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FICTION
Trevor and Jonah
Michael McNary

 Photo by Preston Rhea  via flickr

Photo by Preston Rhea via flickr

I am not alone in this room anymore. They have permitted me to keep the bird in a stainless-steel cage by the window. I have named him Jonah, after my son.

I’m grateful to be here. Really, I am. There is a weather-beaten roof over this pile of springs I sleep on. I get three hot variations of mush from the kitchen each day, and I have free reign of the kingdom of the hallway during the hours I get to leave my palace cell. This last one is a small luxury, not enjoyed by most of the other old bats here who get lost from the bed to the bathroom. I have the honored privilege of striding valiantly alongside Seth as he bangs his walker up and down, screaming for the red ball cap he lost twenty years ago at Fenway Park. Who knows, maybe it will turn up one day in one of these rooms, after some indignant Yankees fan winds up in the morgue. Seth, never give up hope, buddy.

I suppose that writing about how I ended up in paradise would be an effort in futility. The story is well known. Trevor Flin, millionaire Businessman and Entrepreneur, loses his shit. Drunk driving. Kills three. Assaults an officer of the law in a drunken rage. Pleads insanity. Committed at fifty-two. It’s true, I took the lives of three people. It’s something I’ll never be able to live down. It’s something I hate myself for. A culpability that runs through my veins like ichor. For that, I’ve consented to walk through Hades gates when I die and accept my eternal punishment willingly.

So that’s not what I’m going to write about. I’m going to write about a sadder story. The one you haven’t read, at least not from my own hand. It’s the story that made me the way I was when I lost control of the wheel and rammed into a suburban SUV at McDonald’s seventeen years ago. There was something before that, something they told me wasn’t my fault. They said there was nothing I could do, that I’m too hard on myself. 

In the summer of 1997, at the age of just twenty-one, my son Jonah passed away.

But it was me who killed him. That was in the spring of ’92.

 

I got into the liquor business at a young age, and despite what anybody might have you believe, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. My knack for logistics was something I discovered along the way. It’s funny how successful folks like to hide a thousand mistakes behind one big breakthrough. And let me tell you, I made plenty of mistakes. Licenses, investments, all that stuff was just a shot in the dark with the money I had inherited in the early days. I was no prodigy. The only difference between me and any other young schmuck was that I had the balls to shoot into the dark in the first place.

Celes came along when I finally started seeing some light in all that licensing and investment darkness. Shortly after that we had Jonah, and for a while we did well for ourselves. She and I had fourteen good years together before her highborn kinsmen came, and bore her away from me. It was cancer that put her in a sepulcher by the sea. She fought it until her dying breath.

But Jonah and I got ourselves through it. It was harder on him than it was on me, I think, the poor kid. His grades hadn’t dropped or anything like that, though. His teachers wanted him to apply to some Ivy League schools when the time came, as he was maintaining above a 4.0 GPA. We grieved in our own different ways. I veil my sorrow with humor, but the boy armored his with a profound seriousness, using pain as fuel for success. It made me proud to see him deal with it that way, and I know his mother would have been proud, too.

I say that because just two years later, I made a bad investment. A very bad one. I wound up in debt I couldn’t repay, and Jonah had to start working part time at the grocery store. For two years he handled it like the man I knew he had become. He got accepted to Stanford his Junior Year of High School. I think his sudden shift to the working world to help support the family aided in that.

That was when the liquor line came. Like I said, logistics wasn’t something innately gifted to me. I had a knack for it, sure, but the liquor line came about from many years of hard-as-nails experience. This was the big breakthrough I’m known for.

The night after we celebrated the launch, Jonah came into my home office, looking despondent.

“Doing alright, bud?” I asked half-drunkenly.

“Yeah, I mean, yeah.” He had his hands in his pockets, shrugging his shoulders as he said it. “Dad. I dunno. I was thinking maybe you could let me try a sip.” He pointed to the half-empty bottle sitting on my desk, next to a six-pack.

For a moment I was a little taken aback. It took me a minute to work through what he said. “Come again?”

