From an early age, To Kill A Mockingbird was a godsend. While some kids grew up cherishing Saved by the Bell or some other TV show, I grew up listening to the sage advice given by Atticus about compassion.
My mother was the one who fed my passion for it. Every night, she would read to me and it became our little ritual much like it was for Scout and Atticus. I remember her low voice, in a hush whisper during the more serious scenes or shaking with indignation due to the injustice the book portrayed. She was a lovely woman. She was petite with blond hair, and a laugh that could make any man go crazy for her. My father did and went nearly crazier when she died.
I guess that's a reason why I'm so obsessed with the book. Any well paid psychoanalyst could say that I read it again and again in order to hold on to the memories my mother fostered. But then again, you could say that I like it so much because it's just a darn good book. After all, who wouldn't want to have a brother like Jem, a spirit like Scout, and the wisdom of Atticus? Only Jesus would say so and that's only because his dad's God.
My thoughts are interrupted by a loud awakening. I glance up only to see that it's Stan.
"Hey Stan. Have a nice nap?" I ask in the most cheerful manner as possible.
His eyes harden and he turns around, his back stiffening in anger. Crap. In a low voice, he quietly said in a way that left no room for argument. "Don't call me Stan. I am your father. You damn well treat me like it." He walks away, stumbling over the chairs and bottles that were strewn around the place.
I let out another frustrated sigh. This hasn't been the first time. Ever since she died all those years ago, we had always been at odds. I push back my hair, tugging on it, doing something so that I could vent without pissing him off again. Eventually, I just sit back and continue reading, allowing myself to get sucked back into the world of Boo Radleys and Maudie Atkinsons.
Human behavior amuses me especially teenagers. I'm in the lunchroom sitting by myself and reading again. Some people obviously don't understand that even though I'm reading, I can still hear them. Of course they're just saying the same old trash. Of course they also don't realize that they're hardly original.
"Oh my god, what the hell is she doing? Is she reading the same thing again?"
That last sentence comes from a pair of non distinct blonds who couldn't possible understand the words of Harper Lee. I ignore them.
"Hi Avery," calls my English teacher, Mrs. Dubose.
"It's Finch." I reply stiffly. She was one of the few people in my life who refused to call me by my nickname.
She sighs and continues saying, "I think you should stop with that silly nickname. Avery is such a wonderful name. It'd be wasteful not to use it. You know your mother adored it and named you after your grandmother."
That was the bad part of living in a small town. The fact that your freaking English teacher could tell you something personal like that and have it seem normal. Then again, they used to be like two peas in a pod, my mom and her.
As always I ignore it, "So what did you want to tell me, Mrs. Dubose?"
She brightens immediately, saying excitedly, "I need some volunteers for the fundraiser. I was thinking that you and your father would make quite the team."
My face falls immediately. Years ago, it was reported that he used to be a beast at playing ping pong. Like other things though, he stopped playing with a paddle and fiddles around with a bottle now.
Seeing my face, she quickly adds, "It would be understood if he can't make it for various reasons. I just would like for you to ask." And before I could interrupt, she puts her hand on my shoulder, reeking with pity.
Humiliated and for once, impulsive, I agree to her offer. Clearly she did not expect it. "Are you positive?" she asks, her eyes clearly conveying surprise even if her voice did not.
"Absolutely," even though I was becoming less sure by the second.
"Alright. I'll be looking forward to it then." She parts from me, smiling in her wake.
In shock that I could even possibly agree to that, I pondered my decision. Of course, Stan would never do it. I was lucky if I could even convince him to eat dinner. I slam my head against the table. How could I be so stupid? I chant it to myself over and over until the bell rings.
I pace the kitchen nervously, waiting. I cooked a nice dinner for my dad to come home to and to help convince him of my request. As the day slowly drifted by, I practiced repeatedly. Some of it was erased from memory so that I wouldn't embarrass myself while others were still in the arsenal.
"Hey Stan, so, you want to play some ping pong? I heard you were a mighty fine player in your youth."
