“Hey let’s get out of here,” Sonny Ray said. He was becoming more anxious now, knowing they would be at their dad’s apartment in the next fifteen minutes or so. “C’mon Son let’s get going,” Stewart said, as he finished paying the cashier. “Hang on bro I got to pee, gosh,” Sonny Ray said in his best Forrest Dynamite. Stewart stood there shaking his head at his younger brother. “He drinks two beers. Man your such a lightweight.
I’ll meet you at the truck. Hurry up big coconut head boy.”
“I’m right behind you my brother.”
Sonny Ray soon exited their old man’s favorite restaurant, and headed down the sidewalk. As he looked to see where his brother was parked, he saw three men standing around Stewart in a semi circle. Sonny Ray smiled. He was going to get his brother good. Sonny Ray continued on the sidewalk as he walked by Stewart, and the three men. Sonny Ray pretended he was talking on his phone. The three men ignored the stocky man, choosing to focus on the frumpy thirty seven year old dude. “Now listen guys, I assure you I am not Mexican, but if I was,” Stewart said, wondering what his brother was up to now. Faster than a pay raise, Sonny Ray approached the tri-squad of punks. “Hey,” Sonny Ray bellowed from behind, startling the three men. That always made Sonny Ray smile. He loved when people jumped like that.
“What seems to be the problem gentleman?” Sonny Ray spoke to the three men in the bi-colloquial
stylings of Ving Rhames with a
Woody Allen twist; in order to create
a push-pull effect on the flimsy, and diminutive intellect of the men who stood before him. In doing so he would thus attempt to diffuse the moment, as well as reducing their threats, and their words as weak, contemptible. But if that didn’t work out; Sonny Ray was more than willing to put in some work, and beat somebody’s ass. “Why can’t you Mexicans just stay where you belong?” The big guy among the three assumed the position of spokesman. “You know the mexican people have taken back their territories without firing a shot, you clowns do know that, right?”
Sonny Ray smiled as the etched look of, ‘Huh?’ began to appear on their faces. Sonny Ray approached slowly, and stood near to the big man. Sonny Ray motioned to the spokesman to come closer. The big man obliged Sonny Ray, coming forward cautiously. “Listen to me for one minute young man.”
Sonny Ray spoke in a low tone, like Whisper, his younger brother. He looked at the young man in earnest. Sonny Ray remembered when he was bullet proof. “I have no desire to smash you up in front of your friends, but I will.” The cock sure young man’s countenance dropped ever so slightly. Sonny Ray continued. “Listen man, I just flew in town tonight. My old man died, and I’m tired. Do me a favor, step aside; and me and my brother can go.” The big man looked at his two friends, then at Stewart, and then finally at Sonny Ray. “Man fuck you, and your dead dad, old man.”
A palpitant spasm of stillness ensued. For it was just a sliver of width in time, that all was well, in the universe that was Sonny Ray Willetto.
He looked at Stewart then at the three men, and then back at his brother. “Stewart how long do I have to tell these people this?
My brother and I are not Mexican. We are Hawaiian okay? But if I was Mexican,” Sonny Ray suddenly took a step back, dipped his knees slightly, and in one centripetal motion Sonny Ray turned his torso sharply, and slammed a left hook off the side of the big fellas face. The punch created a clap, like a short but crisp sound of electric static. The big man dropped, and was stunned for sure, but he regained his footing, and slowly stood up, determined he came forward, wanting to make a showing in front of his peers. Sonny Ray admired the bullet proof moment; even as he launched his forehead into the big man’s nose and mouth. As the big man began to fall for the second time, Stewart ran to his truck. “Hurry up Stew,” Sonny Ray said, as he followed closely behind his brother.
“How’s that for a big coconut head?” Sonny Ray smiled as he dove headlong into the back of his brothers truck. “Dude what happened to all the carpet you used to have in this truck? Shit.”
Sonny Ray had banged his elbow hard, and he sat rubbing his elbow. He attempted to hold on to the bed of the truck. Stewart, not known for his fighting prowess, decided to go all Starsky Hutchison on his younger brother. “Slow down moron, and stop swerving,”
Sonny Ray yelled. Meanwhile,
The two other young wannabe combatants stood quietly in the parking lot of the restaurant, as Stewart and his brother headed east to their dead dad’s apartment. Their goliath lay flat on his back, unaware that he was unavailable for any further unsolicited comments about the status of the two strangers deceased father. Stewart finally calmed down long enough to pull over, and let his brother in the truck. They continued down east 22nd street. After turning north on Swan road they drove a couple of miles. Sonny Ray and his brother were breathing hard. Stewart turned into the apartment parking lot. They parked in front, and grabbed the two small suitcases.
