“Everything alright, Harry?”
Mr. Elroy was over on the couch now, sitting with his son, arm around his shoulder, and his boy had that far off look in his eye again, like he had before. “Looked like you were remembering something. Your boy coming back to you finally?”
Harry nodded, “Yeah, some of it, I suppose.”
“Well, why don’t the three of us take a trip down memory lane together? After all, I think your son here could use a refresher as much as you could.”
They were all back in the old house again, and Wilbur was there, sitting with his son. He was older now, probably around ten or twelve, and Wilbur was talking about working in the factory, about tools, about mechanics and all the cool stuff they did at work all day, and his son was enthralled. He turned to Harry, who was just watching, and asked him if, when he was all grown up, he could go work there too, just like them, and Harry told him that nothing in the world would make him happier than having his son follow in his footsteps, and be a union laborer just like him.
The scene shifted, and now he was in the bleachers of the local high school, watching the two cross town rival teams duking it out on the field. Harry found himself following one member of the defensive line closely, and it wasn’t for a few minutes that he realized it was his son, Pete. But of course it was Pete! He was the biggest fucker out on the field after all–thanks to his mom’s big meals, and going to the gym with Uncle Wilbur. He sacked the quarterback, the stands erupted in a cheer, and he pulled his helmet off and waved to his dad in the stands. Harry waved back, along with Wilbur, and he had a hard time imagining that he could be more proud of his son than he was in that moment.
Time slipped again, but seemed…more fluid this time, like he was existing in more times than just one. He could see his son, eight or so, struggling with his homework, and Harry suggested he just skip it, and they go play football instead. Later, there was something similar, an argument he was having with Patricia while Pete was listening in, talking about his grades–or rather, about how bad his grades were. Harry didn’t think it was a big deal. You didn’t need to be smart to work in a factory, after all, but Patricia was concerned. It dawned on Harry that the reason Pete was so large as a Freshman on the football field in high school was because he’d been held back twice…or was it three times? He could also see Pete talking to him, older now, smoking a cigar with his dad in the garage while they worked on the car, telling him he wanted to drop out of school and just go work in the factory with him. Harry felt the entire time collapse there, somehow…and he knew what he was supposed to say–what Mr. Elroy wanted him to say…but he also knew it wasn’t right.
His son wasn’t stupid. He was clever, and intelligent, and just because school was a struggle didn’t mean he should quit…right? But more than that, Harry knew that what he was seeing…it wasn’t what had really happened. This wasn’t really his son, and he wasn’t really Harry at all! He…he was ruining his father’s life, the one he’d worked so hard to build, and for what?
He looked at him in the memory, grease covering his clothes and face, a thick beard already growing around his cheeks, haircut the same flat top his dad liked, ever since his days back in the army. He looked at him there, wanting an answer, and he could…see how if he gave him permission, there wasn’t going to be anything left for him. The factory would close down in a few years, after the accident, and everyone’s pensions would evaporate. His son needed an education if he was going to be someone–someone who mattered to the world–and not just some washed up redneck living in a dying small town, like Harry had become. So he said it.
He sat down with his young son, and even though Harry himself wasn’t very bright, they worked out the problems together, before going out and playing football in the yard as a reward. He agreed with his wife, and they did his best to work with Pete’s teachers to get his grades back where they needed to be, so he wouldn’t have to be held back. He talked him out of dropping out when things got rough, and told him that he wanted his son to have the sorts of opportunities he never got to have. That there was more to life than just working in a factory, that he could be so much. The potential in him was limitless! Why cut himself off at the knees? He could feel it–feel it having an impact and making a difference. He could almost see him walking across that stage to get his diploma, but before it fully materialized, he found himself flung back out, and he was back in the present, his son looking around, bleary and confused, and Mr. Elroy…did not look pleased.