Walking on Water
Daniel Michael McKenzie
“Walking on water wasn't built in a day.” Jack Kerouac
Daniel Shannon gazed out the window of the 707 as it descended over the southern suburbs of the city. In just a few minutes, he would be on the ground. In just a few minutes, he would see his father for the first time in two years. He squirmed and fidgeted in his seat. He was too excited to sit still.
In the distance, he could see the tall towers of downtown. He could see smoke rising from the few remaining fires of the riots in the Negro areas from a few days before. Before he boarded the plane at the airport in the southwestern city in which he had grown-up, his stepfather had made a sarcastic comment about Daniel's father living in a Northern “nigger” city. Daniel had given him a furious look and refused to say good-by as he left the gate and walked out across the tarmac to the stairs leading up to the plane.
Daniel hated his stepfather. He hated the city in which he lived. He hated the kids at school who were so intolerant of anyone who was different from them. He hated everything about his life. For months, he had been looking forward to this day, the first day of his two week visit with his father. He had looked forward to it not just because it would be an escape from the Hell of home or because he would spend time with the only person who had ever shown him love or respect or encouragement. He was looking forward to it because of his plan.
The stewardess passed by and reminded Daniel to fasten his seatbelt. He blushed and grinned as he did so, eliciting a smile from the woman. He turned back to the window and watched the houses and trees rushing past below.
A grinding noise told him the pilot was lowering the landing gear. He watched the flaps retract on the wings as they seemed to flop up and down slightly. Suddenly, the ground below became empty and vacant. A radar tower flashed past his window and then the concrete of the runway. Seconds later, he heard the screech of the tires as the plane touched down and the roar of the engines as the thrust reversers kicked in. He felt himself pushed forward as they rumbled down the runway.
As the plane slowed and then turned onto a taxiway, he could see the terminal building in the distance and, with excitement, he told himself his father was in that building. His hands were trembling, he was so excited.
It seemed to take forever for the plane to inch along the taxiway. As it approached, he could see that he wouldn't have to walk across the tarmac; a gangway was extending out toward the plane and when it finally came to a stop, he was the first to stand up and grab his bag from the overhead bin.
“Whoa, there! Slow down,” said the businessman who had sat next to him. He grinned and added, “The plane won't leave until you're off. Don't worry!”
“I'm spending the next two weeks with my Dad!” Daniel replied with excitement and pride as he pushed forward up the aisle.
“Damn,” the man muttered to another behind him. “I wish my kids were that excited to see me.”
“I know what you mean,” the other replied with a nod.
Daniel ran down the skyway toward the gate and burst through the doorway into the terminal. Excitedly, he looked around, searching for his father. He couldn't find him! Where was he?
He moved out of the way of the other passengers as they disembarked. He gazed intently all around, but his father was nowhere to be seen.
Then, he noticed something, a shoulder and a long slender arm just peaking out from behind a pillar between the gate and the concourse. Daniel grinned and ran toward the pillar. He peeked around the other side and yelled, “Boo!” at his father, who was peeking in the opposite direction.
“You louse!” His father said with a huge grin.
“You turkey!” Daniel replied with an equally huge grin.
Michael Shannon joyfully picked up his son and hugged him tightly. Daniel clung to his father with delight.
“You sure have grown a lot in the last two years. How was the flight?” Michael asked as he set the boy back down on the floor.
“It was exciting. It was too long. I wanted to get here sooner, but it was so neat to look out the window and see the roads look like little lines on a map. We flew over the Mississippi River and I saw some barges and I saw some other planes flying underneath us and we flew over the clouds some and it was neat.”
Michael grinned at the boy's enthusiasm as he picked up his overnight bag.
“Well, let's go get your suitcases and then we'll head home and get you something to eat.”
“I don't have any suitcases,” Daniel replied with embarrassment. “George said it was too expensive for me to bring any. I just have the overnight case.”
Michael frowned and muttered something Daniel couldn't hear. Then he smiled at his son and replied, “Well, that means we can get out of here quicker!”
“Sounds good to me!” Daniel replied with a grin.
They fought the crowds to the main entrance and crossed the short-term parking in the bright August sun until they came to a red Mustang. Daniel's eyes grew wide as he saw his father stop beside it and unlock the driver's side door.
“This is yours?” he asked with wonder.
Michael grinned like a teenager impressing his best buddy and nodded.
“I got it last month. It's a '65. Isn't it cool?”
“This is boss! How fast does it go?”
Michael opened the door, threw Daniel's overnight bag into the back seat, climbed in, and unlocked the passenger door. As Daniel climbed in, he replied, “I don't know how fast. Want to find out?”
Daniel grinned and fastened his set belt.
