A young man tells his father that he's not planning on following the same path.
A single key spun around Caesar's finger. That was all the metal key chain held. And that's all the rugged young man wanted it to hold. He wore a baseball cap, a wrinkled white T-shirt and black jeans. Caesar's tattered shoes kicked against the dirt and stones of the old storage lot.
He walked down an aisle of units that all looked the same in his eyes. Same fading greenish color, same silver lock on each pad, and the same beam of light bouncing against the metallic square doors. That's all they were to Caesar. Storage Units. The same couldn't be said for his father, whose eyes Caesar caught as the old man turned the corner from patrolling the lot.
"Oh nino, you scared me", Caesar Sr. said. He was a short man, with broad shoulders, his nose was crooked, almost dented like a boxer's. But his ring didn't have the same safeguards of a boxer's, Caesar Sr. wasn't afforded a rope, a trainer didn't grace his corner. Caesar's father was alone when he came to America, but he made it. And in his mind, he had done more than survive. He had fought the long fight and won. His son would do just the same, he bore his father's name, didn't he?
Caesar Sr. smiled at his boy, "didn't I tell you I was taking your shift. Go. Go. Enjoy your night."
"I wanted to tell you something", Caesar said. He spoke so softly that his father leaned forward to hear him. As his father stepped into the light, Caesar was made to stare at the navy uniform he had grown to hate. Ironed and pressed. Shoes shined. Belt polished. Caesar Sr. wore his uniform with pride. His son had "lost" his uniform on more than one occasion. And in each instance was made to wear his father's which bore his name too, in cursive black letters, above the right breast pocket. On those days, Caesar would avoid the sight of himself at all costs. Trips to the bathroom would consist of a b-line to the toilet and a prompt exit. He'd even keep from washing his hands, for fear that he'd catch a glimpse of himself in the mirror. What different did it make? If he had to touch anything, it wasn't his shit he'd be moving.
"What is it mijo?"
Before Caesar could respond, they heard the clanking of metal coming from another aisle of units. Caesar Sr.'s eyes narrowed. His face became stern and sharp. Removing his flashlight from his belt, they slowly circled to the aisle where the metal clanking continued.
They stood staring down the long aisle. Caesar became uneasy, and pressed his feet down into the gravel, catapulting a pebble against the metal door of a unit. His father jerked his flashlight in the direction of the noise, but there was nothing there.
"It's nothing, probably just the wind. Let's go talk in the trailer. I want to tell you -"
"Shh", his father said. The scratching sound of metal had returned and they continued down the aisle. It was dark for sections, as the LED lights failed to work. As the sound grew louder, Caesar Sr. kept his son at arm's length, approaching the unit by himself. Flashlight at his hip, he moved in darkness, getting closer and closer to the clanking noise. With the dexterity of a police officer reaching for his gun, the old man grabbed the flashlight from his hip and shined it on the unit in question. There was nothing and no one.
"I told you", Caesar said.
His father flashed the light to neighbouring units. Still nothing. As he backpedaled toward his son the sound returned. Light beamed against the fading green paint, yet Caesar Sr. was still unable to find the cause of the now irritating sound. Finally, he tilted the light down towards the handle of the unit and saw the perpetrator. A thin, grey cat with piercing yellow eyes. Its tail stood up in shock at the sight of father and son and scampered away.
"There. Mystery solved. Can we go back now?" Caesar said.
"You can wait for me in the trailer if you like, but work is work. And I'm working now." Caesar Sr. reached into his pocket, and withdrew a ring of keys that'd put more than a few janitors to shame.
"What do you need your keys for?"
His father wasn't listening. Caesar Sr. was flipping through his keys, his lips moved as each key slid past his fingertips.
"Buchanan", he said to himself. Things moved quicker now as he flipped through the bronze keys until he found the one he was looking for.
"Help me mijo", Caesar Sr. said, hunching over to open the lock.
"It was just a cat..."
"When will you learn" his father said, and with his eyes; he urged Caesar forward to help him lift the metal door. The door rattled against the roof of the unit and Caesar Sr. stood next to his son with his flashlight illuminating the unit. Boxes lined the walls of the small storage unit, with sleeves of clothing sticking out. Pieces of furniture and electronics were in the center, including several old arm chairs, a wooden desk, and two flat screen televisions.
