Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Write...Edit...Publish: Haunting


Denise Covey is hosting Write...Edit...Publish, a monthly bloghop (details here). October's theme is "haunting" and my humble submission is offered below.  My story is 946 words long.  Please respond with comments only.  Be sure to visit the other participants as well.  The link list is at the end of my post.

 
All Saints’ Day

            Damn it!  The living room light was still on.  Somebody was awake.  Probably Mom.  After yelling at me for missing curfew, she’d pepper me with questions:  Why are you late?  Who were you with?  Were his parents there?  You’re telling me they don’t have a phone?  Who drove you home anyway?

            Please, Mom, no questions tonight.

            I’d walked home from the Halloween party, fighting that hyperventilating hiccup a boy gets when he’s trying not to cry.  Yes, I’d stayed later than I should have, hoping to talk to her if only for a few minutes.  Why the hell did she want to be with that jerk instead of me?  I missed my ride home waiting so long.  I had to walk.

            I opened the door quietly – not entirely sure why.  Judgment and sentencing had likely already been passed.  A surprise waited in the armchair facing the door: Dad.  My father staying up past 9 o’clock was never a good sign.  I bet he’d had that hard, cold paternal stare locked and loaded from the moment he heard my feet come up the path.  As soon as the door swung open, he was ready to fire.

            But then he saw me and knew the torture I was already imposing upon myself.  His face of granite softened to leather, the corners of his mouth dropping. He turned to stare at the rug.  I was more lost than ever.  Finally rising but still not looking, he pointed to the couch.  “Have a seat, son.”

            Instead of sitting back down himself, he made for the kitchen.  I heard the fridge door, the clink of glass from the cupboard, the pouring of liquid, the fridge again.  He returned with a tumbler of milk, setting it down on a coaster beside me.   We sat quietly for a while, both of us staring at the rug, I taking the occasional sip.  When I was half done, he stood, putting a hand on my shoulder.

            “Go to bed.  We’ll talk in the morning.”  He went upstairs and I was alone.  He didn’t even ask what was wrong.

            Thank God, he didn’t ask!

            Seven the next morning brought a knock on my door.  Dad poked his head around, softly commanding, “Get some clothes on.  We’re going for a walk.” 

So, was this my punishment? Forced to get out of bed before noon on a Saturday?  Or was this just the interrogation?  Trudging to the kitchen, Dad was pouring coffee into thermal mugs for both of us.  I don’t think he asked if I wanted any, or if I even liked the stuff.  Handing me one, he reminded, “It’s chilly.  You’ll want a coat.”

The sun was starting to pull itself up over the horizon as we left the house.  There certainly was a nip in the air, the cool damp of an autumn morning.  We walked in silence, heading towards the school.  Decorations were still up.  A few jack-o-lanterns had suffered the brutality of teenagers overnight, smashed to pulpy orange bits on the sidewalk.  One house had been TP’d, another egged, judging from the smell.  Pressed, I could probably name the culprits.  No longer cute enough to beg for candy, they resorted to the last privilege of childhood left to them: making a mess for someone else to clean up.

Upon arriving at our expected destination, we sat on a bench facing out across the school’s parking lot.  I knew why Dad liked this spot.  In a neighborhood dominated by oaks and beeches, a single maple tree stood across from the front door of the school.  Every fall, it would blaze a deep, satisfying red against all of the yellows and oranges around it.  Dad loved that tree.  As we sat quietly, he stared at the fallen leaves pooling on the ground.

I dreaded the questions.  Please Dad, don’t make me talk about her.  Don’t make me relive my humiliation.  Yell at me.  Ground me.  But please don’t make me talk.  I don’t want to cry in front of you.

“You know, it scares the shit out of us when you’re not home on time.”

At this, I finally looked up at him.  His gaze was still on the leaves.  I saw the circles under his eyes, his unshaved chin.  I don’t think he’d even brushed his hair yet.  He hadn’t slept any better than I had. 

And when did he start going gray around the temples?

When he lifted his gaze to me, it was my turn to stare at the leaves.  “Things happen to kids your age, son.  We worry.”

I didn’t know what to say.

“Next time, give us a call so we’ll at least know you’re safe.  Okay?”

