By Paul Riches
The tree is as alone as he is.
A strong wind rivers between them, as he sits forlornly in a patio chair in the backyard, and stares at the tree trunk.
He does not want to go tonight because of the way it will go. Messing it up, making cruel mistakes, causing pain, are all within the realms of possibility of what might happen. The dark pit will form and win.
It has never occurred before, but the fact it can, it really can, is just enough to justify his glare at the mundane tree bottom.
More wind pushes between them, strong enough to crankily shove one of the other chairs a bit. He sighs as if this is simply another defeat in his life, the latest of many, just like tonight will most likely be.
“Now Adam, Saffron, settle down. This is a drive in, not a wreck room.” The woman in the passenger seat of the minivan states with a gentle firm tone, while lovingly moving her hand from Adam’s to Saffron’s knee.
“Okay Mommy!” they chorus together in a loud raucous way while bouncing in their seats, completely eliminating the warning.
“Well, that worked out all fine and dandy Nadia,” the man in the drivers seat smiles, “I suggest we sell the little ones to the circus. We could fetch a pretty penny.”
“Nah, Robert, I think we should keep them,” Nadia smiles back, “because I don’t think the circus would ever take the smelly little monsters.”
“Yes!” shouts Adam, pumping his fists into the air, “we are smelly little monsters!”
Saffron also slams her fists upwards and yells at her brother, “You are smellier because you are older!” She immediately sticks out her tongue, shakes her head, and makes a “mraaah mraaah” sound.
“Your sister is right Adam,” Robert says casually, “five years old are smellier then four year olds. Science has proven this.”
“Cool!” Adam kicks his legs in excitement, “Daddy just provened I am smellier!”
Nadia stares at Adam and raises an eyebrow. “Provened? I must remember that new word for my book. It sounds so…” She rolls her tongue, tasting the creation of her son, “exuberant!” Flashing a big smile, causing more chaoticness from the kids.
“But now it is time,” Robert calmly grins at Nadia, then Adam and Saffron, as he sweeps an arm in a grand gesture, “for you little creatures to behave in a somewhat human way, because the first movie is going to begin very soon.”
One last bellowing eruption from the backseats, complete with arms jiggling in the sky and legs thumping victoriously, then a slow quietness as the movie begins. Tons of popcorn and massive drinks and very greasy hot dogs are consumed by all four over the two films, with shouts and quick comments and gasps and laughter and copious amounts of food debris littering the floor being some of the end results. By the time the credits roll on the second film, tired whimpers are heard all round the now cramped feeling minivan, a very good indication to Robert that a great time was had, yet again.
Until he mucks it up any second now, destroying all the fun vibes.
Awaiting the other cars to huddle out, Robert stretches his arms wide and at odd angles, all while wrangling a yawn. Adam and Saffron also stretch in their usual exaggerated way, causing popcorn bits to flood from laps and chests and rain onto the floor. Nadia also yawns while watching the kids and shakes her head, points at them and laughingly exclaims, “what are we gonna do with you little monste-”
A loud knock on her car window makes everyone’s heads snap towards Nadia. She rolls it down a quarter way and Robert can see a worried looking man who appears a few years older.
“Sorry to bother you, but I think our car battery needs a boost. Could we possibly please get one?” The man asks in a very hopeful tone.
Nadia’s head whips around and smiles at Robert. It stays in place even when Robert realizes he is frowning. “Robbie dear, looks like someone needs help,” Nadia flows out in an almost sing song voice.
Robert lets a deep hole open inside him, one that never ends with darkness and cold. He really does not want to help. Something can go wrong. Anything can go wrong. He will wreck not only his family’s night, but this other, unknown, innocent family, who just happen to be unlucky enough to be trapped beside him. Nadia’s long smiling pleading eyes want him to do this, want to pull him out of the pit he rightfully lives in, and get him to do the human thing. The simple kind act of helping other souls.
Robert’s begins to form the word no, to make up an excuse, any excuse, to beg off his future victim. Adam’s voice breaks in from nowhere, bringing both their eyes away from each other and towards the backseat.
