“Get the fuck off my doorstep, Jerry.”
“C’mon, Celia, I just wanna see my kid.”
“Maybe you shoulda been here the last nine years of his life then.”
Jerry sighed, crushing his hat even further in his hands, the hat that had languished in a property locker for five-to-ten with good behavior.
“Please, Celia. I know I screwed up. Shit. I screwed up everything. But I’m trying. Here.”
Celia opened the envelope he handed her, an eyebrow arching up to vanish under her bangs. “Where’d you get this money, Jerry?”
“I been out three months already, Celia. I been working. Straight job on the line in my brother’s factory.”
Celia humphed. “Little late for this, Jerry. He’s been doing alright with just me.”
“I ain’t trying to take him, Celia. Just want to know my boy. Please.”
“I got a boyfriend, Jerry.”
“Just here to see my son, Celia. Have ten boyfriends.”
“You calling me a whore?”
“Jesus, Celia. No. Sorry. Look… Please? You think I don’t wish everything was different?”
Celia tapped the envelope against her hand, tongue in her cheek and Jerry recognized her “thinking about it but gonna give in” face, but kept his relief off his expression. A few minutes later the door slammed shut behind a slim, nine-year old boy with light brown hair.
“Hi.” Said Jerry.
They stood there looking at each other until the curtain twitched and Jerry realized Celia was watching them. “You like ice cream, Eliot?”
An hour later they perched on a park bench.
“pistachio? You really like pistachio ice cream?” Jerry asked.
“Sure.” Eliot answered taking a large bite out of the top of the cone.
“So… You already know I’m your dad?”
“Mom says I don’t have to call you that.”
Jerry sighed. “Yeah. She’s right. Just call me Jerry, kid.”
“You were in jail right?”
“Jesus.” Jerry got up, took one last bite of his ice cream and then tossed it in a trashcan. He lit a cigarette and sat back down.
“Can I have one of those?” Eliot asked.
“You want to know what I did?”
“Mom wouldn’t tell me.”
“Yeah. I bet. And she’s gonna kill me when she finds out I did.”
“I can keep a secret.”
“Kid, I just came from a place full of grown men who couldn’t keep secrets from the police. Think they could even keep shit from their mothers?”
Jerry sucked what felt like half the cigarette down in a single breath.
“I rented out performers to children’s parties. You know? Spiderman, Big Bird, Elmo. Shit like that. Adults in the costumes so the kids could say they met Elmo.”
“You don’t like Elmo?”
“Elmo sucks. He’s for stupid little kids.”
“Yeah, well let me tell you, adults like Elmo just fine. We didn’t make much money until the girl doing my bookings got an order offering three times per hour that we usually made. Just to send Elmo to some hotel room in Midtown. When the guy got back from the job he wouldn’t say anything. Just laid Elmo’s head on my desk, told me to go fuck myself, and left.”
“You said fuck.”
“Sorry, kid. I been in jail.”
“What happened at the party?”
“Well, it took me a little while to find out. But there’s these folks that really dig the whole plush costume thing. Not kids either. These are all grownups. I did some research on the old internet, changed hiring policies a little, and Captain Squishy’s was born. Best business decision I ever made. You wanna rotisserie chicken Big Bird? Done. Wanna know the truth about Bert and Ernie? We got it. Wanna know what Donald Duck’s speech impediment feels like or make Droopy Dog smile? Don’t even get me started on our Thunder Cats package, kid. And I do mean package. Our best earner, paws down. We even made these plush cupcakes with a little… Well, never mind what the cupcakes were for.”
“What’s rotisserie chicken?”
“Forget it, kid.”
“So, you got put in jail for pimping Elmo?”
“Who taught you that word?”
“Jerry, I’ve got the internet too.”
“Good point, kid.” Jerry looked at his watch, “We should probably start heading back or your mother’s gonna think I kidnapped you.”
“How was your ice cream?” Jerry asked as he lit another smoke.
“It was good. Can we do this again sometime, dad?”
Jerry flushed down to his collar and felt the prison wall chill that it seemed like he carried away with him start to thaw. “I’d like that, Eliot.”
“Can I have a cigarette?”
“No. Dammit, stop asking.”
“You want me to ask mom what a rotisserie chicken is?”
“Jesus Christ. Now I know you’re my kid. Here. Need a light?”