Neither Here Nor Anywhere by Jonathan Danielson

There wasn’t much to clean at the community college that night, since fall semester let
out the week before, but because Davy was required to be there until morning, his mom picked
up Connor from Cassie’s while he got his work done. While he dumped empty trashes and
cleaned clean whiteboards and watched the Christmas Story marathon in the boiler room with
Joaquin and Terry. While they counted down the hours until the sun rose and they said Merry
Christmas to each other and got in their trucks and drove home.

In Apache Junction, at the gas station by his house, Davy pulled in for Parliaments and
Powerball tickets. The cashier didn’t stand to ring him up and watched the TV behind the
counter. Flick was double-dogged dared and got his tongue stuck to the pole.

“Can’t believe they’re making you work today,” Davy said while the cashier entered the
numbers.

“If they didn’t make a buck today, I wouldn’t,” the cashier said. He handed Davy his
tickets and change.

“Yeah,” Davy said, taking the weight of the quarters and pennies in his hand. He nodded
to the liquor shelves behind the cashier. “Mind if I grab a bottle of wine before I go?”

On mute, Flick screamed as his friends ran back to their classrooms. The cashier put his
hands to his knees and exhaled as he stood.

“The one with the kangaroo,” Davy said, pointing to the middle shelf. “A red one.”
As the cashier rang him up again, Davy asked if they had any wrapping paper.

~
A light was on in his kitchen when Davy pulled up next to his mother’s visiting car, an
orange glow behind the curtains under a sky pink and blue, the house in the shadow of the earth
as the sun rose behind the Superstitions. He put the truck in park and killed the engine and turned
off the headlights bouncing off the garage door. Inside, the recliner by the blinking tree was
empty, a blanket on the ground in front of it. He picked up the Bartles & Jaymes bottle from the
coffee table and carried it to the kitchen, the light guiding him down the hall, his mother making
a pot of coffee by the sink.

“Did I miss one?” she said as Davy set the bottle quietly inside the trash, it dully clinking
against the others.

“Merry Christmas,” he said and handed her the bottle wrapped in a brown grocery bag.

“Tell me this is Advil,” she said, putting her palm to her cheek.

Davy kissed her forehead, then pushed the button to start the coffee.

~

On the patio, his mom took the lighter from the glass-top table and lit her cigarette. She
shooed the dog away when he came sniffing in her lap. Davy shook the pit bull’s face by the its
slobbering jaws, then told it to go lay down. He took a sip of coffee and lit his cigarette when his
mom handed him the lighter.

“I swear, that dog takes the biggest shits I’ve ever seen,” she said as the dog squatted over
a patch of weeds. The sun broke over the mountains to shine light through the dust above them,
like a plate of dirty glass separating them from the sky. “How was work?”

“Same old,” Davy said. He dropped the lighter next to the full ash tray.

“I got bacon for later. Maple syrup infused from Costco.” His mother straightened the
fold of her robe.

“You see Cassie when you picked him up?” Davy said. In the yard, the dog wiped his butt
along the ground. “Don’t do that,” he said to it.

“She didn’t even come down,” his mother said. “The roommate gave me the bag with his
clothes.” His mother made air quotes around the term Cassie used for her new male friend. The
one she moved in with after suddenly deciding to move out six months ago. “You hear from the
lawyer?”

Davy shook his head. He hadn’t told her the lawyer had gotten back to him weeks earlier.

That he told Davy since he wasn’t technically the father he didn’t have any say, regardless if he
had been raising Connor since Connor was six months old. That if he and the mother would have
gotten married things would have been much different. That there was nothing he could do if she
decided to move to California like she was talking about.

“Nothing yet,” Davy said.

“I bet the lawyer’s cashed his check though?”

“It’s a process,” Davy said.

“It’s something,” his mother said. She told the dog to get out of here when he started
sniffing around her again.

~

In the kitchen, Davy pulled the skillet from under the oven while his mom got the bacon
from the fridge. Before he put the skillet on the burner, he ran his finger down it, the surface
smudging from the thin layer of grease that hadn’t washed off the last time they used it. As he
ran it under hot water, his mom got scissors from the junk drawer and cut the package open.

“You talk to her lately?” his mom said. She got out a plate from the cabinet.

“Not since I told you last,” Davy said. He took the wash scrub from the sink and ran the
green side over the pan before flipping it over for the yellow side.

“Think she’ll actually do it? Move without a job or anything?”

“You know her,” Davy said.

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” his mom said. She put the slab of bacon on the plate. “You’d
think she’d have some plan before she’d move, don’t you? How is she expecting to pay her
bills?”

“It’s not about where she goes,” Davy said. He took a paper towel from the roll and dried
the skillet. “It’s always been the going part for her.” He got eggs and milk from the refrigerator
and opened the drawer for a spatula.

“Well, that doesn’t make any sense to me,” his mom said.

“Well, then why don’t you call her up and see if she listens,” he said, closing the drawer.
The silverware rattled as he shut it.

“I’m just trying to help,” his mom said.

Davy put the skillet on a burner. “I know,” he said, and started cracking eggs into a glass.

~

While his mom dished up the eggs, Davy wiped his hands with a towel and tossed it over
his shoulder. He went down the hall to the bedroom across the bathroom and opened the door.

“Why are you still in bed?” he said, turning on the light. A small mound rested under the
blankets, rising and falling with the subtlety of breath. “Well,” he said, and came into the room.

“Since I guess no one’s here, I might as well lay down.” He held is arms open and fell on the
mound. “Oh, this pillow’s so lumpy,” he said, giggles coming from underneath him. “Why’s it so
lumpy,” he said, and he punched the mound. “Better fluff it,” he said, the mound kicking and
screaming in laughter. “Yep, better fluff it good and get all the lumps out.”

