09 July 2008

Fires of Babylon, Part II

Well, no one told me NOT to keep working on this piece, so here's a second installment. I found a few free moments and some caffeine inspiration:

The air hung around him like a damp curtain. With nowhere else to go, the sweat beads on his forehead joined forces and slalomed down between his eyebrows and into his eyes. He blinked, but did not flinch. He couldn't flinch - if he took his eyes off the target for just one moment he'd miss the crucial timing and then the whole thing would go down in flames. When the moment was just right, he clicked his wrist, setting a chain of events into action that would either create victory or humiliating defeat. He saw it in the air for the briefest moment, and only exhaled when the projectile found its target with a sizzle. Sunny side up was for sissies.
Determined that his son would grow up to be a better man than his father, but still a man, Thompson made sure the boy had a good breakfast of eggs over-easy as often as he could. Working as a security consultant meant that he made his own hours, and therefore could make time for a proper breakfast - yolks unbroken.
Ralphie Thompson, 5 years old and still fully worshiping his father, applauded and cheered as Ron slid the buttery perfect egg onto his son's plate. The boy attacked the egg with fork in one hand and toast in the other with the delight of a kid who hasn't had a bite since dinner the night before.
The flame on the gas stove went out with a fip when Ron cut the flow of fuel. He dropped the frying pan into the sink and poured water into it, which steamed up from the still hot metal, adding another layer to the already oppresive humidity in the air.
Pennsylvania, he thought to himself. For some reason, I figured Pennsylvania was a good idea. If I'd remembered the jungle-like Summers around here, we'd have settled down in Arizona. Wiping his brow with the back of his hand, Thompson turned back to his hungry child.
As Ralphie finished his egg, Thompson advised him, "eat your crusts, son. It'll make you into a man."
"Yes, sir," the younger Thompson responded with a 5 year old's precision. Ron smiled to himself, something he still only rarely did, and usually because of his children.
"Daddy?" said a smaller voice closer to the floor.
"Yes, Delia?"
"Hungry," came the reply.
"Use your words, honey," he said.
"Daddy, I hungry," the 3 year old said with startling clarity. Well into his eighth kid-year, Ron Thompson was still startled at the clarity with which his children spoke.
"What would you like, Deely?"
"Daddy, I want eggs."
"Of course you do, honey. Have a seat at the table," he told her as he pulled the frying pan back out of the sink. He stifled a curse when he burned himself wiping the thing off, and the water droplets crackled when the foom of the lit burner boiled them from the outer surface of the frying pan.
Butter sizzled as he cracked an egg into the pan; an egg to be scrambled. He doted over his daughter and knew that she had loved scrambled eggs since she had been able to eat solid food, just like she loved the color blue and hung on every word her father said - which is why she sat there trying to work out the word her father had muttered when wiping out the pan.
"Daddy, what 'goddrrnnn argh' mean?" Again with an unfortunate clarity.
"It means that daddy burned himself; it's something daddys say when they burn themselves," he smiled again, this time pleased with himself for his cleverness. Black Ops had required a certain level of quick thinking, but that was nothing compared to protecting the linguistic innocence of your little girl.
"Okay, daddy. You need me kiss-it-make-it-better?"
"Sure, Deely," he said as she crawled down out of her chair and toddled purposefully over to her father. She kissed his right index finger, smiled, and turned around. He forgot the eggs for the moment and reached down and hoisted her up into the air and gave her a great hug, kissign her on top of her head.
"Thank you, sweetheart."
"Welcome, daddy."
The air smelled of cooked eggs.
"Breakfast is ready," he announced.
Ralphie burped, and the kids giggled.
Ron scraped scrambled eggs onto Delia's little plate and blew on them for her. She did the same with each bite, usually managing to blow on the eggs, sometimes sending them onto the table. She'd pick them up and stuff them into her mouth all the same.
"Ron, honey, you mind making one more plate?" came a sleepy voice from the coffee maker in the corner.
"Good morning, darling," he replied. "Sleep well?"
"mmm, yeah. I love Saturday mornings. Speaking of, you going to tackle that shed project this afternoon?"
"Maybe. I have a meeting with a client at 11 in the city. If I get back in time I'll put some time in on that."
CJ Thompson ground her teeth for a moment. She knew that when her husband had said he'd be able to keep his own hours that it was going to be like this. At least he slept normal hours now.
"Well, that's better than nothing, I suppose," she finally said as she sloshed water into the coffee maker.
Thompson crossed the steamy kitchen in a few quick steps and gathered his wife into his arms, making his morning kiss into a production.
"Ewwwwww!" offered the children.
Their parents laughed.
Ron Thompson felt happy, but a small part of him hummed like an F-1 engine. His life was never this peaceful for long. He only hoped this time that it was something small like a broken AC unit or bad lumber for the shed.

That night, when the phone rang, Ron Thompson knew that the AC unit would last another year, the contract he'd negotiated that morning would be iron-clad, and that the shed would be around for his grandchildren. A phone call at 2 a.m. only meant one thing.

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