Winker

My son isn’t speaking to me. I stay up late into the night, searching for ways of how to remedy this.

***

My son is a one-pound cyclops. I haven’t seen his eye yet. His vitals are so good I don’t even want to go into detail, for fear of jinxing it. I’m on day three of my sequester, a sinus infection I think but it’s clearing up well. If the slight ache in my nostrils stops by this evening I might go in and give his new peeper a look-see. Still won’t touch him, though. Just in case.

***

Alex has a case, a big one this week. The state of Georgia passed a law last year saying that corporations could run for public office, and now AT&T/Time Warner/Comcast/Starbucks/ToyotaUSA is running for mayor of Atlanta. Alex is lead counsel for the legal team trying to prevent this from happening. I am nervous about the timing of this particular trial in conjunction with our father-son spat, or rather nervous about the spat in conjunction with the trial. I don’t want to jinx it for him. I always come to his trials, all of the open court ones anyway, and right when the bailiff says “All rise” to start, he turns to the gallery and finds me while he stands, the only time he looks at me during the entire trial, and he winks at me, and I wink back, and only then do I feel like things are going to be okay. I’m still going to this trial, even though I hate Atlanta and the idea of spending the duration of the trial within its bowels is utterly abhorrent to me, but I’m terrified he won’t turn around, he won’t wink his right eye and I won’t get to wink back, and the whole thing will be shot to hell.

***

Panera Bread just blew my mind. My sister got us a gift card to use here, and so I came here to use it. I added the card to the app on my phone but then lost track of it inside the app’s menus and settings, so I went up to the counter (there was no line! at a Panera at lunchtime!) and asked the dude how to find my gift card in the app, and not only did he have no idea, it also seemed he was completely unaccustomed to talking with customers at all. This made more sense when I saw all of the ordering machines (iPads in wood-framed mountings) scattered about the front counter area. I picked up a pager and waited a bit for it to buzz, but it never did. Instead another employee brought my order directly to me. I asked how. She said we were watching you on the screen, and she pointed behind her to where the screen must be. I said that was totally creepy but okay, I would still like my food, please. She said no, when you put your pager down on the table—she gestured to the number on the table top—we know where you’re sitting, so we can just bring it right to you.

I am living in the future.

***

Two main causes of our current rift: first, I told him I didn’t want him to climb Mt. Everest this fall. I just don’t. He’s always trying to prove himself as physically capable, stronger than he appears, and yes, he’s always been able to succeed in the past. But he’s not a large man [even in my ideated futures I cannot see him as anything but slight], and his lungs are delicate, and you have to carry a lot of heavy supplies in thin mountain atmosphere and many, many people have succumbed to these conditions and so no, I’m sorry, I don’t want you to. He said he has seen the picture of me and his mother and Grapes (what he calls his grandfather) and Aunt Ashley at the summit of Mt. Washington. I told him that was not a climb, that was a walk, and it took all of half a day, essentially, and otherwise please do not talk down to me and assume I don’t know the difference between New Hampshire and the Himalayas.

And second, I told him I would rather swallow a hammer than ever call myself a Republican.

***

I don’t eat at Panera very often. I think they’re a little overpriced, and I don’t like to get less than I pay for. But I had a gift card, so.

Similarly, when we got into the McDonald House and made a quick drug store trip for supplies, I didn’t think I really needed anything, but I stopped and lingered in the electric razor section. I usually cut my hair at home, and trim my beard too, obviously, but I failed to grab any of those supplies on the way out the door during my dash to Virginia. A combination kit with hair clippers and a smaller cordless trimmer was on sale for $25. I had already made up my mind to do the playoff beard thing while we’re here, like a hockey player, prostrating myself before the gods of good luck, but I really do look like a Wookiee’s hairball. An upkeep trim and a haircut would probably do wonders. And I’ll probably need at least one more haircut before we quit this place, and several more trims. Still, ordinarily I would never pay money for something I already own but just don’t have current access to, and the prospect is especially unattractive knowing that I’m living on other people’s money.

My wife passed by and touched my shoulder and asked what I was looking at. I told her what, and why, and she could sense my hesitation. “Just buy it,” she said. “That’s what the money’s for.”

***

Somehow it turned into a big fight, even though I already knew all of the points he made, and recognized them to be true before he even spoke them. Republican doesn’t mean what it used to mean. He said the party has returned to its roots, that’s it’s all about being fiscally responsible, about caring for the little guy and helping him stretch a dollar as far as it will go. About holding government accountable for its overspending and oversight. They don’t care about most of the old talking points anymore. They’ve evolved. They believe in manmade climate change and are proud supporters of the solar and wind industries. They support rights and freedoms of the individual as guaranteed by the constitution for all citizens. They’re pro-weed, even. They just want the taxes on your marijuana to be as low as possible, that’s all. “How can you not understand that?” he asked me. “You of all people, with your guilt complex over taking things that you haven’t earned. I watched you drive like an Earnhardt once through rush hour traffic and cut a lady off just to give her back the $20 you saw her drop at the gas station.”

