Old Man’s Burden

lawrenceville

Mr. Newhouse’s daughter in Atlanta no longer knew what to do about her younger son, Kyle.  He was completely out of control.  He violated curfew regularly.  He cultivated distasteful friends and assumed their worst characteristics and generally behaved with unwarranted sullenness and disrespect.  He had been given everything, after all: a private school education, trips, without chaperone, to places like New York and Chicago, even a shiny-gold Maserati shortly after he had attained his permanent driver’s license.  How could he react with such ingratitude – his name in the paper for vandalism of public property in Grant Park, his arrest for the taunting of an elderly homeless man in Mid-town, and simply the worrying provoked by his new recklessness – ?

Mrs. Blackburn, Mr. Newhouse’s daughter, concluded reasonably that living in Atlanta (the suburb of Lawrenceville exactly) only exacerbated the problem, what with the myriad temptations and opportunities offered by the city.  So she decided , without consultation with anyone else, including her father, that to move the young man to a smaller place for a while, a place like Compton, South Carolina, where she herself had grown up, might work some change in the boy’s attitude.  Compton was no Atlanta, for sure, wasn’t even a fifth Atlanta’s size (this she calculated without aid of a map) and therefore had to be insulated from much if not most of the ugliness and corruption that adhere to urban areas like Atlanta and its suburbs.  She believed that in her heart if not her head.  After all, Compton had barely come into the twentieth century, and here it was the twenty-first.  People still kept their doors unlocked day and night (so Mrs. Blackburn supposed, as that had been a practice during her girlhood).  They greeted each other in the streets without suspicion.  They went to church frequently and proudly.  They still voted for Democrats in state and local elections, surely a sign of naiveté which indicated child-like innocence.

“Daddy,” Mrs. Blackburn addressed her father on the phone shortly after conceiving this idea.  “I want Kyle to come stay with you in Compton this summer.  It’ll do him good.  It’ll do everybody good.  What’s wrong with him?  He’s a rascal!  Haven’t I told you?  Oh I have.  Yes.  You just haven’t been listening, Daddy.  Do you just not care?  I want him to come stay with you and learn to be a gentleman.  Yes, that’s right.  Well, here’s your chance to make one exist.  What?  Put him to work.  Put him in the restaurant.  Put him in your yard.  Make him appreciate all he’s been given.  I can’t imagine your being without any resources in that regard.  I know, Daddy, you only raised girls.  How well I know, being one of the girls you raised.  But I trust you in this.  You hear me?  I trust you!”

Mr. Newhouse hung up the telephone confused and disappointed.  He really didn’t like his daughter’s idea and hope that the irrefutable fact of his having raised only females, Mrs. Blackburn, of course, and her Charleston-residing sister, would dissuade her.  But she did not take no for an answer.  In fact, she did not even give him a chance to answer one way or the other.  She had made up his mind for him, and thus followed a flurry of emails from Atlanta from Mrs. Blackburn specifying and reiterating Kyle’s behavioral oddities and her suggestions for mastering them: early rising, a solid diet, regular exercise, etc.  (Mr. Newhouse did not receive the emails himself, having no computer savvy, but relied on an employee to retrieve them, print them out, and answer them if an answer were warranted.)

Mr. Newhouse, having thus been railroaded by his daughter, could only sit and ponder the situation with bemusement.  What was wrong, after all, with being a rascal and a rebel?  Wasn’t rebellious rascality not a natural part of being a normal boy?  Goodness knows he, Winthrop Newhouse, had been both rascal and rebel, and look where it had gotten him: in a two million dollar mansion smack dab in the middle of Main Street and a business that brought in after taxes in excess of five million dollars annually.  He could not have achieved any of that if he had not been a rebel and somewhat of an s.o.b. at times.  That’s because he had had to fight for everything he had.  Nothing had been given to him.  He had not been brought up in a family of affluence; he had not inherited wealth or his business.  He had been reared in the sticks, literally, the son of what could only be termed “white trash” – a term he himself used almost proudly in describing his family.  As a boy, he had been laughed at for his patched clothing and his school lunches of sardines and “sody” crackers.  Nobody expected anything else from him but penury and ignominy.

