Farmland stretched out for as far as the eye could see. Golden fields, bearing perfectly straight lines of vegetation, hopefully to reap food for the country, state, city. What is this city, anyway? Gus thought vaguely in some unused corner of his brain, though his inner voice still sounded like it belonged on Sesame Street. A twist of fate, really; Gus loved kids.
He was in Kansas, he knew that. But his sense of direction was skewed; he’d never seen so much empty, seemingly unused space in his life. Hailing from Baltimore City, born and bred, where every inch of space was filled with buildings, people, and activity, this… this farmland looked as dead as a staticky television set. Focus! Gus’s head suddenly demanded of him. We must go west. We must reach California.
But Gus couldn’t focus. His mind was reeling with all of the possible consequences of his very spur-of-the-moment actions. Where did the kids go? He stole the van he was employed to drive, the van that was used each morning and evening to pick up and drop off the few elementary school students who could afford to attend Francis Scott Key Academy. What did the neighbors think? The neighbors would think- and have thought- that he was losing his mind. That’s what they’d been telling him, each Sunday after church, when they got together to throw their trash into the neighborhood alleyway.
”You’re really losing it, Gus,” the men his age would chortle over their beer cans every time he mentioned his desire to get married. “The only thing I want out of life is to ditch the ball and chain. Hell, we’re 55. When in G-d’s name can we go live in a retirement home and have beautiful, young nurses take care of us?”
But Gus didn’t care for their light-heartedness. His desire for a wife had nothing to do with sex and definitely nothing to do with being bogged down. More than anything, Gus wanted to be a father.
”But Gus, honey, you can’t find a woman your own age who can still pop one out,” the women said in their husky 55 year old voices, obscured by years of smoking. “Only a young girl is fertile enough to do that, hon.”
Gus believed them, of course; women knew more about their own menstrual cycles than men ever would. But as more and more time passed, while Gus looked at his graying hands, then the coveted kids in his rearview mirror, he grew certain that he had to have a fertile wife, no matter what the age. So quite without thinking, he’d taken to surmising the young teachers who got to spend all day with these wonderful boys and girls. Surely these women would make good and happy mothers! Surely their bodies, with flat stomachs and firm breasts, could bear a child!
As time went on, he started to think of courting a lady 20 to 30 years his junior more and more plausible. Until finally, when talking to his twin sister, Dottie, on the phone, he could admit his obsession quite casually and without embarrassment.
”Gus, you gotta be goin insane; I really believe that,” Dottie’s voice sounded cracked and senile, from way out west in California. “What would drive you to even consider dating someone who’s young enough to be your daughter?”
Daughter, Gus thought dreamily. I want a daughter.
”Gus, you there? You listen to me now!” Dottie sighed in exasperation. “You should be in the loony bin, really you should! Momma always said you had brain damage-“
”What the hell are you talking about?” Something in Gus snapped, you could tell because he never swore. “Who are you to tell me who I am? What do you know about me? You never cared to know me, Dottie, your only remaining family! What good’s college, all the way out in California, without family?”
Dottie didn’t say anything over the cackling reception, but Gus could almost hear her pursing her lips the way she always did when he talked about the decisions she made 30 years ago.
She’s been alone too long, Gus decided. Maybe I should go out there, so she’ll remember how important family is. Suddenly struck by inspiration, Gus continued in thought, Maybe I’ll meet the right woman out there! Baltimore sure isn’t working out. Maybe it’s time for me to go on an adventure!
But his new resolution was his undoing. That night, without even thinking, he snuck over to Francis Scott Key Academy, (shocked that his portly frame wasn’t spotted,) complete with a 20 dollar bill jammed in his jeans pocket, and boarded his van, roaring out of the city.
Now, three days later, the motor of his dust-covered van was breaking down in the Mid-West sunshine. What am I gonna do? Gus frantically thought. Where do they keep gas stations in the countryside? His mind had given way to such panic that he didn’t even notice the little boy, riding in the middle of the road.
Crunch! With a lurch, his van tumbled over a large object. Panic stricken, Gus got out, engine still running, to see what he’d hit. Cylinders of rusty metal had collapsed under his tires.
To his right, he heard a scream. Gus turned and saw a little boy, perhaps 9 or 10, scarred with fresh cuts, as though he’d recently fallen to the ground. “Well hey there, little fella,” Gus dropped to his knees, smiling up at the child. He’d always been good with children.
As always, when looking up into the face of a young boy, Gus was struck by a reverie, a memory, from his own childhood.
He remembered his father, swinging his then small body around and around in the air. Gus didn’t know who was laughing harder- himself, or his Pop.
”Ah, Gus, you’re the only thing that makes my life worth livin, you know that boy?” His father was a tall and robust man, who drove trucks for a living. “You and Dottie.”
Pop laughed, the most elated sound Gus had ever heard, as though his father was a slightly younger, dirtier and dimmer version of Old St. Nick. “You know, when two little pups popped out of your ma on the same night, I thought I’d have my hands full.” Gus looked at Pop’s hands, wrinkled with age. “But the two of you turned out bein angels from heaven. I love you, son.”
”Gus,” his momma called from the porch, a short and round woman, much like a white chocolate ball wrapped in an apron. “It’s suppa time, hon.”
Gus bounded up the stairs, thrilled at the prospect of food, and flashed his mother a toothy grin. His momma smiled back, before turning to his father, a pained expression on her face.
”Don’t even think it,” Pop said shortly, and Gus had the premonition that his already perfect parents could communicate telepathically. “There aint nothin wrong with him. He’s just as smart as Dottie.”
Or smarter, Gus thought, now in the present. Momma and Pop taught us to be lovin and family-centered human beings. They let me live in their house until I was 25, all the way up to- Gus paused in thought, as though depressed. If they could see Dottie now, they’d roll over in their graves.
Lordy! He’d forgotten about the boy. Feeling embarrassed, Gus smiled extra big for him. “Is that your bike under my car, big guy? I’m awful sorry. Hey, perhaps I can stick around and help you fix it!”
”My bike!” the boy wailed, obviously not hearing a word Gus said. “You crushed my bike!”
”Timmy? Timmy!” a shrill voice cried. Suddenly, a tall, bony woman was upon the child, glaring down at Gus. “WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO TO MY KID?!”
Panic danced upon Gus’s heart; he’d never seriously upset anyone before. And something in her angry eyes reminded him of all the women on his block… and Dottie. You can’t find a woman your own age… Their voices whispered in his ear. What would drive you to consider dating someone who’s young enough to be your daughter?
I’ll show them, Gus thought with determination, remembering Pop and filling his heart with confidence. “Sorry, ma’am; I’m new to the area-“
”GET OUT OF HERE! JUST GET OUT!”
”But Momma, we should make him pay for it!” the child wailed.
The woman looked upon her son, the expression on her face immediately changing to that of sympathy. “It won’t do no good, darlin. Look at that piece of junk he’s drivin. He aint got no money.” Slowly, she put her arm around the boy, and they walked away.
Gus, still kneeling on the ground, looked after them, wearing the pained expression of his mother, as the sun slowly set upon the not-yet-ripened fields.
This page formerly hosted by