When they made it out of the airport and onto the freeway, there was really too much traffic for Michael to open it up all the way, but they did reach eighty-five at one point and Daniel's eyes and grin told Michael the boy was having a blast. He slowed down as the traffic grew heavier the closer into town they drove.
“You still have that cool apartment downtown?” Daniel asked as the wind blew his orange-red hair about his freckled face.
“No, I got an even cooler one over by campus. I can walk to work now.”
“Why?” Daniel asked in disbelief. “With a car like this, I'd be driving to work all the time!”
Michael smiled and nodded in agreement.
“I know what you mean, but I hate to pay for parking and I hate fighting traffic during rush hour. Besides, I can always make up for it on the weekends.”
As if to emphasize his point, he pressed down on the pedal and the growl of the engine sent a giggle through Daniel.
“Did they feed you on the plane?” Michael asked. Daniel could see they were getting closer to downtown. The car slowed down and took an exit ramp marked “City Blvd. Northern Univ.”
“Yeah, but I'm hungry again.”
Michael smiled and replied, “You always were a bottomless pit. Well, we'll stop at the apartment and park the car and then walk over to my favorite pizza joint. It's right across the Boulevard from campus.”
“Far out. I love pizza!”
For several minutes, they drove along a wide, busy thoroughfare. On one side was the university where Michael worked. There were dozens of fake-Gothic style, red brick buildings separated by wide grassy commons. On the other side of the street were shops, beer joints, and cafes catering to the university students. Michael stopped at the western edge of campus and turned left into a neighborhood of old, red-brick apartment buildings. Between the second and third on the right, he pulled into a narrow driveway and drove to the back of the building, where he parked under a shelter marked “5.”
“Want to check out our bachelor pad before we go eat?” Michael asked as he grabbed the overnight bag and climbed out of the car.
“Sure!” Daniel replied.
They strolled down the driveway and around to the front as Van Morrison crept out of an open window on the first floor and fought with Bob Dylan emerging from next door. Daniel grinned up at his dad, who nodded.
“Yeah, it's a cool place,” he said as they rounded the corner and climbed up the steps to the front door.
“We're up on top,” he said as they climbed the stairs inside. There were two apartments on each floor separated by the stairs. Daniel was breathing hard when they reached the third landing.
“Man, you're out of shape!” Michael declared with a grin at Daniel as he inserted his key into the lock.
“You couldn't find anything on the first floor?” Daniel asked with a fake whine.
“Not with this view,” Michael replied as he opened the door. They stepped in and Daniel's eyes grew wide. The living room was furnished with very Spartan looking sofas, chairs, and tables, and there were very strange and wild paintings on the walls. Opposite the front door were two large bookcases crammed with books, some stacked on top or shoved in on top of others. There was a hi-fi in between with lots of records underneath and a black-and-white television to the side. On the left, at the front of the room was a large window over looking the neighborhood. Daniel looked out and down at the two-story houses across the street and at the university campus beyond. There were French doors beside the window that were open. He ran through them and out onto a brick lined balcony, frightening some pigeons away who were sitting on the brick railing.
“I love this place!” Daniel enthused. “This is super-cool!”
Michael grinned as he stood in the doorway and replied, “I thought you'd like it.”
Daniel looked around and then allowed his face to drop dramatically.
“I wish I could live here,” he said wistfully as he looked out toward the campus. Michael wasn't certain if the boy was acting or if he was serious; but, he walked over to his son and put his arms around him. Daniel wrapped his arms around his father's waist and squeezed tightly.
“I miss you Daddy,” he whispered. “I love you.”
Michael couldn't speak for a moment. He held his son and Daniel knew he was saying that he loved and missed him as well.
As a Corvair drove past on the street below with its radio blaring The Doors performing “Light My Fire,” Michael took a deep breath and broke his embrace. He turned and walked into the living room as Daniel nodded with satisfaction and followed.
“Well, let me show you the bedroom,” he said opening a door beside the television, “and the back room. I use that for my office. I don't know where you'll want to sleep. You can have the couch in here or I can sleep on the couch and you can have the bedroom or...”
“How about I sleep with you in here?” Daniel asked hopefully. “Is that OK?”
Michael hesitated for a moment and then took a breath. He shrugged and said, “Well, sure. I... guess that would be OK. Sure.”
“Cool,” Daniel replied with a toothy grin. Michael looked at the freckle-faced boy and his heart filled with love and joy. He held his arms out again and the two hugged once more.
“OK. Enough of this,” he finally said gruffly. “I'm starving. Let's go get some pizza.”
“All right!” Daniel agreed as he headed for the door.
