Family Meeting

Never mix family and business.

In The Gutter, it's a fatal mistake.

Family Meeting by Beau Johnson

I repeat that I love her and that I always have. Not because she needs to be reminded but because she must remember with whom she is dealing. She does this, she becomes open to the changes I’m suggesting. I’m not just talking about the psychologists, the psychiatrists, or the medications we each had a hard time sounding out. I’m talking about overkill, the life, and all the ninja bullshit. Shit I’ll admit I should have put a stop to long ago.

“As do you, I want a different outcome is all. To go at things head on instead of sideways like we did.” I loosen my grip on her neck so she can breathe easier than she had been.

We stand at the island counter as one, my words coming to her from behind. All told, this is not even close to how I envisioned it playing out. It wasn’t going to be easy, but this has become something else entirely.

I say, “Granted, you are a bit more attached, and I give you this, but I believe it’s only because it was you who carried him.”

In hindsight, perhaps I shouldn’t have given Ricky as much responsibility as I did. For the record, I did have reservations before I sent him to collect from Chen. It wasn’t as overt as last time, but it still got me thinking in ways no father should. “But to take Chen’s son as he does, how can one foresee and defend against something like that?”  

I reach around, restart the video on my phone, and the process of watching a man lose his head begins anew. Two sons come into focus, ours and Chen’s; one in a chair, the other not. We watch Ricky zip up his suit and lower his goggles. After he pulls the chainsaw to life, we hear him proclaim, “This is what happens when you fail to comply.”

It causes Chen’s son to struggle in a way he’d yet to.

Ricky is good. Up and through, it happens in less time than it takes Ricky to bring the machine back down to his side. Not yet finished, my son makes one more pass, delicately slicing up the left arm like some kind of goddamn surgeon. He goes in, grabs the top bone, the radius, the ulna, what-fucking-ever. By the third pull, the muscle and skin come off in strips. Using the bone as a pointer, he looks to the camera and says, “Any questions?”

I turn off my phone and lay it face down beside a half-eaten plate of pie.

“You see?  Something like this cannot be defended against, Sharon. Plain and simple.”  I’m right in her ear now, my voice low and to the point. She stands still, breathes steady, but her heart remains a hammer. “One is able to react though. And I know what you’re thinking, but you knew exactly what you were getting into the day you put on that ring. I had enemies then. I have enemies now. Everything we’ve done, everything we do, has never not held consequence.”

Would she come around? The possibility existed. The pill was a tough one, though. More jagged than anything most would ever have to swallow.

“You might be too young to even remember this, but there’s this movie, Old Yeller. Us and it have more in common than I’d care to admit,” I say.

Our boy was quite a bit more than a rabid dog, sure, but the point she needed to concentrate on was the very same one she’s refusing to understand: no matter how I spin things, how inconceivable it all seems, what I did had to be done. Chen, he wouldn’t have let go. 

“That being said, I’m going to let go. Once I have, I want the knife to stay where it is. That happens, we can begin to move on. We do that, we can even discuss how fortunate it was I married a much younger woman and how it was your age helped tip the scales.” I say this not to gloat or cut into any part of her grief. I say it because self-preservation and a realist are the same damn thing.

I step back, doing so until my backside hits the fridge. I await either fury or concession, belief or disdain. I receive none of the above. Deep down, I have to admit I expected as much. Only when she turns and her shoulders dip do I realize her journey to my side of the table has begun.

“Who knows, this time we may even have a girl.”

Beau Johnson has been published before, usually on the darker side of town. Such places might include Shotgun Honey, Spelk Fiction, HST, and this place right here, Out of the Gutter Online. He has somehow married above his pay grade and been granted three boys he can tolerate and love. Go figure. Come August 14, 2017, a collection of Beau's shorts titled A Better Kind Of Hate will be available from Down and Out Books.