Chapter 4 (also Novel Ch 4) Sunday
On Sunday morning Derek and Jeffrey messed around in the apartment. Derek caught up on some work while Jeffrey watched TV. Nor did the afternoon hold anything special. Derek continued working, and Jeffrey ran down to participate in the bustle of the laundry. They phoned out for a pizza for dinner, and ate together awkwardly. Derek found it uncomfortable sitting across from his son and trying to talk to him. He could see that Jeffrey felt a similar discomfort. In the evening, more television, the setting out of clothes for the morning, and finally getting Jeffrey off to bed.
After Jeffrey got into his pajamas, Derek watched as the boy carefully crawled into bed, trying not to disturb the bedcovers which were taut with the military perfection of the barracks.
Jeffrey slid down between the sheets, with his eyes showing out of the blanket, and his body outlined against the tight bedding.
Derek walked to the door, looked over at the boy and before switching off the light, and said something heíd never said before. "Goodnight son."
Jeffrey shot bolt upright, breaking the cocoon. His eyes teared over and he shouted , "Iím not your son. Donít you ever call me your son." Then he began to cry.
Bewildered, Derek rushed to the bedside. He didnít understand what was happening and didn't know what to do. Was it a temper tantrum? Wait, thatís for two-year-olds. Can nine-year-olds have them? Better ask Madam Wu. I feel like having one myself.
Through a steady sobbing, Jeffrey repeated, "I'm not your son."
"Whoís son are you then?" said Derek, trying to communicate.
"Grenvekís" Jeffrey shot back.
"Who?" asked Derek, genuinely puzzled.
Jeffrey didnít answer. His sobbing stopped and gave way to a blue ice stare.
"Who is Gremmek?"
"Grenvek," Jeffrey shouted, banging his fist on the night table.
"All right then, Who is Grenvek?"
Jeffery stared back with sullen eyes.
"Youíre not my real father. I was dropped off by mistake on this planet."
"Grenvek, my real father. Heís going to come back real soon and take me back." Jeffrey started to bawl again.
Derekís first impulse was to laugh, but he didnít. He toyed briefly with the idea of mental illness, but then thought how, when he was a child, he couldnít believe that he could possibly have been the issue of his dull and ordinary parents.
No, unless mental illness runs in families, itís just the hyperactive imagination of an only child. A little old though, for imaginary friends--or fathers.
The icy stare told him more. "I havenít been a particularly good father, have I Jeffrey?"
"Who you? What father?" Jeffrey sniffled. "A father takes care of his kid. Youíre just the guy who pals around with me every couple of weeks to give my mom time off to go out on dates." Jeffrey started to cry again, softly and very steadily
Derek sat down on the bed and let Jeffreyís head nestle against him. He couldnít help thinking about Kate dating. I guess after 5 years, itís natural enough. He waited silently until Jeffreyís spell subsided to the occasional sniff.
"Iíve tried to be a good father under the circumstances. You know, the divorce and all that." But Derek knew he'd not really tried all that hard.
"Iím really fond of you." Derek wondered if it were true and why he couldnít say anything stronger.
"You donít show it."
"Jeffrey, I donít think Iím going to send you off to school tomorrow." Derek tried to pat the boy's head, but Jeffrey pulled back. "I think weíll use the day to get to know one another."
Jeffrey glared; suspicion clearly showed in his eyes.
"Really," said Derek, "Weíll go somewhere together, somewhere special."
"Momís going to be really mad."
"At me, not at you. Iíll phone her. Itíll be okay. I think itís more important to.." Derek paused trying to finish the thought.
"spend some quality time," supplied Jeffrey, beginning to smile as he spoke.
Derek pondered how easy it was for a kid to go from the depths of misery to happiness in seconds, and also wondered where Jeffrey had heard the term.
"Yes, quality time. Lets see. Yeah, How about we go to the zoo."
"The Bronx Zoo?" Jeffrey's tear-brightened eyes seemed alive with enthusiasm.
"Sure, we havenít gone there for a while."
Derek felt an unaccustomed emotion: protective fatherhood. He could almost imagine having a proper son, one he could help grow, or to read stories to, not that he had ever done much of that sort of thing. He wondered if the feeling were real, or just a reaction to the moment. He wondered if going to the zoo was just a way of salving his conscience--at the cost of promoting truancy.
He got up, tentatively tousled Jeffreyís hair, probably for the first time. "The covers are pretty messed up. Do you want me to tuck you in?"
"No, I can tuck myself in."
"All right," said Derek going for the light switch, "Weíre going to the zoo tomorrow. Quality time. Good night Jeffrey."
"Good night Derek."
"You know, Jeffrey," said Derek at the door, "Koala tea-time is at 3:30 every Thursday, at the Sydney, Australia zoo."
"Good night Derek."