“Daddy’s gonna help the stuck man!”
Nadia’s gaze snaps back to him and a new smile takes over. “Why yes, Daddy is going to help the man, because he is a Superhero!” She goes up with excitement on the last word, pushing the idea even more into life.
“Yay! Daddy is a Superhero!” Saffron bellows out of a massively gaping mouth, eyes clenched shut in excitement. “He is gonna save the day!”
Robert glances from Saffron to Adam to Nadia, and beaming faces meet him, with a hint of hopeful eyes from his wife.
He looks away and sighs. “Let me get my jumper cables,” Robert states just loud enough for the man to hear. Mustering up fake courage, he swivels to the kids and brightly exclaims, “Daddy’s gonna be a Superhero!”
Within a minute the vehicles hoods are up and he walks briskly between the minivans to get the cables from the back. Inside the dark interior he can see the unlucky family. Staring at him is the mother, and a daughter who is as young as Saffron. Three older boys, being rambunctious, teetering on bratty, ignore his very existence.
The little girls voice breaks into the quiet. “The man is helping us Mama?” Her Mama replies right away in a smooth calm voice, “of course Sweetpea, all be alright.”
He looks down and sighs again, waiting for the usual end result of pain, since it is bound to happen. The cables are retrieved and as he plods the long walk back, he hears Nadia’s storyteller voice flowing from her now fully open window.
And he realizes she and the children heard the mother and daughter, along with his doomed sigh. So she has to save his face. His first failure of the night.
“All Daddy is missing is a cape, right kids?” Nadia sing songs in her usual beautiful way. He stops right outside their window, seeing his children listening in rapture as always. “Even with no cape, Daddy is still saving the day, and in this case, saving the night,” Nadia went on with a glimmer in her voice, and he can almost tell she is raising an eyebrow, all to enrich the all.
“Now watch as Daddy gets the magic cables,” She lifts her hands in a swoosh motion and they rest in mid air, pointing squarely at him. Adam and Saffron immediately snap about and with shiny faces take in the glory of their Daddy. “They will let Daddy give some of his never ending power to the other man,” Nadia’s hands glide into a wide circle, letting their imagination fill the space with his unlimited Superness. “And save them from being trapped at the drive in…” Her hands sweep out and create an invisible ominous line. “Forever!” Nadia’s voice shoots up and the happy faces beam pride at him through the glass.
Long seconds later, he remembers the stranded man and snaps forward. As he takes the first step, a lightness descends, pushing the dark pit inside quietly away, tucking itself a little bit deeper to somewhere else.
With a speed and efficiency that almost matches a real superhero, Robert connects the jumper cables and awaits the man to start his engine. Nadia’s tale pops back into the air, gently filling him with hope. “Any second now, Daddy will save them all, just like the wonderful Superhero we all know he is!”
On cue, he stands in front of the cables, waves his hands over them rather elegantly, then strikes a heroic pose, hands now on hips and chest puffed out. For a moment he thinks a cape really has appeared, majestically flowing behind him. What began as an expected gesture for Nadia’s sake has now become a feeling inside him. One that easily slips by the deep pit and actually, surprisingly, brings hope. The helpless family’s minivan roars to life, becoming a soundtrack to Robert’s heroic deeds.
Loud crazy cheers slam out of Adam and Saffron, followed by the bellowing of, “Daddy’s a Superhero! Daddy’s a Superhero!” in wild unison. He could see Nadia clapping enthusiastically, happiness being held in her eyes. Robert keeps his gaze on her, even as the man quickly detaches the cables and puts both hoods down.
“Thank you very very much,” the man slaps Robert’s back, then vigourously engages in a handshake, “You are truly an amazing Superhero!” He continues even louder.
From nowhere the little girl appears, plunging into a hug with Robert, and making his heroic stance falter a half step backwards. “Mr Superhero!”
Robert gently pats her head, while her father squats down beside his daughter. “You are right Cynthia,” he states as his fingers dance in her hair, “He is a Superhero!”