Instead of capitulating to them, Mr. Newhouse used their scorn and indifference as building blocks – first for a flourishing peach orchard, one of the most successful in the South Carolina upcountry, later for Winner’s Circle, the fast food restaurant that had not only existed but thrived for more than forty years, outlasting all other such locally owned restaurants.  In the meantime he had remodeled then moved into the two story house on South Main, a gorgeous white edifice with a vast front porch and thick Doric columns, all guarded over by towering, glistening magnolias.  A vintage Roadster sat in the marble carport.  At one point his late wife Virginia had gone through three Cadilacs in five years.  And both his daughters had attended two of the finest colleges in the state, Converse and The College of Charleston.  He even ventured out of the business realm into politics, running for elected office as a Republican in the face of the overwhelming Compton Democratic establishment – and nearly won.

Nobody laughed at Winthrop Newhouse anymore.  At least not to his face.

So Mr. Newhouse took it as a point of pride that he had a rebellious grandson, a “chip off the old block,” as the cliché had it, without really understanding the nature of Kyle’s rebellion.  Yes, he remembered vaguely Mrs. Blackburn’s accounts of the boy’s misbehavior, but he accepted it all as signs of natural adolescent rambunctiousness, nothing serious, nothing to be out of sorts about.  My God if women didn’t worry themselves about the least little thing!  And usually it amounted to nothing at all.

So it was with a sense of resigned weariness that Mr. Newhouse met the day of his grandson’s arrival in South Carolina.  Linda Bishop, the middle-aged black lady who cooked and cleaned for him four days out of the weak, prepared him a stout breakfast: bacon, eggs, grits, toast, and jam, which Mr. Newhouse washed down with cup after cup of hot black coffee.

“You nervous about meeting this boy?” Mrs. Bishop asked him as he crouched over his meal.

Mr. Newhouse eyed her as though she had just sworn at him.  “No ma’am.  I’m too old and too mean to be nervous about anything.”

“That so?  Well, something must be going on with you.  You took a day off from work.  That don’t happen very often.  Fact of business, I started to call the newspaper and TV and let them know, for surely this is news in Compton, South Carolina.”

Mr. Newhouse responded by flinging back the remnants of his coffee and setting the cup down with a pronounced thud.  But Mrs. Bishop had a point.  In the more than forty years since he had been running Winner’s Circle he only took off one week for vacation, shutting down the restaurant for that week, knowing he could trust no one else to run it properly.  He and Mrs. Newhouse usually spent the week in Myrtle Beach or Gatlinburg.  But Mrs. Newhouse was gone now and Mr. Newhouse had consequently lost his taste for travel.  He should have gone to Atlanta or Charleston to see either of his daughters and her family, but more and more he spent that vacation week at home, occasionally taking a fishing trip with an acquaintance.

Mrs. Bishop had left the dining room but quickly returned.  Her face beamed.

“If I’m not mistaken,” she said, her voice almost sing-songy, “you got company pulling in your front yard.”

Together they went to the door and watched the sleek black SUV as it sat silently in the driveway.  The late spring morning was bright and already warm, the clear blue sky sizzling.

“Well, are they getting out or not?” Mrs. Bishop asked, and as though she had been heard by the car’s occupants, the two front doors of the SUV flew open swiftly together, like wings spreading on a roc.  The first to emerge was Mrs. Blackburn, Darlene, Mr. Newhouse’s elder daughter, in her mid-fifties now but still resplendently blonde like her late mother, her hair piled on her head and complemented by her white blouse and black, knee-length skirt and the long black scarf bound at her throat.

“Hey Daddy!” she called upon seeing her father on the wide front porch.  She went to him and bound him in her arms.  He felt suffocated, more by her perfume than her hug, but he did his best to show sufficient affection with small, slow pats on her stiff back.  Over her shoulder he watched the second passenger leave the vehicle and became perplexed.  At first, from the boy’s long, unkempt blond hair, sealed in place by a ball cap, he thought Kyle was a girl.

“That him?” he said, prying himself loose from Mrs. Blackburn’s grip and breathing regularly again.

His daughter turned and smiled.  “Yes!  Kyle!  Come up and see your Pa-Pa.  You sat on his knee the last time you were here.  Look at him, Daddy!  That big boy of ours.  Fifteen years old now!”

The boy did not immediately respond to his mother’s call.  He stood in place by the SUV, and this gave his grandfather the opportunity to survey him more completely.  He wore a blue and white ball cap turned backwards.  Wisps of fair bangs escaped the cap’s brim.  His small frame was hidden by a long basketball jersey which hung out of his pants and reached nearly to his knees.  His pants were jeans, and they slouched so low on him they threatened to drop to his feet.  His feet were shod in bright white sneakers with the word Scarface prominent on each tongue.

