by Peter C. Conrad
Larry sat at the same table he always sat at in the school library after school. He had a few more exercises to do before his physics was finished.
“Hey Larry, still being a Nerd?” asked Cecil as he walked closer to the table Larry was working at. Cecil look just about normal, thought Larry as he looked up. The green coat with a crest on it fit him better than the baggy large coats he often wore. Cecil’s shortness made the baggy effect often seem more comic. The coats were always from a limited edition, an official team, or company. He would show up wearing a different one every week. Everyone at the school called him Limi, for “limited edition.” Cecil liked the name but wished more people would ask where each coat was from.
Larry looked at Cecil with his green coat, old torn jeans, and a black T-shirt that was so faded he wasn’t sure that had once been printed on it.
“I just like the feeling of having my work done, Limi,” said Larry.
“Have you seen Brian around?”
“No,” said Larry. The library was always very quiet after school.
“I was going to get a paper from him,” said Cecil.
“He’s got one of your papers?”
“No, not really. Well it is going to be mine when he gives it to me.”
“Oh,” said Larry as he shook his head and looked down at his book again.
“Well, if I want to graduate from this place, I better see if I can find him.”
“Sure,” said Larry. They were both seniors. Larry walked away, looking up each aisle of books as he went, as if he was expecting to see Brian picking a book off a shelf.
Larry hurried through the remaining exercises; he had to get to the work at Alvin’s repair shop. He worked twice a week doing simple electronic repairs there.
* * *
Larry felt a dull burning pain in his stomach as he dropped his pack of schoolbooks by the door and saw his mother in the living room with a drink.
“Did you have to go in to work today?” he asked. It was Friday and she usually worked only Tuesdays and Wednesdays as a secretary in a law office. His mother was just over five feet tall and light builds. Larry was six feet tall. He was a senior in high school. Like his mother, he had a light build and black hair.
“I’ll be working full time now,” she replied.
Larry sat down across from his mother in the easy chair. He was tired after working two hours at Alvin’s electronic repair store after school. He noticed that there was a thick document unfolded on the coffee table in front of her.
“Why?” he asked.
“It’s not a surprise. He’s finally gone for good,” she said referring to Larry’s father. Larry had been expecting it for a long time. He was home for Christmas three weeks before but he only stayed a few days and was gone again.
“We were going to wait for you to graduate high school this spring before we made it final but, it was convenient to get it over with,” she said with a strained voice.
Larry knew that there was probably more to it but he didn’t want to know. For Larry, it was all over years ago when his father rarely came home and had little to talk about. He didn’t blame himself anymore for his parents splitting up.
“It doesn’t really matter to me,” he said.
“He’s left the house to me, and the car. You can have the truck.”
Larry nodded his head. He had expected it to be this way. He watched his mother as she poured another drink. Soon the strained lines in her face would fade but that never meant things would be fine. He wanted to avoid conversation; it may make her drink more.
“Your brother, Derrick, is still in ski-slope college,” she continued. “I told Allen he would have to tell Derrick.” Derrick was two years older than Larry. He graduated from high school with marks too poor to do much, not that he wanted to.
“Is he going to move back in with us or is going to stay with Dad?”
“I don’t know,” she said. Neither of them wanted him to disrupt their lives.
“Is Alvin going to start paying you?” she asked. Larry shrugged. He had been paid for his work for just over a year but he had not told his mother. She believed that a high school student couldn’t contribute enough to be paid, or so she once said. It was true that Larry had started as a volunteer at Alvin’s repair shop like he volunteered at the local cable television station. He just wanted to see what it was like to work in an electronic repair shop, or in television. The repair shop turned into a job when Larry had shown how fast he could learn. The television work was becoming tedious and boring but, Larry was going to give it a little longer before he decided if he would keep doing it.
There was always the other reason for doing the volunteer work: it was to stay away from the house. Before his father left, he would never be sure what it would be like at home when he got there. Once his father stayed away his mother was more unpredictable than she had been.
“Maybe we should get something to eat,” said Larry. He stopped short of saying, in his usual joking voice, your favorite?
His mother’s look softened as she looked at her son. It hadn’t been an easy day for her. “Yes, my favorite,” she said, “order-in.” she said with an affectionate smile.
* * *
Larry felt relieved as he watched his mother eat some pizza. She seemed far too thin to him. She would forget to eat but things always went better after she had some food. She had a dark complexion, which helped mask how pale her skin would get when she forgot to eat.
“You’re upset about this,” she said after a while.
“What? … Oh, that Dad isn’t coming back?” said Larry shaking his head. “No, not really. I was expecting it.”
“I never told you that the whole thing was more or less decided and finished by Christmas.”
“I guess that is why he came home one last time,” said Larry.
“Yes, that it what he said.”
“That was what it felt like—like he was just saying good bye.”
