"Jimmy! Dinner!" My mom's voice drifted from the kitchen along with the scent of her lasagna and garlic bread.
"Just a second, mom!" I yelled. I put down my red pencil and grabbed up a black one. I pressed down as hard as I could as I sketched, grinning at the vivid marks as they materialized. I let my arm flow and watched the line curve delicately.
"Now!" Mom yelled back.
"But…but…" I let my eyes move from my sketch pad to the TV. "But another Night Gallery's starting!"
"It's on DVD! Just pause it!"
Another voice, a gruffer, tougher one, came from the kitchen now. "Son, you get in here now before I shove that damn pad and pencils down your throat!"
"Walt! You don't need to talk like that!" Mom said.
"The hell I don't."
I pressed the pause button on the remote control, choking Rod Serling off in mid-sentence, and raced into the kitchen. I wasn't so much afraid for myself as for the safety of my pad and pencils. People say art is a support system for life, not the other way around. I'm not so sure about that, or, at least, I wasn't.
The first thing I noticed upon sitting down at the table was that my dad had his Mets cap on. I began the silent countdown. Five…four…three…two…one…
"Is your head cold, honey?" Mom said, right on cue.
"Is it a crime to wear my hat?" Dad said, hitting his line exactly.
"It's not accepted in polite society, dad," my sister Lydia said.
"This ain't polite society."
"Oh, that's right. I forgot about your vendetta against anything refined."
"That'll do, dear," Mom said.
"I'm glad you're just home for the weekend," Dad said.
"You and me both, dear father," Lydia said.
I could see that Dad was about to say something, but caught himself. He shut his mouth tightly and smiled painfully at Lydia, then at Mom. He slowly reached up and took his cap off. He hung it on his chair. Mom smiled at him. Dad smiled back. With that, the meal began.
Mom smiled at me and then looked at Dad. "Did you see the mark Jimmy got on his story?"
Dad bit off a piece of his garlic bread. "What, did he fail? Need me to knock his teeth out?"
"Of course not, dear. Don't be cruel. No, Jimmy got an A."
Dad grunted. "Is it for that creative writing class?"
"That stupid class," Dad said. "An A in that class might as well be an F."
Lydia rolled her eyes at Dad and grinned at me. "My brother. The new Updike."
I grinned back at Lydia. "Updike wasn't an artist."
"Neither are you," Lydia said. I stuck my tongue out at her. Lydia put a finger in each ear and waved the rest of them at me.
My mom stifled a giggle. "Now, come on, you two. Eat." We did so.
Dad looked at me. "I tell you what's going on at the school?"
I shook my head. Dad, at the time, was the athletic director at the high school, so he was always trying to get me involved in sports. He constantly told me that it would be a great honor to him to see his son as a quarterback or star forward or whatever else. I usually ignored these statements. However, I could tell by the tone in Dad's voice, a tone that was a little harder and firmer than usual, that I wouldn't be able to this time.
"We're startin' a boxing team," Dad said in between chunks of lasagna. I nodded with what I hoped looked like enthusiasm. "Thought you'd be interested in joining up," Dad continued.
Lydia laughed. "What? Wire of the week Jimmy?"
Dad looked me over. "You would need to bulk up a little, but the coach would take care of that. He's a Golden Gloves winner and went to the Olympics."
"Oh," I said.
"So you tryin' out?"
"I don't think so, dad."
Dad threw his fork down on his plate. It clattered unpleasantly. "Son, I've had it. You're femming yourself up and I'm sick of it. You'd better start manning up."
I said nothing. I'd heard all this before, and I knew I couldn't stop dad now that he was rolling.
"That's why I'm making you join the team."
I stopped. This was new. I looked at dad. "You can't make me do anything."
"I can and I am."
Mom tried to intervene. "Hon, if Jimmy doesn't want to-"
"I don't give two shits what he wants to do. He'd be goin' around wearing dresses if I let him do what he wanted to do."
"That's not true!" I said.
"Don't you raise your voice at me!" Dad roared. "You're joining that team and that's the end of it! No more discussion!"
"No, Dad, I'm sorry, I'm not." I tried to speak calmly.
"Yes, you are, if you wanna keep your sketch pad and typewriter."
The table fell silent. Dad had never threatened my things before. My body, yes, but never my pad and typewriter. Knowing dad was serious and I was beaten, I nodded. "Okay.
