Chapter 3 Saturday
Derek Robinson stood outside his ex-wifes apartment door, toy in hand, gathering his strength. Except when his consulting 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 the infant, and establishing his high-tech consulting agency was taking a lot of his effort. 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. "Was it any wonder that the kid is spoiled? Maybe if they had had more children. Who knows." 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 was waning however, and it was hard to buy toys for the kid when he was between interests. In a weak moment a few months back, he had bought the boy a little LCD pocket TV. Now Derek regretted it. The kid watched enough television and in fact was addicted to it. Buying the TV was a bad idea. 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 guilt ridden parents had made his room look like the global demonstration center for Toys-R-Us. The rest of the apartment though, was rather antiseptic since Kate did a lot of entertaining of clients, and it wouldnt do to show outward signs of motherhood. Derek supposed the squeaky clean apartment was why Jeffrey kept mostly to his room. "That might be OK," Derek mused, "if he were playing with a computer or something, but this TV addiction. I wonder whats going on in that imaginative little head of his." Derek smiled. He in fact knew what Jeffrey really wanted. Jeffrey was really hooked on animals, but Kate would probably shoot him if he bought the kid the dog that he was always asking for.
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 dont know. Maybe."
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 Jeffreys little travel suitcase in the corner. That case enabled more conversation with Kate than did the boy himself.
Since he had 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 would drop Jeffery off at school on Monday morning and leave to the yellow school busses the task of returning him home. The suitcase was different. Derek was used to dropping it off during the week at Kates office. There theyd have a private, at least private from Jeffrey, conversation about the boys upbringing. Derek was thankful for the little suitcase since it gave him the chance to see Kate a lot more than he might otherwise.
"Ill go and fetch Jeffrey," said Kate. She rose from the sofa and went down the corridor to Jeffreys room. He watched her go and there was hunger in his eyes. 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 hes getting tall."
"Hi! Derek" said Jeffrey.
"Hi!" Derek answered while wondering why he ever insisted that he be called by his first name. "Heres some more rolling stock," he continued holding out the package.
"Thanks," said Jeffrey without much enthusiasm. He unwrapped the sleeping car and examined it. "Neat. Lighted and the windows open," he said with approval, but it was clear that Jeffreys train phase was over.
Derek went to pick up the travel suitcase but Jeffrey stopped him.
"Im old enough to carry my own luggage."
Derek smiled at this little sign of independence delivered in that high treble voice, so high in fact that it could probably attract bats. "Fine. Lets go then."
"Youd better let me hold your suitcase if youre going to mark," said Derek as they got on the elevator.
"Dogging. Good. You didnt bring the car?" asked Jeffrey handing over the case.
"Too nice a day. Ill count. Youll mark breed. OK."
"Sure. You know, theres a new science fiction movie."
"Want to go?" asked Derek.
"If Tungy can come," said Jeffrey taking the breed book and a pencil from his jacket pocket.
"Fine. If its 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 Dereks apartment.
"Look. Two rotweillers," shouted Jeffery as 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.
"Theres a German Shepherd across the street. Does that count?"
Jeffrey pointed. He was very excited. "Thats an Ibizan Hound. Ive never seen a real one before." He located and marked the breed then added one to his life list.
They continued dogging until they got to Dereks street.
"Whats 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 looked with anticipation 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 youll have to be back by 1:30 if were going to get to the movie... and check with Tungs mom."
"OK," Shouted Jeffrey as he ran in to the laundry, "Madam Wu, Ni hau bu hau."
Even though 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 and Derek had to admit to himself that he was beginning to enjoy these dogging walks with his 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 strangely quiet now.
"House of Perfect Celestial Cleanliness," Derek mused. He owed a lot to that house. The proprietor, the matriarch, Madam Wu was almost a foster mother to Jeffrey. Her youngest son, Wu Tung was Jeffreys best friend. They were within a month of being the same age, and were in the same class in school. Madam Wu was Dereks guide to age-appropriate behavior, and when she bawled out Tung for misbehavior, Jeffery was also included if he were involved, as he often was.
"Theres something nice about a big family," thought Derek, "In fact, theres a lot to be said for any real family." Derek started to wonder if he were starting to go soft.
"Or am I just starting to grow up?"