Parallel Lines is Kyla M. Cullinane’s debut short story collection. Please enjoy an excerpt from one of its stories.
An Excerpt from Last Chance
Ben tapped his thumbs on his steering wheel as he waited across the street from his ex-wife’s brick house for his son. A late summer breeze sauntered through the car window. Ben checked his watch. Eddie should have been ready fifteen minutes ago. He wondered what the appropriate wait time was before the estranged father could ring the bell. Typical estrangement, Ben mused, would be the fifteen minute mark, but he was particularly estranged, so his was close to twenty minutes. Ben grinned at his cleverness. He spent five more minutes watching the white, metal screen door for any movement.
Were they even home? He thought. Okay, time’s up. Even the most estranged dad has waited long enough. He opened the car door and as he took his first authoritative step to cross the street, his twelve-year-old son walked out. Ben aborted his stride and spun to lean against the car like he had been there the whole time. His petite ex-wife stood in the doorway, barefoot. Ben could hear muffled well-wishes and maybe, he hoped, he heard a “behave yourself for your dad,” but he couldn’t be sure.
He smiled and waved. She waved back and walked back inside. Usually she would follow Eddie out to the car and give Ben a long list of dos and don’ts, including the constant reminder that it was his last chance if he ever got drunk. Ben never took it personally, but he did think her constant worrying had an effect on his
relationship with Eddie.
“Hey, little man, how’s it going?” Ben held his hand out.
“It’s fine.” Eddie hesitated and wouldn’t make eye contact but shook Ben’s hand.
“Yeah? You ready to go camping with Uncle Andy?”
Eddie nodded and opened the back door and threw his backpack in. He went to sit down in the backseat as was usual, but Ben stopped him and said, “Hey, how about the front seat? You’re big enough.”
Eddie hesitated again, but Ben could see a small smile on his face as he walked around to the passenger side door.
Eddie kept his head down, playing a hand-held video game during the fifteen minute drive to Ben’s brother’s house. Ben tried to think of something to start a conversation but everything that came to mind was cheesy and lame.
As Ben pulled up to his brother’s house, he saw that the camping gear, the fishing poles, and coolers were stacked in a neat pile on the driveway. His brother walked in and out of the open garage adding items to the pile.
“Guess he’s got everything together,” Ben said nervously as he and Eddie got out of his car. Ben looked at his son for any reaction, but he still didn’t make eye contact.
As Ben followed Eddie up the driveway to the open garage, he wondered if this trip was such a good idea. What could he teach his son? He pushed the feelings of inadequacy out of his mind, practicing the steps his therapist taught him about negative self-talk and how that can influence sobriety.
“Hey, Eddie!” Andy walked out of his garage. Eddie put the game in his coat pocket and gave his uncle a brief hug. “How’s it going, little man?”
“It’s good, just hangin’ out with him,” Eddie nodded toward Ben behind him.
“Good.” Andy looked at his younger brother and tried to mask his discomfort in seeing him. Andy scrutinized Ben’s appearance. New jeans, cheap black work boots, a wind breaker, an old T-shirt. He seemed to have himself together.