5. Promises, Promises

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Promises, Promises

Not thinking about Digger was harder than usual. After I left Remo at his hotel, I walked back to the Aquarium first, to drop off the Strat there, which gave me twenty minutes to listen to Tollman's boots click on the sidewalk and figure out how I felt about the whole thing. I made my way along North Main, past darkened shops and quiet brownstones, toward the water. There was no one else on the street, no cars, no taxis, though I saw a rat scuttle for the sewer at my approach. Even in June there was a middle of the night chill and I buttoned the bottom buttons of my jacket.

I remembered one night when I was probably eleven years old, the first year Digger started taking me with him when he would sneak out of the house at night, sitting on a barstool at Maddie's with a glass of root beer in a real beer mug and my feet twisted in the rungs, Digger next to me ordering another Boilermaker. Sometimes when we snuck out it was to see Remo play or to meet Digger's cronies for poker night, but sometimes we just went out and hung around Madison's and once or twice Digger tried to teach me to shoot pool. This was one of those nights when there was no agenda, and Maddie and Digger talked about baseball and whatever else. And then at one point he leaned over to me and he said "Hey, kiddo, whatya think? Maybe you and me, should just take off and leave them womenfolk behind."

I probably said something like sure thing.

"That's right, I'll take you with me. We'll move to the city and go out every night of the week." I can see him saying it in my mind like a movie that I can rewind and play again and again. Stupid, I thought to myself, what kind of promise is that to make to an eleven year old kid? And what kind of stupid are you to still be thinking about it? I doubt my memory of it, even. In the movie of my memory he's still wearing a brown suit jacket and tie, the tie all loose around his neck, white dress shirt unbuttoned, the clothes he wore to work in the shoe store. But he usually took them off before we went out-he was usually out of that stuff before dinner time. I don't know. Maybe I'm making the whole thing up, but I don't think so.

I tried to remember if he'd ever said anything like that again, but I don't think he did. He never talked about leaving Claire in front of me after that, though he argued with her all the time--no, not argued, they <I>fought</i> but it wasn't really like an argument with some kind of point that could be won. Maybe that night they'd started fighting before dinner, and he'd tuned her out by parking himself in front of the TV set. Maybe he didn't even eat dinner with us, just sat there like a zombie, not answering her, not acknowledging anyone, not bothering to go upstairs and change his clothes or anything, until after we were put to bed and she was asleep. That wouldn't have been the first time, if it was. But I don't have a clear memory of the evening's events before that moment in the bar, the foam of the root beer tickling my nose and the smell of booze on Digger's breath as he conspired with me.

Sad to think that was the closest we had ever been. For a couple of years the sneaking out was our secret; after Claire would mudpack her face or whatever and get in bed with earplugs on (because he snored, she said), Digger would get me out of my pj's and into jeans and we'd walk down to the main road where Remo or some other friend would pick us up, or we could walk all the way to town center, past the shoe store, to Maddie's. Yeah, when I was eleven, I thought my dad was the coolest. But by the time I turned fourteen or so, we stopped getting along so well.

I went around to the back of a brick building and unlocked the door to the Aquarium, punched a few numbers on the alarm pad (5-4-42, Bud, the owner's birthday) and went in. The lights were off and the clock radio on the reception desk glowed blue: 3:05. I untied my sneakers from the handle and slid the Strat case into the hall closet. I thought about leaving Bud a note that I'd have to take a couple of weeks off, but I could just tell him tomorrow. It's not like he had money to pay me most of the time anyway. Not that I wouldn't have taken steady pay if it had been available, but I needed the experience.

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