Exploding Astrodome Scoreboard

by Steven McBrearty
            My family home was a 1960s-era pink-brick mock Colonial that sat stolidly high atop a broad corner lot with a sweeping view of downtown San Antonio, in a subdivision with the elegiac name Inspiration Hills.  The view made me long for something I couldn’t name, something in my past, something I never had.  The fresh-cut grass and blooming crepe myrtle made me imagine eternity.  An automatic sprinkler system shot skeins of water in pulsing arcs across the verdant lawn.  Inside, the A/C blew drafts of refrigerated air from a 3.5 BTU central unit like mythological messengers of joy.
            I was back home that summer, back home after dropping out of grad school, back home from another life.  My college girlfriend had broken up with me.  I was fragile.  I was broke. I was broken.  Back home, it was as if I had leaped from a high parapet into a courtyard below, family members shuffling along as fast as they could with a fireman’s canvas safety net.  I didn’t know where I was going or what would be happening next.  It was summer 1976, the Bicentennial Year.  Fireplugs and mailboxes were painted red, white, and blue.  The American Basketball Association played with a red, white, and blue ball.  Jimmy Carter was running for president.  Tall ships sailed across New York harbor and Boston harbor on the 4th of July.  Bjorn Borg beat Ilie Nastase at Wimbledon, beginning a five-year run.  The Montreal Olympics were on TV.  Charlie’s Angels debuted on ABC.  African-Americans grew giant, puffy Afros that seemed a badge of honor, a breakthrough of self-respect and good-natured defiance, a symbol of their emerging role in society.  A lot of breakthroughs had occurred during the past decade.
            My father walked in from work, dressed like the exploding Astrodome scoreboard after a home team home run.  His outfit consisted of a blue polyester leisure suit, robin’s egg blue, striped tie, white patent leather shoes, and red plastic belt—fashion-wise, he was 70s all the way.  He wore his sideburns jaw-length and puffy, almost Elvis-y, and his dark moussed hair fell over his earlobes and was combed to a V over his forehead.  He was an accountant for one of San Antonio’s leading office supplies firms.  He was 54.
            He had arrived home early from work, surprising us—my two brothers, my sister, and me.  We all lay sprawled on a long, tan sectional couch, unmoving, like various forms of inert matter.  We were watching TV.  The Olympics were on in real time.  Our sunken living room was like a cave, a cool, pine-paneled, dimly-lit cave with A/C cranked down to a frosty 73 degrees.  You could almost see shafts of icy air blowing from the ceiling vents.  It was difficult to rouse ourselves from our lethargy, having spent a difficult, energy-sapping day playing miniature golf in the morning, watching a movie matinee, then swimming at the neighborhood association pool in the high heat of a Texas summer afternoon.  I felt like a cool, smart, slightly smart-ass camp counselor to my younger siblings, sophisticated and savvy in the ways of the world. 
            My father stood in the entrance foyer, briefcase in hand, essaying the situation.  He was watching us as if we were some exotic hybrid species just discovered.  Through years of hands-on experience, we understood exactly what he thought and how he operated.  Standing there, he was appalled and fascinated by us, his own offspring, and by the times, by the world, by what everything and everybody had become.  A decade ago, everything was clean and clear-cut.  You got a job, you bought a house, you raised your kids, you went on vacation trips, you retired to sit on the patio steps in overalls and a baseball cap.  Now, he felt like somebody standing atop a steep, narrow slope, the earth eroding around him, blowing into the air.  People doing things and smoking things and having fun in ways that had never even occurred to him, it all seemed so debauched and sinful.  His character was formed first as a child in the Depression era and then in World War II, where he was deployed to the Philippines as part of an occupation unit at the tail end of the war.
            He switched on an overhead ceiling light, causing us to shield our eyes and groan.  Slowly, painfully, we roused ourselves from our torpor to wave and say hello.  We squinted in the sudden unwanted bath of hard electric light.  As the oldest, and leader of the group, I pulled myself into an upright, answering position.  The role of oldest child was a heavy burden at times.
            “Hey Dad,” I said.  “How’s work?”
            “Work’s OK,” he said, though his OK sounded more like not so hot, crappy, actually really terrible.  He had served in his position as chief accountant at the store for more than 25 years. 
            “How’s Ms. Bricken?” I said, searching for some sort of connection, some thin thread for conversation.  I remembered Ms. Bricken fondly/amusedly from a short stint I had working for the store one summer.  She was a strong, straight-backed single woman with steel-gray hair that seemed held together with super glue, purple lips, and wide, formidable hips.  In her striped, ankle-length pedal pushers and sleeveless blouse she looked capable of fending off a block from an offensive lineman with one hand and sacking the quarterback with the other.
            “Ms. Bricken’s OK,” Dad said.  “She was out for six weeks with a hysterectomy but she’s back now, going strong as ever.  She’s on a vegetarian kick.  What are you guys doing?”
            “Nothing much,” I said.  The others stared at the TV screen, assiduously avoiding eye contact.  “Just catching some of the Olympics on TV.  They’re doing swimming now.”
            Dad looked at me sharply.
            “Weren’t you supposed to call Paul Dudley?” Dad said.  His briefcase swung upward, a punctuation mark. 
            “Oh yeah,” I said.  “I will.  I didn’t get a chance today.”
            “I gave him your name,” Dad said.  “He seemed interested.”
            “I’ll call him,” I said, rushing the words.  I was sweaty and flushed suddenly, overheated, entering into the early stages of hyperventilation.  It depressed and embarrassed me talking about this humdrum, career-related detail with my siblings nearby.  We were on a different track—play, swim, relax.  “Tomorrow.”
            “Tomorrow’s Saturday.”
            “Monday then,” I said.  “I’ll call him first thing Monday.”
            “You better.”
            “I will.”  His briefcase swung like the Sword of Damocles.
            Thankfully, he moved on, trudging off to the kitchen where he seemed to perform some sort of exploratory food surveillance, then to the bedroom, muttering under his breath.  There was no dinner ready.  There was nothing for him to eat.  Mom was out working now, working part-time at a J. C. Penney’s department store, working outside the house for the first time since I was born, twenty-something years before.  It wasn’t the money, it was blow-drying her hair and pulling on panti-hose and a dress and high-heeled shoes and presenting herself to the world, a world that was changing rapidly and unstoppably.  She wanted to explore the world before it was too late.  She wanted to escape this cave. 
            Dad reappeared, necktie removed, suit jacket draped over one shoulder.
            “What time does your mother get home?” he said.
            “Usually about six.”
            “Six?” he said, raising his eyebrows.  “She told me five.”
            “Sometimes it’s five,” I said.  “It depends.”
            “Depends on what?” he said.
            “I don’t know,” I said.  “I guess on what times she gets off.”
            Dad nodded tersely, uncertain what to do next.  Home early, he really had nothing to do here, no place to go, no assigned duties to perform.  He was as out of place here as a panhandler at a princess’s wedding.
            “Want to watch the Olympics, Dad?” I said.  The question seemed to startle him—and my siblings, too.  It was hard to imagine him coming over to the couch and climbing aboard with the rest of us.
            “I don’t think so,” he said.  “I think I’ll go outside and trim some limbs.” 
            “OK,” I said.  One of my siblings turned slightly to rearrange his view and to prop his chin under one hand.
            Dad turned to go then turned back again.     
“Isn’t anybody going to ask me why I’m home early?” he said.
“Oh yeah,” I said.  “Why are you home early?”
“The store is going out of business,” Dad said.  “Pretty soon I won’t have a job anymore.”
“Wow, Dad,” I said.  I focused in on the start of the 400 IM relay.  They had a new camera that showed the swimmers underwater.  The horn to start the race sounded.  “Wow.  That’s big news.”
Dad stood transfixed, as if waiting for some exegesis of the situation, some definitive explanation.  He liked explanations.  His entire past and future seemed to coalesce there in that moment.  Everything was in flux.  Life was not what they told him it was going to be.  Tossing his jacket over a chair, he went outside to trim limbs.