"What are you looking for?" Caesar said, his frustration growing.
The flashlight moved swiftly across the unit, then it stopped. Scurrying across the floor, their claws scratching against the tile was a family of rats. The light sent them into a frenzy: two of the smaller rats squealed as they made their way into a box of clothing, which had apparently become their home, judging by the sizable hole in the corner and pea sized droppings. As if he anticipated his difficulty, the larger, fatter rat raced towards the hold, his head down, only to be stuck. He let out a piercing shriek and struggled like an obese man trying to get out of an arm chair before finally freeing himself. The rat disappeared into the box, his long tail disappearing along with him.
"Hijo de puta" Caesar Sr. muttered under his breath. "Look at all the stuff they've got", his son said, glancing over the TV's and desk.
"Yes, and it could be ruined", his father said.
Caesar Sr. stared at his son. He raised the wide keychain to eye level. "This is trust. This is my word. They did not have to give me their keys. Most don't. Go to any other property, manager's don't have client's key. But look."
The heavy ring of keys dangled in front of Caesar who rolled his eyes. "Why do you even care? They throw away more shit than we even have."
Caesar Sr.'s eyes flashed then grew soft, his lips curled and he dropped the keys out of view and buried them in his pocket. "Go ahead then...", the old man said gesturing towards the T.V's.
Caesar frowned. "What?"
"Dad... I didn't - I just don't know why you -"
"If there's something you want that I haven't been able to provide then take it. Sacarlo."
"I don't want it..." Caesar took a breath, then glancing at his father, retrieved his own keychain from his pocket. His chain held a single key and looked useless next to his father's which held more than two dozen.
"This... This is all I need."
The words puzzled his father who squinted then frowned, showing the wrinkles of age that extended across his forehead for miles.
"What does it mean? Que dices?"
"That's what I came here to tell you... I'm not going to take that job. I'm going to, I'm gonna go away for awhile, OK?
"What? Where?", his father said, alarmed.
"No, no, Caesar. Mr. Bradford promised me that it was a good position. Good salary. Benefits. You are joking me right?" Caesar Sr. smiled at his son, waiting for an assurance that his greatest fear wasn't true. Even then Caesar Sr.'s smile had that sort of undeniably genuine quality that forced its recipient to smile back, even if they didn't want to.
Caesar was smiling now, but cast it away. It was no joke, he was leaving.
His father's face soured.
"Where? Where are you going then? And for how long? Maybe I can tell Mr. Bradford --"
"But why, Mijo? Mr. Bradford, he's a busy man and I asked him, I asked him for you."
"I know you did." Caesar's voice trailed off. He didn't want to hurt his father, but he was. He knew he was.
"I'm not, I never said I'm leaving for good, but... how do I say this..."
Caesar glanced at his father, he was hunched over as if a weight had been placed on his back. Any minute now, he looked like he'd topple over.
Reaching into his pocket, Caesar retrieved his keychain and the single key it held. "It's like I was trying to tell you earlier. I've got a chance to -- to get out of here for awhile and this, this is all I need for that. Just this."
"What are you saying Caesar? What does that even mean?"
"Right now is the only time, it's the only time, I'll have the freedom to - to just drive, to see the country, to photograph what I see, to write what I hear. And nothing's weighing me down." The words flew out of his mouth so fast that he surprised himself. He held up the silver, metal key. "This is all I need for that. Just the key to my car."
Caesar Sr. said nothing. He had one hand nestled in his pocket, Caesar noticed.
"What're you holding into?" He asked, already knowing the answer.
"My freedom", his father said, removing his set of keys which clanged against one another as they came into view. Rusted, dirty, and forgotten keys, they barely fit across his father's outstretched hand.
"This is my freedom. And your mother's and your sister's and even yours."
"I know" Caesar said, again, so quietly that his father strained to hear. "I know it is, I know how much you've sacrificed, I just, I don't want to have to carry so many keys, you know? Entiendes?"
