- 1987, The Races
Oaklawn dwarfed them, white and haughty as a plantation, four tall stories with flags waving out front. Police directed traffic around the building, blowing their whistles in its shadow. His father drove an entirely red car that was eleven years old. The boy, Andru, knew this because his father had bought the Continental the year he'd been born. A few black flies hovered around the french fries and pieces of trash that trembled on the floorboards of the big Lincoln. He usually saw his father two weekends a month, and from February till April 12th they usually went to Oaklawn. The building had a time-capsule quality to the boy because he mainly associated Oaklawn with the mobsters who'd ruled it in the '40s and '50s. He liked the stories his father told him about gangsters: Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Seigel, how they met in Hot Springs for conferences, dividing up fortunes during mineral baths and over rare roast beef in one of Oaklawn's dining rooms. He pictured men in fedoras and long coats moving through the crowd, bearing violin cases furtively under their arms. It was almost one o'clock, and they parked a few blocks away from the track. He wasn't paying attention to what his father was saying, but later he would realize he'd heard every word.
"Handicapping is predicated on the principle that the future will repeat the past. Okay? So all the numbers—you have to be mathematic. Okay?" The father, David, turned off the car and held a cigarette near the top of his window, where a thin breeze entered. Black, round burns spotted the red upholstery bordering the glass. Sometimes if the boy concentrated, one of the cigarette burns would become a black fly and circle their heads before landing in the same spot. "Do you understand?" The father's voice was slightly hoarse. He squeezed his cigarette through the crack in the window, and a small flurry of orange sparks burst into the car.
"Okay," the boy answered. He squinted as sparks died toward his face.
David dusted ashes off his gray suit, picking shreds of tobacco from the white shirt, whose hems were yellowing. The elbows of the suit were thin, but it was all neatly pressed and smelled strongly of Polo for Men, a bottle of which sat on the back seat next to some clothes. David smoothed back his hair. On his thick, hairy hand was a large gold ring that had his initials, DS, spelled in diamonds over one knuckle. [End Page 83]
"Hey, Dru?" he said. "Do you not want to be here?"
The boy sat up and glanced at him, then toward the brick wall beyond the windshield. A long crack twisted across the glass. "Sure. I mean, I don't care. It's fine."
"A lot of people would like to visit Hot Springs twice a month."
"I know." His father's voice made his face hot.
"We're having fun. We're the guys, right?" He ruffled his son's spiky brown hair.
His son grinned.
The smile was so forced that it infuriated the father. The boy could tell because his father clenched his jaw, climbed out of the car and slammed his door. It was a panicked sort of anger, visible at moments like this, when he was faced with evidence that these visits were something the boy endured. The son sensed fear as well as anger, and he wanted to alleviate the pressure but could not move himself to utter any words to placate his father. He wouldn't realize until over a decade later that the fear was part of his father, a thing that lived in its own time, needing nothing to engender it.
People swarmed the race track like Indians around a fort in one of the John Wayne videos his father rented for them. Old people, families, single men and the young girls, the debutantes from Little Rock, in expensive dresses, hair shining in the sun, the sun in their teeth. The boy watched them as he'd done before.
His father no longer seemed...