He picks Cynthia up, smiles at Robert, and heads back to his minivan. Robert watches this man as he carefully gets his children all tamed and properly buckled up, shares a playful fist punch with his wife, then catches one last look of thanks as they drive away. Robert can hear Adam and Saffron jabbering away this entire time, all about how Daddy saved the world.
He stares down for an instant, the dark pit and inner lightness swimming about inside. A smirk that fights to be a laugh hits. Nothing went wrong, nothing at all. Just like the last million times.
Without command, he starts to the minivan and notices a small jaunt to his step. It continues as he gets inside to frantic cheers from Adam and Saffron, coupled with a light full kiss from Nadia. Seconds later, they are driving away, rescue mission completed.
He is as alone as the tree is.
A light breeze, that feels oddly refreshing, warmly fills the air around the patio set, and momentarily interrupts his gazing at the tree trunk.
Mentally flipping over and over everything that happened last night, how yet again nothing went wrong, when he knew that is all that should have occurred. This same thought process had been repeated many many times over the years, especially lately, and no answer still came forth.
Another breeze strolls by and Robert hears the caring sound of Nadia arrive with it.
“How is our Superhero this fine morning?”
She casually sits on his lap and begins a hug, caressing his hair gently. “I know you have not been feeling right, especially lately,” she kisses his forehead, “and I know why,” she whispers.
Robert closes his eyes and slowly moves his hands up and down her back. “Why?” He asks in a quiet strained voice.
Nadia leans in, almost touching foreheads with Robert, and getting his eyes to peer open.
“Because Adam is now five,” she replies softly, “and that is the same age you were when your mom left your father.” She continues while their eyes stay locked, “taking you and your little sister along to a new life, a better life.” She kisses him and holds the moment for seconds and seconds.
“A life that led you to me,” Nadia breathes to Robert as they finish the kiss, “and a life that now includes our wonderful, beautiful, children.” Her hands travel up the back of his head, tussling up his hair ever so nicely.
“But,” he frowns back at her, “what if I turn out like him?” His eyes cast downwards, filled with shame.
“You never have,” Nadia smiles back at Robert, “you never will.” Her fingers now dance on top of his head. “You are still the amazing man I met all those years ago, someone who is kind and gentle and nice, not selfish or nasty or mean.” Nadia kisses his forehead again. “You even thought about converting to Islam, so that you would be the same faith as the kids and I,” her fingers now comb his hair back. “That is something your father would never, ever, even consider.”
Nadia kisses Robert one more time, long and full, as the breeze revolves around them, giving a brief moment of oneness.
“You are a Superhero, but you know that already,” she grins as they finish.
A cacophony of chaos barges in from behind Robert, causing both to twist about and see Adam and Saffron charging forward.
“They’re smooching again?” Shouts Adam, “Superheroes don’t smooch!”
Saffron wags a finger at Adam, loudly rustling the paper in her hand. “They can if it is smooching Mommy!” She slams the paper onto the patio table, a smile taking over her face. “Me and Adam made this!”
Nadia and Robert take in the paper and see a garish, wonderful, massively multi-coloured, drawing. Centered is Robert, in amazing glory, and labeled with bad spelling, as Captian Booosstman. On each side is a minivan, one with Nadia and Adam and Saffron, and the other with the mystery family of the Cynthia girl. Emblazoned across the top, in glittery letters and bad spelling, is “Supperhero At The Drive Inn!!!!!!!” The exclamation points get smaller and smaller as they run out of page.
Robert feels the dark pit plummet further and further away, vanishing into some unknown place that does not belong to him. Light floods in, giving him full on hope.
He is not his father.
“Thank you,” he happily smiles, “you are all the best.”
Adam and Saffron pump up into the chair, joining their parents in a group hug, with laughter bouncing about everywhere.
After an eternity of minutes, they catch their breaths, and Saffron looks up at the tree.
“Look! A birdie nest! With lots of baby birdies!”
They all glance up and see the birds, chirping and fluttering and happy.
Robert, as he holds his family closely, realizes he has never noticed the birds before.
All because he kept staring at the bottom.
Superhero At The Drive In is Copyright 2016 to Paul Riches
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First published on Monday, August 8th, 2016