UKArchive ID: 19512thegeeza
Originally published on June 4, 2007 in Fiction
In response to Sirat's workshop challenge. "Returning to somewhere that has been significant in your life". I only noticed the challenge on Sunday afternoon, so this was done in 2 hours! 1,067 words.
‘I need to go on my own,’ I say.
My wife looks at me, very pensive. I know she wants to envelope herself around me, to protect. She can’t. My teenage son and daughter stand just behind, fidgeting, without the maturity to find any words to help. I feel for them, but I can’t reach out or do anything.
‘Okay,’ she says, simply. My son nods and my daughter says a quiet “goodbye”. I close the door carefully behind me, hearing the catch clunk into place, and walk up the path to the waiting taxi.
As I sit in the car, I think of my mother and the good times we had together: the holidays, the games in the garden, making cakes – all the wholesome things. I remember her with me in hospital when I broke my wrist when I was five. I thought my hand was going to fall off, but she put her arms around me and told me not to worry. I remember when I was much older, about fifteen, and I tripped over something in the front garden and cut my knee. She took me in the kitchen and tended me as if I was still five. The memory of the stinging as she cleaned it out still makes me wince. She told me to stop fussing, and I saw then, what it was, to be a parent.
The taxi stops and the cabbie turns to me and says something. I only have eyes for the old house, standing proud in the middle of a row of semi-detached houses. I give him ten pounds and get out of the car without waiting for the change, staring at the front door.
As I approach the door it opens, and there is my sister. She is leaning to one side with a bag of rubbish in her hand and she looks at me as if she’s seen a ghost.
‘Hello,’ I say.
‘Hello,’ she says, not moving. After a few moments, she straightens up. ‘Thanks for coming,’ she says. ‘I didn’t think that you would.’
‘Why?’ I say.
She shakes her head. ‘I don’t know,’ she mumbles. We look at one another. I haven’t seen her for over twenty years. Although my parents live close by she had married and moved away. Twenty years. We used to be so close. The bonds had broken but I feel the recognition between us shooting out strands of hope. I’m not sure if it’s right, but I can’t help it. She stands aside and beckons me in.
Each step into the pristine hallway is like walking on hot coals but I had made the choice to come, so I move inside, ignoring the pain of every movement. I see an old man in the kitchen and he’s frozen, looking at my large frame blocking out the light from the front door.
Sarah moves past me into the lounge. ‘It’s Michael,’ she says. No one answers. I look at the staircase and remember the fear of going up alone. She steps back into the hallway and asks me to come through.
As I walk in, my eyes are drawn to my mother, sitting in the armchair by the fireplace, dressed in black. There are others in the room, but as my anxiety wells up, I force my gaze towards the mantelpiece and look at the photo frames and ornaments. My two sisters and brother have large pictures, but there’s no room for me. The shadow of a choice made long ago. Still no one speaks or makes a sound, so I look through the arch to the dining table and the coffin that sits on it. Without thinking, I walk towards it and see my father’s grey face as I approach. He reached a good age, but the face is his, and no mistake. Many times I had seen that face close up, contorted into the lines that mark it now, holding me down, his hand over my mouth, stopping me from making a noise.
Sarah comes and stands beside me and we look upon our father together. I turn and look at her, but she doesn’t turn to face me. Her face is like stone. I can’t read it. I want to know what she’s thinking. I want to know if she’s happy or sad. Then I want to know why she feels that way and if she knows what I know, what I have seen, whether his face is the same to her, as it is to me. I want to know but I don’t want to ask.
I turn away and look again, at my mother. She looks me in the eye for the briefest of moments, then looks away, to the empty and cold fireplace. I look at each person in the room, sitting straight, just as Father demanded. They’re wondering whether I’m after the family silver, am here to gloat or just to announce my final victory.
‘I don’t know how you’ve got the nerve, Michael,’ says Liam. My brother, Liam.
I look at my mother, and she’s been watching me. Again, she turns away, she looks down, she looks the other way, she pulls some imaginary fluff from her sleeve and throws it on her immaculate-as-usual floor. She says nothing.
‘Goodbye,’ I say and I walk from the room. Sarah follows me to the front door. I open it and walk through it.
‘Michael,’ she says, handing me a folded piece of yellow paper.
I look at it, turning it over in my hands. I put it into my back pocket, nod, smile at her and walk away, down the path, turning onto the street in any direction, not thinking about where I’m going. Just like I did over twenty years ago. This time, the power and strength is with me.
