Ten years before I (Chester Sculpin) was sitting in my kitchen encouraging my two young sons — Ovid and Virgil — to be the type of men who worked to change the world. Be a captain of industry, I said, or a scientist, or a politician, or an economist or great thinker, but be someone of importance. Strive for greatness and settle for no less. Those were my words exactly and I remember it as if this all took place today.
I recall that I smelled of after shave, having spilled a bit as I applied it shortly before my chat with the boys. I didn’t mind so much, it was a manly smell and it seemed to add gravitas to my manly sentiments. Ovid and Virgil — 11 and 9 respectively at the time, were enthralled by my words. I suppose the keenness of their interest had something to do with the fact that I was so seldom around and when I was it was for such short periods of time. Typically times when I was quite tired. You see I worked for a big company with plants all over the country and was charged with inspections and reports to the home office which was right here in Alexandria, Virginia.
Ovid and Virgil worshipped me, or so I thought, not having always been in tune with the boys I can’t say with any degree of certainty and later events would contradict that claim but I certainly felt at the time and for years before and after that they had placed me on a very high pedestal. I can further assert with confidence that they held their mother, my wife, Eloise, in quite low regard. The poor dear was a heavy drinker and never too bright to begin with. The alcohol further dulled an already dull brain. Frankly, I’d married Eloise for her looks, she’d been a beauty and despite motherhood and excess liquor consumption and approaching middle age, she kept her looks. You had to admire her for that. Eloise was also a wonder between the sheets. You can take that from someone who knows. You see I was not exactly faithful, spending all that time on the road like I was. Oh there was never anything serious, just a lot of one night stands and a few birds I saw fairly regular. Anyway getting around as I did made me able to compare and Eloise was the best in bed. Later I found out that during our marriage I wasn’t the only one who got to enjoy her talents. Yeah she slept around. There was a couple of fellas she had affairs with, sometimes pleasuring them in our bed. Well I guess I can’t be too upset given my own playing around.
So this conversation I had with the boys really has stuck in my mind because both of them reminded me of it from time to time. They were whiz bang students in high school and got excepted to top notch schools. Ovid to Georgia Tech and Virgil to Harvard. Yeah, Harvard. Each of them told me as he went off to college that he aimed to make something special of himself just like I’d advised. Boy was I a proud poppa. When the youngest, that is Virgil, left, it was just me and Eloise at home and to top that off I’d been given new duties which kept me off the road and at home base full time. Which meant seven days a week Eloise and I were together.
At first it was okay. For one thing we got to enjoy bedroom activities on a nightly basis. But after awhile Eloise started getting on my nerves and me on hers. Plus I saw just how much she was drinking and it made me a little sick. Sure enough we started arguing about this or that. There was never anything serious but the arguments got real nasty. Eventually we — almost simultaneously as it worked out — found about each others infidelities.
Less than two years after Virgil left for college, my wife of 23 years and I were splitsville. Eloise let me keep the house and she moved into a swanky apartment near downtown where she could drink and be a tramp in peace. I was pretty lonely rattling around the house by myself, although I didn’t miss Eloise one bit. I start tomcatting around, having fun going out on the town and dating again. The only bad experience was when my date and I saw Eloise and her date at a restaurant. We gave each other the stink eye.
The boys seemed nonplussed by the separation. The oldest, Ovid said he saw it coming and Virgil didn't say anything, I suppose because he was too absorbed in his studies all the time. He was a go-getter that one, just like I’d encouraged him to be.
Eventually the divorce went through and it was all pretty smooth. Eloise had a fair amount of dough she’d inherited from her folks so she didn’t try to take more than her fair share. The only loose end was the house which I was going to put on the market. What did I need with such a big place? She’d get a quarter of the take, as would I and the boys would each get a quarter too.
