Price Of Love
James Demitri Pappas was a solitary man even though he lived with a wife and a son. Each day he woke up at five a.m. without an alarm. His daily routine was ingrained in his being, and he never waivered from it. Up and into the shower, shave - face, neck, and head. His breakfast consisted of a tall glass of water and plain, homemade yogurt. Putting on his circular, metal-rimmed glasses, he would read the paper and then leave the house before sunrise walking to work. It was 1957 and Americans were prospering. This included a Greek immigrant.
As James left the house, the chilly, fall air was thick with fog. He could only see a few steps in front of him, although he could take this walk blindfolded. He entered his restaurant, The American, at half past six. Passing the stove, he wiped his finger across the grill to ensure that it had been cleaned properly. He walked through the kitchen to his small, windowless office and began working.
Typically he did not take matters of family into consideration during work hours, but he kept thinking about his boy, George.
Boy? He was eighteen years old, and no longer a boy.
He thought back to the days when his boy was small and moldable. He had shown his love by providing stability, a full refrigerator, and by telling him stories about their Greek heritage. He mostly told the ancient myths and some history. Even at the end of a long workday, he always made time for this.
“You have the strength of Sparta and the beauty of Athens. This is what you are made of. This is who you are. You can always have confidence in who you are because you have a heritage filled with strength.”
“Pop, I want to know more - tell me about the Trojan Horse again…what about Achilles? Am I like him?”
This questioning and enthusiasm moved James. He had once been like this as a boy - filled with the visions of the ancient, glorious heroes, and he believed that they were his ancestors - the very same blood flowing through his veins.
He patted the boy’s head.
“I will tell you more tomorrow night. Close the light and go to sleep.”
A knock on the door jolted James back into the moment. It was Morty, the kitchen manager.
“Boss, we are running low on pickles and hot sauce, should I put in an early order?”
“Yes, yes do it. And make sure you check the other condiments. It costs extra money every time we add an order.”
“Sure, Boss. Is George playing tomorrow tonight? That kid’s is a star. Are you going to listen to the game?”
“Place the order.”
“That’s right, Boss, I’ll get this order going.”
Although he allowed George to play football, James refused to go to any games. It was another world, and he wanted no part of it. James’ success and power were limited to the world of Chester. There he was a rich man, a respected by the Greek community, and the head of his household. He wanted his son to have opportunities beyond his own sphere, and he saw education as the way for him to do that.
George’s school success was deeply connected to football. He was known not only on campus, but also throughout the community as “The Golden Greek”. He started on varsity as a sophomore, and helped lead his team through two undefeated seasons. Now in his senior year, George was getting offers from around the country for college scholarships to play football; Duke, Stanford, Penn State. He was a star in this world that was so far away from Chester and James Pappas. And soon he would be leaving home.
James’ thoughts wandered back to the night before. The kitchen table was set for three people. In the center of the table were the staples: stuffed grape leaves, feta and olives. Tonight’s meal was roasted lamb and potatoes. Despina somberly prepared the dinner while James read the paper in the living room.
During dinner, James sat at the head of the small kitchen table and Despina sat at the other end. George– their only child together– sat in the middle.
“Pop, coach said he called you and invited you to the game on Friday.”
George could tell by the clipped response that his father wanted no part of the conversation, but he couldn’t resist pressing a bit further.
“Well. I know you don’t want to come, but if you do come there is a place for the parents to sit. I just wanted you to know that. Plus, I think you would enjoy seeing me play. You wouldn’t believe it, Pop. It’s like the stories you used to tell me. When I play – I feel the strength of Sparta inside of me.”
James looked at George. He saw part of himself in his eyes and in his tenacity. He saw his boy, growing into a man. The right kind of man: strong, confident, and persistent. He said none of this to George.
And with that the conversation ended, and James left the table and went to his chair to read the evening paper.