It doesn’t matter what’s on the paper. She doesn’t know. How could she? Perhaps she glimpsed the demon’s reflection on my face this afternoon. Maybe she saw its shadow walk across the lounge and sit on the arm of my mother’s chair, holding its hand across her mouth. If it is seen then it must exist.
After walking for two hours, I reach my home and stop by the wheelie bin. I take out the yellow paper and throw it inside. It needs to be buried too. Life needs to move on.
Archived comments for Demons
sirat on 04-06-2007
I feel a bit the same as I did about delph_ambi's story. It's all a bit obscure and I struggle to make sense of it. Maybe the plot details don't really matter and it's the feelings and the atmosphere that the story is about, but I always find this kind of piece a bit unsatisfying. It seemed like there was some kind of affair once between the narrator and his sister-in-law, although that's only a theory, and probably such details don't matter, but where they aren't resolved they become a distraction. I suppose what matters is that the narrator has become alienated from his family. The yellow piece of paper is another tease. I think this one might work well for some readers but I am too much of a straightforward and literal sort of person and I can't stop myself trying to understand, to the exclusion of other elements of the piece.
On a tiny technicality i think "to envelope herself around me" should be simply "to envelop me".
One size never fits all, I guess. I think you might just have missed the point of it, but as you say, probably not your cup of tea. Not sure where the sister-in-law and the affair comes from?! 🙂
The yellow paper is explained in the comments below - and was a bit experimental in its nature. I have to be honest and say I thought the rest was fairly obvious.
I wouldn't say your technicality was technically wrong, but your simplification is better - thanks for pointing out.
Thanks for reading/commenting.
e-griff on 04-06-2007
I suppose it's inevitable given the topic that some of our stories will parallel each other. This was similar to (but different from) delph's story.
I did find it just too enigmatic. I would have got more from it had I had just a little more information about what was going on, but I might just be a bit slow. There is obviously a connection between the 'demon' and the paper and some payback/agreement honoured.
Technically, I did see signs of a lack of checking (which in the circumstances is understandable). The bit about parents living near and his sister moving away was obscure, for instance, even though I read it twice.
The atmosphere and tension is well-created, the story in the pictures etc tells the tale. It would be well worth taking some time and brushing this one up a bit.
delph_ambi on 04-06-2007
The way I understand it (on one reading), the father abused Michael and that's why he left. Michael wonders if the same thing happened to his sister. Their mother knew, but stood by the father.
She's still standing by him. They all are. So Michael leaves again.
Excellent story. Maybe I've misread it (having seen Sirat's comment) but my reading worked fine for me.
I'm not sure why Sirat struggled with it - I struggled to understand his comment, to be honest, it didn't seem to bear any relation to what I had written - but no, you read it the way it was intended! I try to keep a fast pace, leaving things for the reader to see for themselves. Sometimes it can leave the reader a bit confused, but I like flash fiction stories like that - a peek into something bigger.
Glad you liked it. Thanks for reading/commenting. I'll get on to yours asap!
Rupe on 04-06-2007
It worked fine for me too. I think the point about a story that revolves around abuse taking place within an apparently nuclear family is precisely that a lot of the pain is in what's left unsaid, and the way you've approached this reflects that idea.
That said, you could maybe be a bit more forthcoming about what the piece of paper is - Sarah might perhaps say something to Michael as she hands it over.
At one point, I thought there were too many commas:
'She told me to stop fussing, and I saw then, what it was, to be a parent'
Thanks, Rupe. Glad you liked it.
Yes, the paper - struck a cord with people who read this and someone else who emailed me. As for what it is - in a way - it doesn't matter. It could be contact details (that's what I would guess), an apology ... I don't know. As I said to Griff in comment above, he didn't want to read it as he'd drawn a line and moved on. He was burying his demons as he was burying his father. Also - as I said to Griff - it either works, or is annoying to the reader! Thanks for pointing out the commas - seem to be doing that a lot lately!
e-griff on 04-06-2007
OK, sorry, got it now. as I've said elsewhere I maybe wasn't too sharp this morning and I missed the key words that told us the nub of the story - entirely my fault. No prob at all now - er except for the paper ... 🙂
No probs. You know me - don't want to write anything with simple plots!
The paper - well, it either works or not, difficult to tell for me. Just doing the "show" part of a story, I thought that the central character wanted to bury his past demons - drawing a parallel to burying his father - and didn't want to look at what she'd written. He'd drawn the line already. And if he doesn't see it ... nor should you ... (as I said, works, or is annoying!)
