Pronghorn, Chapter 19: Home from the Store

Continued from the previous chapter, here.

When Asa Pemewan got home, his parents were sitting in their living room, and a quiet, soothing voice played out from their television, speaking of happy little trees and phthalo blue on liquid white. Asa put away the groceries he had gotten, completing the task just before hearing “Happy painting, and God bless, my friend.”

The television clicked off, and Asa’s mother called out, “Thank you, Asa. How much were the groceries?”

Asa walked into the living room. “Don’t worry about it, Mom.”

“Now, Asa–”

“Honey,” said Asa’s father, “just thank him.”

Asa’s mother pressed her lips together. “He doesn’t have a job, Al; he can’t be buying our groceries all the time.”

“Once isn’t ‘all the time,’ Tilly, and anyway–” and Asa’s father turned to him, “How did the interview go? You ‘ere gone quite a while.”

Asa sat. “I was, and it went decently, but it didn’t eat the whole day. Most of the rest of it, I spent pounding the pavement. I didn’t have much luck, but what I had was pretty good.”

“What d’you mean?”

“I mean that I only have a couple, three leads. One’s the interview. Another’s at the school; Mrs. Baker says hello, by the way.”

“That’s good. She okay?”

“She seemed to be. Anyway, I went from there to the college, and one of my cohort from grad school chairs the English department there, so I should be able to pick up some fall classes.”

“What about now, though?”

“Nothing yet. But it’s not likely Art can get me anything for the summer. I think the term’s started, anyway.”

“Art’s your classmate?”

“Yes, sir. Good friend, too. But he can’t hire for a job that isn’t there, you know.”

“Yeah. Still, sounds like you had some good luck, then, and I’m glad.”

Asa’s mother interjected, “I am, too, and I just know you’re going to get offers. How could you not?”

“Well, Mom, not everybody’s as convinced as you are about me. Especially not here.”

Asa’s mother made a dismissive noise, and Asa continued. “Well, Mom, I was a little shit when I was growing up.”

“Honey, you were a kid. Every kid’s a little shit sometimes.”

“Yeah, I know, but I was one more than my share of the time.”

“Maybe, but it’s not like you were a hooligan. Not like some of those other kids.”

“I think I’d’ve had more fun if I had been.”

“Or you could be like Ryan Mattison.” Asa’s father nodded sagely, and Asa, after a moment, nodded, as well. “There is that,” he said. “I could have gotten shot by cops. Or I could have had the clap several times, like some of the kids I knew. But then you’d have a chance at grandkids, so that might not be so bad.”

“Well, I would like grandbabies, but, no, I don’t think you having some kind of disease is the way to go.”

“I don’t, either, but I do have to wonder how things would be were I otherwise. I have to think I’d’ve had an easier time of things.”

Asa’s father took up the conversation. “You might’ve. Might not’ve, though. Like your mother said, you could’ve gone like Mattison. Or you could’ve ended up like some of the Smitherson kids, spoiled rotten and feeling every bit of the rot. Or like one of the Hochstedlers. I don’t know if you know Rufus at all–”

“I met him today. He pulled a gun on me.”

Asa’s father rolled his eyes. “I know. Paranoid ass. Lots of money, though. Hasn’t helped him a damned bit.”

“He can afford a gun–and pointing it at people!”

“And he thinks he has to have one. Do you?”

“There are days, Dad.”

“More than ain’t?”

Asa thought for a moment. “Not yet, no.”

“Yeah, and Rufus’s scared of damned near everythin’. And his boy, Henry, is even worse. Can’t keep a relationship down; hell, he’s been married five times.”

Asa paused for a moment before beginning to laugh. His mother asked “What’s so funny, Asa?”

Asa shook his head and flapped his hand. “It’s nothing,” he managed to get out. “Just something I remembered from college.”He’s not dating a Catherine, is he.”

Asa’s parents themselves paused a moment as the joke began to break over them. “Not so’s you’d know it,” his father said after a bit. “And none of the wives is dead, so far as I know. Although one was named Anne.”

“Okay, okay. It would’ve been too neat, anyway.”

“Exactly. We always did have to stress to you that life’s not like one of your novels.”

Asa nodded. “I know, I know. And I’ve pressed on like it is, and it’s bitten me in the ass more than once. You’d think I’d learn.”

“Not so much,” said Asa’s father, prompting an aspersive “Al!” from Asa’s mother. He replied in turn. “Well, Tilly, if he hasn’t learned it by now, he won’t, and after coming up on forty years of it, you and I both know we’re not surprised.”

Drily, Asa put in “Thanks for the support,” and his father replied, “Son, I love you, but you know I’m not gonna lie to you. You’re a decent man, and I’m proud of you, but you’ve still got your head in the clouds as often as not. It’s probably part of your problem.”

“What problem do you think that is?” A slight edge had crept into Asa’s voice.

Asa’s father cocked his head at his son, closing one eye and looking at him over the top of his glasses with the other. Asa saw the look and repeated the question without the edge. His father nodded and answered “Holding down work. You get it in your head that things’ll be one way–and, yes, you’re usually right that they ought to be that way, or something close to it. But they aren’t, and you get pissed, and it shows in the work. Or you used to, anyway; maybe you grew out of it while I wasn’t looking.”

Asa’s father sat back. “Maybe.”

Did I bring you as much pleasure as an episode of The Joy of Painting does? Could you kick in as much for me as you pay for a Bob Ross so I can keep doing what you like? I’ll even get happy trees in there, somewhere. Click here, then, and thanks!

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