I said, “Well thanks to President Ocasio-Cortez, $20 is still a lot of money. And besides, you weren’t there during the dark times. You didn’t see what happened while the grand old party was owned by the grand old billionaires, before the grand old billionaires all died grand old deaths in that horrific volcano accident in Davos. You didn’t watch helplessly while these purchased politicians dragged us into a trillion-dollar war in the wrong country after 9/11, while they bowed to the pressure of NRA lobbyists and did nothing but pay lip service as our schools and our churches were being targeted by domestic terrorists with semi-automatics. You didn’t see them sell their souls to fall in line with he-who-must-not-be-named, the king of the scapegoat and the gaslight, all for the sake of obtaining and maintaining power. The bathroom bills. The immigrant caravan. The voter fraud. The anchor babies. The wall. You weren’t there to watch them for years as they thrived on xenophobia and false patriotism and fear-mongering, as they condemned the gay community and vilified gay marriage.”

At this point, Alex’s husband Theodore, sensing the rising tension, removed his VR headset and stood up from the breakfast table as nonchalantly as possible, placed his empty cereal bowl in the sink, and left the room.

“I’m not trying to pass judgment on your decisions,” I said. “All I meant was that I personally would never be able to call myself a Republican.”

“Well I do,” said Alex, and walked after his husband. It was the last he’s spoken to me in two months.

***

Eight hours later now, and we’re back in the room at Hotel McDonald. Whatever was in that soup and salad at Panera made me feel well enough to risk entry. I got to see Alex’s eye tonight. He may not have control over its function yet, but it looks in specific directions. It seems to look at my wife, and at me. Since he’s lying supine, with his head fixed in one direction by the angle of the respiration tubes, he’s not looking left and right at us so much as up and down. Tonight I was on the up side. Every time he looked at me, his little eyebrow lifted, giving him that special expression of genuine surprise that only babies’ faces can support. This eyebrow raise is probably not surprise, but more indicative of his efforts to open his other eye. He strains and strains and it doesn’t open and then often he squeezes both his lids tightly shut with frustration, and fusses and pouts until he loses himself in the newfound dark and falls asleep. A few seconds later, it all starts over again.

***

The courtroom is abuzz. Most of the media coverage of the case Alex is presenting has been negative, as the media itself is somewhat on trial. All the cable news networks, at least, have decided Alex’s diminutive stature and fidgety hands and sharp suit make him reminiscent of a Las Vegas card shark. The legal team representing the corporation is three times as big, in number, not size, but also bigger in size, all of them tall, even the women, all of them Ivy League, seven-figure, estate-tax, tooth-whitened yacht owners. All of them stand in unison as the bailiff calls the room to attention and instructs us to rise, and my heart slows. I’m in the aisle seat, across the aisle from Alex’s table, where I always sit, next to Theodore, next to Gretchen. My palms are sweating so much I lose grip on the polished wooden knob on the bench in front of me and momentarily lose my balance, almost falling back into my seat again. I’ve been keeping an eye on Alex ever since we’ve been in here. He hasn’t looked back yet, but then again, he never does. Not until now. Right now. If he’s going to look it’s going to be now. This now, the longest now, it has to be now.

He turns his head. He sees me. His eyebrows raise, a look of genuine surprise I thought only babies could evoke. I wink my right eye. He gives me a half-wink back, seems to have something in his eye and so doesn’t close it all the way, so it’s an awkward and unplanned facial movement that says nothing, reveals nothing. But then he gives me a quick nod, wipes at his eye, and turns to watch the judge step up to the bench.

I don’t see the judge, though. I have something in my eye, too.

***

Twenty hours later: Today was a long day. A bad day. I don’t want to go into it for fear of jinxing myself further, but by the end of it Alex was at last feeling better, showing better vitals again. There is no guaranteed future yet for us, there is no luck, bad or good, there is only impartial chemistry, somewhat partial physics and entirely biased biology at play, and my doctors and nurses are my current pantheon, and I pray to them questions and they bestow upon me answers as they busy their hands at care for my son’s well-being, answers that may be truthful or may be somewhat placating but have thus far always been what I needed to hear at that moment. I do not worry for my son’s life, but I also don’t take it for granted. My charms and my jinxes, however, I’ll continue to tend to and respect, because I am not the deity here, I am not the decider, and apart from my wife’s embrace, they are all that I have to feel better.

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