The brothers walked quietly down the sidewalk, the same lonely sidewalk their father had walked for the last few years since the divorce. Dark shadow spaces on aged concrete shown between the memory laden apartments; these were the hallmark of this dingy, and lifeless dwelling. Stewart unlocked the apartment door. The two men filed in quietly. Their father, Wendell T. Willetto had been retired for quite some time now.
He served twenty four years in the Air Force. He had a ten year pension from the county, and he was receiving his monthly social security check. To top it off he received a disability check from the VA for injuries he had sustained in Vietnam. However, the moment you walked in his apartment, you would never guess Wendell was pulling down over 4k a month. “Man, this place is foul.” Sonny Ray walked over and turned on one of his dad’s yard sale lamps. The stench of stale cigarettes hung in the air. Empty beer cans were overflowing from a paper commissary bag in the corner of the kitchen, next to the refrigerator. There was a dirty dog dish with half a can of mushy dog food under the kitchen table near a large window. “Who took Tyrone?” Sonny Ray asked as he plopped down in his old man’s recliner. “Your sister, here.” Stewart handed his brother a makeshift ice bag. Sonny Ray placed the ice right over the small gash on his forehead. “Caught his tooth.”
“Yeah I see that.” Stewart sat down on the couch. “Well someone had to save your old ass again.” Sonny Ray was drained, but still possessed enough energy to rib his big brother.
“Thank you brother bovarism, your my hero,” Stewart fired back. Sonny Ray stood up and headed down the hallway. “Dude I got dibs on dad’s bed. Sonny Ray was in a matter of fact moment. “Night Stew, love you bro.”
“In the morning then. Goodnight Son love you too man.” Sonny Ray slowly closed the bedroom door. He stopped short, and left the door ajar slightly. The night was long, an eternity for the morning to come.
Sonny Ray opened his eyes. His mouth was dry. He sat up looking around at his fathers room. His dad had a small calendar on the wall. Sonny Ray smelled like he had slept in an ashtray all night. He wandered down the hallway looking for his brother. He could smell coffee brewing. Stewart handed his brother a hot cup of coffee.
“Thank you sir.”
“Sonny Ray check this out.”
He opened a cabinet, then another. Soon he had opened every cabinet in the kitchen. Without fail every cabinet was filled to capacity. There were four or five of everything. The refrigerator and freezer was full as well. For as long as the two brothers could remember their father had been this way. They both began to wander in the apartment, each lost in their own memories of their father. It was kind of like walking in a museum. For anyone who has lost a loved one, you know the feeling. Sonny Ray walked from room to room; touching, feeling, remembering. Of course their old man only had a two bedroom apartment so this trip down memory lane was going to be a quick turnaround. “Man, this place stinks,” Sonny Ray said, trying to avoid the issue at hand. Stewart nodded but said nothing. They poked around for another half and hour so, feeling kind of guilty for intruding and probing in their father’s life. Stewart went to shower as Sonny Ray sat drinking another cup of coffee. His father had a few pictures on the wall of when they were all much younger. Sonny Ray loved traveling. He always pretended to be sad when his father announced they were moving again, but inside he surged with excitement. Sonny Ray had lived in Ohio, Hawaii, Japan, North Carolina, Georgia, California, Arizona, Alaska. His mother was native hawaiian, from Waimea, on the big island. His father was a white man from Pennsylvania. His father rarely spoke of his relatives, which over the years Sonny Ray thought was odd, but he never pressed the old man about it. Truthfully it didn’t really matter to him, because in certain respects he was odd man out on either side of the family fence. Sonny Ray had long thick curly hair which he usually wore in a long ponytail. Stewart was more conservative with short hair. Both had hazel eyes. Stewart was fair, and Sonny Ray was considerably darker. His siblings would tease him that he was adopted, when they were growing up. When you looked at him it was obvious he was of mixed blood; but with what, was always the question. When Sonny Ray graduated high school in Tucson, he left Arizona five days later, moving back to Hawaii. He had planned, waited, and saved his money. At seventeen he had purchased his own ticket. In 1978 it was four hundred dollars round trip. Sonny Ray had dreamed of moving back to Hawaii since the age of five when his father had been ordered to Southeast Asia. After years of waiting he finally returned home.
It was only a matter of a few weeks though that Sonny Ray discovered that he was not quite as hawaiian as he had perceived himself to be. The local boys made him painfully aware that not only had he not grown up as a kamaaina, but he had haole blood in him. Which was ludicrous, because the majority people living in Hawaii today are mixed blood as well. Nonetheless, even with his fathers parentage, which served as nothing more than genetic filler, he walked amongst his contemporaries as the culturally lacking invisible man. Years later, by chance and circumstance, he had moved to Las Vegas, Nevada. He began to meet many local people from Hawaii, who were streaming out of Hawaii in mass, leaving it to the wealthy, the Hollywood elite, the rich Asian investors, and a boatload of white people; who seemingly were the only ones who could afford to live there, and prosper at the same time.
