Chapter 10 – Hudson School
Father Explains Divorce, Sort Of
I’m throwing small stones at a tall pine tree. Father is sitting near Henry on the bench of the picnic table. When Henry climbs up to sit on the table top, he makes sure it isn’t too close. I know my little brother. Father hasn’t told him to climb down and sit on the bench, which is what benches are made for. But not yet. I know my father, too.
When I hit the tree with a stone, it makes a ‘pock’ sound that echoes in the woods. I hit the tree maybe one out of four. A car with two old people slows and pulls off the road and stops next to Father’s Buick. The old man and woman look at Henry and Father, then at me, then drive away. Three hearts are carved into the table top along with ‘Tommie & Maggie’ under one of them, then some other letters and ‘5-7-39 Rodney’ and some bad words. Also a girl with boobs and her legs wide open.
Father leans on the table on his elbows with his hands next to each other, flat. He’s looking at the trees. The trees don’t blow and whisper. It’s hot and sticky. ‘Pock.’ I forgot to ask Father Henry’s question about divorch. Or maybe I just didn’t know how. More likely I didn’t want to. Henry tries, but the only thing that comes out is air. He tries again. Same thing. He stops trying. Father is probably thinking about something important and doesn’t want to be interrupted. That’s usually what he said when we all lived in the same house in Rockville Centre.
‘Pock.’ Another hit. I’m getting better, but I should probably join them, because this feels like an important time. I lean against the picnic table and jam my hands into my pants pockets. “Run out of rocks?” Father says, then, “All right, good time to talk to my boys about something.”
“Can you tell Henry and me about this divorce thing?” It sounds like I’ve been practicing it, but it just came out. Like Mr. Livesey says is the best way to say a difficult thing. Just say it.
“Exactly what I want to talk about with my sons.” I expect him to say, ‘Great minds think alike,’ which he does sometimes. But he stares hard at me, like this time it’s wrong to know what he’s going to say.
So, I shrug and sit next to Henry on the table top with Father still on the bench on my other side. It’s strange, Father looking up at us. I think he doesn’t like it, but he doesn’t stand or tell us that people don’t sit on tables. Mother would have.
He looks at his hands and rubs them together. “It’s like this,” he says. “People have arguments. It’s nobody’s fault, they just have arguments. When it gets to be a lot of arguments, it’s better when they, the two people, move away from each other. Start a new life. Both of them. That’s basically what it is, divorce.” He turns his hands over like he’s catching snowflakes, except it’s a sunny day.
I look off to the trees. I guess that’s it, all he can say about it. Henry raises up to me and whispers, “F-f-f. Fl-fl-fl-f.”
Father says, “Hey, I’m your father, talk to me. What’s wrong with you?”
Henry has that look like he can’t breathe. Or even gulp. He could die.
“Why did Mother go to Florida?” I say.
“It’s the law,” Father says. One of his hands is brushing the table like there are crumbs, but there aren’t any.
“The law says you can only get divorced in Florida?” I say.
Father looks off into the woods again, then down at the table with the hearts carved and maybe at the girl with her legs wide open, then he closes his eyes and says, “Listen, I don’t want to talk about that. It’s not important. She just likes to play golf all the time. She doesn’t like winter. I don’t know. Why don’t you ask . . .” But then he stops before finishing.
I know why she went to Florida. I heard a kid talking about it at dinner. Parents go to Florida to get divorced because of alienation of infection. That’s when one of the parents, or maybe both of them, were screwing someone else, which is the main thing that they have to do to get divorced in New York. Just not liking the other one or arguing all the time isn’t enough in New York. In Florida it’s enough, but you have to live there for six months, then you’re divorced, and you can screw anyone you want. The kid said when the school year was over his folks were both going to move down there permanently so they could screw anyone to their hearts content, just not in the same town. I thought about that and decided not to tell Henry. He’d want to know what screwing means. I’ll save it for when he’s older.
“So, any other questions?” Father says. He pats the table. “We could take a walk in the woods. If you want.”
Father never smiles much, but he just wormed his way out of a tough thing to talk about, so he’ll feel he earned one. But no smile. So I say, “You and Mother used to argue about her family and you working at the factory showroom in the city. What was all that about?” I know I’m asking for it, for Father blowing his top. I wish that old couple had stuck around.
Henry stares up at me, like I shouldn’t have asked about that. Father stares at the table again, like he’s thinking the same thing. “Huh?” I say. “What was that about?”
Henry looks back and forth between Father and me. Father stares hard at me. So much staring going on. Henry can’t talk and Father won’t talk much, so I guess it’s up to me.