When Clyde hears that his nephew Henry is getting into it in school, is finding ways to pull other boys into fights, is coming home most nights with bruises on his face and bloody knuckles, is in fact getting good at it, he wants to be the one to talk to him if only to show his girlfriend Sandra, who is heavily pregnant and who he will marry in a week and two days, that he is ready to be a father, that he is there for the hard times, that she is not going to be alone in this new space of parenthood, and Henry is only fourteen and he’s new to high school and picking fights with boy much older than he is, fights that he loses most of the time, 13 in the last month, and only 2 that anyone can say he won, so after work Clyde goes down to his brother’s house and asks if he can talk to Henry, and he can except the problem is that once he gets Henry alone, he has no idea what he’s going to say, and it’s early June twilight, the bats just now coming out and they stand awkwardly on the gravel of the driveway, crunching it back staring up at the little creatures that flail about until Henry asks Clyde what he wants, which is natural enough but said in a little punk tone that Clyde wants to slap out of his mouth, and so he tells him that he’s heard he’s been getting into fights, and Henry nods and says he is, and Clyde looks up at bats picking off mosquitos above their heads one by one, and he asks him doesn’t he think that’s a really bad idea because what the hell is there to say to get an angry kid to stop being angry, and Henry nods and says he guesses so, so Clyde tells him to just knock it off, and he knows that’s the worst advice ever given by an uncle in the entire history of uncles, but Henry says he definitely will and he says thank you for the talk with that tone of voice again, and he goes inside and Clyde is left outside with these bats swirling around him and maybe inside his head, and he’s just proved to himself that he’s not ready to be a father, and he wonders if he should tell Sandra just as a kind of warning and then he thinks about how no one ever gets any practice being a parent because one day you aren’t and the next you are, and that makes his heart start to race but the bats calm him a little as the light blues itself down, and he thinks about what Sandra would say, that this is a good thing because he just got his first parental failure out of the way and so he doesn’t have to worry about being perfect any longer, and his imagined Sandra is right.
She’s always so right.
JOHN BRANTINGHAM was Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks’ first poet laureate. His work has been featured in hundreds of magazines, Writers Almanac, and The Best Small Fiction 2016 and 2022. He has nineteen books of poetry and fiction including Life: Orange to Pear (Bamboo Dart Press). He is the founder and general editor of The Journal of Radical Wonder. He lives in Jamestown, NY.