#FridayFlash: Death Centered

February 4, 1995 was the day that car slipped on the ice and crushed my father against a fire hydrant buried in a snow drift. Everyone seems to think that I count the days of my life from that date, but they're wrong. While it's true the scene is never far from my mind, it's only because it would be indelibly burned into any child's mind.

Dad didn't even have time to curse. The hood of his parka was pulled up, so he only saw the old Reliant as it struck him. I'd always imagined that when Dad died, he'd be unspeakably loud, bellowing his fury at the world in a rage, either limping drunk or acid sober, depending on how the daydream played out.

Instead, he only said, "Hey, WHOA!" His last words were "Hey, WHOA!" The grill of the car crushed his body, snapping his spine against the frozen hydrant. The blood fountained up out of his mouth, spraying through the icy air, up and up and up and down and down and down onto the hood of the Reliant like the thick, steamy exhalation of a murdered dragon.

"Hey, WHOA!"

All the times he'd gripped me by the hair and slapped me across the face, he'd hissed into my swollen, ringing ears. Stupid, worthless, puke, hate, nothing, pissant little shit weak nothing. I knew where I stood with Dad; he never let me forget. He'd been... what? Not eloquent - he would have used the belt on my neck for using such a "fag word" to describe his language when he told me what he thought of me. So if not eloquent, then what? Creative? Energetic? Vigorous? All that and more, driven in with a backhand, a clenched fist, a beer bottle, a belt, and once, one stupidly, numbingly memorable time, with the can opener that had slipped and spilled his baked beans on the kitchen floor.

It was my fault for coming into the kitchen to ask what happened. Beans on the floor, can opener in hand, murder in his eye... I still have a crook in my right forearm from where those bones didn't set right. A weak little piece of shit nothing isn't worth taking to a fucking doctor, for fuck's sake.

Maybe eloquent is the best word after all.

"Hey, WHOA!"

I don't count the days of my life from February 4, 1995, the day Dad died in the snow, leaving his blood and guts and shit to steam and freeze in the snowbank.

I don't count the days of my life from November 9, 2006, the day my son was born.

I don't count the days of my life from April 1, 2011, the day my son made me spill my beer all over myself when he snuck up behind me and said "BOO!" for an April Fool's Day joke, and then ran from me in terror when he saw the look on my face. That was the day I came to know myself for what I am, for what Dad made me into, but it's not the date that I count the days of my life from.

No.

I count the days of my life from February 4, 2012. That's the day I realized that I had to leave my wife and my son, that I had to go away, go far away to somewhere safe, somewhere they could never find me, somewhere I could never, never, ever hurt them. I can feel my father inside me, and I'm not a safe man to be around.

My life began when I finally had the courage to protect my son from a monster.

===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.

38 comments:

  1. Wow, Tony, you really blew me away with this one. Maybe I don't stop by your site often enough, but I'm used to seeing more whimsical, or at least lighter, work. This, though...man, when you get serious, you really get serious. Perfect from start to finish, this is, without a doubt, one of the best stories I've read this year.

    --Travis

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    1. Every now and then, Travis, I get dissatisfied with accumulating a solid on-base percentage and decide to swing for the fences.

      Thank you for your comments - I'm really glad this piece worked so well for you!

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  2. "Hey, WHOA!" I'm going to look at some pictures of puppies now...

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    1. I'll probably be back to light whimsy next week.

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  3. I wouldn't miss his old man, though I would swerve. So what does he do to change his own path?

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    1. Once he realized who and what he was, he tried to find some way to change himself. His son was four and a half, the same age he was when The Trouble started with his own father. For months after the beer spilling incident on April Fool's Day, he looked for some redeeming quality, someplace within himself that wasn't irretrievably broken, some hope that he could be a better man than his father.

      He found only ashes and latent fury.

      There was nothing he could do to really change his own path. He could only do what he could to bend it away from the people he loved.

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  4. Great delivery. It's too bad he felt like he had to run away, but if that's the only way he can protect his family…

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    1. Thanks, Larry. This is a complicated one.

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  5. Damn impressive story. Powerful and moving. I don't know what else to say. I'll be thinking of this one for awhile.

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    1. I'm glad it will stay with you, Cathy.

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  7. I deleted my comment above, as I felt what I shared was far too personal.

    This is a good story Tony, it hits home that the child does learn from the parent, whether that be a positive or a negative. I'm glad the main character recognised in time what he was becoming and was able to do something about it. Strong writing.

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    1. Thanks, Helen. In a perfect world, everybody would get therapy and it would be nothing but puppies, lemonade and rainbows.