Anyway the house sold pretty quick and that leads me to today when I was starting to move my things to a small cottage I’d bought a few blocks away. I’d showered and shaved right after getting up and splashed on some aftershave of a type I hadn’t used in awhile, the same brand I’d been wearing when I had that talk with the boys I earlier mentioned. Don’t ask me how I remember but I do, those olfactory senses don’t let you down. So as I was chowing down the breakfast I’d fixed myself (eggs sunny side up and ham) I thought about how I’d sat in this very spot over a decade ago giving my pitch to the boys about making something of themselves, something special. A tear actually worked its way down my cheek at the memory. Odd for me because I’m not prone to the waterworks. Anyway I wiped it off, finished my coffee and had just got up from the table when someone came busting through the kitchen door hopping mad.
“Where are they?” he hollered at me. Of course I was stunned. All at once I was asking who and what he was doing and he’d better get out and that I was calling the cops. Then he punched me in the gut. This was a big guy, a black fella, must have been 6’5” maybe 250 pounds and strong as an ox. The punch in the gut floored me. I had no idea what was going on but figured there had to be a mistake and that he’d realize it soon enough and take off and I’d either forget the whole thing or call the cops.
“I said where are they?” he demanded. When I got my breath back I promised him I didn't know who he meant. “Virgil and Ovid!” he shouted. Well now I was stunned and shocked and scared and I don’t know what else. He was looking for my boys!
“Listen fella those are my sons and sure they grew up here and all but they live in totally different states now. I haven’t seen either in months. Whattaya want with them?” Now I felt curious as much as anything else. What the heck could this man want with my boys?
“The drugs they sold me in Texas weren’t all that they said, not at all. In other words your sons tried to rip me off! And yeah, I know they’re supposed to be at there colleges, but neither one is. At both places I was told they’d come home. Now where are they?”
Okay so the guy somehow thought my boys were drug dealers. There was a big mistake made somewhere. Had to be. Neither of my sons had ever had anything more than a beer or glass of wine. I was sure of that. But the real shock for me was seconds away. The big fella had just given me a kick in the ribs when I heard the front door open. There were the footsteps of two people walking around the house, they eventually came towards the kitchen. The door opened. I looked up and saw my sons.
“Otis! What the hell are you doing here?” Virgil said.
Ovid asked, “Dad what are you doing on the floor?”
Well I got up and sat on a chair while this fella Otis and my sons argued about drugs. I could tell from the conversation that Virgil and Ovid had sold drugs to Otis and it seemed that they were regular drug dealers who’d sold to him and others before and they even spoke of their “reputations.”
Now I really wanted to cry, not just a tear or two but full out balling. They talked like I was even there. My sons. They’d made something of themselves all right. Criminals. Lousy drug dealers at that. It hurt worse that they were so open about it with me sitting right there.
After awhile the argument got pretty heated and Otis started to threaten them. My boys didn’t seem at all scared which is one thing I can credit them for. Then this Otis fella takes a knife out of his pocket and steps toward the boys. “Now Otis,” Virgil said. “You know you’re not going to try to stab us. We outnumber you and both of us are pretty quick.”
So what Otis did was he grabbed me by the color and held me up. “You’re right,” he said. “So here’s the thing. You don’t hand over the money I paid for those weak ass drugs to me and I stab your dear old dad.”
“You wouldn’t,” said Ovid.
“He’s bluffing dad, don’t worry,” Virgil assured me. Then Otis let me go. Then he stuck a knife in my back. Then my sons took off running with Otis in hot pursuit.
Now I’m lying on the floor with the life seeping out of me. I keep seeing what I looked like in the mirror struggling to reach out. I keep wondering what happened to my sons, how they became drug dealers, how I was so easily fooled, how my life is ending in disaster. What the hell did I do wrong? Was it might fault or their mothers? Were there signs I missed? Was I away too often? All these questions swirling around my head with no time to get answers.
The pain has lessened in the last few minutes and images are getting fuzzier. My hearing too is not as sharp. I can hear a clock tick and I can hear a bird