under his skin // part ii

Short Stories / Sunday, March 18th, 2018

He was taken aback. Whatever he had expected to come out of this, it certainly wasn’t this. He could have lived with rage, with spiky words thrown at him, refusal, anger, dismissal, anything. But silence? That was probably even worse. He heard his father’s footsteps, heard him tread up the windy staircase to the first floor, down the long hallway to his room, then a door being shut, then nothing. Silence. His hands were shaking when he threw his napkin onto the half-eaten filet mignon. Old Thompson rushed to meet him in the great hall but was obviously hesitant to help him into his coat.

“You mustn’t drive out in this snow storm, Sir. I would sleep more comfortably tonight knowing you safe and sound in a bed at the Manor. You can always make your way back by tomorrow morning, when the worst is over.”

“Well, Thompson, as you well know your comfortable sleep is none of my concern. Now help me into my damn coat and bring the car,” he snapped. The second he spoke, he knew he was being insufferable. “I’m sorry, Thompson. You know how father has the tendency to upset me. I really can’t bear to spend another minute here so please go get the car for me, if you would.” Thompson gave him a kindly look.

“I know, Sir, I do. As you wish.” And with that, Thompson helped him into his coat and bustled away into the garage to get the car for him. Stepping outside of the house, he immediately felt better. The stinging winter wind did him good, tearing at his hair and cooling him down. He noticed that Thompson hadn’t exaggerated before – the snow really had evolved into a blizzard over the course of a few hours. By now thick snowflakes fell from the sky in such a high density, he could almost not make out his hand stretched out before him in the dark. But staying here was not an option to him, not under this roof where he had experienced nothing but hardship and anger for the last decade. The diffuse yellow light of car spotlights illuminated the snowy path before him.

“There you go, Sir,” Thompson said while handing him the keys, “pray do drive slow, and give us a call when you’re back in the city or I will have to worry about you the whole night.”

He smiled and gave the old servant a hug.

“I will, dear Thompson. Thank you. For always being so kind to me.” The poor old man, taken aback by the sudden outburst of his Sir was enduring the hug stiffly. He was of the old sort and esteemed his Sires highly. He did not approve of minimizing the social distance between servant and Sir by physical contact.

“You are most welcome, Sir. You were a fine boy, and you are a fine man now. Don’t you forget that.” With a thankful nod to his old friend, he climbed into the car and shifted into first gear. In the rear-view mirror, he watched Thompson wave as he drove slowly along the completely snowed-in path leading to the entrance gates. Then, suddenly, out of the corner of his eyes, he saw a flash of black right in front of the vehicle. He braked as hard and sharp as he could, his heart speeding. He got out, cursing and mumbling to see what it was, hoping he hadn’t hit a deer although he was quite certain he hadn’t felt an impact. Then he realized what it was.

He gasped.

There in the hellish white was his father, black dressing gown slung around his body, his feet in slippers, hands stretched out in front of him as if he wanted to stop the car by sheer force. Without the tuxedo and the hair all ruffled, he looked so much older, almost frail.

“My son.” Even the voice, usually so steady and full of curt self-assuredness was almost a whisper.

“My boy. As soon as I heard the car starting, I ran out the back door and all the way down here. I realized I can’t let you go, not like this, not on a night like tonight.”

The son looked at his father, unsure of what to do or say. The wind was roaring so loudly, he could almost not make out what his father was saying.

“What you said tonight… I know. And I’m sorry. I am so very sorry that I haven’t been the father you wanted, or deserved. I regret a great many things in life, and this is one of the worst. But I just couldn’t.”

“Am I so unlovable, then?” His father took a step towards him, eyes fixed on his.

“On the contrary. You,” his father’s gaze now roamed freely across his face, really looking at him for the first time in years. It looked like it hurt.
“You are so much like her. You look like her. You have her eyes and her mouth. Her dimples and her light laugh. Her mannerisms and her grace. It’s all there, buried in the way you are, the way you speak and walk and talk. And it’s utterly, completely unbearable to me.” He looked back at his father, unbelieving.

“You despise me for being like my mother?” A small, single tear formed in the corner of his eye.

“Yes,” his father whispered, lips pursed as if he feared what other sounds might escape them. “But when I heard you drive away, I knew that it was the last time you would. After all the times that I have pushed you to stay away. And I realized that maybe, if I try hard enough, I can love you despite of it. Or maybe even for it.”

He took a step back. The pain he’d never showed to anyone, the one stuck under his skin for the good part of his adult life, the one coursing through his veins like hot fire every time he thought of it, finally spilled out of him. He yanked it away with brutish force, the thorn that had been buried right in the left chamber of his heart for what seemed like eternity and a day more.

“All these years you made me question myself, loathe myself, look for reasons why I wasn’t good enough for you,” he howled against the wind, tears and snot streaming down his cheeks, “when there was absolutely nothing wrong with me and everything wrong with you for loving a woman who has been dead for close to twenty-four years now.”

His father took a step towards him, wanting to make up for lost ground, lost time, lost opportunities but he just backed further up.

“You grew into her. More and more, with time and maturity, your face smoothed down into hers, your language, everything. Haven’t you wondered why there are no picture of her? Do you even remember her? What she looked like?”

“I don’t,” he said.

“That is because I hid them all away, every single one of her portraits, everything. It’s all stowed in cardboard boxes in the attic. You’ve grown into her spitting image and suddenly I realized I cannot bear to be in the same room with you without missing her so terribly it hurts, and without, and that is probably even worse, being reminded of my own guilt and remorse.”

“Your own guilt and remorse?”

“I drove the car. It was me, all me. There was no other vehicle involved. I drove it against a tree, she was singing, I remember, “For Auld Lang Syne”. It all went so fast. Her face was crushed by the impact.” The son tore at his hair, pacing small circles in the snow. He didn’t know what to say. He found that he felt drained and empty, a white hole sitting where the thorn used to be.

“I am so sorry for everything that has passed between you and me. All I know is that you are my only child and that I should have loved you better, and that I hope you will forgive an old man for being a coward, for being scared of what he has done to his family. I am tired of running from this. You. And if you will only let me, I will try to make it right.” His father stretched out a bony hand, trying to reach his.

He weighed his options. He could sit right back into his car, drive away from this house and this father of his and this disappointment he had always felt, and put it all in the past. Or –

somewhere in the distance, the church bell of the village chimed. He counted twelve strokes of a bell.

“It’s Christmas, after all,” his father whispered.

And so, two grown men stood enveloped in a hug in the middle of a snow blizzard on Christmas morning out in the country and cried until their eyes were dry.

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