“Is there something wrong with him?” Mr. Newhouse asked.

Mrs. Blackburn looked at her father in alarm.  “What do you mean?”

“The way he’s dressed.”

Mrs. Blackburn laughed.  “That’s the way the young dress nowadays.  Oh Daddy, you run a restaurant.  You see all types.  Surely you’ve seen young people come in dressed that way.”

“If I have, I looked away real quick.”

“Well, see there.  That will be part of your mission.  To get him to dress the way a conservative young man should dress.”

“I reckon.”  Mr. Newhouse watched the idling boy further.  “Is he slow?”

“Slow?  You mean – ?  Daddy, why?”

“He just stands there.  He don’t move.  Even after you called him.”

By now the boy had removed a Blackberry from one voluminous front pants pocket and was speaking into it.”

“Oh Good Lord.”

“Kyle, put that away and come speak to your granddaddy.  He’s been standing here the longest waiting on you.”  Mrs. Blackburn turned back to her father.  “Don’t worry, Daddy.  He’s to have only the phone.  No video games or other mechanical devices.  Only two hours of TV a day.  Keep it on Fox News as much you can.  That should keep his head straight.  And oh yes!  He’s too young for tattoos and piercings, so don’t worry about ‘body art.’”

“I’m not,” Newhouse replied.  “And I don’t own a TV.”

Kyle Blackburn, as though from defiance, continued to talk into the phone before pulling it away from his ear and pushing a button to kill the signal.  He looked dead-eye at the porch, directly at his mother and grandfather, with something of the predatory in his gaze.  Finally he took measured steps toward the house, and when he reached the porch’s first step, he jerked his chin upward abruptly and said, “What up?”

Newhouse eyed him from head to foot and replied, “Not your britches, that’s for sure.  If you’re not careful, son, you’re going to trip over yourself.”

“Kyle, come up here and shake your granddaddy’s hand the way a young gentleman would.”

“Yo,” replied the youngster.  “I ain’t no gentleman, young or old – “

“That’s obvious,” Newhouse slipped in.

“ – when you come from the streets of Atlanta like I do, you don’t just give out your handshake like candy.  The other thug got to earn your respect.  Then you shake.  You read me?”

“Stop talking like a cartoon and come give your grandfather a proper greeting.”

The boy moved closer, within touching range of Winthrop Newhouse, and extended his right arm, at the end of which stood a balled fist.

After a second of staring, Mr. Newhouse said, “Okay, and what am I supposed to do with that?”

“Fist bump.  Yo, you read me?”

Mr. Newhouse took a damask-backed chair in his ornately furnished dining room, joined by Linda Bishop, the two of them amazed at the fact that Kyle Blackburn aided his mother in removing his things from the SUV and transferring them to the upstairs bedroom which had once served as Mrs. Blackburn’s own when she was a teenager.

Mr. Newhouse regarded it all with the same kind of calm that the citizens of conquered nations in great wars must feel when their houses are confiscated by their conquerors.

“Mr. Newhouse,” Mrs. Bishop said, “you know what you got on your hands with Mr. Kyle Blackburn yonder?”

“I got some idea, Linda, but I’m open to other suggestions.”

Mrs. Bishop summoned a long breath then said, “A wigger.”

Newhouse paused then said, “A what?”

Mrs. Bishop repeated the term.

“What in the hell’s a wigger, Linda?”

Mrs. Bishop drew a second long breath before saying, “A white n –”

“Excuse me?”

“A white n — ”

“Ma’am?”

Mrs. Bishop sighed.  “A white n-word.  The n-word.  Lord, some folks has a time catching on!”

“Oh you mean a white nig —”

“Yes!” Mrs. Bishop fairly shouted, rolling her eyes to the ceiling, thankful she had been able to arrest the word before it had been fully enunciated.  “That’s what I mean.”

“But what do you mean by what you mean?”

“It’s a white boy thinks he’s black.”

“Oh.”

“I cannot believe you are unacquainted with wiggers.  You run a restaurant after all.  A public place.  The wiggers are in and out of it all the time.”

“I choose to ignore what does not please me.”

“No.  You color blind to all the colors except green.  Like the green of a dollar bill.”

Mr. Newhouse smiled.

