Canyon Dawn

1979, October 14

He Is Poked in the Eye

A pointed object poked him in the cheek. He ignored it. Until three and a half weeks ago, Scotty had slept the sleep of the innocent. Last night had been his worst night under his new burden, an overburden as it were of vigilance, duties, and stress.

Again he was poked in the cheek. As Scotty was raising his arm to brush it away, he was poked in the eye. Scotty swore and forced his eyes open into the bright sunlight filling the bedroom. The light was tinged purple. He closed his eyes and covered his face with his hands to avoid another assault. A small and serious voice said, “Dah-nuh-thaw.”

Scotty uncovered his face and and forced his eyes to face the light. “Yup,” he told his two-year-old son, “purple dinosaur.”

Gween.”

Nope. Purple.”

Dah-nuh-thaw. Gween.”

Scotty wondered what he was supposed to do when his son mixed up colors. Correct him? Be insistent? Let it ride? For that matter, what was he supposed to do about everything now that out of the blue he was raising the Rugrat on his own? Scotty was still not adept at diaper changes. Scotty’s mother, who had become a reluctant babysitter while he worked at the taconite plant, told Scotty not to ask her questions. She was supposed to have been done with this whole kid business and was expecting to be done with this kid very soon. Why was she paying for Scotty’s mess? Hadn’t he heard of rubbers? Wasn’t teaching about rubbers in school one of the things that pissed people off three or four years back?

1979, September 26

His Wife Becomes Extinct

On his Wednesday day off, Scotty awoke to find Lori was gone, just gone, leaving only a note on the changing table. “Im to yung to have to rase a kid.” Next to the note lay a bag of cheap plastic dinosaurs. The tag said she had purchased them at Kmart for 49¢ marked down from 89¢ cents. Right out of the package the Rugrat adopted the dinosaurs as his favorite toys. Scotty spent the rest of the first day overwhelmed by his burden. He could not just leave the kid on a doorstep somewhere; the Rugrat was walking. His older sister had her own single-parent problems and was not going to take on a third. Could he give the child up for adoption? He called the county welfare office and said he had a child he wanted to give them. The woman asked his name in a way that made Scotty nervous. He hung up.

For a moment he thought the unthinkable.

He knew the Rugrat drank milk. Was Scotty supposed to heat it? He left it cold. The Rugrat drank it fine. Not having paid attention to the maturation of his son, Scotty thought the Rugrat still ate from those little jars in the cupboard, seven of which were left. Was Scotty supposed to heat it? He left it cold. The Rugrat gobbled up what Scotty spooned into his mouth. Scotty could find no food in the house for himself. Lori had left the cupboards and refrigerator bare except for the seven out-of-date jars of baby food. Did she take it all with or had she let it get that way before she ran off? Even the two six-packs of beer he saw in the fridge last night were gone. For how long had she planned her run? As Scotty ate the last four jars of baby food, he turned the cute baby on the label to face away from him.

Crying, Scotty called his mother to tell her Lori had ditched him. His mother’s first words were, “I bet she took all your money outta your bank account. Don’t ask us for money.” How would he pay the rent due on Sunday? How would he buy them both food? What did those diapers cost? Not his mother’s problem. Scotty called the bank. What little money they had was gone. The bank had just bounced two overdrawn checks that Lori had written in a gas station and restaurant in Duluth two days ago. How had she been in Duluth? He needed, they told him, to get himself right in to close the account.

Until the day Scotty found himself a single parent at age 21, he had called his son the Rugrat. Lori’s parents had insisted the Rugrat be given the first name of Dickson, their last name. Scotty and Lori, who never fought about anything, agreed they did not want a kid named Dick. Lori’s parents did not see the birth certificate, which by the power of the Sate of Minnesota, gave the Rugrat the name Jimmy Dickson Kapari. Lori and Scotty laughed about their subterfuge. There was much laughter in those early naive days. The Rugrat had been conceived one warm night in the back of Scotty’s father’s GMC flatbed truck parked on a mound of overburden overlooking an abandoned iron ore pit. Jimmy was derived from GMC.