“That’s all he ever seemed to be doing when he came home, saying good bye,” said his mother.
“No, it was different this time,” said Larry.
“How was it different?”
“It was so…” Larry paused, unsure if he should say it. “It was so quiet.” His mother narrowed her eye for moment, and then nodded her head.
“It was as if you two just didn’t have anything more to discuss.”
“It was as if there was some kind of truce—”
“Nothing left to prove,” she said. Larry wasn’t sure what she meant by that but her downward silent glance left him feeling uncomfortable.
“I always know that something is happening when I get that feeling I had when I got lost at Murdock Beach,” Larry said. His mother’s expression of embarrassment surprised Larry. She still felt embarrassed over that incident. “It’s a feeling of being totally disconnected, like floating.”
“You feel like you’re floating?”
“No, at Christmas, I felt that way.”
She shook her head. “It was sad because it was the best Christmas we ever had,” she said.
“I don’t know,” said Larry. “I remember some good ones from when I was very young.”
“Maybe that’s because it was easier then to just let things go for the holidays.” She shook her head again. “I’m feeling tired, I think I’ll just go to bed and watch some television.”
“Have you had enough to eat?”
His mother looked at the food tiredly and nodded.
* * *
After clearing away what was left of the pizza, Larry went down stairs to the basement where he had set up a table with electronic supplies he was given by Alvin. If Larry weren’t sure what to do, he would find some work to do. During a crisis or change he would start a new volunteer position or find a new hobby that would occupy his mind. Each time he would need something more involved to keep him occupied.
He looked at the electronic project books that had been stacked on the table and the piles of old electrical component boards that he had taken home to take the good parts off.
“What a mess,” he whispered to himself. He picked up a box and began to clean up. Soon the bench was clean enough to work on. He flipped through one book after another looking at the circuit plans for alarms and amplifiers. It was all uninteresting to Larry. He needed much more.
He stopped when he reached a plan for a radio transmitter. It could be adjusted to the AM band. It wouldn’t have much power but for a few blocks of a city everyone who had their transistor radios on that radio band could listen to his broadcast.
Larry sat in his chair wandering if he could build the transmitter. The list of items he needed wouldn’t be hard to get. The circuits may take some time and the power source would need some work but he could do it.
He found a large flat box and began retrieving the components that he would need. He had no idea what he would do with the transmitter when it was done but for now he just wanted to know if he could do it.
He knew that it was illegal to operate a radio on the AM or FM band without a broadcasting license. Larry had no plan to use the transmitter but then there was always the possibility that some idea may occur to him by the time he was finished it.
Larry felt exhausted. He looked at his flat box with so few parts retrieved after so much work. He rubbed his eyes and decided to go to bed.
* * *
When Larry woke up it was still dark. He had to go to work that Saturday. He felt relieved that it was too early for his mother to be up yet because after last night his mother would not be in a very good mood. He slipped his feet out of the bed and stared at his stereo and the old reel-to-reel tape recorder. Cables connected the two machines. A microphone stood on top of the reel-to-reel tape recorder. Larry was recording a program. He thought he could put it on a web site with graphics but he lost interest in that project because it was just too easy to do. Anyone could do it. Larry looked at the new computer he had received from his father that Christmas.
Beside the computer was a framed picture of his father standing behind his mother who was behind Larry holding him. Derrick stood beside them. They were all smiling. It was summer and they were on holidays in the mountains. He didn’t want to put the picture away. It was a part of who he was but Larry knew that it was over long ago.
He remembered that trip to the mountains more vividly than any other holiday. Perhaps that was when he became aware of his parents indifference to each other and the world around them. It was a warm summer’s day when his father took him on a walk along the mountain brook that rushed through their campsite. The cold stung his hand when he touched the water. It flowed fast and deep.
Larry had always been afraid of water. They had rarely gone swimming because his father, his mother, Larry didn’t like swimming. Larry was sure that they would stay away from the water’s edge, keeping the brook in sight just to guide them back to the campsite.
They walked along its bank, only now and then walking into the forest to look at something Larry’s father had seen, or hoped to see. The roar of the brook was never far away. As they continued Larry became more uncomfortable. He didn’t think they were lost but he became more anxious.
“Here!” yelled his father loudly as they emerged from the forest one more time. Larry shuttered when he saw what his father was pointing at. It was a log that crossed over a narrow part of the brook. The water splashed over the edge of the log on the other side of the brook.
“We can cross here!” his father said.
Why did they have to cross the brook? he thought as he looked at his father.
“Look, I’ll go first to show you that it is safe.”
“No!” pleaded Larry.
His father didn’t answer he just looked disgusted. Larry watched as his father slowly crept one sliding step at a time to cross the brook. He had made it.
Larry watched as his father called across to him. His father’s face was red as he shouted. Larry couldn’t hear a thing over the roar of the brook.
