Son and Heir by Patrick Nevins

Rex’s feet were swelling in his Nikes, and his eyes burned from the grime that plagued everything. He had driven to the last address he and his ex had for their son, and had taken the shoe-leather express from there. At the first apartment, the young man who answered was stoned – it wasn’t half past five – and needed his memory jogged to recall Paul’s ever having lived there. He finally came up with a pink Post-It with an address written in Paul’s slanted printing. At that address, another young man remembered Paul, and from the troubled look on his face, Rex guessed he’d been pegged as Paul’s worried father. This young man produced another address. Rex had underestimated the distance, but he was nearly there now. He wondered if a chorus of young men would keep sending him west until he walked into the Pacific.

If Rex walked with any urgency at all, it was because the evening was getting on and, should he fail in his quest to locate his son (and he was nearly certain he would), he wanted to get back to his own lonely existence before it got too late. There wasn’t the urgency of the father who fears his child is in danger; Paul was risk-averse to a fault. Nor was there the urgency of the father who regrets saying something hurtful to his child; there’d been no blowout to precipitate Paul’s disappearance. Not that Paul had disappeared, really; he’d faded away. He’d called his father less frequently. Then he’d stopped calling altogether. And stopped taking his father’s calls. (It was the same with his mother.) And it was evident now that he’d stopped sharing his address, too. Rex had set out this evening just to see Paul, say ‘I’m here’ and wish him a happy birthday.

Rex reached the third apartment at the crest of a hill and, turning east to avoid the sun, removed his glasses and tried rubbing the hurt from his eyes. This time, a young woman opened the door about a third of the way. She kept her shoulders covered with a light shawl. Her ponytail and the sheen of sweat on her cheeks suggested that he’d interrupted her yoga.

“I’m sorry to bother you. Is Paul here? I’m his father.”

“Paul? He doesn’t live here anymore.”

“I’m sorry. But he did live here?”

“Yes. But I don’t know where he is now.”

The woman seemed older than Paul. Late thirties? She opened the door a touch more; Rex took that softening for pity.

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“When did he leave?”

“January? It’s been months. Have you tried calling him?”

“He doesn’t answer.”

The shawl drooped off the woman’s shoulders, and she tugged it back up. Rex sensed that her pity was up and she wanted him to go.

“May I come in?”

“Excuse me?”

“May I come in? I know he’s not here, but I’d still appreciate a look around.”

“He didn’t leave anything behind.”

“I’m not looking for anything.”

“Good night, then.”

She went to shut the door, but Rex barred it with his foot.

“Please,” he said, “I haven’t seen him in a very long time. If you’d just let me inside, I might be able to get… a sense of him. Please?”

Rex pulled his foot off the threshold, and the woman opened the door all the way for him.

“Come in.”

“Thank you. I’m Rex, by the way.”

“Jo.”

Rex’s airway shrunk ever so slightly. A cat. Would Paul have cared for that? Rex ought to have known. The front room was a loveseat and a couple of chairs, all covered in throws and hugged by potted plants. A yoga mat lay on the hardwood in the centre of the room. Straight back was the kitchen and a cloud of turmeric. A hallway on the left surely led to the bedroom and bath.

“Sit down, please,” Jo said, sitting in one of the chairs.

Rex sat on the loveseat and his eyes searched the room. Paul really didn’t leave anything behind. “He really didn’t leave anything behind,” he said. There were neither esoteric philosophy books nor Jolly Ranchers on the end tables. Paul was deeply into the obscure and occult, but he was also very attached – protective, even – of some of the mass-produced, commercial elements of his youth, especially those hard candies.

“Was it serious?”

Jo laughed. “I don’t think he can be serious about anyone but himself.”

“I’m sorry. I suppose I’m partly to blame. It’s his birthday, you know?”

Rex sighed and noticed his strained breathing. He imagined it to be Paul’s. If he could properly occupy the space Paul had recently vacated, perhaps he really could get a sense of him.

“Did Paul sit here?”

“Other side.”

Rex scooted across the loveseat.

“And you would’ve sat here?” He patted the spot he’d just occupied.

Jo nodded.

“Would you sit here?”

“You really miss him?”

“I don’t think I realized how much.”

Jo let her shawl fall on her chair and joined Rex on the loveseat. Rex could smell her sweat, the same rich stink Paul had once breathed in.

Rex turned to Jo, and she eyed him back; he leaned in, and she leaned out.

“I think you should go.”

Rex let himself out.

He faced west, was blinded by the sun, and considered continuing that way, though it was the opposite direction from which he’d come. Paul, leaving Jo’s, might’ve gone that way. Then Rex turned, letting the sun bake his back; of course, Paul could’ve gone this way, too – and this way led back to his car. This business of trying to walk in his son’s shoes was proving unsatisfying, anyway. What Rex wanted was to hold Paul again. So, he started walking, an exile scanning the hills for the babe he’d laid aside so long ago.

About The Author

Patrick Nevins is an associate professor of English at Ivy Tech Community College in
Columbus, Indiana. His writing appears in The Blue Nib, Flash Flood, and other journals.

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