Venial

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venial

  1. able to be forgiven or pardoned; not seriously wrong; as a sin (opposed to mortal).
  2. excusable; trifling; minor: a venial error; a venial offense.

The wind was strong today and it felt like all of it  was concentrated in the small empty park. It howled and blew about autumn leaves and empty swings.

Ricky pulled up the zipper of his zipped jacket and buried the lower half of his face in the high collar, shoving his hands in the pockets. He squirmed on the marble bench, stomping his feet to keep the feeling in his legs. His wife Marie had been right, he should’ve taken a heavier coat.

His dad had a knack for picking the worst days of the year to meet. A couple of years ago, he wanted to meet on a day with some of the worst snowfall in the city’s 100-year history. Ricky had trudged out in the blizzard on foot, despite Marie yelling for him “to have some sense” to meet his dad and get him to the nearest place with heat.

Ricky look around, feeling slightly anxious.

He felt like he was in elementary school again, waiting for his mom or dad to come pick him up… which they never did. Usually Pauly came to get him after basketball practice or something. By that time, it was closer to 5 o’clock and Ricky would be waiting at Gus’ Corner Store, relocating to various aisles to avoid actual paying customers. Once he had to leave the store because an old man kept hounding him, asking if he was homeless. Waiting for someone to come get him from school was annoying, but he never thought he looked like a homeless child.

He’d hate to be homeless in this weather, and this wasn’t even the worst of it. Already the cold was seeping through his jeans and into his legs and it was uncomfortable.  His nose was starting to run.

In the summers he used to sit here with his dad, learning to play chess at one of the many marble tables with the chessboards engraved on the top. They’d bring their plastic pieces and ignore the fact that theirs were the only ones blown over with a light breeze, while everyone else easily moved their sturdy ivory or wooden pieces without interruption.

Ricky had to smile at the memory that was so embarrassing back then, but now was so trivial.

The familiar sound of a slow, dragging gait called from his right. He could always hear his dad before he saw him. The broken leg from his childhood messed up his walk, but it was his calling card. That familiar lopsided grin greeted him.

“Hey, Pops,” Ricky said, getting up to greet his dad with a handshake and light hug.

The older man felt thin and more frail than Ricky could ever remember. Everyone always said life aged you, but it was the 27 years in prison that had messed up his dad. The sentence had been for 30 for armed robbery and theft, but his dad had gotten out on good behavior as an old, sickly, man who moved slow for someone his age.

That was venial compared to what their mother did a couple days later, leaving them to fend for themselves while she left with the neighbor for someplace on the West Coast. Ricky didn’t know if his mom was living or dead, but he had made his peace with his mom’s mistakes. Pauly still hadn’t forgiven her and sometimes seethed quiet death wishes when she was mentioned in conversation.

Neither parent had been there to raise them, but their dad had still sent letters every now and then.

Now they sat across from each other at the marble chess board, quiet for a moment.

This is how it always was. His dad would call out of the blue, ask to see him in a couple days, as if something was urgent, and then show up and sit there quietly before talking about everyday things. But Ricky always said yes. Somehow he felt he owed his dad for some reason, like he needed to make up on the years his dad had missed, even though he knew it wasn’t his fault that his dad had missed anything.

“You good, Rick? You need anything? Money or something?”

“Yeah, no Pops… I’m good…We’re good. Everyone’s taken care of and little Frankie is doing well and walkin’ and talkin’ nonstop.”

Ricky sniffled.

“You always had a runny nose in the cold weather,” his dad said with a raspy laugh. “I remember that.”

Ricky laughed along, participating in the little game his father like to play when they saw each other. Whenever his dad would mention some little detail from Ricky’s childhood, Ricky would laugh along encouragingly, knowing it made his dad feel better to remember himself as a good parent who was actually present, although that was far from the truth.

“You know… Pops, you can come by the house and see Marie and Frankie…”

His dad looked down at his weathered hands.

“Marie can fix up something nice to eat and I’m sure little Frankie’d finally like to meet his grandfather.”

Ricky kept it light. He’d tried before to no avail.

His dad shrugged slowly, nodding his head.

Ricky tapped his dad’s arm lightly.

“At least think about it, Pops, okay?”

His dad was silent for a moment before looking up into Ricky’s grey eyes. In them, all of his mistakes were so obvious. And Ricky was the most forgiving of all his children. The other five didn’t even want to meet with him anymore.

“Can bad father’s make good grandfathers,” he asked his son.

“Yeah, Pops…I think it’s possible,” Ricky said. “You made mistakes and you weren’t there, but you’re here now and I want my son to know the man we name him after. I want him to know his family. And it’s possible… if you want it to be possible.”

His dad nodded, seeming to take in his son’s words.

“I made such a mess of things, ya know, and um… I just think that a man really only has one good shot to make something of himself and provide for his family…”

His dad was quiet for a moment, trying to choke back the obvious emotion in his throat.

“Anyway, how are your brothers and sisters,” his dad asked abruptly, faking a happier tone, retreating into his safe space. “They’re so busy, it’s hard to catch up with them?”

Ricky nodded, shivering in the cold. He put on his smile. They were back to playing the game. Each taking their turns.

“They’re good, Pops…everyone’s good. My nieces and nephews are growing too fast, I’ll tell you that much. And they’re just like their parents, which is payback, if you ask me.”

They sat there as the sun began to set, laughing about the little bits of childhood his dad remembered, as the wind picked up, threatening to topple the fake, shaky words they spoke across the chessboard.

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