He would go out across the brook just to see if he could. That is all he thought. Larry wouldn’t allow himself to think that he could do it because he believed he couldn’t. He made his way half way across when he stopped. Larry couldn’t move. The water roared under him and he realized that he was entirely alone.
Larry closed his eyes for a moment and decided he would try to take the next step just to see if could. When he opened his eyes his left foot slid forward and then the right came up behind. Again, he thought about trying his next step. When he tried, it happened. He slipped and stumbled onto the bank his father was standing on.
“I told you that if you just believed you could do it, you could,” said Larry’s father. Larry stared at him, feeling confused, then he nodded. He never forgot that he made it because he was only trying to see if he really could.
Larry turned and looked at himself in the mirror. He was thin like his mother and he had tight curly hair that was as black as his mothers. His curls were like his fathers. His glasses were like his fathers. That was the only features he had from his father, he thought
Once in the kitchen, Larry poured some cereal then looked at the clock. He would have lots of time if the truck started. He heard a thud upstairs from his mother’s room. It sounded like a book falling off her bed stand. He quickly took the half full bowel of cereal and put it into the sink. He slipped his coat on and felt for the keys in his pocket. He picked up his gloves and was out the door.
* * *
Larry smelled the familiar hot metal of the soldering iron as he entered Alvin’s repair shop. Alvin looked more like a toy-maker than an electronic technician, thought Larry. Alvin was wearing an apron and had white hair. He was studying the circuit board in front of him. After a moment he touched the board with his solder iron.
“Hi Al,” said Larry.
“Did you finish that ghetto-blaster?”
“I left it for you.”
“It should be finished today.”
“So, how are things?”
“Have you started a new project?” asked Alvin as he continued to frown at the circuit he was working on.
“It’s a bit strange,” replied Larry as he tipped the ghetto blaster forward and started to loosen the screws on the back.
“It’s a radio transmitter,” replied Larry.
“That’s not strange, you’re always repairing walkie-talkies here.”
“It’s to transmit on the AM band.”
Alvin’s eyebrows lifted as he looked at Larry for a moment. “Are you getting into the pirate radio trend?”
“I was reading about these people who have something to say and decide that the only way to get their message out is to build their own radio station and broadcast it to everyone who wants to hear it.”
“I don’t have anything to say,” said Larry. “I guess it is just to see if I can do it.”
“If anyone can do it, you can,” said Alvin.
“You have determination—you’re driven.”
Larry felt uncomfortable. His father was driven and he didn’t want to be like that.
“I don’t know,” said Larry. “It doesn’t seem to get me anywhere.”
“Maybe, you need some tuning.”
“You could probably do anything, Larry.”
“I don’t know about that.”
“You’re about to graduate high school. It’s like a beginning for you. You have to decide what you want to do and do it.”
“I haven’t decided yet.”
“Yes, you have.”
“Hum…” said Larry as he pulled the motor drive out of the ghetto blaster that he was working on.
“You decided you’re interested in electronics. All you have to do is decide exactly what you’re going to do with that.”
“Like going to college. Maybe electrical engineering.”
“I don’t know about that.”
“Does your mother say anything about your education?”
“We never talk about anything like that.”
“Has she ever said anything about when you should leave home?”
“Weather you leave or stay at home, you will have to decide what you’re going to do.”
“I haven’t thought about it. You know it is almost like I’m living alone already. I share a house with my mother but I usually don’t see her. She started working full time this week so I don’t think that we are going to be talking much now.”
“Why is she working full time now?”
“My parents are divorced now,” said Larry indifferently.
“I thought they were already divorced,” said Alvin, surprised.
“They were separated for years.”
“Oh? Well how does that sit with you?”
“It changes nothing. They have been separated since before I started high school. I’m used to it.”
“That’s too bad.”
“Not really,” said Larry. “It was a relief to me.”
* * *
Larry stomach jumped as he pulled up in front of his house. There was his father’s dark blue car. Larry wanted to stop, put his truck in reverse and leave but, he knew he couldn’t do that because it too late. His chest felt heavy as he parked the truck behind it. His father got out of the car and looked at Larry.
“Hi, son,” he said. Larry was surprised by how much he was looking more and more like his father. They had the same black curly hair, and brown eyes. They were exactly the same height and light build.
“Hi,” said Larry.
“Is the truck working all right?” his father asked.
“I guess you have heard by now—” said his Dad.
“Yes, I have.”
“You want to go and talk somewhere?” asked his father.
“I guess so,” said Larry. He knew he really had no choice.
The two got into his father’s car. Without a word they began to drive.
“How’s your Mom taking it?”
“As you would expect,” said Larry.
“Has she quit her job?” asked his Dad with concern in his voice that Larry wasn’t used to hearing.