A clamor sounded suddenly on the stairs.  Mrs. Blackburn and Kyle were descending.  “Daddy?  Where’d you get to?”  Mrs. Blackburn giggled.

Newhouse said nothing; neither did Mrs. Bishop.  They allowed mother and son to discover them.

“There you are!” Mrs. Blackburn exclaimed.  Kyle stood beside her, sullen, pants still perched precipitously on his small hips.  “Daddy, do you know what Kyle said about your house?”  She raised an index finger.  “One word.  Sick.  He said it was sick.”  And she giggled again to the point of giddiness, like a tourist guide delighted by her job.

Linda Bishop nudged Newhouse.  “Believe it or not, that’s a good thing.”

“Glad to know it,” he said.

“But,” Mrs. Blackburn went on, “by the time Kyle leaves here, Daddy, I trust he’ll be saying it’s healthy.  Or wonderful.  Or beautiful.  Or whatever a gentleman would say about a grand place such as this.”  She then went into an impromptu history of the house for benefit of her son.  She told him that originally their family had lived in a similar place in the Beaslap section of Compton County until it burned down (the house, that is, not Beaslap).  Then they moved into town to this house, which had once belonged to an old cotton mill boss named J. Vaughan Hemphill, who had passed away.  The boy stood as stone-silent as he had before his mother had made clear these origins.  Maybe he had meant sick in the traditional sense and wanted nothing to do with the house.

After Darlene Blackburn’s departure for Atlanta, Linda Bishop prepared an excellent supper for Winthrop Newhouse and his grandson: sliced roast beef, squash casserole, scarlet potatoes, hot buttered biscuits, and sweet iced tea.  Mr. Newhouse ate the meal with quiet appreciation, even some gusto, as if to show the younger man what an authentic South Carolina “gentlemanly” appetite looked like.  And it was genuine, for he had grown up very poor and had been lucky when he was a boy if he got any supper at all.  In memory of such lean times, he always left a clean plate.

Kyle Blackburn, however, had not grown up poor.  He ignored the food in front of him, concentrating instead on his Blackberry, pushing the numbers frantically.  His head was lowered, his lips pursed, a bit of blond hair escaped the brim of his hat.  Mr. Newhouse watched him and could not help but notice a resemblance to both the boy’s mother and his grandmother – the fair skin, the firm lines of his face, the clear blue of his eyes (when they were visible.)

“Something wrong with your supper?” he finally asked.

The boy took a moment, still engaged in texting, before he raised his head and shook it.

Linda Bishop appeared at the dining room door.

“You know if a man wears a hat in the house, he’ll go bald-headed before he’s twenty.”

Kyle shot her a look of alarm then said, “That’s a’ight.  I plan to shave my head anyway.  A true thug goes shiny.”

“And what in the world’s the matter with that roast beef, mister?  That’s a meal fit for a king.”

“Give it to the king then.  Y’all got a Mickey D’s around here?”

Linda Bishop cleared her throat and said to Mr. Newhouse, “He means McDonald’s.”

“Somehow I got that one,” Newhouse replied, “and it scares me a little bit.”

The next morning, to Mr. Newhouse’s surprise, Kyle Blackburn showed at breakfast dressed like an actual young man, in green polo shirt and chino slacks.  The cap was gone.  The boy had unleashed his fine blond hair, and once again Mr. Newhouse thought of both his fair-haired daughters and their blond mother.  He was good-looking, no doubt.  Mr. Newhouse could not help but feel some measure of pride.  Then he wondered what deal Darlene, Mrs. Blackburn, had struck with the boy to “clean up.”  What had she promised to buy him?  He even ate the eggs and bacon put in front of him without criticism and only brought out his Blackberry once and briefly.  A miracle already?  This soon?  Mr. Newhouse would wait and see.

The boy rode to Winner’s Circle with Mr. Newhouse in Mr. Newhouse’s red pick-up truck.  Mr. Newhouse did not put Kyle to work that very first day, but his plan, such as he had come up with one, was eventually to have the boy do something in the restaurant – wash dishes, sweep, fill ketchup bottles.  But that first day Kyle took a table in the restaurant’s far corner and spent it not observing the flow of customers or the routines of his grandfather’s employees but engaged with his gadget, his Blackberry, whose keys he worked with the swift magic of an old-fashioned cotton weaver on shuttles.  Mr. Newhouse could not help feel some disappointment.  He went over to the boy a couple of times in hopes of interesting him in what went on around him but to no avail.  At five o’clock he drove the boy back to his home on Main Street where Mrs. Bishop kept supper warm in the oven.