Lori and Scotty had not made love that night; they had not made passion. They had made a moment of pleasure, a pleasure new to neither of them. After the pleasure, they did not feel guilt. They did not feel a bond between them. They had made no commitment. What they both did feel, without admitting it to each other, was rebellion, rebellion against their parents, against their teachers, against schools and libraries and churches, at the police, at maturation, at the goody two-shoes who earned A’s and B’s and planned for college and careers not on the Iron Range. Scotty and Lori had not made love; they had, however, made a child.

Yes, the sex ed. class had taught them about condoms. They also had taught, which he forgot, that all birth control methods could fail, including condoms.

Lori and Scotty did not have a shotgun wedding. It was more of a BB gun wedding. Whether they had made a desperate choice or made no choice at all, Scotty could not remember, despite thinking about their marriage all the day she left. They did not even live together until Lori graduated, except she did not graduate, which Scotty did not know. The principal had let her walk across the stage to receive an empty diploma folder if she agreed to complete the missing work before July. If Scotty had known, he would have ridden her ass to get it done, which was why she did not tell him.

1979, October 14

He Begs, He Borrows, He Welds

Scotty’s sister Lee-Ann was ten years older than he was, a mother of two with a full-time job and no longer with a husband. The evening of the day that Lori left Scotty took Jimmy over to see Lee-Ann, who was hardly surprised by Lori’s exit. After she chewed her brother out for not having Jimmy in a warm coat, she told him she could not take the child. Scotty was not asking her to. He was asking her to teach him how to be a parent. “I’ll teach you how to be his mother ’cause right now Jimmy needs a mother. Later, after you’s got that down, you can figure out on your own how to be a father and then teach me.” Scotty told her he was broke. She took him out to buy a week’s worth of food, but that was the best she could do.

That night, after Jimmy was fed and asleep, Scotty called one of his buddies who owed him a couple hundred bucks. The buddy laughed at him. When Scotty cried, he laughed harder. Scotty called a second buddy who owed him a hundred bucks. The buddy had the money and could loan him another couple hundred. Scotty got through the next month by mere pennies.

Lori’s parents, who had seven children older than Lori, made it clear they had no interest in Jimmy, the eighth of ten grandchildren. Lori’s father told Scotty that it was all his fault. Lori deserved better. Scotty was why she run off, and good for her. Thus with Lori’s escape, the burden named Jimmy fell on Scotty and on his mother. Scotty worked rotating shifts: a week of days (7 to 3), a week of afternoons (3 to 11), and a week of nights (11 to 3). Most irritating to his parents, Scotty had Tuesdays and Wednesdays off, cramping their weekend style with babysitting. When Scotty worked nights, his mother had the Rugrat all night and until some time in the afternoon the next day.

In October an apprenticeship program in welding was announced. Because it included working straight days with weekends off for the two years of the program, Scotty applied. The program started in early December, freeing his mother of the burden of Jimmy and freeing Scotty of the burden of his mother. Scotty found daycare in the home of his classmate Bobbi, who was trying to pay for her own single-parenthood. She and Scotty sometimes commiserated over the burdens they each carried.

At first Scotty’s buddies tried to lure him to go out with them. He did once, but he worried about the money he spent on babysitting and beer. Sometimes his buddies came around half-drunk. When he told them they had to be quiet and not wake his son, they left in disgust. Soon they were out of Scotty’s life. Once, at his sister’s urging, he went out on date. The girl, a classmate of Lori’s, wanted to talk about Lori and about fishing. All Scotty had to talk about was welding and Jimmy.

Slowly Scotty learned to be a parent. First he learned how to take care of his waddling serious little boy. Then he learned to love the child. Scotty forgot his sister’s comment about first being a mother and then a father. He had no conscious thought about which duties belonged to which sex.

May 1983

He Climbs the Overburden

At 2:00 a.m. Scotty awoke to Jimmy’s chatter in the bed beside him. A nightmare had awoken the child at midnight. Lee-Ann told him that Jimmy was not to sleep with him, but on night’s such as this Scotty lacked the will to enforce her rule.

