THE COLD INSIDE
By AL BRUNO III
Thursday November 10, 1994
The Cold Inside raged at Tristam until he felt sick. Every bad memory he had- from his Dad not showing up to see him in the Kindergarten play to Evan kissing Monique- bubbled to the surface of his mind playing over and over again like some cruel hit parade. He wanted to cry. He wanted to scream. He wanted to punch his mother in the mouth once for every time she had slighted or hurt him. He wanted to break his sister’s nose and ruin her good looks forever. He wanted to lock the doors of the Blessed Heart Academy and set the buildings on fire with every teacher and student inside. Then he wanted to piss on the ashes.
He tried use the anger management exercises Dr. Butterfield had taught him but they seemed like nothing more than children’s games now. Afraid of what he might do Tristam sat in his closet with the door closed and his ratty old sleeping bag pulled around him like a shawl.
Well, I was there. Kind of.
“No, no I wasn’t, not really.” He whispered to the darkness, “But Mom could tell I was lying.”
She had no right to ground me. No right at all.
“All because of that bitch Pam.”
How did she see me? No one can ever see me.
“I dunno, maybe because she’s my sister, maybe because she hates me. Everyone hates me. Even I hate me.”
This is a crazy way to be acting. If Mom finds me behaving like this it’s off to the loony bin
“Fuck her. Fuck you. Fuck all of them.”
“Tristam!” He heard his mother yell, “Phone call!”
Who would that be? At this hour?
Realization stuck him like a bolt and sent him stumbling out of the closet, out of his room. He ran down the hallway. The sudden motion sent Cookie fluttering from the dining room table to the security of her cage.
“Slow down,” Carol Bloom warned as she handed off the phone.
“Dad?” Tristam said breathlessly.
“There he is.” His father’s voice boomed out of the earpiece, “Sorry I couldn’t make it this week.”
“Oh. I understand.” Tristam began to retreat into the kitchen, “Actually I’m glad you called...”
“I didn’t call. Your Mother called me.”
“She-” Tristam stopped dead in his tracks and stared into the parlor. His mother was giving him a smug look, “She called you?”
“Yes, and she told me how you’ve been behaving. Cutting class now? Classes that I work my ass off to pay for? Are you determined to ruin your future?”
Tristam ran into the kitchen and began babbling desperately, “Dad it wasn’t even a class! It was a stupid assembly!”
His father’s voice became louder, “Ah-ha! So you admit to not being where you where supposed to be?”
“No! I mean yes! I mean- Look I was at the assembly. Pam was just trying to get me into trouble,” He sat on one of the stools in the breakfast nook and drummed his free hand on the countertop.
“Tristam,” His Dad sighed with exasperation, “Why would she do that?”
“Because she hates me!”
“What did I tell you last time I visited?”
Tristam groaned at the little mantra his father had taught him, “Just because there’s a storm I shouldn’t go around making waves...”
“And did you listen to what I said? Did you really listen?”
“You know something Dad, you hardly see me anymore so I don’t see how you can criticize me like this.” Tristam’s drumming fingers became a fist, he wanted to hit something so badly it almost hurt.
“Don’t you dare-” A voice on the other end of the line interrupted Gawain in mid-scold, “Hang on.”
Tristam rolled his yes as he listened to the heated whispering. Dad must be at work, as usual.
“Sorry.” When he came back onto the line he sounded tired, “Now listen. You are my son and I may not know what you had for breakfast but I know you’re a lot smarter and more levelheaded then the way you’ve been acting. You’re better than this, a lot better than this.”
“Dad I did not cut class. I was right there in the assembly with everyone else.” Tristam wondered if his mother, sister and Ronnie where eavesdropping. He got up from the stool and took a quick peak out of the kitchen. They were all watching television, their attention caught up in the latest episode of ER.
“I wish I could believe you.”
He retreated back into the kitchen, “Dad they’re coming at me every day. The kids at school, the teachers, even Mom, and Pam too. They all think I’m some kind of a- monster. You said you would always believe me, you said you would always be on my side.”
“I am on your side, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to let you flush your life down the toilet.”
“I want to come and live with you Dad.”
There was a long pause before Gawain spoke again, “Son...”
“I’ll behave. I swear to God I’ll behave. I just want to start over, I want to go someplace where I’m not pointed out in the street.”
“You’re sixteen years old. You’re not old enough to live unsupervised and that’s what you would be doing about half the time. I’m a busy man, busier than I deserve.”
“You- you could send me to one of the private schools out there. A boarding school.”
“You think I’m made of money?”
“I don’t- it’s not that-”
“Son, maybe if things were different that would be doable but I’m on a government salary here... and a pretty lousy one at that. I can barely afford the child support and the expenses your mother backed me into.”
Oh boy here we go again. Tristam thought.
“What does that have to do with this?”
“Your mother needs those support checks I send. She doesn’t know how to live within her means, you should know that by now. You think she’d just let you leave at sixteen when there’s two more years left on the court ordered gravy train? She’d fight tooth and nail to keep me from getting custody of you.”
“Please. I could talk to her, we could work something out.” It made him want to cry. His father thought his mother was no good on all accounts but he was more than willing to leave her in charge of his only son.
“No. Maybe if this was another time and place, but I am where I am in my life and you are where you are and there isn’t much either of us can do about it. Just remember that everything happens for a reason and that you are my son. That makes you special, more special than you know.” The other voice started up again, more frantic than before, “Gotta go now.”
“OK. When you coming to see me?”
“Soon as I can. Love you.”
“Love you too.”
“Keep your nose clean. I mean it.”
“OK.” Tristam replied. There was a click and then the mindless buzz of the dial tone.
I should run away. He thought, Pack my bags and hitchhike to somewhere far away from here. Maybe I could find a nice Amish family to take me in.
Mustering up as much dignity as he could he stepped out of the kitchen to find his mother waiting for him. He handed her the phone.
She glowered at him, “What did your father have to say?”
“The usual, that you’re vindictively bleeding him dry.”
“Same old Gawain.” Her cheeks reddened, “What did he have to say about you cutting class?”
“Nothing? He didn’t sound like he was going to say nothing.”
“Unlike you he believed me.”
“You mean you suckered him?”
“Shouldn’t I be grounded?” He stormed back into his room and slammed the door behind him.
“You are more than grounded.” She called after him, “I’m still thinking of stuff I’m going to do to you!”