By Robert Masterson
Jeffery’s out to the back on what we call the sliding-glass patio. He’s lighting firecrackers one by one off a chain of cigarettes he smoking, and the things he says when he’s doing it. Poor Mazy is in the back bedroom hiding from the steady noise from the firecrackers, and June has left the house, saying “You deal with it for once” on her way out the side door to the garage and her Pontiac.
“Motherfucking bitch-ass whore,” drifts in from the backyard.
Deal with it for once? Like I haven’t been dealing with it one way or another since the day we brought him home in a blue blanket and a baby hat 23 years ago. He was sort of a fussy baby then, and he’s sort of a fussy baby now, and all that methedrine and those oxys and black tar heroin and I don’t know what all haven’t helped any.
“Jeff!” I call. “Jeffery! I’m making some macaroni and cheese. Do you want some?”
There’s a firecracker.
“Yes, I want some,” he answers like I’m the dumbest thing on the planet, like it’s so totally obvious he wants macaroni and cheese that only a moron would have to ask out loud. If he’d used that tone with me or his mother ten years ago, I would have slapped it out of his mouth. Now, his mother is probably over to her friend Gloria’s house drinking wine and crying, and I don’t know what to do. I just don’t. All the old rules don’t seem to apply anymore, and I just don’t know what the new rules are.
“Yes, I want some, sir,” I whisper to an empty kitchen.
There’s a firecracker.
He showed up to the house five days ago with a dying Chevy Caprice that only had one unbroken window, left rear passenger as if that did anyone any good, and three black plastic garbage bags full of dirty clothes, papers, some books, and I don’t know what all.
We said, Jeffery, you can stay, but we have rules. And we told him, Jeffery, there will be no drugs, no drinking, no friends over, 10 p.m. curfew, the whole business. And he sat there in front of us and nodded and said Yes, Sir and No, Ma’am, and we believed him.
Now, he’s high on drugs wearing just shorts and throwing lit firecrackers into the air while cursing so loud all the neighbors can hear him plus the firecrackers. And I don’t know what to do in the daytime-dark kitchen. I’d like a beer. Hell, I’d like a Jack Daniels over ice, but that’s hypocritical now considering my son’s condition. Catch me having a beer in my own kitchen, and then I’m some kind of alcoholic, and then I have no more right to criticize or judge my son’s addictions. As if I want to criticize and judge, as if I want to do anything other than make him better, make him happy, make him Jeff.
There’s a firecracker, and I’m just standing in the kitchen until I remember macaroni and cheese, and I don’t even know if we have any in the blue box, and I sure don’t know how to make it from scratch. I start opening cabinets and cupboards and the refrigerator, and all I seem to find are juice boxes, Naomi’s little juice boxes, Naomi being my special needs granddaughter whose special needs are just too special for her mother, my daughter, Lisa, who now lives in Dallas and comes to see us probably twice a month and sometimes leaves some money for those special needs of her daughter. Naomi is in special needs preschool and doesn’t see her Uncle Jeff or hear his firecrackers, and for that I am grateful. June will pick up Naomi later when she is finished not dealing with her oldest.
“Jeff!” I call. “Hey, Jeffery! I can’t find any mac and cheese. Do you want a juice box instead?”
There’s a firecracker.
“Hell, no, I don’t want a juice box,” Jeffery answers in that same tone and it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard to me so much I want to walk out there on the sliding glass patio and smash his face in. My own son. “What kind?”
“All different kinds, Jeffery. Come in and look.” Come in and stop yelling curse words and stop lighting firecrackers.
“Just tell me.”
“Just tell me what kinds there are.”
“What?” I can’t believe he’s asking me to do this, I can’t believe my grown son is standing shirtless on the sliding glass patio lighting firecrackers to toss into the air, yelling out the dirtiest things you can imagine, words like “motherfucker” and “cocksucker” and “bitchwhorecunt.”
“Just tell me what kind of juice boxes there are, and I’ll tell you if I want one.” And he tosses another firecracker.
I can’t believe it.
“Yellow! Blue! Red! Orange!” I can’t help it, but I practically scream it.
“Yellow! Blue! Red! Orange!”
“Those are colors.”
“Those aren’t flavors. Tell me the flavors.” And now there is a whiney edge to his voice, the same whine he used when he wanted a toy or more dessert or some money.
I’ve just about had it with Jeff, Jeffery, my son. I’ve just about had it with Lisa, too, and, God forgive me, Naomi, my special needs grandchild. I’ve just about had it with my wife, getting some peace and quiet before picking up our special needs granddaughter at special needs daycare. I’ve even had it with Mazy, the stupid dumb dog, who gets to hide under the bed when the firecrackers come out. And, oh brother, have I had it with firecrackers.
“I got colors, Jeffery,” I call out to him. “That’s all I got is colors. You want flavors, you come inside.”