At 7:30 a.m. Scotty awoke exhausted. Jimmy was rested and was talking to his large green stuffed dinosaur. Because Scotty had tired of Jimmy calling all the plastic dinosaurs green, he had purchased the green stuffed one to end the debate. The plastic dinosaurs had all disappeared, most by attrition, a couple with help from Scotty. Dinosaurs were still Jimmy’s favorites. He had dinosaur toys, dinosaur books, and dinosaur clothing. Jimmy also had toy cars and trucks, which he mostly ignored. When Scotty made engine sounds while pushing a toy truck across the floor, Jimmy watched but did not imitate his father. How had a child conceived in laughter and rebellion become so serious?

When Scotty stirred, Jimmy asked him to read the book about dinosaurs, not the one about dinosaurs playing like little children, but the one about “plentolgists diggin’ up din-uh-souah bones.” Scotty groaned but rolled over and read the dozen words on each page and waited for Jimmy to rub his fingers over each picture as he studied them. Jimmy’s finger had worn away some of the ink. Scotty did not notice the ink was most worn away along the hills and the buttes in the background of the scenes in the western states.

Lori did not return, at least to Scotty’s knowledge. Because he did not know where she was, Scotty could not divorce her, nor could he afford the legal fees. Despite living only two miles away, her parents did not want contact with Jimmy, now their eighth of fourteen grandchildren. Scotty did not know they were sometimes stuck babysitting other grandchildren. Scotty’s own parents did accept Jimmy into their lives, as long as they did not have to take any responsibility for Scotty’s mistake, beyond buying the child a few gifts, such as some clothing on sale at Kmart.

As Jimmy grew, Scotty completed his welding apprenticeship and had to return to shift work, but his daycare provider Bobbi agreed to take Jimmy for all three shifts. “He’s such a damn easy little runt to have ’round. Him an’ my kid get along pretty good.” From time to time Scotty would run into his buddies, who would talk about hunting, partying, sex, and tearing around back roads in their four-wheel-drive vehicles. Scotty wished he still shared that life. He loved the Rugrat; he did, or once had. No, he did love him. He had forsaken his buddies for the Rugrat, or rather, he had been forsaken by his buddies. Maybe now he could get out with them sometime, except they were slowly succumbing to reluctant parenthood, one way or another.

Scotty managed to deer hunt with his father and an uncle but only for the first weekend of the season. The meat and not the sport was now Scotty’s first purpose. He thought about dating, but the girls he knew were gone or settling down with his buddies. Younger girls would not want a father and a married man, would they? Maybe. Jimmy sometimes asked why he did not have a mother. Scotty had no good answer for Jimmy or for himself. She had escaped; why hadn’t he? Answers for Jimmy’s question was a weakness of his parenting. He settled on telling Jimmy, “She just hadda move away an’ take care of some things.” When Jimmy asked if she would be back, Scotty answered, “No.”

Yes, the Rugrat was sometimes a burden, but Jimmy was also as much joy as Scotty had in his life, despite how serious Jimmy was. Jimmy looked inward and not outward, inward to the life he shared with his father, inward to his own thoughts, inward to a few books and a few toys. Lee-Ann was the only person other than Scotty and the oblivious Bobbi who often saw Jimmy. Lee-Ann noticed he did not have the language skills of a five-year-old. She told Scotty, “Maybe in kindergarten next year he’ll catch up. You gotta get him out more. Take him places, like say, the library. You like the woods; take him out there. Do some camping with him. Drive him down to Duluth. Take him to movies. Take him to playgrounds to be with other kids; that’s a big one, getting him around more kids. That’s part of being a parent, too, you know.”

Until the day she threw him this curve ball, Scotty thought he had the parenting thing down. “Did you do that?” he asked her.

As much as I could.”

Did our parents do that?”

Not much. But an only child needs to be around other kids more and get out. He’s so serious a little thing. He’s only around a few other kids at Bobbi’s, weekends only with one other kid.”