The next day, and those following, found Kyle Blackburn no more intrigued with Winner’s Circle than he had been the first days.  The phone kept the young man’s full attention.  Soon Mr. Newhouse felt the prick of frustration, rejection even.  He even grew a bit angry, so much so at some point he left the front counter, where normally he guarded the cash register like a one-eyed hawk, to phone his daughter in Atlanta.

“Take it away from him, Daddy,” Mrs. Blackburn insisted upon hearing of the present dilemma.  “Yes.  Take it.  Right this minute.  And put him to work.  You’re not afraid to, are you?”

Hanging up the phone, Mr. Newhouse went directly to the booth where his grandson sat and held out his hand.

The boy squinted his eyes.  His mouth became a hard line.  Then he said, “Yo, what’s up?”

“Give me that phone.”

The boy’s eyes narrowed further.  “What?  You got to make a phone call or something?  Ain’t you got your own phone, you being a big boss man and all?  Yo, yo.”  And he laughed.

“Your mama said to take it from you.  So I’m taking it.  And putting you to work today.  You’ll operate the dishwasher.”

“Now hold on here, boss man.  This here’s my lifeline to the homies back in the big ATL.  I lose this, I lose everything.  Now I done put on these monkey clothes that I wouldn’t be seen dead in in Hotlanta.  That ought to be enough civilizing for one summer vacation.  Don’t you think?”

In a move that surprised even himself, Mr. Newhouse reached out swiftly and snatched the phone from the boy’s hand.  “I got an apron for you back yonder.  Go put it on.”

As Mr. Newhouse expected, the boy showed lank interest in his new duty.  He stood by as one of the other employees showed him the simple operations of the dishwasher then did his very best to display abject ineptitude, the kind resulting in minor disruption of the restaurant’s business flow.  Mr. Newhouse grew agitated.  He sent the boy out of the kitchen and had someone drive him back to the house.

Mr. Newhouse himself did not arrive home till very late that evening.  It surprised him to see a downstairs window lit up at that hour.  It was the window of his “study,” the room he often went off to for greater relaxation – to have a drink if he wished or smoke a cigar or just sit and listen to the symphonic music which had become one of his pleasures of late.  He entered the study first thing and experienced a second surprise: the sight of his grandson sitting at the vast oaken desk inlaid with glass and covered with memorabilia of various sorts.

“You old enough to smoke?” Mr. Newhouse asked Kyle Blackburn, who reclined in the swivel chair of rich leather holding aloft like a veteran smoker one of Mr. Newhouse’s premium Don Carlos specialties.

“Since I was twelve years old, yo.”

“Your mama would skin me and you both alive if she could see all this.”

“Darlene’s a hater.  She hates what she don’t understand.  She don’t understand me, so she hates me.”

“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.  She’s given you everything.  Probably too much.”

“Ah, she buying me off, dog.  That what she doing.  Nice clothes.  Trips everywhere.  That a bribe, dog.”  The boy arched his eyebrows playfully and bit the tip of the cigar, still encased in its wrapping.  He gave his grandfather the same squint as the day before.  “You a hater too, ain’t you, grandpa man?”

“What do you mean by that?”

The boy pointed behind him at the window where hung suspended from the curtain rod was a St. Andrews Cross, a Confederate battle flag, a subject of intense controversy in South Carolina the last dozen years.  “You’re a hater.  That’s a sign of hate.”

“I had kinfolk who fought and died under that flag.  And you did too.”

“I don’t claim ‘em as no kinfolk.  They fought on the wrong side for the wrong thing.  And it’s a good thing they lost too.”

“What would you know about it?  Fifteen and all.”

“Did you vote for Obama?”

“No.”

“Hater.”

“Get up from there and go to your own room right now.”

“Ah chill out, dude.  Let’s make peace.  Just pour us a drink and we’ll toast.  You got plenty of it.  Some good stuff too.”

“That’ll be the day.”

“And where did you get all them guns?  You in the war too?”

The boy referred to Mr. Newhouse’s collections of rifles and handguns, Winchesters and Gatlings among them, displayed on one wall of the study.  The prized possession was a Confederate musket wielded by his great grandfather at Manassas, a British Enfield made in 1853, fifty-five inches and more than five pounds of accurate shot.

