Always Do the Right Thing?
by Marc Littman
“You always do the right thing, Walt,” Liz clenched her teeth. “No one can challenge your integrity. But that’s as far as it goes.” My wife gave me a withering look that would turn the Medusa to stone then she spun on her heel and stormed out of the room.
It took me a few seconds to steady myself in Liz’ turbulent wake. At least I didn’t let her goad me into another fight over amending our tax returns to account for the stock dividends we didn’t declare. I knew Liz was trolling for any excuse to finally dump me for my lackluster performance as a provider matched only by my low testosterone. Were it not for our special needs teenage son Kevin, Liz would’ve bolted long ago.
So I walk on egg shells, my antenna attuned to my miserable bride’s whereabouts, trying to avoid the disdain in her green eyes, now reddened by frequent tears.
“Why can’t you be like my cousin, Cal?” Liz snared me the other day. “He’s virtuous, too, but he also takes risks and reaps the rewards, and he’s fun to be around, always smiling, unlike you. Your face would shatter if you ever cracked a smile.”
My Humpty-Dumpty body probably would crack, too, especially if the muscular Cal ever punched me, which I feared he would if only Liz asked. Should society ever relax its mores about cousins marrying, those two would bond like steel alloyed with chemical lust.
Cal barely masked his dislike for me, which hadn’t waned in 16 years. But he doted on my son and even volunteered to coach his Challenger softball team where kids with mental and physical disabilities simulated Little League play except everyone gets a hit and every game ends in a tie and high fives.
Kudos to Cal for his time and kindness, I give him that. He’d lob baby pitches to the ballplayers and cheer them on when they nicked the ball, sometimes kicking it into fair bounds. Cal reveled in the adoration the players and parents bestowed upon him. And I think he genuinely liked the kids, one in particular.
Danny, a gangly 13-year-old, freckled with a shock of red hair, couldn’t speak having suffered a stroke as a baby. His harried single mom would leave her son in Cal’s trusted care at the ball field while she ran errands. Often she returned late but Cal waited patiently with Danny in the dugout, a sinewy arm wrapped around Danny’s slumped shoulders cooing in his ear.
I didn’t pay much attention at first. Cal and the other coaches often brushed the hair of our kids, patted their backs and even their butts. But Cal couldn’t keep his hands off Danny. Sometimes they lingered a tad long on his derrière, I noticed as the season progressed.
Then following one game, my son Kevin fled to the bathroom with stomach problems and didn’t emerge for a half hour, long enough to witness Cal fondling Danny in the dugout. At least from the bleachers it appeared that way. Cal’s hands flitted about Danny’s body like a magician engaged in a feverish shell game, and then Cal’s head dipped after Danny dropped his hat but Liz’ virtuous cousin didn’t bob to the surface for a few minutes. Danny’s normally placid face winced. A bee buzzed near home plate. I know Danny feared bees. But still….
Should I slog over and confront Cal? Say something to Danny’s mother? Lord knows, I couldn’t confide in Liz. Just insinuating Cal committed a heinous act on a vulnerable minor without solid proof would be devastating to her dapper cousin’s reputation, and it could backfire on me in more ways than one. Cal might even chase me with a baseball bat. And for sure I’d see Liz in divorce court after she would accuse me publicly of being a jealous, conniving liar who masqueraded as a righteous man.
“You always do the right thing,” my wife’s snide words resonated in my mind.
“What are you waiting for?!” Kevin bounced on the bottom wood bleacher. “Move it, Dad!”
I shielded my eyes and peered again at the dugout. “Hold on, Kevin.”
“What for? I’m hungry. You promised McDonald’s.”
I gathered my backpack and stepped onto the field, torn whether to pursue Cal and risk defeat and injury or play it safe. Just then Danny’s mother bounded out of her car, late again. With Kevin in tow, I started to approach her cudgelling my conscience. But just before we made eye contact, I stuffed my conscience in my pack and skulked away in the opposite direction.
◊ ◊ ◊
Marc Littman has penned many short stories and published two novels, Eddie and Me on the Scrap Heap about a heroic boy who is autistic, and The Spirit Sherpa, a mystery novel with a reincarnation twist.
4 thoughts on “Always Do the Right Thing?”
Good story, Marc. The “helpfull” and the “helpless”.
Wrenching. Far more horrific than mine since it could be real. And probably has been more than once.
An adroit puncturing of the 97 lb. weakling motif. The story, as intended, leaves the reader feeling uneasy, to say the least. I don’t know if a suggestion that the scene will remain an endless loop in Walt’s memory would enhance the tale’s power or not. It’s a thought, though.
A minor glitch, perhaps: The first sentence of para 4(“Why can’t you be like my cousin, Cal?” Liz snared me the other day) seems to need some work. AGB
Wouldn’t such a person as Walt suffer unbearable self-disgust? Putting his conscience aside hardly covers it.