“Yeah, I mean, it’s just beer, right? I just thought it wouldn’t be right not to try it out. I helped you out quite a bit with its development, you know.”

He had a sophistication about him. He always talked this way, especially when he wanted to coax me into giving him something he wanted. “Son, you are sixteen years old. Maybe five years from now. Maybe.”

“Dad, I just want to try it. How old were you when you had your first drink?”

I was thirteen, I thought. “I was 21,” I responded.

“You’re a terrible liar,” he shot back.

I looked at him with vexation, thinking Jesus, Trevor. Just let the boy have a taste. He’s damn near a grown man in a teenager’s body, anyway. “Come over here. Let me prove to you that you aren’t missing much.”

He drank one giant gulp and spit it out violently, to which we both had a hearty laugh as he pulled himself together.

“All right, all right,” he said. “Point taken. This stuff is gross.”

I went to bed later. When I got up the next morning and came into my office, the six-pack was gone.

 

Naturally I hounded him about it, and decided to ground him for two months after he fessed up to taking the beer for a party with his friends the next evening. I might have stopped at one month if he hadn’t tried to pin the blame on Gustavo, our gardener. Gustavo had no key to the house, for one. And two, he only drank Modelo. I knew because that was my compensation for him on many occasions during the hard times. I told Jonah he was the dumbest smart kid I ever knew. And I was worried, but I convinced myself that boys would be boys and that was the end of it. 

Six months of seeming normalcy followed that little charade. Jonah never acted out of the ordinary, as far as I could tell. But I got a call from his principle one day his senior year, and that was the day everything changed.

A bottle of vodka had been found in Jonah’s locker. Apparently, he smelled of liquor and had been acting brazenly. At first, I thought I was being pranked. This wasn’t my precocious, Stanford-bound Jonah, surely. But he arrived at home shortly after, and I could see a redness in his eyes I had never seen before. Looking back on it now, I think that image of him is what hurts the most. Just picturing him that way. 

I met him in his room and closed the door behind me.

“Jonah, would you like to explain to me just what in the bloody blue fuck is going on here?” I said with concern, with a helplessness that was welling up in me, and I began to tear up. Perhaps it was because he was expecting anger and instead got a crying father that he began to cry himself.

“I just, I…. I don’t know. I don’t know, dad. It’s all coming down on me. I’ve tried to stop, but I can’t.”

“What do you mean you can’t stop? Can’t stop what?”

He pointed to his bedroom closet. I walked over and slid the door open.

Inside were piles of empty booze bottles. Piles upon piles of them. Beer, wine, rum, vodka, gin. They say insanity can fall upon a man in one fell swoop. This was that and so much more. My heart stopped. I began to shake. My palms started to sweat.

“Jonah….why?”

“I don’t know!” he wailed, tears streaming down his face. “I just, it makes me feel so powerful. Like I don’t have to be afraid anymore. It was always just laying around the house everywhere. You were always talking about it. I got curious. And now I just… I can talk to girls. I can tell people how I really feel about them. And mom… I don’t have to think about mom. It just helps me live, okay!? It makes me feel like I can fly!”

I guess I could write about the rest of the story. I could write about how I tried to help him. I could write about how he never made it to Stanford, how he would disappear for months or even a year. I could write about how he became homeless, how I would drive around looking for him. Day after day, week after week, just driving around and looking. I could write about the phone call I got from the hospital. The one where they told me they tried to save him. They tried to pump his stomach, but it was too late. I could write about all those things, but it is time to tend to the bird, and my fear of losing him, of being alone, is stronger than my desire to write. 

I can hear Seth screaming for the son-of-a-bitch who stole his ball cap to come and show himself. I can hear pain, misery, chaos. I can smell the stench of old, sour shit covered over with iodoform. I can sense death itself. And I know where I’m going when he comes.

But Jonah won’t leave me this time. I will never be alone again.

Because I am going to clip his wings.


Michael McNary is an English major at Golden West College. He keeps a roof over his head by serving guests at Islands Restaurants when he isn't busy studying Literature. He would read only escapist fantasy if he wasn't serious about becoming a writer.