Is he small, then? Bobbi calls him a runt.”

He is short for his age and skinny, too.”

What I do about that?”

Nothing. Lori’s short. Her parents are average. You are, too. I’ve made sure you feed him the right stuff. But you can do something about how quiet and serious he is. Get him out to parks, the woods, the library. I’ll be checking up to see if you do. I know you’ve been in the dumps since Lori left. It’d do you some good yourself.”

Scotty was going to say that he was not in the dumps, but he would have to think about that. Could a person be in the dumps for three years? Yes, maybe he was in the dumps. Not about Lori. Who cared about Lori? He was in the dumps about his burden. What a wuss he was!

His next day off, Scotty drove Jimmy out to see lakes and walk in the woods. Jimmy kept looking for dinosaurs. Scotty had to hold his patience to keep telling Jimmy that dinosaurs had died out long ago, which produced the irritating why question. Jimmy threw a few rocks in the lake, but he soon lost interest. Jimmy, Scotty was reminded, was not very good at playing. Maybe the next time out to a lake, Scotty would teach him to fish. Could you teach a child to play?

The library was next on Lee-Ann’s short list. Scotty was nervous about the idea, to the point he lost sleep. The public library was just another sort of school, wasn’t it? Schools had been thirteen years of agony for Scotty. When he was not bored, he was wary of the complex social interactions that started in kindergarten and expanded over the years. He developed his pack of friends in which he hid. They did not think of themselves as bullies, but they harassed the obvious targets. In the class graduation order, he was fifth from the bottom. But his folder on graduation night held a diploma, which was all that mattered. Scotty, was, he had thought, ever free of schools. Now he had to face the library. For Jimmy’s sake he would do it.

When they entered the library, Scotty’s agitation transferred to Jimmy, who demanded to be picked up. In the children’s area the librarian, reading their nervousness, suggested they sit on one of the child-level tables to let the boy get used to the place. She also meant for Scotty to calm down, but she did not say so.

Four children of Jimmy’s age were at their ease alone while their parents were off in the adult section. Watching the other children Jimmy shied into his father. Scotty took several deep breaths. He wanted to dash off, but Lee-Ann had said this was important. Scotty began unconsciously petting Jimmy’s hair, which calmed them both. When the four children left with several books each, the librarian asked Jimmy what kinds of books he liked to read. Jimmy turned his face into his father. She thought, until she looked at his face, that Scotty would volunteer an answer. She asked him directly, “What sorts of books does your son like to read?”

Scotty did not seem to understand the question.

Do you read books to him?” she asked.

Scotty stammered, “Yah, yes.”

Books about what?”

Dinosaurs,” at the magic word. Jimmy peeked at her. “My sister Lee-Ann says I gotta bring him here.”

Dinosaurs! We got them in spades ’round here.” She left and returned with five books she placed on the table before them. She began shelving books to leave the father and son alone and not make them feel self-conscious. Scotty picked up a book and forced himself to read aloud. Jimmy stood beside him and was soon touching the pictures. After they had completed three of the books, the librarian asked, “Young man, would you like to borrow those books to take home to read?”

Jimmy did not answer, for one reason, he did not know “young man” meant him. “Can he?” Scotty asked.

Course he can. He will need a card, and we would ask that you have one, too.”

Scotty nodded. She handed him two forms and a pen. When they were filled in, she said, “We will mail you the cards. You can check out those books today for Jimmy and you can get some books for yourself. Here, now, Jimmy, you take these books home and enjoy them. Bring them back in two weeks or earlier and come borrow more books.”

Jimmy clutched to his father. She handed Scotty the books.

As they drove through the town on their way back home, Jimmy shouted, “Dinosaurs.” Jimmy pointed out the window and repeated, “Dinosaurs, Daddy.”

Where, Jimmy? What you pointing at?”

There’s dinosaur hills, Daddy.”

Jimmy was pointing at one of the many massive piles of rock scattered across the Iron Range like a fungus. Scotty was confused. He explained, “That’s called overburden. It’s rocks they dug off the top to get down to the iron ore.”