“This is the coolest place,” he declared as the two reached the sidewalk in front. As they turned north toward University Boulevard, Michael nodded and replied, “Yeah, I'm really happy here. The neighborhood has a lot of personality and it's really convenient. Everything I need is pretty much within walking distance.”
“Yeah,” Daniel said with a sidelong glance. “This would be a cool place to grow up.”
Michael was now getting the idea that Daniel might be hinting about something. He said nothing, but he stored it in the back of his mind as they turned onto “The Boulevard,” as it was colloquially known.
They passed a record shop, a book shop, and a beer joint called “The Hangout,” before they came to Rinaldi's Pizza. Daniel sniffed as they entered and grinned up at his father.
“This place smells great!” he said.
“It's the best pizza in town. This is real pizza.”
They took a table near the front. The waitress placed menus on the red and white tablecloth, but Michael said, “We don't need those.”
He turned to his son and asked, “I like anchovies. How about you?”
“I love anchovies!” Daniel replied.
“All right then. One anchovy pizza. And, I'll have a beer.”
“Me, too!” Daniel added.
His dad smirked and said, “I think he'll have a Coke.”
“Aw, you're no fun,” Daniel replied with a fake pout.
“We'll see about that.”
He was about to suggest several things they could do over the next few days that might be fun when, suddenly, a teenage boy appeared at his side, pulled out one of the empty chairs from the table, turned it around, and dropped onto it, crossing his arms across the back and grinning. Thick auburn curls fell out from under the black beret he was wearing and his green eyes were hidden by black-rimmed sunglasses. His face was almost as freckled as Daniel's and he gave the two a huge grin.
“Hey, what's the low, Daddy-o?”
“Well, if it isn't Maynard G. Krebs,” Michael said as Daniel looked on with surprise. “It's going smoooth, dude,” he added, with the appropriate hand gesture.
“Who's the rug rat?” the teenager asked.
“This is Daniel. Daniel, this beatnik who's five years out of date is Kevin. We're in the model club together.”
“Model club?” Daniel asked, choosing to let the “rug rat” comment slide. Kevin nodded.
“Yeah. I build model airplanes. Mikey builds model ships.”
“Mikey?” Daniel asked with a grin.
Michael gave Kevin a sharp look. The teenager blushed, as if he had revealed a secret, and replied, “I, uh, call him that 'cause it irritates him.”
Then, with a grin, he added, “I keep forgetting that I'm supposed to call him 'Mr. Shannon' since he's such an old man.”
“Man, you're not scoring many points today. I am twenty-nine. I am not an old man.”
“That's right,” Kevin replied with a grin. “You won't be an old man until next year.”
He turned to Daniel and repeated the mantra of the sixties generation, “Don't trust anyone over thirty.”
Daniel grinned at his father, who raised a warning finger and said, “Don't you start, too.”
Michael turned to the newcomer and asked, “So, is there a purpose to your visit or are you just committing your usual mayhem and delinquency?”
“Just wanted to check out the new kid on the block,” he replied.
Michael turned to his son and said, “Kevin lives across the street. He comes over sometimes and we... work on models together.”
Daniel noticed the quick, warning look his father gave Kevin. He also noticed the teenager nod. He looked down at the back pocket of Kevin's jeans and the ragged paperback book sticking out.
Kevin reached down and pulled the book out, looking about him guiltily.
“Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs.”
Michael looked shocked.
“And, what do Tom and Mary think of their fourteen year-old Irish Catholic son reading this?”
“They don't know,” Kevin replied. “But, I don't think they would be too thrilled.”
“What's it about?” Daniel asked with illicit interest.
“Well, it's about drugs and sex and...”
“That's enough,” Michael interrupted.
“Aw. You're no fun,” Kevin replied with a grin.
“That's what I said,” Daniel added with an equal grin.
“You're both in the doghouse,” said Michael.
Kevin stood up.
“Well, I gotta go. I came with some friends.”
He paused and then added, “I guess you're busy tomorrow.”
“Yeah,” Michael replied. “I'm taking the house ape to the zoo, except I'm afraid they may lock him up thinking he escaped from the monkey house.”
Daniel made monkey sounds as Kevin grinned and waived before going over to a table full of other teenage boys and girls, all of whom were dressed in equally interesting garb and some of whom were smoking.
“He's funny,” Daniel commented.
“Yeah, he's OK,” Michael replied.
However, the boy suddenly became thoughtful.
“Are you two really good friends?” he asked solemnly.
“You're not jealous, are you?”
“No!” Daniel replied with outrage.
“We're good friends. We met at a model show and realized we lived across the street from each other. So he comes over on weekends sometimes and we help each other build our models.”
However, Daniel wasn't completely satisfied with that answer and as the waitress brought their pizza, he began to think about the possibility of competition and how that might affect his plan.