FATHERS

Morning sunlight was just barely peering through the blinds. The coffee maker was slowly brewing, and outside the city was beginning to stir. It would awaken into flourishing productivity and passing taxi cabs, to teenagers walking the lonely route to school and tourists craning their neck at skyscrapers.

Jack stood at the kitchen counter with his lean hands propped on the edge of the sink, staring into the alley below. It was the norm for New York, a cluttered space with a dumpster and several metal trash bins. The apartment was reasonable but not upscale, the norm that a man in his position could afford. Money was rarely made working as an Assistant District Attorney, but it was something he understood, something he felt passion for, a means of work in which he could make a difference. That was what his father had told him, when he wasn't belting his wife with the back of his hand or screaming at the kids: that Jack would make a difference; that he wouldn't be another bum policeman on the streets of Chicago.

So that's what Jack did. He put away men like his father every day, hoping somehow it would make up for the past, for his failures, for his inability to protect his mother, for the ruined marriage he had come out of, for the daughter that rarely saw him.

It would have been his father's birthday today. Jack's fingers tightened against the counter. He attempted to remember a year when this day had not been fraught with complications, with anger and resentment, but couldn't. Even when his father lay dying in the hospital bed, his form shrunken from the towering, intimidating man of his youth and the cancer eating away at his body, Jack had still been afraid of him. His father had only once hit him, but the memories of his mother locking herself in the basement to avoid his father's drunken abuse lingered with him, overshadowing any rare moments of happiness.

The coffee was ready. He placed two cups on the counter. Claire liked hers with lots of cream. He was stirring when the phone rang. Rather than allow it to wake her, he picked up the receiver. He should have known it would be his mother. Whenever this day came, she called her oldest son. She feigned interest in his life, in his cases, but he could tell from the listless tone of her voice that she was preoccupied. There was hesitation in her words as she said, shortly before hanging up, "Jackā€¦ you are such a good man, so unlike your father."

As he dropped the phone back onto the cradle, he heard movement in the doorway behind him. Her hair was still tousled from sleep, her brilliant brown eyes concerned. He knew at a glance she had overheard all. "Good morning," he said, and held out her cup of coffee. Delicate hands reached forward to accept it as she leaned against the counter.

"Your mother?" It was less a question than an assumption.

"Every once in awhile she has the compulsive desire to check on me, and make sure I'm not turning into my father."

He said it matter-of-factly but she sensed the self-loathing in his voice. Claire watched him over the edge of her coffee cup as he resumed staring into the street. New York was awakening and the sounds of city traffic beginning to seep through the walls. It was spring, and the air was warm and brisk, the window open slightly to the breeze. It was Sunday, their one day off from court arrangements and trial hearings. The week had been a difficult one, for they had been overturned on appeal and lost a case. Jack hated to lose. He had been somewhat brooding in the hours following the case, but it made him all the more determined to succeed in the next round.

"I have some errands to run," she said presently. "I know you won't be around until this evening, but will you meet me for dinner at Favero's, usual time?" She knew it would be a difficult day for him; that he always returned from these visits in a mournful state of mind. He smiled, creating faint wrinkles at the corners of his eyes, and nodded. Resting the cup on the counter, she ran her fingers through his hair, slightly graying at the temples. "You're not your father, Jack," she said softly.

He looked into her eyes at length. "I know."

Leaning up to kiss him, she went to make herself more presentable and he glanced at the clock. He had an hour before meeting her downtown.

It was his day off. And he was spending it with his daughter.