"Good. Tryouts are on Tuesday. If you aren't there, you know what's gonna happen."
I nodded again. My dad smiled, satisfied, and turned his attention back to his food. We all did the same.
I waited for about an hour I heard my parent's bedroom door close before getting up. I opened my door a crack and looked out. The light under my parents' door was out. Sighing deeply with relief, I closed the door and stole across the room to my bookshelves. I slid an old horror comic book off a shelf and got into bed. I turned on my lamp and was just about to open it up when I heard my door click open.
"You awake, sonny boy?" Lydia whispered.
"Go away!" I whispered back.
"Is that any way to talk to your loving sister who's come to make a social visit?" My door began to swing into the room.
"It's for anyone who makes a social call at one in the morning!"
"Anyone but your sister." The door was totally open now. Lydia stepped in and closed the door behind her.
"Especially your sister!" I said in my most menacing voice.
"Come, now. You know you love me." Lydia crossed the room gracefully and stopped at my desk. She smirked at the drawings on the board; drawings that I had poured my heart and soul into. The board displayed my interests well; one half of the board was covered with a rogues' gallery of vampires sucking the blood from the necks of buxom blondes, zombies in hot rods drag racing with red-blooded American boys, lake monsters emerging from the deep to devour elderly fishermen, and the like. The other half of the board was filled with a rogues' gallery of a different kind; the pictures depicted tough, scarred, battle-hardened Mafiosi and professional criminals carrying out hits, robbing armored cars and banks and so on. The board had a general theme: blood, Lots of blood. Lydia shook her head and looked down at my latest masterpiece, lying on my desk: a Mafioso terrorized in his jail cell by the ghost of one of his victims.
Lydia looked at me and grinned. "My sick, warped brother."
"If I'm warped, it's because you warped me."
Lydia gestured at the unfinished drawing. "Really beautiful. Classy."
"It's an illustration for my story."
Sighing deeply but still grinning, Lydia sat down on my bed. "Whatcha readin'?" she asked, snatching the magazine off of the bedspread and flipped through it. "I see where you get your ideas," she said, putting the magazine down. Lydia looked at my bookshelf, then back at me. "Didn't you used to have a bigger collection?"
"What happened?" I gave Lydia a look; she nodded, understanding. "Dad?"
I nodded. "Threw out all my horror books he could find, and he also threw away all my crime stuff."
Lydia indicated the books on the shelves. "What about those?"
I grinned. "Dad didn't find those."
Lydia smiled. "I trained you well."
"Dad helped too."
"I watch where he hides his Playboys from mom."
"You know, dad 'only reads the articles.'"
"I don't know about that. I see him sometimes. I didn't know they printed stories on the centerfolds."
We laughed until we noticed the door swinging open. We stopped and managed to regain our composure as mom appeared in the doorway. She smiled warmly at the sight of her two children.
"Is this a private meeting?" Mom said.
"Yeah, mom," Lydia said. "We were planning how we're gonna run away and join the French Foreign Legion. Of course, I'd have to cut my hair, but…"
Mom laughed and sat down on the bed with us. She reached out and squeezed my shoulder gently. "I know my kids better than that, I think."
"Yeah, well, I was close today, mom," I said.
Mom's smile faded away. "You know your dad doesn't mean to talk to you like that. He just gets excited."
"Other dads get excited. They don't talk like that," I said. Lydia nodded in agreement.
"Your dad's different. He's had a hard life. It's the only way he knows to get what he wants," Mom said.
"Maybe he ought to learn a different way," Lydia said.
"Don't be too hard on your dad. He loves you both."
I sighed. "I know, mom. It's just hard to take sometimes."
"I know, but I know you both can handle it. I raised tough kids," Mom smiled. "And speaking of tough kids, Jimmy…"
I could immediately see where the conversation was going. "Mom, I'm not boxing. Dad can yell at me and call me names and even hit me if he wants, but I'm not joining that team."
"Honey, if you want your dad to stop, you'll have to. Your dad really wants you to join the team. Really wants you to. It'd be wise for you to do it."
I groaned. "Is it really that big a deal?"
"Will dad really let up on me if I join up?"
"I'll talk to him. I'm sure I can do something."
"Do it, bro," Lydia said. "If dad eases up on you even a little, it's worth it."
I groaned again. "Okay, okay. I'll do it."