A silence came over them. Father and son stood facing one another. All was quiet except for the sound of cars that whizzed past, the sound of mothers and fathers returning home to their children. In the distance, they heard the honks of those who could not return soon enough. A gust of wind rattled the storage units and Caesar Sr. took that as a sign. He reached for the handle of the opened unit, a short man, he struggled to grab a firm hold. Caesar noticed and held his father's rough, calloused hand in his own, both men now grasped the handle. Caesar smiled at his father but the old man looked away.
"Better to write it down, so we don't forget right?" Caesar said, making another attempt t to regain his father's approval.
Without looking up from his notepad Caesar Sr. said, "if this job is so beneath you, no more we, I'll tell Mr. Bradford myself, don't worry. Don't tell your mother either I'll tell her. No worries for you hijo. No responsibilities. That's what you want." Caesar Sr. turned his back on his son and walked away.
Caesar yelled after him. "I'm not you, you know."
The old man turned around, he was tired, and he had enough of his only son. He'd have continued walking if Caesar had not rushed towards him.
"I'm not you Dad. I can't wake up at 5 am every morning and come home with a smile on my face, I can't, I can't swallow my pride and find the goodness in things most people would take for granted... And you're right, you're right, maybe I'm scared of responsibilities --"
"No, don't say that. I've seen you. You work had, you get good grades. Graduate. You make me and your mother proud... That's why I know this job will be --
"You don't understand", Caesar was pacing now, his head down.
"All that time I was working to please you, please mom. I knew how hard you worked. I just wanted to make you proud."
"And you did", Caesar Sr. said. He stepped forward slowly, as if he was approaching a small, injured animal that could, at any second, become frightened and run away.
"But I didn't learn anything about myself, what I care about, what I want to do. There's nothing." Caesar's face was flushed, but he continued.
"But that's a luxury mijo." His father interjected.
"Maybe to you!" Caesar cried. Just as soon as he said it, he keeled over, as if he had been the one injured by the remark. He looked as if he had been stabbed in the stomach, he grasped for breath and waved his hands at his father in regret, before continuing.
"You've made it so that I have a choice. And maybe I won't find anything...then, then I'll be right back here beside you, if, if you'll let me. And I'll do it. I will. Not as good as you, but I will. But maybe I do discover something, something I really love, something that'll get me through the tough days. It's possible right? It's not too late?" Caesar said with doting eyes. It could be understood that, in that moment, if his father had said no, he would have accepted it, and resigned to accept a fate alongside his father.
"Of course mijo, I found your mother didn't I?"
Caesar Sr. smiled at his son, he reached into his pocket and took out the ring of keys. Slowly, as his son watched, he slid off a single, golden bronze key.
"One more for you", the old man said, handing it over to his son. Caesar glanced at it, it looked familiar.
"Is this our - this is the house key?"
"I noticed you didn't have it anymore. One more key. That won't hold you down, will it?
Caesar smiled in a way, that made him almost indistinguishable from his father. His eyes grew wet, and he leaned forward and gave his father a firm kiss on the cheek.
"No, never, no this is fine", he said while putting the key on his chain.
"Good. Don't lose it now."
They stood there, for a moment, until Caesar broke the silence. "I'm not leaving tonight, you know? We won't leave for a couple days."
His father nodded. "Leaving with some friends, I see?" Yes, that was true, and Caesar told his father as much.
"OK. Well, I'm tired. Would you bring your car around front, I'll meet you there. Then we can go home." Caesar nodded in agreement, he walked down the long aisle, but looked back at his father who waved him forward.
Alone. Caesar Sr. pressed his back against the cold, metal, unit door. His knees throbbed, his back ached, and he worried that if he sat down, it'd only hurt more getting up again. To hell with it. Caesar Sr. slowly slid down anyway. His back pressed against the ridges of the door, Caesar Sr. felt uncomfortable, but he knew it was better than standing. There was no worry of being seen sitting down on the job, it was late, and everyone was home. Unable to help it, Caesar Sr. flashed his light from side to side, just in case. Yes, it was true; he was alone. He turned off the light and gazed at the crescent moon which looked abandoned in the night sky withouts its stars. Caesar Sr. became upset, nights like this never seemed right to him. The moon should always be surrounded by his stars. It was deathly still, and Caesar Sr. could he hear his son's footsteps trail off in the distance. And although he wasn't gone; he wished he'd return, and he began to cry. For the old man missed his son, he already missed his boy.