You break in through the back, just like your uncle Mikey showed you. But old Jonesy’s gone out; recently it seems, owing to the cup of coffee steaming on the kitchen table. So you decide to wait. Not that you have any choice. No. You have to make your name with this one.
You pull back a chair and sit down. The kitchen looks just like your mum’s. Even smells the same: a recent mix of fried eggs and cigarettes. In fact, you half expect to see her standing at the sink, fussing over you, just like when you were a kid. Your dad hated that, insisted you needed toughening up, even tried to teach you boxing.
“It’s no use,” he said. “You’ve got your mother’s softness.”
Those words cut you deep, so from then on you tried to be your father’s son.
Not that you saw him that much. Your uncle Mikey raised you. Your dad spent most of his time in jail.
You wander into the lounge, staring at the photographs on the mantel. Most of them are of Jonesy and his wife. Captured moments of time, aligned chronologically. You pick one up and hold it to the light. Jonesy looks so young. His beautiful wife’s by his side, her strawberry-blonde curls glowing like a summer fire.
You smile, then Mikey’s words come flooding back to you: “Old Jonesy’s not the man he was, especially since his wife took ill. He’s been nursing her for years. Dementia, or so I’m told. It’s a sad state of affairs, but he owes Mr Hale, and he’s been telling folks that he’s paying no one. Jonesy knows the score; he collected enough debts in his day. You go and remind him. Make your old man proud.”
You wander back into the hall, thinking how pathetic it all is, the has-been versus the wannabe. You sound like your mum. But not your dad. No. Such thoughts would never have occurred to him. When you were twelve-years old, you went to visit him in jail. You even drew him a picture: two men fighting in the street.
“Which one’s me?” he asked.
You pointed to the larger of the two, the man with his shirt off. He stared at it for a second. “This is all wrong; I’ve told you before, keep your hands up; only a fool comes out swinging punches.”
You push such memories aside, then wander upstairs, following a pale creep of light. You open the door and see Jonesy’s wife. She’s lying on the bed, her eyes and mouth wide open. Her red, satin nightie looks misplaced against her shriveled skin. A relic of her past. A desperate hope. A failed reminder. Did she finally forget how to breathe? you wonder. Did she take her last breath in limbo? You think how frail she looks, deflated, the life sucked out of her. It’s not the first time you’ve been this close to death, and it reminds you of your dad.
You hear something, turn round, and see Jonesy by the door – clenching his liver-spotted hands. He staggers over to the bed, leans over his wife and kisses her forehead. He stays there awhile, making a whining sound, his big shoulders shaking.
You tell him that you’re here for him. That you found her like this. How it has nothing to do with you. Yet Jonesy isn’t listening, and lunges towards you.
The old man’s strong, and it takes all of your strength to restrain him. You shove him against the wall, holding him until he calms down.
“I’m all right now,” he says, his chest wheezing.
You let him go; watching as he puts his hands in his pockets and stares down at the carpet. You’re touched by the sadness in his eyes. Tell him you’ll come back another time. That you’ll make some excuse to Mikey.
Jonesy leans forward, then tells you he knew your dad. “You’re nothing like him though. No. He was a mean fucker that one.”
You smile, try to say something, but the knife in your throat holds you silent.