“Never mind that.  Just go to bed.  I’m tired of talking about things.  It’s late.”

The boy set down the cigar, shaking his head slowly with the resignation of a grown man.  “Ain’t no love for a thug once he leave the ATL.  Ain’t no love in The Compton, South Carolina,” he said and stood.

The next day was a regrettable replay of the previous one and initiated a most unfortunate new trend at Winner’s Circle.  Not only did Kyle Blackburn slough off his duties as dishwasher with indifference and ineptitude, finally abandoning the kitchen for the dining room and one of the restaurant booths, he also began attracting other like-minded youths, other “wiggers,” Mr. Newhouse supposed, except these were white and black boys, slovenly dressed, loud, unmindful of other customers, some of them wearing ball caps, others bandannas, still others bedecked in  long silver necklaces that reached as far as their stomachs, their ears glinting with rings, their mouths, some of them, with gold-capped teeth. Like Kyle, several of them had eschewed belts, so their pants hung precariously on their thin shanks.  It was as though right away they recognized in Kyle Blackburn a kindred soul, as though they had known each other a very long time, and he responded in kind.  He even rose from his seat and embraced a couple of them in that peculiar young way, elbow blocking chest, chin squeezing shoulder.  With alarm Mr. Newhouse wondered if these young men had come up from Atlanta to visit Kyle.  But no.  Kyle said he had just met them, that they were new “dogs,” new “homies,” that “a thug know a thug ‘cause they got the same blood in ‘em.”

Mr. Newhouse did not ask for an elaboration of the last statement.  He had no interest in hip-hop philosophy or genealogy.  He became, however, greatly concerned for the atmosphere of Winner’s Circle, because these young men returned daily, not always buying anything either, usually not buying anything, but certainly attracting Kyle’s attention, luring him away from his job in the kitchen.  They talked loudly and laughed loudly and drew the notice of paying customers who regarded this group of youths with something less than appreciation.  It got to the point where Mr. Newhouse had to leave his post at the cash register and drive the boys outdoors, Kyle included.  So outside they gathered, pulling up in the Winner’s Circle parking lot in shiny cars with CD players blaring, thumping, thudding, shuddering, sending vibrations through the very interior of the restaurant itself.  Kyle, of course, would dash out of the kitchen to join them and spend sometimes an hour or more with them, sharing drags off cigarettes and generally shooting the bull.

“You ought not to have done this to me,” Mr. Newhouse told his daughter on the phone.  “I’m too old to take a youngun to raise.  I’m nearly eighty years old, Darlene.  You know that.”

“I’m sure you’re doing a great job, Daddy.  He’s not wearing those awful clothes anymore, is he?  Well, see there.  That’s progress.  It’s still early.”

“I got a business to run.  And my business ain’t no daycare.”

“I believe in you, Daddy.  You’re a tough old bird.  You can do it.”

To show how tough he was, Mr. Newhouse met the congregation of youths soon after they assembled in the parking lot one afternoon and told them they were no longer welcome on the grounds of Winner’s Circle.  They didn’t buy anything and they caused problems.  They were disturbing the peace in general and his customers specifically.  If they returned, he would call the police.  With the thump and sigh of a rap epic to score their departure, they left all together, abandoning Kyle, who stood and stared red-faced at his grandfather and said, “The world ain’t nothing but a big ball of hate.  You feel me?”

Mr. Newhouse wanted to say, “I’d like to feel my hand on your backside, again and again and again,” but he didn’t.  He merely walked away from the boy and back to the cash register.

Kyle Blackburn did not accompany Mr. Newhouse to Winner’s Circle the next day; he did not respond to his grandfather’s calls to get out of bed.  And he did not call in later to report the reason for his absence as any good employee would have.  He repeated this “no show” the next few days, and in a way Mr. Newhouse was glad about it.  It was a relief to him not to have to keep an eye on the boy.  He could concentrate on the really important thing, the operation of Winner’s Circle.  It had been his daughter’s mistake, this whole idea.  Kyle would have to go back to Atlanta.  Mr. Newhouse couldn’t change him.  He was obstinate.  He would just have to grow out of this behavior, if that were possible.

