under his skin // part i

Short Stories / Sunday, March 11th, 2018

He had never been one for big words or grand gestures. If anything, these things appalled him. He held a subtle grudge against anyone who over-shared, overdid anything, over-imposed themselves in any way. He thought it bad taste.

To him, the grace and beauty of a person lay in subdued elegance, quiet beauty, understated modesty. Maybe these were things instilled in him when he was still a kid, something he had admired in his mother who was, to him, a queen of splendour, although he couldn’t remember now what she had looked like exactly. She had died in a car crash when he was five years old but in his memory, her ebony face, finely wrought with hazel eyes gazing dreamily under long lashes, was the epitome of elegance.

His father on the other hand was the opposite, loud and boastful and never slow to praise his own accomplishments but very hesitant to bestow it on anyone else’s success. His father was a man who thought he was the only one who truly worked for what he got, everyone else mostly just got very lucky without lifting so much as a finger.


And this was the reason he hated Christmas since he was five years old. Spending it with his father, in the grand, high-ceilinged dinner room of his family’s manor was something he started dreading come November. Sometimes it felt as though he was suffocating in his father’s presence, even though all the rooms of the manor were spacious and airy, light streaming in from all the grand window fronts. But something about his father, the way he talked, the way he sneered at his own son when he told a story or wanted to explain something, got him so worked up he had to clench his fists almost the whole way through dinner and dessert and all the way in the cab home. There was absolutely nothing that he could do right in the eyes of his remaining parent. He knew his own worth, he was by now 29 years of age and had built a successful company selling hairdryers to renowned hotel chains into 23 different countries. He had had pretty girlfriends and pretty loft apartments. He had friends, truly, who loved him for who he was and told him off when he overstepped. But this thing, this unresolved animosity between his father and him was a thorn in his flesh that seemed to get infected afresh around every December. He just couldn’t explain to himself why the man who made him, the man who held him as a baby, gave him life and food and shelter and warmth, now looked at him with slight contempt every time he laid his eyes on him. He’d spent years agonizing over it, pulling apart memories from when he was a teenager time and again, trying to find the key moment, the moment his father yanked the rose away, leaving only that sharp, black thorn. He couldn’t find it.

Sure, he may have been a raucous youth at times; he once sneaked away from university with his friends in the dead of night and they went hitch-hiking all the way to Alaska. When he returned two weeks later he just shrugged his shoulders and said that his lectures at Harvard had bored him to death. Or once where his father had caught him speeding in a Mercedes lent from one of his friends, learning of it only because his son had had a self-accident and landed in the hospital, luckily with not more than bruises and a broken arm.

But these things had always been forgiven. He’d always felt his father become soft again, had always felt him losing the hard edges again, forgiving him for youthful stupidity. It must have been later, when he already passed the teenage years, sometime between his graduation and now, that something changed in their relationship. The dynamics shifted from playful discussions, half-serious reproaches to far-flung and heated arguments, raised voices and always that slight contempt emanating from his father’s pursed lips. Every look he gave him signalled misgiving, a quiet repellence.

The morning of the 24th he woke up in his silent apartment, pale December sun shining in through the blinds onto the perfect wide of his bedsheets. He groaned and turned around again. He dreaded the thought of tonight, the thought of driving out to the country to his parent’s house, the anger that would soon arise between them; he simply dreaded the thought of facing his father. Again. By now their relationship had worsened so far as to that Christmas was the only time a year where they saw each other, not even birthdays were spent together. He got up with a sigh. Felicia, the cleaning lady had left a plate of self-made cookies on the marble cooking isle. He smiled and made a mental note to send her his thanks and raise her salary for next year. He really would be most lost without her. While he waited for his coffee to be ready, he stared out of the window, imagining the frosty welcome he would get tonight. The stiff handshake, the awkward pause in the big entrance hall, the sparkly chandelier reflecting million-fold the uncomfortable scene entangling underneath. The beeping of his coffee machine directed his mind back to business at hand and he sat himself down at the table, coffee in one hand, to read the newspaper.


His fingers clenched and unclenched into tight fists underneath the table. He tried hard to remain calm but somehow his father always managed to make him feel like a clumsy schoolboy again.
“I’ve had a look at your numbers. Export dropped a fair amount compared to last year, I see?” He chewed his bite of filet for an extra few seconds longer, so as to gain time to flatten his voice.

“Yes, you’re right. I’ve already talked to my overseas sales assistant about it. We’re on it.” His father only gave a slight nod, the sneer still sitting in the corner of his eyes. Maybe it was the brandy, or maybe it was the glint of the snow outside, or maybe it was the thorn pushing itself a little bit deeper.

“Alright father.” His voice wasn’t loud, it was small and soft with exhaustion. “I’ve had enough. I think you and me both had. Let’s have it out, for once in these godforsaken years, let’s have it. What is it that makes it almost unbearable for you to be with me, to look at me? Why can’t you love me like you did all those years when I was young? Is it something I did? Something I said? Some choice I have made, which you don’t approve of? Whatever it was, I think everything is better than this. So, I’ll say it again: let’s have it out, once and for all, and end this dreadful agony, year and year again.”

His father, the man who always stood tall, ready to curse a coward any day, ready to strike a blow and to take his turn any time – stood up abruptly, and left the room without a word.

Leave a Reply