“Okay.”

“And if something happens and you need a ride, call us.  We’ll come get you.  There’s no shame in wanting to get home in one piece.”

We both knew that’s not what had happened but I acquiesced with a nod.

Looking at each other was still too hard.  We sat, sipping our coffee, shivering from the occasional breeze, light spreading in pink streaks across the sky.

“ I know you had a rough night and I’m sorry.  I don’t need to know why.”  Then reluctantly, “unless you want to tell me.”  We both knew I didn’t.  I almost laughed.  Now he was embarrassed? “But next time, at least call.”

“Okay, Dad.  I’m sorry, too.”  I really meant it.  I didn’t always do such a great job of living up to that promise in the following years but that morning on the bench across from the maple tree, I definitely meant it.

It really was a spectacular tree.


Copyright 2013

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I hope you will consider joining the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, my bloggers' book club.  Please sign on to the link list at the top right of my blog, where there is also a link to more details.

Once again, comments only please.




52 comments:

  1. I loved this story. The years peeled back (well decades actually) as I read this. It reminded me of a very long, very lonely, very scary walk home after a party . Now I'm a Mum with teenagers. This story is going to haunt me for a quite a while.

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    1. Thanks. My daughter's 10 so these days, I'm a lot closer to the father side of this story than the son side. Thanks for stopping by, Jenny!

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  2. You can tell that the Squid has family on the brain.

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    1. Full disclosure: Dad's birthday's on Friday. I was hoping if this turned out well, it might make a nice gift.

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    2. Just might rival the Buddha on the piano.

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  3. This was so incredibly good. Tears stood in my eyes at the last line. There were a few spots where I would lift out a line or two to comment on with a 'wow,' (granite softening to leather) but I won't (even though I kinda just did.) This is seamless and lovely and if I had picked it up in a bookstore and it was a full-length novel, I'd be on my way to the till. Above all things, I love storytelling with heart (and impeccable grammar. ;))

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    1. Thank you, Suze. As you know, your encouragement is always appreciated. I'll be by to read yours right soon.

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  4. This was great, the sentiment range true. The granite to leather...annoyance over getting up before noon. Great post. :)

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  5. Great voice, great descriptions, great emotion, great everything! Well done!

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  6. Superbly done! Everything else has been said! Wonderful! Thank you for sharing!

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    1. Thank you, Yolanda. I'll be by to read yours in just a bit.

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  7. Interesting piece. I never had nights like that.

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    1. I never had a night quite like this one either. For starters, I was far more likely to sneak out after curfew than to miss it. But there are elements of truth here and there.

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  8. Such an understanding dad! Great story telling!

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  9. Wonderful, wonderful story. I've been both that kid out late and afraid, and that parent up late and afraid. This was perfectly balanced.

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    1. Thank you. I know the one half. I expect I'll be better acquainted with the other very soon.

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  10. Very good. Do you envision this as a part of a larger story?

    I'm very soon going to be entering my time as the Dad in this tale (my boy is 12), but I can certainly remember the "Why the hell did she want to be with that jerk" days, too.

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    1. Thank you, sir! Actually, this started as a broader concept. I thought it might be too much for the 1,000 word count expectation so I pared it down to this simpler story within. I don't know what I'll do with it now.

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  11. Hello Armchair Squid! I've been there many times. Resonated well with me. Very touching. Loved the maple tree motif. Loved that the boy just noticed poor Dad's greying temples. I'm sure Dad will be fully grey before said son grows up.

    Thank you so much for writing/posting this story for the WEP blogfest! Every entry is appreciated and gives participants so many good stoires and poems to read.
    Note I have already signed up for Coffeeclub. Glad to see the month at the top. I've made the next WEP the week earlier, partly because I'm heading overseas on Dec 3rd...

    Hope I see you in November for SHARING!

    Denise

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    1. Thanks, Denise! I'm in for November. I have nothing yet but I didn't have anything for haunting at this point last month. This has been a very healthy exercise for me, so far.

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  12. Hi,
    This was a great post. You mixed angst and maturity well. I especially liked the description of the "paternal stare locked and loaded" mixed with wisdom. Your character acknowledged the cost of pumpkin smashing: youths making a mess that someone else cleans up.

