Enoch wondered why he never ran away. Sitting on the city park swing, he knew he had to go home soon, a couple of blocks away, a small house near his high school, where he and four others lived in a three-room flat on the second floor.
His brother would probably be home already. They rarely spent time together. His mother would be arriving shortly after a subway and bus ride from Manhattan, where she worked on animated cartoons. His grandmother would be making supper, maybe roll-em-ups from flank steak, bacon and parsley, with egg noodles, after a day of playing solitaire, drinking beer and reading romance stories. It was payday, so his grandfather would be at a tavern in the poorest part of Bayside, downing shots with beer chasers.
On payday, sometimes Enoch would have to ride his ancient bicycle to the tavern to tell his grandfather that dinner was ready. Drunk, his grandfather was unpredictably violent, so it was a daunting task. Enoch, isolated but maturing at age 12, would use the bike so he wouldn’t have to ride home in his grandfather’s old Dodge. “Gramps, it’s time to come home,” he’d say softly, to the still powerful and bulky figure seated at the bar. The answer would be a cackling laugh, sarcastic and angry at the interruption.
Enoch knew his grandfather’s violence well, having been punched hard enough to slam into a refrigerator so it would rock, and picked up and thrown against a wall. He also knew the man, now in his late 50s, had a sweetness to him, a contradiction Enoch tried hard to reconcile. But over and over he wanted to escape, to flee, sometimes taking the same route into Manhattan his mother used, riding subways into the Bronx, into Brooklyn, uptown and downtown, walking streets in “the city,” or pedaling his decade-old second-hand bike to Crocheron Park, to walk along the Little Neck Bay waterfront.
Another occasional escape was early morning bus rides to a city golf course, where he would take his small bag of clubs, a gift from Jared, his deadbeat father, and find some duffers to play with at a dime a hole. Enoch usually left the links with a dollar more than he arrived with, the other golfers surprised. He could break a hundred and probably should have stayed with the game but didn’t. The little bit of money he got from this, from shagging golf balls at a private course, and from schoolyard knock-rummy helped fund his forays, including his special solitary trips to a midtown Horn & Hardart’s Automat in “the city” to buy a pot of beans, a hotdog, a piece of pie and coffee, most all enclosed in compartments behind little glass doors that opened when you inserted coins. Enoch was a frequent truant from school.
On the park swing, Enoch said to himself, “Time to go home.” The swing, rocking slightly, stopped and he stood up and walked past Joe, the parkman, closing up shop, past the crabtrees he had climbed while younger, down the slope to the sidewalk where he learned to ride a bicycle, across the street where the Q28 bus was parked so he knew his mother was home, and down the working-class street of closely clustered houses, some two-family like his. Running away would be put off for another day.
His grandfather’s old Dodge was not parked on the street, so he hadn’t arrived yet. Sometimes Enoch, out after dinner, would return to see the sedan there and feel the radiator to detect whether it was still warm, which would mean his grandfather, drunk, would still be up and seated at the kitchen table, ranting. Enoch probably wouldn’t be doing the same thing this particular evening.
“Enoch,” his grandmother said as he climbed the stairs to the second floor. “Go get your grandfather.” He looked at his mother, at the kitchen table in a pastel blue knit dress, drinking tea, and heard his brother in the living room where all three slept, and said “OK.”
© 2009 Wes Rehberg