Nonetheless, this conversation, the coach’s phone call, and the passing of time had made an impression on him. He kept thinking about George. He had come so far. His son, the one person he loved most in the world, was getting ready to leave home. The place he had provided for him to grow and flourish. He had dedicated himself to creating a pathway for him, and George was going to move on; he was going to leave and not look back as he had done many years ago. Yet he did not expect to have these feelings, unexplainable and dark. For many years the house had been filled with the nonstop movement of an active boy. He had watched him grow and develop. The goal was to ensure that his boy would be educated and make an even better life for himself. Now that George was on the brink of achieving this long hoped for success, a painful, hollow void filled James’ chest, and he did not know how to control it.
The day of the game, James was not able to keep his routine. He was up without the alarm as always, but it was because of a sleepless night. He shaved, but he could not eat. He went to work with an empty stomach, and a pressure in his chest and head.
Throughout the day he was distracted. He pictured the game, his boy, and the crowd.
The crowd was comprised of full- blooded American men, their children and wives.
He saw himself in that crowd.
An immigrant wearing a coat and hat, polished leather shoes, speaking broken English. He knew this crowd, and he remembered the days when he had arrived in America with only the shirt on his back. Disconnected and unknown, he walked the crowded streets of New York City and looked at the people who did not see him - his presence of no importance or consequence to anyone. He did not care what people thought of him, but he vowed to make a better life here in America.
Now, in his own world, he was in control. He was the boss. A landlord. He was a success. In this outside world, he was an alien, an outsider, and an intruder. He was not welcome. He avoided this world.
He had never seen George play football and he had never had the desire to do so.
But then he saw his boy, wide brown eyes, sincere respect and love filled those eyes, and he knew that he had to go. He had to leave his domain and venture to see the boy he loved, play a game he hated, at the end of the season. A season was also ending for him. The boy would have to go to live his life. It was what he had planned, worked for, and he knew that this new season would bring emptiness to him. He felt compelled to go to his son.
He put on his hat and coat and headed to his car.
The sun had begun to set when he arrived at the stadium. The lights glared against the dimming sky. The band’s percussion pulsed through the air. The stadium was surrounded by trees laden with speakers where the announcer’s voice could be heard egging on the crowd’s enthusiasm. James paused and looked at the trees. They flanked the perimeter of the stadium and looked as though they were the guardians of a great temple like in the ancient myths.
He parked his car and walked to the gate where he bought his ticket. A small white-haired woman manned the entrance table. He paid for the ticket without a word. As he entered the crowd was full of the people he had imagined. Tall, slender, pale-skinned men in kakis and plaid shirts were sitting with their wives and children. He felt them staring at him, but he did not look back.
He saw the special seating area for the parents of the senior players and walked the other way climbing steep steps to the top row where there were only a few younger children sitting to be away from their parents.
He looked down at the field: red and blue helmets lined up in a combat formation. The ball was thrown to one of the red helmets. Cheers and shouts as the helmet was tackled. The teams lined up again. A red helmet had the ball and broke from the pack. And then he heard a chant from the stands, PAPPAS, PAPPAS. He saw the same red helmet break completely away, running, chased by others, both red and blue. Three or four blue helmets dove to catch the ball carrier, and were now clinging to him as he carried them down the field. The crowd was in a frenzy calling the name again and again. In the highest part of the stadium, the treetops were visible - glistening from the bright lights that surrounded the stadium. James paused and listened - it was as though the trees were calling his name…Pappas…Pappas…Pappas. The hollow place in his chest was filled with an outflow of warmth that moved into his throat and his eyes filled with tears. The strength of Sparta, the beauty of Athens; his boy was a hero in this stadium where he himself was a stranger.
That night he sat alone in the dark reliving what he had seen and heard. George was indeed a hero that night. Strong, powerful, and confident. He could do anything – anything. The years had passed quickly, and the boy was becoming a man – his own man.
The car pulled into the drive, and George came in quietly through the back door. He clicked on the kitchen light, unaware of his father’s presence in the other room.
“Geeze, Pop, you scared me! What are are you doing up?”
