He walked with a peculiar gait. First, his knees would creak forward, then his feet would whip compliantly into place, frightened to be left behind, scuffing the gravel with each odd step. The rest of his body did not move, except as carried forward stiffly by his wayward legs. I can’t say I recall him saying much to us kids. There may have been the occasional grumble or dark muttering, but no actual conversation. Though he had trouble keeping a job, the years as a mechanic, hunched over and banging his knuckles on the cold metal under the hoods of Plymouths, and Fords, and Volkswagens with the damned engine crammed in the back, carried over into his posture. Even as a large man, his stature was lessened, carrying the weight of his defeat.
I had seen the wedding pictures, the smiling, petite brunette and the handsome man he had once been, standing tall, eyes alive with love, and with hope for the future. Now he wore a scowl, and a beard, grown in apathy, and lines on his face deep, much deeper than his years. It was the liquor that had aged him so quickly. His uncombed, reddish-brown hair was long enough to be carried on the wind as he walked. As he approached, people would inch away, giving him room to pass, pulling their children closer.
Kenny and Mark were their only children, nine years old, and seven, respectively. Both had the same haircut, long, but cut in a straight line at the back, and around the sides. Their bangs hung in their eyes. Kenny had Scoliosis. He carried himself with a hunch as well, but it wasn’t the spine curvature which pulled down on his shoulders, as cursed with a burden. It wasn’t a small bend in his back that made him struggle to smile. Mark still had a bit of innocence, just as confused, but Kenny looked out for him, so Mark could still be a kid, for as long as life would let him be one.
Their house was always dark. It was rare that any adults were home. And that was a good thing. If one were home, it might not be too bad. He would drink, sullenly, and not say much, or she would putter around the house, moving things around, attempting to restore some order to her world, though it never looked any different. If they were both home, the screaming would start.
Children don’t understand these things. They don’t understand when the only gods that they have ever believed in fall from the heavens, shattering, as broken mortals. They don’t understand the screaming, the anger, and the fear. They don’t understand the violence. They don’t understand one parent hitting the other with a car, and they should never have to understand such things. He survived the car incident. It would be an overstatement to say that he lived.
I didn’t understand either. My parents divorced around that time, and I moved back and forth between the two for a while. I lost contact with Kenny and Mark. I lost contact with everyone, including myself. On a weekend visit to see my mother, we were driving when we saw him walking on a road that no one would walk unless they had no car, appearing a way that no one would appear unless they had no home, his long, reddish-brown hair still carried on the wind as he walked with a peculiar gait.
We both saw him, and neither ever said a word about it; we barely spoke at all that day.