Las Vegas had been dubbed, the ‘ninth island,’ by local people living in Vegas. After years of being not quite right in the eyes of others; Sonny Ray grew indifferent towards people. He was tired of proving who he was, and who he wasn’t. So when people asked if he was this or that, he just agreed. ‘Sure, why not,’ was his standard answer.
“Hey fathead get up,” Stewart yelled from the kitchen, interrupting his private little cultural tug of war. “After breakfast we can meet mom at the hospital,” Stewart said. Sonny Ray looked up from his plate. “Why does she want to come see dad now?” Sonny Ray felt himself getting heated. “Hey listen, I know mom has a new husband, and you two don’t,” “Nope,” Sonny Ray said, interrupting. She is not coming in, period. When they pull the plug she will not be there to see dad go, I ain’t having it.” Stewart knew better to press the issue. So when Sonny Ray was in the shower Stewart called his mom, and let her know how Sonny Ray felt about her being there. She was upset that she was rebuffed, but agreed to wait until Stewart called when it was over.
The men arrived at St. Joseph hospital to meet with a Dr. Campbell. Sonny Ray and Stewart rode the elevator in an uncomfortable silence. Sonny Ray took a deep breath before exiting the elevator. The two men walked side by side as they approached the large waiting room. Several families, and others sitting alone all had, ‘the look.’ It was the grim reality of life right up in your face.
Children played, not grasping the sorrow that swirled about their young lives. Most anguished in silence, but several people cried openly. Death always reminded you that it was just a phone call away; whether you needed him or not. Sonny Ray felt a knot growing in his throat, threatening to shut down his airway. He sighed, realizing he could hear his heart beating in his chest. They approached the ICU, as two nurses were leaving. As they walked through the double doors they were met almost immediately by a wide eyed nurse. “Can I help you two?” It almost sounded like she was taking an order at a fast food drive thru. “Uh yes, my brother and I are here to meet with Dr. Campbell.” Stewart had always been very businesslike in his dealings with people. “Certainly. Dr. Campbell is running a little late today, perhaps I could take you your fathers room until he arrives,” nurse happy offered. “That would be fine,” Stewart said. Stewart and the nurse proceeded down the hallway. Sonny Ray stood there watching the nurse with a Dr. Spock Vulcan mind probe gaze. The last time Sonny Ray saw someone smile like that was when he had purchased a Millie Jackson album while stationed at Ft. Bragg
North Carolina, in the Army. Sonny Ray wondered if she was going to offer him a balloon. As miss cuckoo for cocoa puffs left, Sonny Ray watched her walk the hallway greeting random people like a politician up for election.
“She needs to consider a career change,” Sonny Ray said to his brother.
“Well I’m sure she has seen a lot of death, so cut her some slack bro,” Stewart said. Sonny Ray nodded.
The knot in Sonny Ray’s throat increased to the size of a golf ball
as Stewart slid the sliding door open. Stewart held the curtain open as Sonny Ray entered the room where their father lay. Wendell lie in his bed passively, with his arms at his sides. Various machines, and tubes, were on both sides of his bead. With tubes in his nose, and sensors on his fingers, his face was dominated with a monstrous tube down his throat, eclipsing his face. White medical tape held everything in place, robbing their father of his humanity. Wendell’s eyes were closed as the two men approached the bed. Sonny Ray gently placed his scarred hand upon his dad’s forehead. “Ah, dad,” Sonny Ray felt light headed as he finger combed his dad’s silvery hair.
Stewart, who historically was not a man given to tears, wept openly. “Sonny Ray this is our dad, what are we going to do now?” It was a loaded question for sure, but the business of their father was at hand. “Well, I know one damn thing, we ain’t leaving him like this.” The unusual sound of the pump caught Sonny Ray’s attention. As he watched, the pump caused his fathers chest to rise and fall in an eerie rhythm. Both men had become fixated, and stared blankly at their father. “I’m sorry did you say something?” Sonny Ray asked. “You remember what dad always told us,” Stewart said with the sound of resignation in his voice. Sonny Ray looked up at his brother. “Yeah, I remember, he didn’t want no fat nurse wiping his ass, or slapping him when no one was around,” Sonny Ray said, feigning a weak smile. The door slid opened.
A middle aged man with glasses walked in slowly. After closing the door he turned and faced the three men. “Excuse me, I hope I’m not intruding,” Dr. Campbell said apologetically. “No, please doctor come in,” Stewart said shaking the older man’s hand. “Dr. Campbell this is my brother Sonny Ray.”
The doctor extended his hand.
“I’m pleased to meet you young man.” “Likewise sir, Sonny Ray said firmly shaking the doctors hand.