I wrote this a few years ago as part of a short fiction piece that was published in the local community college literary journal. Not the Big Time, I know, but even Stephen King wrote short stories for local publications as a young writer and even trashed an early draft of Carrie because he was just flat out frustrated with the way it was progressing.
Believe me, though, I’m not trying to be Stephen King.
Over eight months have passed since I learned the real story behind my father’s death. I wasn’t expecting to ever fully know what happened to him. As a child, I would sometimes ask my mother when Daddy was coming home and then immediately get sent to my room so that she could fall to pieces. My guilt would keep me company until my mother’s hysterical crying slowed to a barely audible sobbing and, finally, to exhausted silence. When all was calm again, I would tiptoe down the hall to find her curled up on the couch with her eyes closed and her body still involuntarily shaking. After so many of these unsuccessful and disturbing attempts to get any information out of her, I decided I couldn’t stand to see my mother that way anymore and quit asking.
Years later, the night before my high school graduation, my grandparents insisted I have a homemade dinner with them a few days before I left their home for good. They both seemed uneasy about my career plans and rightfully so. My grandfather’s small talk seemed to buy him more time with me and it absorbed some of the tension in the room. Meanwhile, my grandmother repeatedly wiped the dining room table clean, over and over again, as if to erode any responsibility she had of hiding the skeleton all these years. I saw her looking into her reflection in order to avoid making eye contact with me. Obviously, we were all thinking about it.
“He must have been terrified,” I blurted out.
For a split second, I thought I had the power to stop time. Nobody moved. Nobody spoke. All three of us stood there waiting for this awkward moment to go away. I started to wonder if any one of us even attempted to breathe. Eventually, the icemaker in the refrigerator door made a startling racket and brought us back to each other. And the clock started ticking again…
This is the first fictional piece (outside of my Yellow poem) I’ve ever really thrown out into the public to be read by strangers and, gulp!, people I actually know. It’s harder to do than I thought.