Short Story by Eric Miller

Sharkey’s Last Resort

It was Tuesday in Arlington, Texas, about nine at night. The sun had gone down about three hours ago and the vestiges of tranquility had subsided. In its place was the loud sound of Harley engines roaring into the small drive of an obtuse man.

The man hadn’t a care in the world and didn’t concern himself with the comfort of others. Nearby was a gas station that was now just a garage that worked on cars.

The pumps had been capped off years prior and the owner had become cranky and old with the passage of time. Restaurants lined the street some were local pubs that served Irish brews and stews; others were roadhouses like Sharkey’s that concocted venison, steak, or jack on the rocks.

One never knew what they would get themselves into when coming into the town.

Sure, the name on the settled sign said “Arlington,” but to most it was their last resort. Graffiti could be seen on the local elementary school with colors of black and green.

It wasn’t what you would think, however.

These were murals done in the school colors showcasing the local mascot: the grasshopper. Surely an odd choice for a school mascot, but there have been others that were worse, no doubt. Charles “Chuck” Shermer was a custodian at the elementary school; he took his kids Scott and Danny there many times after hours. He did this to try to help them learn to ride their bicycles. Taking training wheels off a bike is a scary first step to independence for a kid. Chuck knew how hard this was on his boys, as it is he had a hard time learning to ride his bike as a kid.

While movies like Teen Wolf and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were a thing being featured on commercials for the local movie theater, his boys were still on the Mister Rogers and Sesame Street phase of their life. He had to be careful of what he let them watch because they would learn and imitate what they were watching. Now, they were venturing into this unknown of bike-riding. It was kind of cool to see them also make the switch over to television, watching Reading Rainbow.

Being able to talk about more mature things, no matter how gradual that comes about, is a much-needed respite for a single father who’s been stuck discussing juvenile concerns.

On this day of trying to teach his sons to ride bikes, Chuck tells his boys in preparation, “Scott, Danny, I am going to walk behind you with my hand on each of your bikes, and gradually I am going to let go.”

The boys looked in shock at their father with the realization that the safety net was not going to be there – the safety net that they had come to depend on for this task. So, gradually Chuck gets his boys ready. They put on their bike helmets, and Scott, the eldest at 7, goes first.

“Alright Scott, now easy, son, easy, it will be okay,” Chuck tells his son. Sure enough, Scott is unscathed in his first solo bicycle ride, and he begins to ride around the school parking lot with a bit of eagerness. Danny looks on, wanting to emulate his older brother and not let his father down in the process.

“Don’t worry son, your turn next. I’m just going to let Scott ride around a bit more, and I want to watch him,” Chuck assures his younger son. Danny cannot contain his anticipation any longer, and he gets on his bicycle, which still has the training wheels on it.

“Well, I am going to ride around. It’s boring to wait for my turn,” Danny blurts out. So, he attempts to peddle off. He gets going too fast, and the bike tips over and Danny skins his little knee. “WAH, WAH,” Danny cries in pain from his injury.

“Son, I told you that you would be getting your turn next, but it will be ok. Walk it off,” Chuck tells his son.

The afternoon after the fall wasn’t quite the outing Chuck had envisioned for his boys. He never wanted to see one of them get hurt. Nonetheless, that’s what happened to Danny, and he didn’t like seeing his son in pain. However, as people grow up, they need to go through adversity to accomplish anything of value.

“At the very least, Danny was learning one of life’s most valuable lessons,” Chuck couldn’t help but think to himself. At Chuck’s apartment on River Road, he cleans Danny’s knee with peroxide and dresses it with a bandage.

“Danny, why don’t you go play in the living room with your brother while I work on making dinner – and try to take it easy, huh,” Chuck tells his son.

Chuck sets out to prepare dinner for himself and the boys. He lays out on the kitchen counter: potatoes, corn, ground beef, two white onions, carrots. He begins by dicing the onions into fine pieces and adding them to a large skillet on the stove. He then adds the already cooked ground beef he had refrigerated the night before from when they had hamburgers, and adds that to the skillet as well.

You can hear the mix sizzle as it comes up to temperature and the delicious aroma begins to fill the apartment.

“Thank goodness Betty Crocker makes these instant potatoes, otherwise I would spend all night peeling and cooking them,” Chuck mutters to himself.

He follows the directions on the box to the letter, whipping up the spuds, then microwaving the carrots and corn, and lastly adding the mix to a casserole dish and lets it all bake for 15 minutes.

“Boys, dinner will be ready in 15 minutes. Go wash your hands and then set the table,” Chuck tells his sons. “Awe, dad, do we have to,” Scott and Danny say to their father.

Reluctantly, the boys finally head into the small bathroom and one at a time wash their hands. There is a cloth hand towel hanging on a small rack near the sink, where they each dry their hands.  

Dinner is served and Chuck and his sons sit around the table. “Could you pass the Chinese pie please, Scott,” Chuck asks his eldest son.

“OK,” Scott says. He hands his dad the casserole dish. “You know in Ireland, they make this meal we are eating with lamb,” Chuck tells his boys.

“Yucky,” both boys say at once. Chuck and his boys continue eating dinner he shares with them some historical context for the recipe’s origin.

“I bet you didn’t know that in Ireland, this meal is called shepherd’s pie, but it is also called Chinese pie here in America. It depends on the ingredients and region it is made,” Chuck tells his sons. The boys look less then enthused to hear the nightly lesson on where recipes come from in the world.

Dinner concludes and Chuck says, “Boys, why don’t you go watch TV. I am going to clean up the kitchen and get the dishes off the table, then we can watch TV together for a couple hours before you have to go to bed.”

Sharkey’s Last Resort was a movie Chuck saw on cable one time. It was set in Arlington, Texas, and the plot was kind of wonky. He always thought, Arlington, Texas? How could it be that it was the actual town used in the film, and he just so happened to live in it as well? Life parallels art, no doubt, but usually not this much.

It wasn’t really 9 p.m. after all. As it turns out, it was only 7 p.m., and Chuck had managed to get back to the apartment with the boys and fit dinner in in less time than he had thought. This time of year, it gets dark early, so, it threw he and the boys off. Sure, dinner was always at 7 p.m., but bedtime wasn’t for another two hours.

So, his initial glance at his watch, which read that it was 9 p.m., was a false assumption. He had also forgotten to reset his watch to account for the darkness this time of year.

Luckily, he had the day off. Otherwise, he would have messed up his rounds and the nightly floor buffing and waxing routine that needed to be done at the school.

These nightly floor maintenance routines were a ritual by now for Chuck, having done them for the past five years, but he was making good progress at his job.

Anthony Solano, the current head custodian, was getting older, and Chuck was being asked to put in more hours to offset Anthony’s only working part-time. This was also the perfect lead in for him to put in for that very job in two years when the older man would be officially stepping down.

Small town schools are not the factories you see in inner cities, that’s for sure. As a small-town school janitor, people come to know and trust you the longer you are a part of the community, and Chuck had certainly built a reputation for himself.

On weekends, Scott and Danny would stay with their aunt and uncle, who also lived in town. This gave Chuck the freedom to work unencumbered.

During these visits to the relatives, the boys were usually rambunctious, so their aunt and uncle would bring them to the school. There, they could see their dad while he was working. Boys need their dad, especially when two little guys like Scott and Danny have lost their mother to breast cancer. It’s all the more important for them to have as much family around as possible.

Eric Miller is the 2016 recipient of the dedicated contributor award for the NHT Eye Literary Journal at NHTI Community College. His literary journey at New England College and as a member of the class of 2022 was featured in the New Englander.

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