    I enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing-
    Gina

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  13. Ah, the ending of childhood; when we start to see our parents as people. The guilt and humiliation was well portrayed in this,

    .........dhole

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  14. I especially liked this line: "His face of granite softened to leather, the corners of his mouth dropping. " Poignant piece.

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse

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  15. A great piece.
    It also seemed to mark a new phase in this father-son relationship, with a new mutual respect and understanding.
    Writer In Transit

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  16. I know I caused my mother a fair bit of agony on my nights out. I think you did a good job showing this from both sides, the guilt and anxiety of the teen over the pain his caused his parents and the father's admission that it's fear that drove their worry about him. I liked the descriptive touches. Nicely and subtly done.

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    1. I definitely did, too!

      Thanks, J.L. I'll be by soon to visit.

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  17. I liked how the "horror" of this story was in the minds of the father and son. A good way to establish a coming of age for the young man. Very good. Thanks!

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    1. Thanks, Lisa. We are all "haunted" by our own insecurities.

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  18. LOL I remember sneaking in past curfew and Dad switching on the light, scaring me half to death. The horror, wondering what my punishment would be! (Cleaning up the dog poop for a week. Sigh. I know my sister hoped I would be in trouble more often so she'd escape that chore.) You don't understand the fears of a parent until you ARE a parent :-)

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    1. So, true! I'm terrified of my daughter's teen years and they're not far off!

      I like your dog poop story.

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  19. Not many parents are as understanding as your fictional dad - I know mine weren't! Well written and well told with the emotions of both the young son and the older father coming through strongly.

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    1. I shared this with my father today. All Saints' Day is his birthday. He liked it. I think he was a little worried that there were implications about his own parenting but I assured him otherwise. None of us is a perfect parent. I'm certainly not!

      I'm not sure the dad in the story is either. In a funny way, his son lets him off the hook. They still can't talk about it. Then again, maybe words aren't always the right answer.

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  20. This is a wise little piece of writing. I like how the son has the awakened feelings of empathy for his father. This is how we mature, isn't it. Very nice.

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    1. Thanks, Kerry! That's definitely the idea I had in mind.

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  21. I actually had a similar experience with my dad, back in the day. Similar in that I came home in a way that was sure to disappoint. Drunk--at 15. After church the next morning he sat me down and had The Chat. I was told I got one free pass, one and only one chance to cut loose as I had. The next time would get me grounded.
    There was no next time.
    I'm sure there are many parents like the one you have written, just as there are many kids like yours. It is a clear and accurate portrayal that really resonated with me. Thanks for reminding me how special teen life is.

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    1. Thanks, Veronica. There was actually one night I came home, not exactly drunk but sure not sober. My mother was awake and chatty. I think she had a sense of my state and deliberately kept me awake talking rather than letting me sneak away to bed. Subtle. Effective. Worth remembering.

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  22. I loved your descriptive phrases. His face turning from granite to leather. Well done and what a heart warming story.
    Nancy

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  23. I really like you story. Halloween is a time that means different things to different people and different ages. For the young children it means sweets; but for the older children, who know they are on their way to not being children anymore, there are things scarier than Halloween-ghosts. I like the phrase:

    No longer cute enough to beg for candy, they resorted to the last privilege of childhood left to them: making a mess for someone else to clean up.

    Children need to learn that it is not so easy being a parent or an adult, with the responsibility that comes with it. All this, you have shown so well in your story.

    Best wishes,
    Anna


    Anna's WEP-Challenge for October: Haunting

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    1. Thank you, Anna! I'll stop by to read yours shortly.

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  24. This is really good. I like the deviation from the horror that most of us wrote for this blog challenge. You painted some gorgeous word pictures, especially of the tree. And you did leave us wondering what exactly happened to the son at the party. Well done! I also like how the dad handled the situation. Reminds me of my own father.

    Thanks for visiting my blog and reading my entry! I appreciate it.

    Cheers,
    Jen

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    1. Thanks, Jen. And congratulations on your glorious triumph!

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  25. This is such a great piece, moving, and beautifully written. An unexpected treat of simple, yet complex, life...

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    1. Thanks, Vesper! I appreciate you stopping by.

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