Chapter 3 (also Novel Ch 3) Saturday
Derek Robinson stood outside his ex-wife’s apartment door, toy in hand, gathering his strength. Except when his job kept him away, he had performed this ritual every alternate weekend since the divorce five years ago. Jeffrey had been four then, more of an inconvenience than a child.
The court decreed that he have custody every second weekend. For Derek, that was more than enough time since he had no idea how to deal with an infant, and the needs of his high-tech consulting agency had taken over his life. Derek shrugged at the thought, for in truth, Kate was not much better. She was just starting out as a corporation lawyer and as a result, Jeffery spent more time in day-care than at home.
Derek weighed the package in his hand. Is it any wonder the kid is spoiled?
He juggled the package, a snazzy HO gage sleeping car, lighted, with articulated doors, and windows that even opened. It was good Jeffrey was on a train jag, since it made the biweekly toy buying easier. The train enthusiasm showed signs of waning however, and it took real imagination to buy toys for the kid when he was between interests. In a weak moment a few months back, he'd bought the boy a little LCD pocket TV. Now Derek regretted it. The kid watched enough television as it was--too much in fact. He should have just gotten the kid another toy.
Not that Jeffrey needed more toys. He had more rolling stock than Penn Central and his room looked like the global demonstration center for Toys-R-Us. The rest of the apartment though, exuded an antiseptic efficiency. Kate did a lot of entertaining of clients, and it wouldn’t do to show outward signs of motherhood.
Derek supposed the squeaky clean apartment explained why Jeffrey kept mostly to his room
That might be okay if he were playing with a computer or something, but this TV addiction. I wonder what’s going on in that imaginative little head of his."
Derek smiled. He in fact knew what Jeffrey really wanted. The boy was hooked on animals, but Kate would probably shoot him if he bought the kid the dog that he was always asking for. She'd probably shoot the dog too.
Derek rang the bell and while waiting, tried to analyze how he felt about his son. Son, a nine year old son. Impossible. Derek liked the kid. He enjoyed palling around with him on occasion, but son? I don’t know.
Kate opened the door. She looked her usual appealing self and Derek fought off the impulse to grab her, kiss her, and plead that they try it again. I wonder if that would be considered sexual abuse. Yeah. Probably. Instead he just engaged in the usual small talk about her job, the weather, anything lacking importance. He noticed Jeffrey’s little travel suitcase in the corner. That case enabled more conversation with Kate than did the boy himself.
Since he'd gotten his new, larger apartment four months ago, he could have Jeffrey sleep over, rather than just have day visits. Jeffrey now stayed over Saturday and Sunday nights. Derek deposited Jeffery off at school on Monday mornings and left to the yellow school bus the task of returning him home.
The suitcase was different. Derek looked forward to dropping it off during the week at Kate’s office. There they’d have a private, at least private from Jeffrey, conversation about the boy’s upbringing. Derek was thankful for the little suitcase since it gave him the chance to see Kate a lot more than he might otherwise.
Kate invited him to sit. After the ritual two minute conversation, she patted him on the arm. "I’ll go and fetch Jeffrey." Kate rose from the sofa and went down the corridor to Jeffrey’s room.
She returned behind a slender, blue eyed, flaxen hared young boy. Derek looked at him almost as if for the first time. He has her eyes, her hair too. God he’s getting tall.
"Hi, Derek," said Jeffrey in a high treble voice.
"Hi." Derek wondered why he ever insisted that he be called by his first name. "Here’s some more rolling stock." He handed Jeffrey the package.
"Thanks," said Jeffrey without much enthusiasm. He unwrapped the sleeping car and examined it. "Neat. Lighted and the windows open." Jeffrey nodded in approval, but it was clear that his train phase was over.
"It's a sleeping car," said Derek, "maybe you can wake it up."
Jeffrey rolled his eyes and put the car on the side-table. Kate swept up the toy took it to Jeffrey's room.
Derek and Jeffrey watched her go.
"She's very neat," said Derek softly.
Kate scurried back and kissed Jeffery on the forehead. "Have a good time, honey."
Jeffery wrinkled his nose and moved his head back an inch or so to mitigate the kiss.
Derek bent to pick up the travel suitcase but Jeffrey stopped him.
"I’m old enough to carry my own luggage."
Derek smiled at the little sign of independence delivered in that high treble voice, so high in fact that it could probably attract bats. "Fine. Let’s go then."
"You’d better let me hold your suitcase if you’re going to mark," said Derek as they waited for the elevator.
"You didn’t bring the car, then?" said Jeffrey handing over the case.
"Too nice a day. I’ll count. You’ll mark breed. Okay?"
"Sure. You know, there’s a new science fiction movie."
"Want to go?" asked Derek.
"If Tungy can come." Jeffrey took the breed book and a pencil from his jacket pocket.
"Fine. If it’s OK with Madam Wu. 2:15 matinee?"
They waved to the doorman as they left the darkness of the foyer and squinted in the morning light. It was warm for October but the air had the crystal clearness of autumn. They entered the pedestrian traffic pattern and started on the eight block Lexington Avenue walk to Derek’s apartment.
"Look. Two rotweillers," shouted Jeffery. He leafed through the breed book and put two small dots next to the breed name.
"Does that count as one or two?" asked Derek who had to maintain the count.
"There’s a German Shepherd across the street. Does that count?"
"No. Too far away."
Jeffrey pointed. "That’s an Ibizan Hound. I’ve never seen a real one before. This is great." He located and marked the breed then added one to his ‘life list’.
They continued ‘dogging’ until they got to Derek’s street.
"What’s the DPM?" asked Jeffery.
"Seventeen dogs multiplied by five halves equals, uh, thirty two point five dogs per mile, about average."
They crossed the street, the boundary of the dogging zone, and Jeffrey pointed across the street to The House of Perfect Celestial Cleanliness Hand Laundry.
Jeffrey looked up to his father. "Can I go and hang out with Tungy?"
"Sure, but you’ll have to be back by 1:30 if we’re going to get to the movie... and check with Tung’s mom."
"Okay," shouted Jeffrey as he ran in to the laundry, "Madam Wu, Ni hau bu hau."
Even though Mrs. Wu's son, Tung would rather be caught dead than talking Chinese outside of the house, Jeffrey had no such compunction about using the language that Madam Wu was teaching him.
It seemed unnaturally quiet without Jeffrey at his side, and Derek had to admit to himself that he was beginning to enjoy these dogging walks with the kid. He saw Jeffery disappear through the door of the laundry and the sound of the door closing blended smoothly in with the noise of traffic. With Jeffrey away with the Wu family, things seemed too tame now.
House of Perfect Celestial Cleanliness. He owed a lot to that house. The proprietor, the matriarch, Madam Wu acted as a second mother to Jeffrey. Her youngest son, Wu Tung was Jeffrey’s best friend. They were within a month of being the same age, and were in the same class in school. Madam Wu advised Derek on age-appropriate behavior, and when she bawled out Tung for misbehavior, Jeffery was also included if he were involved, as he most likely was.
There’s something nice about a big family. Derek looked through the busy window across the street. In fact, there’s a lot to be said for any real family. Derek wondered if he was starting to go soft. Or am I just starting to grow up?