“She moved up to full-time work,” said Larry. His father’s eyebrows moved up in surprise.
“I wouldn’t have guessed that is what she would do. I pay her a fair amount in maintenance every month…” his voice drifted off. Larry had heard it before. He had heard too often about how his father had always been a good provider.
“Maybe things are going much better than I expected,” said his Dad after a moment. “Have you eaten supper yet?”
“No,” said Larry.
“We can have something here,” he said as they pulled into the parking lot of a small diner.
Soon, they were seated at a table and had their order placed. Larry’s father looked at Larry for a moment and shook his head.
“I guess I should have asked you how you were doing with all this happening.”
“I’m fine. It doesn’t feel like anything has changed to me,” said Larry.
“I could have guessed that would be what you would say. You were always the one who could put things into prospective.”
“Oh?” said Larry.
“You’re always hard on yourself. I would swear that you were already setting goals for yourself at six years old, maybe younger.”
Larry shrugged. He was not sure what his father was getting at. They rarely talked, but he must have some reason for wanting to talk now.
“Well, I thought now that the divorce is all over I could get to know you better,” said his father.
“You know, I tried to give Derrick a start in the banking business but, it wasn’t for him.”
“Who knows what is right for Derrick,” said Larry.
“I guess I wanted to find out what your plans are; you are going to be graduating high school this spring.”
Larry shuffled in his seat. He really didn’t know what he wanted to do after he graduated high school. He knew he should have been applying to colleges and universities by now if that was what he wanted to do. The question of what he was going to do had been put off because, he hadn’t been asked, or forced to answer any questions. His father’s interested look made Larry realize that he had expected that the question had been decided. The only thing his father was expecting was to find out what the decision was. His father’s expression turned to one of uncertainty at the silence.
“Haven’t you decided? I was expecting that you were…”
“I haven’t decided yet,” said Larry.
“But, you can do so many things. You always did more than Derrick.”
“I would have expected that you would do something like engineering. Have you considered that?”
“A bit,” said Larry. “Electronics makes a good hobby but I don’t know if it is what I want to do.”
“What about sciences?” said his father.
“What kind of job would that give me? Working as a technician all day? I don’t know.”
“You are quick with computers,” said his Dad.
“Maybe there is something there I could do but, it seems like recycling data. It’s not too stimulating.”
“What about being a programmer?” asked his father in disbelief.
“The question is how many times can you write the same program and keeping selling it?” said Larry.
“The options you have are incredible. Maybe that is the trouble, you have too many choices.”
“Maybe,” said Larry. “Maybe, I’m looking for something entirely new; something different.”
“You’re fast with numbers, how about commerce, or business administration?”
“That sounds a lot like being an accountant. That would be like operating a computer, it is just processing more and more of the same kind of data.”
“You have a quick reply for everything,” said his father. “I should have been talking to you a long time ago.”
“Maybe,” said Larry.
“Well, what are you going to do next year?”
Larry shrugged. “Maybe I’ll just continue to work at Alvin’s repair shop until I decide.”
“You have a job?” his father’s expression returned to surprise.
“Yes, I have a part-time job,” said Larry. He didn’t care if his father knew. Maybe, thought Larry, if he knew that I was doing a job he would relax.
“What do you do there?”
“I repair electronic equipment, take care of the customers if I have to, and sweep the floors some times.”
“You do electronic repairs for pay and you’re only a senior in high school?”
“I receive a lot of instruction,” said Larry. “A lot of the repairs are simply burnt out transistors. With just a little instruction a lot of people could do what I do.”
“You can do all that and you don’t have a college picked out?”
“That’s right,” said Larry.
“You really need a college degree of some kind to get work.”
“There is a lot of work for those who can actually do something.”
“There are those fast answers again,” said his father, irritated.
Larry shrugged again. “I just have a feeling right now,” said Larry, “that there is something out there that is completely different from what I’m doing now that is right for me. I want to figure out what it is.”
“What it is,” said his Dad in a strained voice, “is your rebellious nature. It’s there just like Derrick. But, you’re showing it differently.”
Larry’s face grew hot. He hated any kind of comparison between himself and his brother.
“All right, enough of that,” said his Dad. “One of the things I wanted to tell you is that I set up a trust fund for you for your education years ago. It’s large enough to comfortably pay your way through any four year university or college program.”
Larry stared. He had no idea that his father had been thinking of his future.
“It will be there for you even if you don’t go this year. Derrick’s fund is still waiting for him. You have to go to a university or a college to get any of the money.”
“I’ll remember that,” said Larry.
“There are no strings attached, you can go where you want and you can study whatever you want.”
“That’s good,” said Larry.
“I know there’s no point in pushing you too much. If I do, you’ll just push back as hard I’m pushing you. You’re like your mother that way.”
“Oh?” said Larry.