Daddy, it’s where the plentolgists dig up dinosaurs.”

Jimmy, there are no dinosaurs around here.”

Like in my dinosaur book. There’s hills like them in the book.”

Scotty tried to picture the book. He had read the words so many times, he had long ceased to notice the photographs. When he sorted that out, Scotty realized he had never shown his son an ore mine. He parked by a pit and led Scotty to the chain-link fence to look into the massive hole. Scotty explained about digging out the ore and how they had first made the piles of overburden to reach the iron ore. Scotty held Jimmy up higher to get a better look into the pit. “Daddy, they dig up dinosaurs here. Right, Daddy?”

No, Jimmy, only lots and lots of iron ore.”

Driving home in his pickup, Scotty watched Jimmy in the child seat beside him. Jimmy had his eyes fixed on the overburden. His son, he could see, was not convinced. Scotty had forgotten that he had not believed much of what his father told him. Did the truth matter? So what if Jimmy believed the ore pits were dug to find dinosaur bones? And that more bones were under the overburden? Were there books in the library about raising a kid on your own? Weren’t there books on everything in the library? But how did you find them? Scotty was almost illiterate. He could read aloud, but his mind had trouble deriving meaning from the words.

He called Lee-Ann. She told Scotty to come get a toy pail and shovel stored in her garage. No, a plastic shovel was not going to work on the hard ground. She would loan Jimmy her garden trowel. “Take Jimmy up on the overburden and let him dig for dinosaurs. There’s a few places around you can get up there. You must know of one or two.”

Yes, Scotty knew of at least one place.

Let him dig. A little imagination won’t do him no harm. He’ll soon get tired of it. By the way, what with him going to school this fall, have you had him to the doctor?”

Oh, couple years ago, I guess. He ain’t sick.”

He should have had yearly checkups. Right now he needs his preschool checkup.”

Why? There ain’t nothing wrong with him.”

Scotty, just get him to the doc. It’s another one of those things us parents do.”

The next week the doctor gave Scotty bad news. Jimmy was in general good health, but his physical skills were not developed for his age. More importantly, the doctor urged Scotty to hold Jimmy out of school for another year. Jimmy did not seem mentally ready for school. The doctor asked Scotty some questions and added, “He does not seem socially-developed enough for school either. Boys usually develop slower than the girls. It will help to hold him out a year. Give him a chance to catch up.”

Scotty did not know how to answer. Because Bobbi was planning to babysit an infant soon for more money, she was looking forward to Jimmy being with her only in the afternoons and nights. How did Scotty deal with this? It was overwhelming.

School districts now have preschool programs to help children like Jimmy,” the doctor said. As he watched Scotty grow more tense he added, “I’ll have the receptionist out front make an appointment for you.”

Scotty answered, “I thought things just went along and then kids were ready for school.”

Only if the right things happen.”

Scotty knew the doctor was blaming him.

Scott, the preschool program will help Jimmy . . . and you.”

When Scotty called Lee-Ann with the news, she was not surprised. The appointment with the school psychologist was in the high school. Could Lee-Ann take him? No, it was Scotty’s responsibility. She would go along to keep Scotty calm, but he was the one who would have to talk. “You’re his mother and father. I told you that three years ago.”

At the appointment the next week it took a long time for Jimmy to be willing to respond to the psychologist, and only then because Lee-Ann calmed both Scotty and Jimmy. When the testing was finally over, Lee-Ann took Jimmy out of the room.

The psychologist agreed that kindergarten should be delayed for a year. In the meantime the child needed to be in the preschool program. Scotty explained he was a sole parent working shifts. How was he going to get Jimmy to and from preschool?

The psychologist had more to say. “Mr. Kapari, have you heard of autism?”

No, who is that?”

She answered, “It’s not a person. It is a serious learning disorder. We do not usually diagnose it in five-year-olds, but I am concerned about Jimmy. We need him in the preschool program, and we will need to keep an eye on him. Here is a list of exercises and activities for you to do with Jimmy. Am I right that he does not spend a lot of time with other children?”