George walked into the living room and looked at his father, their eyes met. He could see the Father’s pride and emotion. There was no smile, even though the corners of his mouth naturally turned up, only a gentle expression in his eyes.
“The trees were calling your name.”
“Even the trees were calling your name.”
“You came. I didn’t see you.”
James nodded and stood up. He walked over and embraced his son. He held on a little longer and patted his son. He went to bed without a word, preparing himself, as always, for another day’s work.
a kiss, creasing fresh white sheets,
and there was a moment, when,
we believed that this could exist
inside a bubble, our breathing
sustained by rare air.
We are like Icarus. We flew
too high, tried to touch the sun
and the wax that held our deceit
has melted. The bonds loosen.
Now we find ourselves tumbling,
unable to gain purchase on the air.
You want to go home, to feel
soft wool under bare soles,
the warm winter flames,
the baubles, great strings of light,
and know the sky could be yours
if you wanted it.
I nearly pick up a prostitute tonight. I’ve done it before when I’m on the road, but she's fat and I decide I can't make the effort so I speed up and drive on. I look back in the rear-view mirror and see her disappear into a red Lincoln Navigator with Nevada plates.
She's just another trick on the sidewalk.
I pull up at the Sundance Motel. A flashing neon sign says they have vacancies so I park my car, pick up my bags and walk into what they loosely call check-in. A woman behind a glass screen is chewing gum to the strains of Mambo No 5. Her jaw has rhythm but her voice is monotone and she tells me that it’s $28 bucks a night and with tax it’s $30.10. I pay up and she gives me my key. She tells me Room 12 is the last room they have and I’m lucky to get it. I’ve been luckier.
The Vacancy sign stays on.
The key slips into the lock and I find my oasis. There’s an odour that makes me think a camel was the last occupant and a naked bulb above the bed. The bathroom shower is dirty and I’m thinking that the janitor may be blind. The bed isn’t comfortable, but doesn’t break when I sit on it. There’s a black and white tv which only picks up local channels and an information card which tells me that I can choose six various adult movies if I contact the reception desk and charge my credit card with $12.
I’m thinking about that.
I strip off and look at myself in the mirror. I'm thinking not bad, but I wish I had a couple of extra inches where it counts. I shadow box and lose on a split points decision and decide to take a shower. There isn’t any soap, but the waters hot. There’s a towel but it’s already damp so I lie on the bed, wet and naked and call my wife.
“I thought you were coming home tonight honey. I’ve stayed up”
I apologise and say I love her.
"Did you have a good day?"
"Did you sell much?"
“Maybe you should quit. My brother can get you a job in the plant.”
“I never see you, honey. Don’t you miss me?”
“Yeah.” I don’t.
“You’re not with a woman are you?”
“No. I’m alone. Just me and my pecker.” She didn’t answer. I couldn't afford silences at the rates they were charging. "I’m naked. You want to talk dirty?”
“No! You’re gross.”
“ Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
"I hate you."
“I love you.”
I hang up. I love my wife. I look in the bedside cabinet drawer. There’s a Bible and a dirty magazine. I ask myself “Who the hell are the Gideons'? Has anyone ever met one?”
Now I have a dilemma. Which one do I read?
I pick up the remote while I try to decide and watch a local news report. It’s a report on a gopher problem. I think it’s a national disgrace and decide to start up a campaign to eradicate the little bastards. I’m with the farmers on this one.
There’s an advert on for Smiley Joes’. It’s a fast food restaurant which I passed on the way here but fast food and restaurant in the same sentence is a contradiction in terms. I’m hungry though and call the number. It’ll be an hour. That’s fast food in Arizona for you. I decide to spend $12 on some titty movie and make to call the reception desk, but the phone doesn’t work anymore. Perhaps I'm only allowed that one call. It's like being in prison.
I open the drawer again, pull out the reading material and conclude that The Book of Revelations was written by someone high on drugs. I don’t want to read about Armageddon because it's already here so I choose the dirty magazine.
The light bulb above my head flickers and dies so I'm left holding my dick in the dark.
My wife hates me and I guess God does too.