By Attila Zønn
During dinner, Tata said, “I have never been more insulted in my life. Do you know what he said to me?”
“Who?” Mama asked.
“That fucking wop Angelo.”
Alex knew Angelo. He was Tata’s foreman at work. Sometimes after work, Angelo would come over and he and Tata would drink some beers in the kitchen.
“He said what is going on with you Milan? You are too slow, you are not producing, and you better hurry up if you know what is good for you.”
“Angelo said that?”
“Well…those weren’t his exact words. If you want me to quote him literally he said, ‘How are you Milan?’—no one talks to me like that! I know what he meant. I can read the body language. He gave me a pat on the back and walked away. No one does that to me! Yes, I know it is taking me longer to do the setup, but I haven’t been working. I’m rusty.”
Mama smiled and went back to eating.
After a few seconds, Tata dropped his fork on the plate and sat back in his chair.
“Oh…” He sighed and slumped in the chair.
“It waits for me,” he said. “A machine cannot have a mind, but this one must be cursed. I still can see the blood on the blade. I can hear the sound of my bone being crunched. It wants me to engage it so it can take all my fingers.”
Mama smiled. “You are exaggerating Milan, a machine cannot think.”
Alex wondered what Tata would look like without all his fingers. He wouldn’t be able to point at Alex anymore when he did something wrong.
“Is that what you want?” Tata said. “Do you want me to lose all my fingers, possibly to lose a hand? Do you know what that would feel like to you?”
Tata formed a fist and touched Mama’s arm with it. Then he touched her shoulder. Then he touched her arm again.
“That is my stump. How dose it feel? How would you like to be touched this way for the rest of you life?”
“Stop Milan, please. We are eating.”
“How is it that you cannot see my position? I cannot face my duties efficiently if I have a conflict with this machine.” He pounded the table. “I hate that machine! It has ruined me! And it wants more!—do you want me to end up like Miklos?”
Alex liked Uncle Miklos. He was Mama’s cousin. But he was strange because he always kept his right hand in his pocket. Even when he sat down his hand was always in his pocket. One time they went to Holiday Gardens as a family and Uncle Miklos wore black swim trunks with pockets and he swam with his right hand in his pocket. Alex tried to imitate him but it wasn’t easy swimming with one arm. He had heard Tata talk about the “mystery of Miklos”. No one knew what kind of damage had been done to Uncle Miklos’s hand. No one wanted to ask. They assumed he was missing some fingers. Mama said that when she knew him as a boy, he was fine, but then she didn’t see him for many years and when she saw him again he had his hand in his pocket.
Tata said, “I have spoken to Ray. Alexandru, you know his son, Jonah?”
Alex knew Jonah. He was the weird kid who always played by himself because no one liked him because he was a liar. He once told the class that a UFO had landed in his backyard and stolen his bicycle.
“Ray is with the school board. He says he can find me a position in maintenance.”
“Maintenance?” Mama said. “To repair machinery?”
“No, in housekeeping.”
Mama thought a moment, then slammed her fork on the table.
Alex jumped in his seat.
“A janitor? You are giving up your skills to become a janitor?”
Tata raised his hand, puffed his chest out and said in a proud voice, “My title will be Custodian.”
“You are being ridiculous Milan. Why? Why are you doing this? What about the money? What about our situation?”
“Nothing can change the situation,” Tata said. “We will have to budget ourselves. No more mindless spending, like hair cuts and skirts.”
Mama looked like she was going to cry.
“Are you accusing me of wasting money?” she said. “I have always kept within our budget.”
Tata turned his face and said, “There are changes beyond our control coming and from now on we must consider the future.”
“What are you doing to us Milan?” Mama said.
“Why is this complicated for you? People make changes every day. I have decided this is the best change for us.”
Alex saw Mama wasn’t happy. Her eyes kept moving around. One second she was looking at Tata, then she was looking at Alex, then she was looking through the archway into the kitchen. She looked like someone who was lost and didn’t know which way to go. And Tata was looking at her without blinking, like he was expecting something. Finally, Mama lowered her head and let out a big sigh.
“Where is this janitor’s position?” she asked.
Tata sat up and smiled and picked up his fork.
“It will be at the school. Someone is retiring soon, and Ray will install me there, if I wish. I will work only days. Finally! There will be no more lonely nights for you. And with our impending situation that will be better.” Tata turned to Alex. “And I can be close to Alexandru.”
Alex’s heart sank. Tata was going to be the janitor at his school? How did things suddenly get so bad for him? Not only was he Booboo-cunt, but he was going to be the janitor’s son, and what situation were they talking about?
Sometimes when Tata was with people, talking like big people sometimes do, about things Alex didn’t understand, someone would ask Tata where he was from. Tata didn’t like that question. He never answered it truthfully. He always used the same words as if he’d had them memorized for years, and Alex knew the story word for word.
“Where I come from is not a nice place,” Tata told people. “It is too painful for me to mention it.” Then he would go into the story. “My father was not an intelligent man. He was not disciplined. He lived for the here and the now. His priorities were centred on him and only him regardless of his family—the wife and the six children.”
Tata never had brothers or sisters.
“He loved to play, but sometimes you play with the wrong people. Tough, uncompromising people who do not care about your hard luck story, the shack, the wife and the six kids, and these people, because they were cowards, unleashed other people upon him, and this is what I saw, my father kicked and beaten to the ground by ugly men with hairy faces and permanent scowls who could not have been born from a woman, much less been babies in a cradle or children that giggled and squealed in the bright sunshine. These were hard men that seemed to teeter between human and beast, and with every kick against my father, the balance shifted towards animal. I saw this. I cannot forget it.”
Alex also knew that Tata had never known his father. Tata’s father had been an electrician, and months before Tata was born his father had died from electrocution. All growing up Tata had been told that his father was a hard worker, very fast in his duties because he never turned off the power so only worked with live wires. He was a man who liked to be challenged.
©Attila Zønn 2017