“Stop,” a child’s voice screamed.

“Where’d you come from?” Davy said, pulling back the blanket. “You weren’t here a
second ago?”

“Uh huh,” the little boy laughed.

“Nuh uh,” Davy said.

“Yes.”

“No.”

“Well,” Davy said. “Maybe.”

Davy pulled Connor from the covers. He flipped him upside down then set him on his
feet, Connor’s shirt falling past his belly and then coming down to his Spider-Man underwear.

“Come on, get your pants on,” Davy said. “Grammy’s got breakfast ready.”

“But I want to do presents,” Connor said, putting one leg through his Batman bottoms
and then the other.

“What presents?” Davy said. “You’re just getting boxes of boogers.”

“Nuh uh.”

“Yep,” Davy said. He picked up Connor and threw him over his shoulder. “Just boxes of
boogers for you,” he said, and carried him to the kitchen.

~

Davy’s mom had made a pile of eggs in the middle of a plate, with two banana slices at
the top and bacon in a crooked smile underneath.

“Look at that,” Davy said, plopping Connor in his seat. Connor took the bacon from his
plate and bite off as much as he could. “What do you say first?” Davy said.

“Thank you,” Connor said, smacking.

“Merry Christmas,” Davy’s mom said. She rubbed her hand over Connor’s hair and
kissed the top of his head before sitting down.

“So what should we do after this?” Davy asked, also sitting down. “Make Connor pull
weeds? Paint the house, maybe?”

“Presents,” Connor said.

“Change the oil?” Davy said. His mom winked over the top of her mug.

“Presents,” Connor said.

“Don’t forget to eat your bananas,” Davy’s mom said.

“Yeah, eat your bananas,” Davy said. “Then we’ll see if anything’s under the tree.”

~

Davy only took a bite of eggs and drank a little coffee while he watched Connor eat. As
his mom tried to convince Connor to finish his eggs — then tried to bribe him with another slice
of bacon if he did — Davy stood and got the camera from the hutch.

“Where’re the batteries?” he asked when the camera wouldn’t start and he couldn’t find
any batteries in the drawer.

“Last time I was here, you used the last two for your remote,” his mom said. Connor ate
his second strip of bacon and Davy’s mom picked up his fork and said, “Okay, you promised.”

In his bedroom, Davy took the remote from the top of the television, an old box model
his mom gave him when he was still a teenager. The plastic tab on the back of the remote had
long ago disappeared, and he hit the remote to get the first battery out so he could pry loose the
other. He put them in the camera and turned it on, a little noise beeping as the screen lit up blue,
then turned to a photo of Cassie on the couch, her feet in Davy’s lap, Conner sprawled over both
of them. Another beep and Davy’s mother was BBQing with a cigarette in her mouth — the
picture totally unflattering because Cassie liked photos liked that, saying they were better
because they were “spontaneous” — Connor next to the grill and watching the pork chops cook,
the dog panting beside him. Another beep and Davy was kneeling next to Conner with a trout on
the line, the Little Colorado behind them.

Davy let the camera drop to the mattress and put his hands to his eyes, stifling any sobs
so as not to be heard.

~

He was still deleting pictures to make space on the card when he came back out to the
kitchen. Anniversaries, bowling with friends, line dancing at Filly’s. His mother was washing
dishes with her back to him, the table clear of plates and forks, the chairs around it empty.

“Where’s Connor?” he asked.

“Hmm?” his mother said, turning to him, soapy bubbles up her forearm. “He was just
here,” she said. She dried her hands on the towel hanging from the oven as laughter came from
the front room. “I told him to sit and wait until you got back,” she pleaded.

In the other room, the torn paper with Rudolph and Santa that once wrapped around the
Batmobile was scattered around the tree. Same with the paper that once wrapped the Ironman
Halloween costume. The Nintendo DS he had saved up for and bought secondhand from
Bookman’s. The two games he thought Connor would like.

Before Davy’s mom started to yell, a white flash bathed the room and the crumpled piles
on the carpet, as well as his boy’s smile.

~

With his elbow on the arm of the couch and his knuckles propping up his cheek, Davy
watched Connor figure out how to turn on the video game and play it once his mother calmed
down. In the recliner, his mother blew on her coffee as the Macy’s Parade played on television.

“Look Connor,” she said. “Sponge Bob.”

Around lunch, Cassie and the roommate finally came over, the roommate knocking,
Cassie not bothering to even get out of the car. Davy and his mom walked them out, Davy
hugging Connor before the roommate put him in his seat in the back of Cassie’s old Volvo
hatchback.

“I love you,” Davy said as the roommate fastened the belt between Connor’s legs,
Connor’s fingers tapping the game. The seat beside him was filled with luggage and plastic bags
of clothes. In the back was more luggage, more clothes, a toaster peaking out from under their
old sheets.

“Just spending the New Year in L.A.,” the roommate said when he was done and noticed
Davy looking at all their belongings in the car. “Just heading out to the beach for a while, is all.”
Davy leaned in the car and kissed his son.

“I love you,” he said again.

Through pressed lips, the roommate smiled and closed the door. He nodded goodbye as
he pulled out, Cassie never looking back as they drove down the street to the stop sign, Connor
never looking up from the game. In his front yard, Davy kept waving as the car pulled into the
intersection, only putting his hand down when the taillights finally turned toward the western
highway, the sun above him shining down with no hint of shadows.

1 Comment

  1. Kelley Harris

    Love this simple, realistic, modern Christmas morning story. Several in my family have experienced the same kind of Christmas, complete with second hand presents, a smoking grandparent and bacon from Costco. Danielson captures delicate yet deep sting of a child’s split Christmas Day between divorced parents, intensified here by the spectre of losing contact, perhaps forever, of a father with his son.

    Reply

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