NO PART OF THIS SHORT STORY MAY BE USED OR REPRODUCED IN ANY MANNER WHATSOEVER WITHOUT THE PRIOR WRITTEN PERMISSION OF THE AUTHOR.
By Christine Hayton – November 10, 2013 – Revised June 8, 2014
Mark slid his pickup onto the dirt road home. Surrounded by lilac bushes and autumn tinted maple trees, the old house had stood on the same knoll for several lifetimes. The two-storey structure, considered affluent in its time, showed signs of age. Up close, the paint peeled from the clapboard siding, and the asphalt shingles were beginning to curl. Two of the six shutters on the front of the house were broken and hung slightly askew.
The truck threw the loose stone over the uncut grass as it fishtailed into the driveway and skidded to an abrupt stop. Mark was well on his way to the alcoholic stupor he nurtured most of the time. He almost fell out of the truck, but managed to keep his balance as his feet landed on the driveway. He smiled as he staggered up the porch steps then he remembered the mail. He turned and missed the first step. He slid down the rest and landed hard on his back in the gravel. He rolled onto all fours and got up, still smiling. Arms extended, he pretended he was walking a very wide tightrope down the driveway. The roadside box was half-full and he grabbed the mail and staggered back to the house.
He sang an out-of-tune, but very loud version of “Rockstar” and faltered on his way back up the steps. At the door and vaguely confused, he stopped singing, and realized the keys were still in the truck. He stumbled down the steps and laughed when he saw the truck door wide open. The keys dangled from the ignition, and spouting another pitiful rendition of rock music, he grabbed them. He spun around, hit the open door, dropped the keys and mail, and fell again.
Several minutes went by as he picked himself up and got back up the steps. He located the key and let himself into the house. The main hall sported archways into various rooms. He stared at the one that led into the old parlour for no particular reason, and then realized he still had the mail in his hand. He stretched his arms full length and tilted back his head, then flipped through the envelopes.
A familiar one caught his eye. The envelope, ripped open, produced a check. The attached letter informed him his claim had run out. He threw the letter aside and tucked the check into his shirt pocket. Rick, the bartender at Diamonds Bar, would be happy if Mark finally got his tab up to date. Hell, they could have another drink together.
The next envelope was from the mortgage company. He opened the letter and read slowly to be sure he got it right. All payments had to be up to date no later than the end of the month, or the mortgage company would proceed with foreclosure. With a frown, he tore the letter into little pieces and stuffed them under the plastic dirt of the old silk fern in the hallway. He couldn’t let Karen see that letter; his wife thought he was paying the mortgage.
He patted the check in his pocket and stopped when the threat in the mortgage letter clicked. The mail flew against the wall and fluttered to the floor, but the keys left a fist-sized hole in the plaster before they landed on the carpet. The fern bounced into the parlor doorway. Finished his tantrum, he slid to the floor as his mood completed a total flip. Lyrics exploded into violent curses, and giggles turned to a seething rage. This was their fault. Mark was sure Karen’s parents engineered his failures so they could be the heroes and save his family from ruin. Well Mark wouldn’t take their charity or bow to their bidding at that foul plastics plant. He would find a better way to support his family. He just needed some time to think. He had to fix things now. Karen and the kids would be back tomorrow.
He rose from the floor and fell twice as he walked up the stairs to the bedroom. By the time he arrived, his mood had changed again. This time the rage crumbled into self-pity and he slid to his knees next to the bed and started crying. He had to give his wife and kids a better life. Mark forced his mind to focus, his mind circled the perfect TV fathers, and he wondered how they would fix this mess. He knew his own father never fixed anything. A tall, fat, bald man with black eyes and a soul to match, who spent his energy drinking his disability checks and beating his wife and son.
Carl had been dead for three years.
Mark regularly replayed his death in his head. The day of the accident Carl, drunker than usual, demanded Mark drive him home. Mark refused. He wasn’t in any better condition to drive than Carl was. The old Buick pulled away with Carl behind the wheel, Jack Daniels beside him, and Mark riding shotgun. The accelerator to the floor and the bottle tipped well back, Carl lost control and skidded into the rock cut.
Mark’s world collapsed into slow motion. Spellbound by the spidery cracks in the windshield and the blood and hair caught in the glass, he pressed his palm to his forehead. His hand came away with warm blood dripping between his fingers. He wiped his hand on his jeans and looked over at Carl. The steering wheel pushed against his chest and pinned him to the driver’s seat. Mark felt the blood pulsing as it spurted violently from the gaping slash from Carl’s right ear down his neck. He could smell the cheap bourbon, but there was no sound. He watched as Carl’s mouth moved and his body squirmed. Carl stared at his son and choked on his own blood. Mark smiled as his father slowly died. His father’s head, eyes fixed and vacant, leaned against the steering wheel as Mark’s world went black.
Mark relived the absolute joy he felt watching the life drain from his father. His mood greatly improved, he got up off the floor.
Slipping into an alcoholic dementia, his mouth dropped open as Carl walked toward him from the corner of the room. He sneered and shook his fist. All the same terrible words Mark heard his whole life bounced off him; ‘stupid bastard, useless fool, lazy worthless trash’. Mark relived his childhood terror as his father’s voice smashed him in the head over and over. He cowered, and backed into the open closet. Pulling the folding doors shut, he dropped to the floor. Mark sweated profusely and a heavy despair engulfed him like a dense fog. He leaned back and felt the sights of his hunting rifle press into his back. He clutched the rifle and opened the closet doors. Everything was quiet again as he moved cautiously into the room.
Mark sat on the edge of the bed and struggled with an idea. He was sure he had the answer to all his problems. Leaving the rifle on the bed, he returned to the closet and pulled down the metal case from the top shelf. His world began spinning and he dropped the case onto the bed and sat down. He closed his eyes to stop the drunken whirl and clear the fuzz that surrounded his brain. Once his mind focused again, he opened the metal case and retrieved the firing pin assembly from the top tray. Beneath the tray, he found the box of rifle shells. After several unsuccessful tries, he finally managed to rejoin the firing pin to the gun and inserted a shell into the chamber.
He sat at the small desk and wrote a note to Karen. The insurance policy from the plant was still in effect, and she could collect five hundred thousand dollars. Her father told Mark he would leave the insurance policy in place even though he had quit. In the note, he told her about the insurance, how much he loved her and his children. He asked her to make it all work somehow and always remember him. He folded the note and placed it on Karen’s pillow. The family photo smiled at him from the night table. He smiled back. Everything would be okay now.
The rifle dragged behind him as he made his way to the ensuite bath. He propped the gun against the wall and checked his reflection in the mirror over the vanity. His face was deeply lined and his hair was too long and tangled. There was some food drooled down the front of his shirt and he desperately needed to shave. His own image disgusted him, and then suddenly it was gone and his father was back again.
Carl’s face was grey and twisted. The blood poured down the side of his neck. His words, mean and hurtful, echoed repeatedly in Mark’s brain. Squeezing his eyes shut, he covered his ears with his fists and turned away, but Carl’s abuse just got louder. It vibrated Mark’s entire body until tears ran down his face.
Mark opened his eyes and took one slow deep breath as he turned back to the mirror. Never taking his eyes off his father, he picked up the rifle. Swallowing hard, he pushed the barrel up under his chin. Carl went quiet and stared at Mark. Mark smiled at Carl and felt the same ecstasy he had felt three years before in that car.
“We’re done now. Rot in hell, old man.”
Mark calmly slid his thumb onto the trigger. Holding the rifle steady with his other hand, he closed his eyes and carefully pushed down.
Carl was gone.
Copyright © 2014 Christine Hayton