Trajan and his friends’ reach as surrogate fathers to one another had definitive limits. Each had his finite pool of knowledge to pull from, his set of family circumstances. Each had his father alone to emulate. Trajan and Langston’s father had left; Ben’s had stayed. Lighty’s father may as well have been gone. The same might have been said of Mathieu Sessions. Trajan’s father attended one match midway into their junior year, BLT having been named starters. Callie Ramirez had pushed Chester to go in an effort to fill the void in his life, to close the gap between him and the son he had left. Lighty’s father worked as a house painter. He remarked at every turn how he earned his living, seeming to suggest the rest of the world had in one way or another been granted a pass.
Bill Lighty was the kind of dad who put food on the table, a roof over his wife and kids’ heads, clothes on their backs, then spent the rest of the evening draped across his favorite lounge chair, the TV remote glued to the palm of his paint-stained hand. He would have paid attention to his son’s soccer games had they been broadcast during commercial breaks of the televised games of his beloved Celtics or Red Sox or Bruins. Happiness in the Lighty household revolved around who had raised a banner that year, clinched a series, or lifted the Stanley Cup over their heads.
Mathieu Sessions—fisherman, father, full-time welder, minor league ball player. He left the house for a few months around the time Bunny and E-Z might have begun playing sports: peewee football, youth soccer, Little League. He sat at the helm, raising a family of disenchanted youth stomping the dream dead inside him that either boy would follow in his footsteps. He exhibited what Dottie described as a yo-yo mentality given the tendency around the neighborhood for his temperament to shift rail-to-rail. When he was up, there was a good time to be had anywhere within reach of the sound of his voice. When he was down, the boys did their best to remain out of earshot.
He’d venture out to the kitchen shortly after the boys returned from school, preparing to make the second shift at Electric Boat. When in the mood, his yo-yo at the top of its string, he’d bet them in silly trivia games: How many steps to the top of the Empire State Building? What is the longest suspension bridge ever erected in the US? He dazzled them with the knowledge he’d gained building submarines, lives depending on every weld he made.
“Do you boys know how a submarine dives?” he asked, pantomiming the move with a forearm trailing the path of his clenched fist. They shook their heads, waiting to be handed the secret he alone held, dangling it like bait in front of them. “It opens a hole on either side of its hull and sinks itself on purpose, taking on water a tiny bit at a time.”
They had each been on a field trip to the sub base in Groton to watch a newly commissioned submarine heading out to sea, the crew assembled along the deck, saluting to them as they slipped past heading for deep water. The boys swooned at the prospect of filling the hull with water from the ocean. A break in either ballast tank and the sub was sure to sink, drowning everyone on board. If a seal were to stick, failing to release the full measure of water it had swallowed, the sub would never resurface, the entire crew left to perish at the bottom of the sea.
Tuke had played pops to Chester for ten-plus years, longer if you consider that Tuke hadn’t taken Chester and Dottie’s breakup personally. Chester ran across his father in-law every now and again walking a pattern of straight lines in someone’s side yard, his push mower stretched out ahead of him, his silver ponytail dangling from the back of a large straw hat he wore to keep the sun off his face. The thought occurred to stop and help the old man, abandon his route for the day and volunteer his services as assistant yardman. But Tuke was a proud old man, bound to take any offer of help as insulting. Chester had learned above all else to respect Tuke’s physical abilities.
He eventually passed one day just in time to catch Tuke packing up his gear, the Willis’s lawn resting in his wake, perfectly manicured. Chester was out of his truck crouching, helping lift the mower into the back of Tuke’s station wagon before either man could take time to reflect on the gesture, to determine whether its intent had been overly gratuitous.
“You do nice work,” Chester offered, eyeing the lawn from the curbside as Tuke latched the tailgate. “I should have you out to my place sometime.”
“I would think a man like you was capable of cutting his own grass,” Tuke responded, indicating the unsolicited help had been gratuitous.
“Look, you want to go someplace and get a drink?” Chester asked. The two hadn’t sat and talked about anything of any consequence since Chester moved out of Tuke’s daughter’s house. Tuke said he wasn’t accustomed to drinking midday, especially seeing how he had two more yards to hit. But he knew another place.
Charlene’s diner sits just a bit up the road in Jewett City. Tucked in among a stretch of former private residences, the dining hall still has the look of someone’s living room emptied of all its furniture to make way for tables and chairs, the kitchen expanded to accommodate added volume in food preparation. Tuke found Charlene hospitable enough, plus she made a mean mixed berry pie—blueberry, raspberry, blackberry. It was not unusual for Tuke to visit two, sometimes three times a month, usually on a Thursday, the week winding down yet still ahead of the weekend rush. Tuke ordered the mixed berry with ice cream and a tall glass of ice water, the July heat testing his stamina. Chester had apple, plain, with coffee.
“This is odd, wouldn’t you say?” Tuke began, skipping any pretense of small talk.
“What’s odd about a man wanting to speak with his father inlaw?” Chester responded, wondering whether he could still consider the two of them as in-laws. Tuke shrugged a response, unsure as well how to characterize their relationship.
“So tell me what’s troubling you,” he offered, preparing for a barrage of questions concerning Dorothy, about how she was getting along, having shut herself off from the world. He had no way of knowing Chester had been by to see Dottie the other day, sat in her room and did the crossword puzzle with her, just like old times, Chester taking care not to give away anything Tuke might not know already.
“Trajan has been on my mind of late,” Chester admitted.
“There’s nothing wrong with Trajan. The two of us had dinner the other night—foot-long hot dogs on the way from Ocean Beach with hand-packed milkshakes, hunks of fresh strawberry clogging the straw.” Tuke wished he hadn’t been so liberal with details that might stir Chester’s insecurities concerning rapport between his one remaining son and somebody else, even if that somebody was his son’s granddad.
“I’m worried about him and me,” Chester confided. “We hardly talk these days.”
“That can’t be entirely Trajan’s doing. Give the boy a call.”
Chester played with his fork, pushing the last bit of piecrust around the plate. “And say what?”
“Say you’ve been thinking about him. You’re his father. The two of you ought to talk every once in a blue moon.”
Chester had always admired Tuke’s frankness, the way he had of telling it like it is, as only an old man can do. “There’s no time for beating around the bush,” Tuke said when Chester came to ask for Dottie’s hand in marriage. He said something similar when he learned Chester was leaving. “You’ve got your hat; don’t forget your coat.”
Tuke had tamed some since then. Told Chester to go see his son. “I’m sure he’s thinking about you too,” he offered. “Now pay for my pie, and don’t be stingy with the tip. I have a reputation to uphold around here.” Tuke hopped back in his station wagon and set off for Preston, those last two lawns not likely to cut themselves.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish