Excerpt of The Ha-Ha by Dave King
(Page 3 of 4)
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Sylvia snorts derisively, and for a moment this seems to be her total
response. Then she snaps, "Don't bust Mama's chops right now, you
mind?" and in the silence that follows, I'm embarrassed for both of them. "I'm
the one who's out of control," she mutters. Caroline touches her elbow, and
Sylvia says, "All right, all right," and places her hands on Ryan's
shoulders. "Don't you want to stay in school here with your friends? Rather
than having to make up a lot of work? Hmm? Isn't that a good idea?"
Kneeling before him, she puts on a smile. "Howie has a great big Victorian
house and a nice spare bedroom you'll have all to yourself. And there's lots of
interesting people living there. So let Mama get her act together, then we'll
have such a reunion, 'kay?"
Ryan frowns. He looks down, mumbling something no one can hear. Sylvia says,
"Hm?" then "Speak!" and for a moment he looks
defiant. He kicks at a leaf that's fluttered to the flagstones, then carefully
flattens it with the toe of a sneaker. In his arms, the cat twitches her tail.
At last, he leans against Sylvia and whispers.
Sylvia sighs. "Please don't do this. Howie's known you all your life. He
loves you a lot." She speaks so Caroline and I can hear, and I smile at
Ryan, but I'm relieved when he keeps his face to her shoulder. It's true, of
course, that when he was born I went to the hospital, and I even wept as I held
him in my arms. But Sylvia knows I wasn't weeping for joy, and she can't think
he and I have much of a bond. I see Ryan when his mother calls me - she wants a
couch moved, some wood chopped, the cat brought off the roof - and with a task
involved, she makes an effort to be cheerful. As for Ryan, he's polite but aloof
with me, and I'm carefully polite and amiable toward him. But love? We don't go
Sylvia says, "You and Howie will do all sorts of guy things.
Whatever guys do." She's being comical, but when he remains impassive her
voice hardens. "Anyway, buster, it's what's happening, and it's not open to
discussion. So let Caroline take Bindi back to Chicago. That's the most she can
handle with her great big job." Caroline steps forward, and Ryan shrinks
back, hugging the cat. Sylvia says, "Sweetie, there's dogs at
"Not!" I say. This is one word I can dependably force out. The only
dog at our place is Laurel's French bull, who's too chubby and placid ever to
mix it up with Bindi, so I nod and reach for the cat myself. But Caroline only
hands me an envelope she's fished from her bag. I think I recognize "Sylvia
Mohr" written on the outside, but I don't take time to puzzle out all the
letters: the address and phone number of the facility, I suppose. Inside the
envelope, a business card is folded between three hundred-dollar bills. I wonder
how they came up with the figure.
I offer the money back to Caroline. I can cover the kid's meals, and I won't
have it thought that my friendship's for hire. But Caroline tucks Bindi under an
arm and waves the bills away, flapping her hand as if I might not understand.
Ryan and Sylvia observe this spectacle, then Sylvia snorts again. "Caro,"
she says. "Howie's not deaf. If you spoke, I bet he'd hear
Caroline reddens. "In case of emergency," she says, but now I'm
mad. I fling the money at her, and the bills and business card flutter to the
ground. The cat yowls, and Caroline winces. As she plucks up the money, a red
scratch appears on her forearm. "You can call me anytime," she says
grimly, handing back the business card. I'd like to tell her I don't make phone
Sylvia runs her hands down Ryan's brown arms. "You do everything you're
told, now. I called the school, left Ms. Monetti a message." Ryan scowls at
the road. Sylvia wraps her arms around him, holding him tight for several
minutes, and at last he softens and murmurs into her neck. Sylvia sighs, glaring
at Caroline. "Satisfied?" she says. "It must feel damn good,
storming in here, uprooting our lives. Because you sure don't give one shit
about the cost to me. Or my child."
Copyright © 2005 by Dave King