Made of Steel

Kirby Wright

I sat beside Dadio at the Continental Airlines gate. He wore a Lilly Daché button-up, khaki pants, and New Balance joggers. I felt fortunate to have my father’s company but worried that sometime during our trip I’d stumble and send our relationship reeling backwards. My mother and kid sister sat facing us across a narrow aisle.

Troy, my big brother, looked pissed. He was leaning against a cement pillar with his arms crossed, and I knew he despised me for heading to Colorado with our father. We locked eyes. He looked away. I felt that someday would come a reckoning, a time in the future when he’d seek revenge. My brother lived in a black-and-white world, a place where you were either a friend or an enemy. Troy’s realm of absolutes gave him an excuse to avoid things that required heart—there was neither forgiveness nor caring in him.

My father took off his glasses, put them back on, and stuck his hand in his pocket. He jiggled change. He checked and re-checked his Timex. It was impossible for him to sit still. I shared his bad nerves. I’d started biting pencils like him during final exam week. Would other parts of him leak through as I got older? I did hope his willpower and tenacity would rub off on me in college, but I wanted no part of his capacity to hate. All the good in him was tempered by darkness.

June Spoon and my sister had cut their vacation short to bid me farewell. My mother had tracked down a hip salon on Coolidge Corner and returned with a gypsy shag that made her look like Jane Fonda. A pilot smiled at her as he passed. Her eyes glowed with a renewed vitality, and I suspected she’d romped through Boston with carefree excitement during her single days. Troy’d told me Fletcher took her to a Brookline piano bar where she sang “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” to a packed house. Her months away were great therapy for the marriage because, as she phrased it, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” I wondered how long it would take before she began saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”

Despite not liking her son-in-law, Grandma Gert always reminded my mother that apartment living on Commonwealth Avenue was no match for a ranch house in Kahala. Her flat was furnished with the melancholy remnants of a former life married to a wealthy Boston broker. Her dining room boasted Baroque end tables and a blue velvet divan. A gold art nouveau chandelier was suspended above a mahogany table capable of seating twelve. Serpentine dressers jazzed up the bedrooms, and an art deco mirror hung by wires off the pantry wall. A red baby grand gathered dust below a window that had been stuck shut for decades. The apartment reeked of mothballs. The digs must have haunted my mother with painful reminisces of days gone by, and perhaps her memories cultivated a distrust of cherished objects and an understanding of the phantom nature of money. But Boston was still home. She thrilled to the whirl of passing trolley cars, the churning wheels in the subways, and the hourly chime of the Chicago World’s Fair clock. The cacophony of familiar sounds revived an enchanted past while reinvigorating her passion for dreams not yet realized.

I’d tried discussing my feelings for Laura with my mother but got the cold shoulder. She didn’t want either Troy or me to fall in love because she felt she’d sacrificed her best years toughing it out and that her sons owed her total devotion. The evil seed that had taken root in her heart was now a monstrous plant, one extending tendrils out to ensnare her children.

June Spoon said good-bye at the gate with one arm around my brother’s waist. Jen stood apart, as if conceding that Troy was today’s favorite.

“Rows 34 through 48,” announced the counter lady for Continental Air.

My father popped up. “That’s us.”

“Let’s wait for last call,” I said.

“You’d be late for your own funeral,” he grouched.

“See ya, Charlie,” Troy called over.

I nodded. “See ya.”

My mother and Jen slipped leis over my head and kissed me goodbye. I suspected June Spoon resented me for leaving and I was sure she’d stick it on her list of hurts, something she could revisit later to gain revenge for abandoning her.

I trailed Dadio into the jet, lugging a briefcase stuffed with Yick Lung mango seed, cans of Mauna Loa macadamia nuts, and a small bag of Hinode rice. It had been tough saying good-bye to my sister. I doubted she could dodge the double blow of paternal abuse and maternal narcissism. Making friends was a struggle, and the voices continued to torment her. She shared our mother’s hunger for fame and, like her, believed destiny would lead her to the door of fame.

My father located our seats in the middle aisle, five seats from the nearest window. I lifted my briefcase and wedged it in an overhead compartment.

“Off with those leis,” my father told me.


He waved a limp wrist. “All the men in Denver’ll think you’re a swell fella.”

Dadio had reservations at The Brown Palace, the only hotel he knew in Denver. He’d stayed there in 1949 during his red convertible journey from Boston to LA, feasting on Rocky Mountain Oysters at their restaurant. He was curious if ram balls were still being served.

“Full of iron,” Dadio had told me.

“How’d they taste?”

“Similar to Swedish meatballs, but more gamy.”

Our jet taxied through the twilight and soon we roared skyward. I saw the blue rings of La Ronde and the red lights at the Top of the Waikiki. We entered a cloud, and I thought about Laura. She’d left for the last session of summer school at Lewis & Clark, and her parents glared when I showed up at the airport with a candy lei. We’d only gone out twice. Laura had no plans to visit me in Colorado, and I wasn’t heading to Oregon anytime soon.

My father looked as though he’d been poured into his seat and, when the time came to deplane, the seat would go with him. His spine was curved from years of hunching over his desk. He craned his neck gazing over the seat in front to check out our blonde stewardess. He waved at her, and she came over.

“Hello, Miss,” he said, “I’d like to order a gin martini.”

“With or without the olive?”


She smiled. “Back in a New York minute, sir.”