Stood behind a half-open bedroom door is a thirteen-year-old boy. Day has become night in the time he’s been there – and he’s not sure whether to blame the moon or streetlights for the lengthening shadows. There’s a constant hum in the eerie silence of waiting, and he thinks how the word silence itself is a lie, as is love. For distraction he mind-sings Let’s Go Crazy but doesn’t make it to the second verse, giving up and staring instead at the tickets held in his hand for a birthday treat that he rips in half, and then in half again. He throws them in the air and watches them fall like the ashes of a broken promise.
He hears footsteps climbing the stairs outside, a key turning in the front door, and sees his father creeping in doing his best not to be heard. The boy flicks on the light. The father – breathing heavily – freezes in the glare: camel brown slacks stained with mishap, breath toxic with stale booze, eyes glazed with self-loathing mistaken for self-pity.
In a pause shorter than a heartbeat, the boy makes his judgement. He leaps onto his father’s back. They fall to the ground and he flips him over. In this moment he wants to do so much more than just hurt, knows he is capable too because there is not now nor never was an angel telling him otherwise. The father spits frothy mumblings of apology. The boy sits across his father’s chest, straddling his knees across his shoulders. He knows from his judo classes that passive weight is heavier so relaxes. He pins his father’s wrists to the floor until struggle succumbs to tears. Don’t kill me, he cries, don’t kill me.
The boy less crumpled and bruised is now a man aged twenty-three. Today he’s getting married. The man and his wife-to-be are stood in a room that could be a dentist’s waiting room facing a registrar that could be an insurance broker. Nothing in here is beautiful, thinks the man – except for the woman he’s with – and that’s all that matters to him. In this moment he questions if this is what love feels like, and thinks it might be.
Sat behind them are a handful of guests: a sibling each, four co-workers, two close friends who they told only yesterday.
The registrar recites words from a well-worn ledger she knows by heart, knowing that no one is really listening because no one believes in words anymore. She looks up only when needing to; smiles to make up for the drabness of the occasion. She remembers her own wedding day – a full-blown white dress packed church hundred-guest affair – the happiest of her life – and as she announces the couple married, wonders if there might be a child on the way as there usually is.
The couple release hands held clasped for the last ten minutes because they were too afraid to let go, kiss softly and turn round; the guests clap and cheer, gather round to offer hugs and bouquets of yellow and pink spring flowers. In this moment the man is seeing beautiful in everything.
Although he didn’t tell him, and much to the man’s surprise, his father is here, though he remains seated at the back of the room, far away from the intimacy and occasion, and only as the bride and groom are leaving the room does his father get up. He shakes his son’s hand firmly, kisses the bride on the lips. He declines the invitation to come eat and have a drink together, saying he has many things he needs to be getting along with in his garden. He then mutters something about moss in the lawn. The man supposes his brother must have told him about today, and, is, in a silent way, thankful.
The man’s young daughter wakes him from his mid-afternoon shut-eye, and hands him his cell phone. She snuggles up, wraps herself inside his free arm.
‘I wasn’t sleeping, you know,’ he says, ‘just resting my eyes.’ The daughter giggles, looks up at him. Nowadays he knows that love is not a lie.
‘Go back to sleep,’ she says. He closes his eyes.
Every Sunday at three, the man calls his father. They chitchat about the nothings in particular that are easy to talk about and never about the things they’ve locked away.
The man’s young daughter is at that mischievous age, and she knows what’s coming. He knows too; but will pretend he doesn’t. At two fifty-five the theme music from Jaws blasts out from his phone. The young man’s daughter ascends into rapture. The man feigns surprise even if it’s the twentieth time she’s played this trick.
‘Who did that?’ he says, tickling his daughter’s ribs until she happy-cries, ‘who changed the music on my alarm?’
‘Wasn’t me,’ she says.
He holds her until happy is almost grumpy then let’s her escape his grip, which means he’s to chase her around the sofa until he catches her, and like two care-free kittens, they grapple out a play-wrestle – which she always wins.
At two minutes to three, the man asks his daughter if she could get him a glass of water. He takes a few slow breaths, hand-combs his hair for some reason, and dials.
And just as they do every week, the man and his father discuss the weather and football and what they’ll be having for dinner… that is until the words run dry and the hum of uncomfortable silence fills the air between them same as it ever did.
‘Thank you for calling,’ the father then says, always the first of them to crack, ‘have a lovely week, my boy.’
He sounds sincere, the man thinks… almost loving… knowing that that’s about as good as it’s ever been, and as it’ll ever get.
Lee Hamblin is a yoga teacher. He lives in Greece. He’s had stories published in FlashBack Fiction, MoonPark Review, formercactus, Anti Heroin Chic, Atlas and Alice, Reflex, Ellipsis, Fictive Dream, and other places. Links to his stories can be found here: hamblin1.wordpress.com.
Image via Unsplash.