Thanks for reading, commenting. (I'll get to reading the others asap, when I've got some free time).
bluepootle on 04-06-2007
I don't think a little bit of leaving things unsaid is a bad thing unless it causes the reader to lose interest, and I definitely didn't do that. There's something so straightforward about the manner of telling that the fact that nobody discusses the cause of all this pain is really quite awful for the reader (or me!) Quick and uncomfortable. Memorable, I think.
The initial scene with the wife and kids is a bit too short, I think. And yes, it needs some details, some attention. But I liked it.
shackleton on 04-06-2007
Good but unsettling story, Geeza. I read it the way Delph did - the past abuse, the past and present denial, and the wondering about who else was abused. I think the paper should have revealed more - just my yearning for a conclusive end to a story. Fascinating read - I enjoy your style.
Thanks, Shackleton. Glad you liked it. It was intended along the lines Delph read it, yes.
See above comments for more on the paper - it seemed to stick in the ribs for all, that bit.
Thank-you for reading/commenting.
sirat on 04-06-2007
Just to explain, the reason I thought sister-in-law rather than sister was that when when the narrator describes meeting her he says: "I haven’t seen her for over twenty years. Although my parents live close by she had married and moved away" Surely if she was his sister he would say OUR parents?
josiedog on 05-06-2007
I might say this could do with some tidying up, but if you knocked it out in 2 hours then that's the way it is, and it is a fair old piece for something done in that time.
I like a story that doesn't join up all the dots for the reader, we can interpret the way we want - It seemed the narrator was viewed as the black sheep, the reminder of something, the cause for anxiety and awkwardness when he turns up.
But the family don't know the half of it, the relationship between father and son, which is the cause of the problems.
Abuse, violent I thought, maybe more.
Left unsaid though, much more powerful.
So, in short, I liked the hints and allusions, but sometimes the writing doesn't quite flow, although I'm sure it would with and edit, or if you'd had longer.
Thanks, Josiedog - appreciate the time to read and comment. You got what I was trying to do. I will go back to this one after a week or two and tidy up. It read okay to me, but I find it better to leave them a couple of weeks at least - go back, re-read and the problems fall out more easily. Cheers, Steve.
Ginger on 05-06-2007
Lots has already been said. Not sure if I can add much to the debate! I enjoyed the read, I go the gist - abuse, like Josie said, best let mostly unsaid. Good read.
Thanks, Lisa - glad you liked it.
discopants on 06-06-2007
I didn't find it obscure and read it as delph did. That said, changing the 'my parents' to 'our parents' as highlighted by Sirat would halp avoid any potential confusion.
You keep the atmosphere taut in the scene in the house. I thought the yellow paper was a bit distracting- I took the line 'It needs to be buried too' to imply that the narrator knew what was on it. It might have worked better if it read 'I had no interest in anything it might contain' or something along those lines. You could probably also cut some of the opening to bring us to the main scene a bit earlier.
All in all, though, a good read that held the attention and created an atmosphere.
Yes, you could be right about the yellow paper - the comments show it sticks out like a sore thumb in this. I'll leave it a week or so, and definitely look at that.
Thanks for reading / commenting.
SugarMama34 on 06-10-2007
Bloody hell, what a powerful story this is! There are so many emotions running through this piece of yours; heartache, anger, confusion, regret, guilt, misery, lonliness., peace, even
It's a sad but very moving story. Sadley this type of thing does really happen and sometimes in this way that it has been portrayed too. I found it very realistic. The way I read it Michael had been abused by his father. He probably spoke up about it, but maybe no-one believed him, so he moved away, ashamed of what had happened and to try to make a new life for himself. The family disowned him for speaking out. Have I got it right? To me as a reader I found it very moving. The characters were very believable as has been the scenerio and also the ending. I think you have hit the nail on the head very well here indeed. The only thing I will comment on really is the yellow piece of paper at the end. It sort of left me hanging a little bit because I was curious as to what it said on there. Was it a phone number? Could it have been a not saying it happened to her too? There are a few possibilities to tthis, but I do understand the way in which you wanted it to end. I thought this was a very good piece of writing and a story that will stick in my head for a very long time to come.
Hi Sugar ... yes, that's what I had in mind and I'm glad you liked it. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. The yellow paper was left for the reader to make up their own mind. It generated a lot of comment, so perhaps that didn't work. (or perhaps it did, as it made people think!) I'd hope it was a phone number, of his sister reaching out, or (more bleakly) looking for help. All the best, Steve.