise over the harbor, but the summer sun had already made its way above the horizon, along with the heat. I caught the shimmer of her strawberry blonde hair from across the lot with two coffees in hand. It was Monday—her turn. Annie filled the car with her scent before she even got all the way in. Without a word she placed one hand on the side of my neck, ran her index finger down behind my ear and kissed me like a deep sigh of relief. And I forgot, just for a second, how much everything was about to change.

I imagine this is how women feel after finding a foreign earring wedged between the back seats of the family car. The nerves, the toe tapping, the ‘Do you have anything you’d like to tell me, dear’ through gritted teeth.

“Annie stop,” I said as I pushed her face away from mine. My face must have said it all. It had a way of doing that.

“I was gunna tell you Drew, right now. I shoulda told you first.”

She was the only person besides my sister to call me Drew. I imagine she thinks if we ever actually got to be together, Annie and Andy would sound pretty cheap.

“This is too much, Annie. I mean…I can’t be behind the scenes when you’re having Johnnie’s baby. I can’t—”

“No, Drew. Listen,” she shifted her eyes away from mine, “I think the baby is yours.”

“What? You don’t know that,”

“I do Drew. Women just…you know, with the timing and everything. I just know,” she said looking back up with bloodshot eyes. “I want this.”

Before I had a say in any of this, she’d made up her mind. ‘I want this’. I closed my eyes and saw Catherine’s purple feet, limp beneath the murky tub water. A wave of nausea rolled through my stomach as my sweaty palms found a grip on the steering wheel.

“I’ve tried to leave him h-he just goes mental. You know him Drew, you know he won’t stick around once I have this baby,” she said through sobs. “This is our way out.”

Vomit began to crawl up the back of my throat.

“I think you should go,” I said, hating every fiber of my being.

*****

The next day chief called me into his office to tell me my application was accepted, and I’d been promoted to detective.

“No more ride-alongs with your boyfriend, but I’m willin’ to bet the paycheck makes up for it. Congrats, kid,” he said as he slapped me twice on the back.

I found Johnnie and told him the big news. He spewed congratulations through a tightly clenched jaw and yelled out “Beers on me tonight, buddy, beers on me!” so the whole office could hear. I pretended to sulk about how I’d miss riding along with him and seeing all the crazy shit on the streets. I told him I was visiting my parents for dinner that night. I knew I wouldn’t be seeing Johnnie for a while.

*****

I got the call around eight at night, but I’d been waiting in my car at Mass General since two, when she’d phoned to tell me she was in labor. I had been taking Annie to her appointments when Johnnie was too hungover, or out to get whatever kind of junk she was craving late at night when Johnnie was too drunk. I’d hold her hair back outside the car when we’d meet in the mornings. I couldn’t stay away from her or our little guy inside of her. I knew it’d be a boy from the moment she let me touch the perfectly smooth bump protruding out between her tiny hips. We could deal with whatever came next, as long as my boy was with me.

I answered the call, “Johnnie, how’s it goin’ stranger?”

“Andy, she just delivered,” he said breathlessly. “You won’t even believe how tiny this little guy is. Man, he’s beautiful.”

“A boy, huh? How’s Annie…she doing alright? Everything go smoothly?” I asked, trying not to sound too eager.

“Annie’s great. Tired, y’know. You gotta get in here, Andy. He’s just…”
Johnnie paused. My throat tightened.

“He’s just got these deep, dark kind of eyes, an’ a whole thick mop of black hair. A real Italian bambino.”


Kerry JohnsonKerry Johnson is currently a student at the University of Colorado at Boulder studying Creative Writing and Philosophy. She loves books more than people and nothing more than food. Kerry was first introduced to creative writing after being convinced to join the slam poetry team in high school and has been sold ever since. Never ask her to go bowling.

 

 

 

 

 
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