Now, this was pathetic. Who the hell says mighty fine?
I breathe in and out, trying to remain calm. I try again. "So, dad, I have this fundraiser at school…"
The door opens; Stan comes in, his footsteps creating chaos in his path. His manner, already defeated from a long day at work, seemed more somber than usual. Anxiously, I hand him dinner, hoping to God that my plan would work.
I watch him closely throughout dinner, trying to gauge the perfect time to ask. Luck seemed to be on my side. As he ate, his mood seemed to lift. My mind was like a game of tennis inside, my decision changing from one side to another. An eternity passed. Satiated from a good meal, he seemed to notice my mouth moving silently from debating with myself and my reddening face from thinking too much.
"Now what the hell are you doing?" he asks bluntly, leaving no room for beating around the bush.
My throat dries. Shit. I'm caught. "Nothing," I say unconvincingly, "Nothing at all."
"Don't bullshit me. I know you didn't cook all this for nothing," he moves in his chair uncomfortably, his eyes softening for a second, "I know I, uh, haven't been around for you in the past. But I'm still your father. Tell me."
I take a drink of water, desperately wanting to delay the inevitable. His eyes bore into my skull so I stop and forge ahead, "Mrs. Dubose wants us to join the fundraiser for school. Teams compete playing ping pong. The best team out of eight wins."
I wait for the rejection. I cringe but the unexpected comes.
"I'll do it."
"When is it?"
I tell him in a voice that clearly does not believe him. The particulars are hammered out (next Friday at 4 p.m) and he leaves in the same manner that he arrived in. I am left in the kitchen feeling giddy with the hope that things are changing.
I enter English the next day in the happiest and most bubbly mood possible. Finch, the girl who usually kept to herself, was now cracking jokes and saying hi to people. It was a novel concept. I tell Mrs. Dubose of the good news, relishing the fact that for once I could say that my parent could help. She split into a grin, thanking me and sharing my joy. Before class began, she mused that perhaps, my father was no longer a Bob Ewell. The possibility made me smile deliriously.
Friday came and I could hardly contain myself, truth be told. Stan had not taken a single drink the past couple of days. That achievement alone would have me chirping with excitement. Yesterday, I had awoken to see him bouncing a ball against a wall with a paddle. I felt as though things were improving, waiting to have better days.
Four p.m came and the fundraiser was about to start. He had told me earlier in the day that he would be late and advised me to go there alone so that he could drive directly to school from work. I had accepted his advice but now, I was starting to wonder where he was. It was beginning to start and he was nowhere to be found. Mrs. Dubose noticed my nervousness. The woman had tried to persuade me that he would show but I was unsure. One hour passed and he still wasn't here.
I started to have this feeling gnaw at me. I tried to resist it, however the pull was too strong for me to ignore. I ran outside, hoping to God that my hunch wasn't true. My heart pounding, breath wildly in and out, I arrived at my destination. Pausing in between to get my breathing back to normal, I ask the man working there if he had seen my father come in. With the town population being only three thousand, he could have easily identified Stan. The fact that he came here often also might have helped in identifying him. The man paused, looking around before allowing me to go inside. Confused, I followed him in.
He led me to a dinky corner of the bar, kept well out of place from the entrance. I didn't see who he was pointing to at first. All I saw was a big bundle slumped over a table. Upon closer examination, I realized that it was a man looking worse for the wear. Then it hit me.
It was Stan.
His breath stunk with beer and other alcoholic fluids. His hair was straggly and his shirt was ripped open at the side. He looked like shit, simply put.
I started to wrap his arm around me to lift him up. He lazily awakened, drool dripping slowly from the side of his mouth. He groaned while I tried to walk him.
"Finch? Is that you?" he slurred, his voice barely above a whisper.
"No, it's Avery."
This was inspired by To Kill A Mockingbird and its themes of loss of innocence and childhood. I remember reading it in class, thinking about how powerful and well executed its messages are. I can only hope to have done it a fraction as well as Harper Lee did. Thanks for reading.