I’m a lone parent and work shifts.”

I understand, Mr. Kapari.” Scotty doubted that she did. “Do those exercises and developmental activities every day. We will contact you about preschool.”

When Lee-Ann saw Scotty’s white face and dilated pupils, she invited him to bring Jimmy for lunch the next day, Saturday. Scotty took Jimmy to Bobbi’s before his shift. When his foreman and workmates saw how upset Scotty was, they covered for him and left him to brood. After he brought Jimmy home to bed, Scotty spent most of the night alternating between crying and being disgusted with himself for acting like a wuus.

Waking early in the morning, Scotty needed to be outdoors to keep awake. He took Jimmy up onto the overburden where Jimmy had been conceived in the flatbed GMC truck. As Scotty stared into the pit, Jimmy scratched several small holes into the hard iron-imbued gravel. Father and son were silent until Jimmy crawled up onto the bench next to his father. He said in a pout, “No dinosaur’s bones, Daddy.”

Sorry, Jimmy. No dinosaur’s bones anywhere near here. Do you want to go to the library?”

No. I don’t like the library!”

We have to bring back the books, Jimmy.”

Do we have to?”

Yes. Come on.”

Jimmy would not walk to the children’s area. The librarian helped Scotty pick out four books about wild animals, because, as she pointed out, dinosaurs were just a kind of wild animal. She gave Scotty a schedule for her summer reading program. Scotty threw it in the trash on his way out.

At Lee-Ann’s house Jimmy’s cousins played with him—only because Lee-Ann had bribed them, and bribed them a second time not to tell Scotty about the bribe. As she finished making lunch and he let his coffee go cold, Lee-Ann gave her little brother a sympathetic ear “I see how stressed out you are. You’ll manage it. Just take it a step at a time.”

Scotty was back to tears. “I learned to do all the woman stuff. I do laundry, I cook, I keep the apartment clean. I don’t do much besides all that stuff and go to work, and take care of my kid. I can’t do more.”

What do you think I do, Scotty?”

But you’re a woman.”

How dare you say that! What’s that supposed to mean? That I’m supposed to work harder or I was born knowing how to raise kids and clean house and work all day and night?”

Sorry . . . But now here comes along all this other stuff I gotta do by myself.”

Scotty, get used to it! Parenting don’t end. There’s always other stuff you gotta do. Why do you think I’m still single? Who would want to marry me and the kids and when would I meet men and when would I date and how would I pay a babysitter for me to date and why would I bring a man in this house who would just be one more person for me to take care of?”

How’ll I manage getting Jimmy to preschool? Do you know there’s rumors of lay-offs at the plant. How will I do this?”

Go! You’re just making me angry. It’d be better for us not to have you around right now. Bring back some clothes for Jimmy to stay the night. Get a good sleep and pick him up tomorrow morning.”

Scotty spent only a part of his shift working but all of it worrying. He could see only one way to end this, which he tried not to think about, but it would not leave his thoughts. If he did, then Lori would have to come get Jimmy.

After a decent night of sleep, Sunday was a brighter morning for Scotty. When he went to pick up Jimmy, Lee-Ann was, he could see, still angry with him. He knew why she was angry. He did not know how he was wrong. She said, “Leave him here another day, but I ain’t gonna do this regular. There’s a bunch of kids playing in the back yard. He’s mixing in just fine. Remember you havta be here at seven tomorrow morning to pick him up.” Scotty went home and ended up asleep, almost missing his shift.

On Tuesday, his day off, Scotty took Jimmy out in the warm air to play in a park with swings and a sand box. Other small children, all accompanied by mothers, were playing and tried to include Jimmy in their play. Jimmy played alone. The mothers watched Scotty, and talked about him, which Scotty did not notice. How do you teach a child to play with others? Why didn’t he just play? Didn’t other kids just play?

When Scotty stopped at the grocery store on the way home, one of Scotty’s classmates greeted him and asked, “So, you saw Lori last week?”

Scotty asked her to repeat it.