One evening shortly after that, Mr. Newhouse closed up the restaurant by himself.  It was very late, past one o’clock in the morning.  It had been a long day, very hard, and it was the first time in a long while that Mr. Newhouse regretted that he did not have an obvious candidate, male or female, to whom he could turn over operations of Winner’s Circle.  He had no family in town.  His younger brother Marvin, who never married and had no children himself, had died of The Old Timey’s disease years ago in a nursing home in Greenwood, South Carolina.  His wife was gone, and both his daughters had fled to big cities to raise their own families, none of whom had any interest in returning to a small place like Compton.  For a while he thought of Kyle and what a waste it was the boy did not have his head on straight, at least not at the moment.  Maybe if he did, a few years from then…but no, there was no cause for hope there either.

He pondered these things as he rode home in the silent darkness of the little town, tired but still edgy, and as he neared his own home, he was startled to find it the scene of great activity so late in the night and early in the morning.  A Compton County police squad car sat in the driveway, blue lights skittering from one end of the roof to the other.  So did other cars.  Perhaps a dozen or nearly so, parked in the drive, on the curb, on the lawn.  The house itself was fully lit from top floor to bottom, each window ablaze.  Mr. Newhouse parked on the curb opposite his home and rushed out of the truck, not even bothering to remove the keys from the ignition.  He scurried up the drive, onto the porch, and into the house.  Two young deputies stood in the foyer talking to a pair of black youths.  Other young men, black and white, lingered nearby as though waiting their turn with the policemen.  The officers recognized Mr. Newhouse and broke off their interview right away.

“Mr. Newhouse,” one began, “we received complaints from your neighbors about a rowdy party here at the house.  Loud music, hollering, and such.  Upon investigation we found evidence of underage drinking and some marijuana use.  We’re taking statements now and will have a report filed in the morning.  We tried contacting you at your place of business and by cell phone.”

“I don’t have a cell phone.”

“Yes sir.  We found that out.  We need to know what kinds of charges you want to press, if any.”

“I don’t have no earthly idea right now,” Newhouse replied and walked away from the officers to survey his invaded home.  It looked like a war zone.  In the den furniture was overturned, lampshades removed to expose bulbs, cut glass snifters and shot glasses abandoned here and there.  Disparate youths lingered in the den, waiting for something and regarding Mr. Newhouse as though he were the invader of their little bacchanal.  He found the same scene in his dining and living rooms – upheaval of precious, costly items, evidence of his expensive alcohol being wasted.  God knew what had been stolen.  He said nothing to nobody, not even the young strangers who blocked his way as he went from room to room.  For Winthrop Newhouse and his kind, the self-made man, silence was strength.  A man let his actions speak for him, and so did a woman for that matter.

He sought out his grandson and found him where he had discovered him once before at about the same time of night – in his private study.  The boy sat behind the vast oaken desk and smiled at his grandfather.

“Yo, dog.  Come join the party.  We even got the polices up in this hizzle.”

“Shut your mouth.  Shut your face.  Just shut up, you ignorant-assed nothing.  You disgrace.  You wigger.  Is that what you want to be?  A wigger?  Well congratulations.”  The boy spit out a laugh and kept laughing until the old man silenced him with a pounding fist on the door jamb.  “I said shut up.  You make me sick.  This’ll be in the newspaper.  This’ll be on TV.  My name will be ruined.  Everything I’ve worked for, for sixty years.  Hell, I might end up in jail.  I would have never dreamed that all my work would come to this…to you.  They should have smothered you in your crib.  They should have strangled you with the birth cord.  No wonder your daddy left your mama.  No wonder.  He had the sense to get away from the likes of you.  You’re a shame.  A nothing.  A nastiness.  The opposite of what I hoped for in a grandboy.  I ought to send you out right now and make you sleep in the street.  I ought to have them arrest you.  But I’m too tired and too disgusted for anything.”

With that Mr. Newhouse turned in the doorway and left Kyle Blackburn still sitting in the leather swivel chair.

Newhouse conferred briefly with the deputies.  He would not press charges against any of the young men unless he found anything missing.  He only wanted them out of his house as soon as possible.  The officers assured him that no charges against him would be forthcoming, that it was obvious to them that he had not instigated the night’s events.  In a matter of half an hour the Newhouse home was free of those who had ransacked it.  Mr. Newhouse, exhausted in more ways than one, turned out only the den and dining room lights.  He did not go back to the study.  Clean-up and inventory would require help from Linda Bishop and would begin that next morning.  It would also require that he do the unprecedented – take a non-vacation day off from Winner’s Circle.

