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Beautifully Decadent

By:L.A. Fiore

The corridor was lit with fluorescent lights, several of which were flickering, the smell of urine and sweat permeated the air. Distant voices carried down the hall. Raised voices, though whether they were fueled by anger or just boredom, I didn’t know.

It wasn’t a walk I was particularly familiar with; I had made it often in the beginning, but those visits dwindled as I grew older…hope giving way to bitterness. I had only been nine when the cops showed up at our door and took my dad away in handcuffs. I remembered that day, if not much else from my childhood. Remembered Dad had spent a good portion of the morning on the phone, growing more and more upset with each phone call. He tried to sit me down and talk and yet no words would come. My big, strong dad broke down as he held me close and then the cops came and everything I knew changed. Social Services came for me, a prim woman in a black suit and pinched expression. She took me from my home to a sterile-looking building where I was processed, like I had done a crime. I had been allowed to pack some of my things from home before being dropped off at another building that to me felt like a prison for kids. There I was told I’d be spending the foreseeable future. No one had explained to me what had happened, where my dad was, why I’d been taken from my home. I had been reduced to an item on a checklist to be dealt with accordingly. For weeks I lived in fear and confusion, missing my dad and not understanding why he wasn’t coming for me.

Armed robbery, even now I still couldn’t equate that violent act with the man I knew. I’d been very young and had few memories of Dad, but what I remembered he’d been a good man. I had to wonder about that now, since he’d also been a man who had walked into a bank with a loaded gun. I never knew my mother, only that she gave me up and never pressed for visitation.

The media circus that followed Dad’s arrest and conviction had been crazy. People swarmed; family services, lawyers, churchgoers looking to do a good deed for the poor little boy who now found himself an orphan because of his father’s criminal activities. There were the sympathizers that thought Dad’s sentence was too harsh, and the protesters who thought it wasn’t harsh enough. It didn’t take long for the buzz to die down, for the swarm to latch on to a newer story, leaving the nine-year-old I had been to fend for myself. There had been a few, after the story went cold, who continued to send letters; one who, even to this day, still stayed in touch. He or she only ever referred to himself or herself as ‘A Friend’. I got it; I was the kid of a felon.

The guard led the group of visitors into a room with tables and chairs arranged for quiet conversations between loved ones. Taking a spot near the door, I waited for the one on the far side of the room to open.

He was one of the first people out; even with the passing of a quarter of a century, he looked exactly the same. More startling, I looked just like him.

He settled across from me. The man obviously took advantage of the gym because he was huge.

“Rafe, how are you doing?”

It was weird sitting across from my dad not as the kid I’d been but a man. I never really put much thought into it, all the time we missed. What was the point? It’s not like thinking about it was going to change anything. But there were moments when bitterness gnawed at my gut because life growing up had sucked, not all of it, but much of it. I suspected had Dad not acted so foolishly, life would have been a good deal better.

He studied me in that way he had, direct and intense, as he waited for a reply. “I’m good, but what about you? You’re getting out.” After twenty-five years, the man was going to be free. How the hell must that feel?

“Fucking can’t wait. To no longer be at the mercy of the guards, to do and say as I please, to eat what I want, to sleep when I want, to taste and smell a woman. Yeah, I am seriously ready to get out of here.”

“Do you have a place to stay?”

“Yeah, a buddy found something for me.”

I’d offer the carriage house at my place, even had room in the main house, but being in close quarters with someone I really didn’t know any more, particularly being my father, I think it’d be awkward on both sides—as awkward as it was sitting across from him now and seeing a stranger.

“Why did you do it? Walk into that bank with a gun? I don’t remember much, but I do remember we were doing okay.” A little late in asking that question, but I’d been too young at first and then too bitter.

I wasn’t sure what fueled the expression on his face—irritation, shame, regret or a little of all three. He rubbed a hand over his head and leaned back in his chair. “Money was tight. I had lost my job. The money I was making at the gas station was minimum wage and not cutting it. Bills were piling up and I couldn’t get ends to meet. When I was approached, I was desperate, had convinced myself no one would get hurt and I could climb out from under the growing debt. It was stupid, so fucking stupid. I had never held a gun before that day.”

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