STEVEN McBREARTY's story collection, “Christmas Day on a City Bus,” was published in 2011 by McKinney Press.  In addition, he has published more than 30 short stories, humor pieces, and non-fiction articles and have received several honors.  “East of Paris, West of Berlin” is listed in the “Editor’s Selections—Best ofPotpourri” on the web pages of the magazine.  “The Sacker,” which appeared in Short Story Writer’sShowcase, was selected by a high school student for a statewide Texas University Scholastic League reading contest entry.  “Skipper and Kevin Visit Barbie’s Pad” was selected as a finalist in an Austin Chronicle short story contest, and published.  "Turning Blue" was published in the May 2007 edition ofChick Lit Review.  *62” was published in the January/February 2008 edition of Chick Lit Review.   “Kingston: The Lizard, The Man,” was accepted for publication and recording by Stories That Lift.  “The Shorthorn No. 3” was published in Flatman Crooked magazine.  “Christmas Day on a City Bus” and “A Situation Comedy” appeared in Disappearing City literary magazine.  “Christmas Day on a City Bus” was honored as “Featured Prose” in the January 1, 2009 issue of Disappearing City “Thanksgiving for Sex” was published in the April quarterly edition of Freight Train magazine.  “Jane Fountain” received an Honorable Mention in the Coq and Bull literary magazine contest and published in the June 2009 edition of the magazine.  “Night of Hope” was published in the inaugural issue of Concisely magazine. 

Other stories have appeared in The Prose Menagerie; Slugfest, ltd.; Short Stories Bi-Monthly; Words of WisdomNocturne Horizons; Balcones magazine; and Carve magazine.  


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Belle Rêve Literary Journal is a southern literary experience. Our mission is to capture everything that makes the South and its residents unique through the best contemporary literature we can find. We publish new works weekly.