He returned to his bedroom and lay on the bed still in his work clothes, but he could not sleep and probably would not.  His thoughts were troubled not so much by the breach of his property by these hooligans but by the face of his grandson as he had degraded him.  He was so young, only fifteen, and, wigger or not, he was still a boy and of Newhouse blood.  He looked so much like his mother, Newhouse’s first born, with the hair blond and fine and the eyes brightly blue – and in turn Darlene, Kyle’s mother, resembled to a T her mother, Newhouse’s deceased wife.  And he had wished the boy dead, right in front of him.  Had called him a shame, a disgrace, a nothing.  He was not the evil man as many in Compton had thought of him over the years.  He was practical.  He had worked and struggled for all he owned.  He considered himself honorable, even if no one else did.

The boy would have to go back to Atlanta.  That’s all there was to it.  He would call Darlene in the morning and demand she get to Compton as soon as possible to pick Kyle up.  (That is if the police didn’t come for him first.  Goodness knew what their report would find.)  Her heart had been in the right place, he reckoned, but not her head.  She would have to do what she could to change the boy’s behavior.  But he did not want the departure to be marked by the ugliness of the evening.  The least he could do would be to apologize to the boy for the harshness of his language and to offer him at least a sliver of hope.

He rose from his bed and went to the head of the stairs.  From there, to his left, he could see that the study light still burned.  He descended the stairs and went to the study.  The boy still sat behind the desk.  Newhouse opened his mouth to begin his apology when he realized his grandson held aloft and pointed at him one of Newhouse’s prized Confederate pistols, an original Griswold and Gunnison made in Macon, Georgia.

“Boy, what in the world do you think you’re doing?”

The boy’s eyes narrowed to black slits.  His gun hand tensed visibly.

“Haters has got to die, yo.”

He squeezed the trigger.  The long barrel exploded in a puff of blue smoke.  Newhouse felt a shock of pain in his left arm which traveled up to his shoulder, spreading to his chest.  His breathing grew shallow, weak.  He stumbled backwards a couple of steps and fell, and everything around him plunged into darkness.

It turned out Mr. Newhouse was not injured by gunshot from his own collector’s revolver.  There was not even a bullet in the Griswold Gunnison.  Gummed up gunpowder had caused the explosion.  Mr. Newhouse had suffered a heart attack.

Both his daughters raced to Compton from their respective metropolises.  They stood over their father, wired and tube-covered in his short bed but fully conscious.  Darlene Blackburn, as always, assumed the role of spokeswoman.

“Kyle saved your life.  Did you know that, Daddy?  He called 911.  Wasn’t that smart of him?  You might have died otherwise.”

Mr. Newhouse spoke softly, carefully.  “You be sure to thank him for me, won’t you, hon?”

“Actually, he’s right outside.  You can thank him yourself.”

Newhouse shook his head slowly.  “You want me to get out of here sooner than later, don’t you?  Then don’t bring that youngun in here.”

Mrs. Blackburn’s eyebrows flexed, nearly meeting each other.  “What does that mean, Daddy?  Are you saying…?”

“It’s probably best if you get him back home as soon as possible.  You got a lot of work to do on that boy.”

“Daddy?”

“I’m not going to argue with you about this, Darlene.  I’m going to be the daddy again, at least around here, for the time being, and give the orders.  In case nobody’s told you, I had a heart attack this morning.  I can’t imagine the doctor would recommend arguing for a man who’s just had a heart attack.  Can you?”

Mrs. Blackburn folded into herself.  Her shoulders rose to meet her ears.  He chin rose as well.  Her arms became stiff at her sides.  It was as though she were trying to will herself out of the hospital room without having to face further recriminations from her father.  The other sister, the one who had come up from Charleston, as had always been her wont in the family, stood back and said nothing.

At a later visiting period Linda Bishop showed.

Mr. Newhouse smiled at her.  “Take a look here,” he said.  “This is what you got to deal with.”

Mrs. Bishop looked doubtful.  “What you

mean?”

Newhouse responded with mock offense.  “I mean you got to look after me after they get me out of here and back home.”

Mrs. Bishop snorted.  “That what you think?  Well, you got another thing coming, mister.  I’m too young to take an old dog like you to raise.”

About Randall Ivey

Randall Ivey teaches English at the University of South Carolina, Union and is the author of two short story collections and a book for children. His work has appeared in magazines, journals, and anthologies in the United States and England. More from Randall Ivey

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