Lori’s in town, or was last week. I saw her with her old lady. Didn’t she come see him?” She pointed at Jimmy.

Scotty asked in near panic, “Why is she here?”

She said she was here to get some kinda business done. We really hardly talked any. I’m surprised she hasn’t gone to see her son, there.”

Scotty rushed through his shopping and home to try to calm down. What if she wanted to take Jimmy? Would that be so bad, Lori being a woman, and all? A woman could handle this stuff. Maybe not Lori. Had she changed? Scotty discovered something: he knew he did not want to lose Jimmy. He wanted Jimmy and he wanted to be free of the burdens that came with having Jimmy. Maybe Lori was moving back and they could both help with Jimmy and his problems. That was a good solution. Sometimes parents stole children, didn’t they? Jimmy kept the door locked and his eyes on the windows.

Cuing off Scotty’s anxiety, Jimmy acted up. He wanted Cheerios, which Scotty had forgot to buy. Jimmy cried. Scotty hollered at him. Jimmy cried and clutched to his father. Scotty raised his hand to strike but then picked up his child and held him. He called his mother and pleaded with her to take Jimmy for a few hours. She agreed, but when he warned his mother that Lori was in town, she refused to take her grandson. Bobbi agreed to take him and would keep the door locked.

Driving back home, Scotty stopped at the liquor store. With a case of cheap beer in his cart, which he allowed himself to buy every two or three weeks, he stopped in front of the brandy. No, his old man used to get a snootful and swat Scotty and Lee-Ann around. No, he needed not to get drunk and not to let Lori take Jimmy. As he turned away, his buddy Jack grabbed his arm. “Hey, good to see Lori, eh? Well, I didn’t talk to her or nothin’, but we saw her downtown. Patsy talked to her some.”

She didn’t come see me. Why’s she here, then?”

Beats hell outta me. Hey, come by for poker tomorrow night, if you wanna play.” Jack went to pay for his three cases of beer. Scotty stepped back and picked out the cheapest bottle of brandy.

As he pulled up to the apartment, a mailman hailed him to sign for a registered letter from a local law firm. Now Scotty knew why Lori was in town. Was she somewhere nearby watching? After scanning the street, he took the letter and the brandy up onto the overburden where Jimmy had been conceived and where Jimmy had dug for dinosaurs. He sat on the bench. He opened the brandy but not the letter. A full swallow of straight brandy gave him no courage. Before him was the deep and wide rust-red ore pit. At his feet were the shallow holes Jimmy had scratched in the ground. In one hand, the sealed letter. In the other hand, the unsealed brandy. What did he want the letter to say? He looked in the pit and saw the life ahead of him. He was only making scratches in the overburden.

He opened the letter.

Lori was filing for a divorce. Well, yes they were still married, weren’t they, but it seemed so long ago. The legal papers made no sense. He kept staring at the words on the paper, which his mind could not connect into any meaning. The lawyer had included a letter, which after three slow readings, he could understand. Lori wanted a simple divorce, making no claims on Scotty. Lori renounced all parental rights for Jimmy. Scotty, and later Jimmy, were to never contact her. The letter did not say where she was. Did the legal papers tell him? He could not find anything that answered the question. All Scotty had to do was bring in the papers and sign them, unless he wanted to contest the divorce, which the letter said would be pointless.

Scotty took a deep breath and a deep drink. Jimmy was his forever. Forever. Jimmy would not be taken away from Scotty. Scotty would have to carry the burden of Jimmy alone. Forever.

He took another long drink. Before him gaped the pit. At his feet were Jimmy’s holes scarped out of the ground. What if he just sat there? What if he buried the papers in one of Jimmy’s scratched holes? What if he finished the bottle and drove his pickup down off the overburden through the fence and off the edge?

Overburden—for the first time the meaning of the word struck him. He took three swift sips of the brandy. Before him was the pit. At his feet Jimmy’s shallow depressions. In one hand was the bottle. In the other hand were the papers that he would sign.

What choice did he have?

©Clyde L. Birkholz 2017

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