      Here? At least the cycle is broken.

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  8. Unto the third and fourth generations... sadly his imprint would already have been felt upon his son and then the fact of him abandoning him.Terribly sad but recognisably true tale Tony

    marc nash

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    1. This is one of the hardest things about the story. Instead of abused, his own son is abandoned. Even if the man wanted to say, "I did this to protect you,", there would be a chorus of voices to say that he should have found a better way. He should have worked harder to change himself, he should have gotten therapy, he should have prayed to Jesus for help, he should have let love overcome hate.

      He should have been a better man.

      Unfortunately, sometimes the options open to us are limited to shitty and somewhat less shitty. At least he had the strength of character to take action and attempt to control his own destiny.

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  9. Tight, to the point, this is nice work. I think on balance I much prefer your serious or mostly serious stuff.

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    1. Thanks, Peter. The thing is, I'm not sure how many people would agree with you.

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    2. There is that (you gotta go where the money is at the end of the day). And that's not to say I dislike the funny stuff.

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  10. Hey WHOA is right - this is, as Catherine said, damn impressive Tony. I love your humor pieces but this far surpasses those with its guts, its reality...I could go on and on. You definitely need to do more like this.

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    1. Thank you, Deanna. Maybe Pete is right?

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  11. Yes, excellent, characterization very strong here as well as the trajectory of the story. You're a consistently strong writer. The description of the death was chillingly vivid and I particularly liked the riff about 'elegant.'

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    1. This is a bit different than the usual cotton candy, so I'm glad it worked for you, Alison!

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  12. Great narrative voice in this -- which is exactly why the last line doesn't convince me it's true. I don't mean it doesn't work -- I mean I don't believe him.

    His life hasn't started yet. He just won't realise until it really does.

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    1. I think your life truly begins when you take your fate into your own hands, when you stop trying to live the life that other have laid out for you, either knowingly or unknowingly. This guy might succeed or he might fail, but deciding who to be (and who NOT to be), then acting on that decision? Sounds like the beginning of a life to me.

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  13. The shock of learning what the son has become is the thing that struck me the most on reading your story. His voice is powerful with very strong descriptions. The passage where he describes the physical aspect of a body being crushed is raw and ugly which kind of mirrors where he is going mentally. It's good to know the world out there isn't all teen vampires and puppies.

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    1. No, there is a tremendous amount of pain and suffering in the world. How our experiences shape us is one thing, but how we let them guide our actions is something else entirely.

      Don't worry, though. Next week, I'll probably be back to the puppies.

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  14. A powerful read. The line that spoke volumes to me, giving me hope (maybe naive) for his family was- 'I had to go away, go far away to somewhere safe, somewhere they could never find me, somewhere I could never, never, ever hurt them'. For me it illustrated the strength of his family with the implication that they'd search for him, his need to protect himself as much as them and how different he was from his father - he recognised the potential of a monster and removed himself before he inflicted the harm.

    You commented, and I agree, that your life begins when 'you take your fate into your own hands'. However, for me, this isn't yet what he has done. It feels more of a taking stock and giving himself time to heal. A time to fight his own demons. And although total removal from a situation often seems like the best answer, I'm hoping with time he will see how different he is from his father and that the acknowledgement of a potential doesn't mean a fulfillment of it.

    Apologies for the ramble - it's got under my skin.

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    1. I'm glad the piece was so evocative for you! We can only hope that the burgeoning self-knowledge of the narrator will lead him to heal, not merely to isolate himself.

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  15. Quite dark from some of what you usually produce, and I always wonder quite how "strong" a person truly is for leaving their problems behind. Does he not think that change is ever a possibility for him?

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    1. I believe he spent the time from April 1, 2011 until February 4, 2012 thinking about just that. "Can I stay? Dare I? Can I be trusted?" His conclusion was that the only way to protect his family was to leave, in the way someone with a dangerous disease might voluntarily go into quarantine or isolation.

      I'm not sure that I'd want to present this character as "strong". Although he clearly sees what he's doing as a sacrifice, done out of love, a really strong person would have faced the demons and overcome them. This guy? He's strong enough to understand the problem, but either he's not strong enough to pursue the better (but harder solution), or he thinks there's not enough time to fix himself before he would do something horrible.

      I would disagree about him leaving his problems behind. It seems to me that he's going to be carrying them with him for the rest of his life.

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  16. That was heartbreaking.

    "The blood fountained up out of his mouth, spraying through the icy air, up and up and up and down and down and down onto the hood of the Reliant like the thick, steamy exhalation of a murdered dragon." - This sentence is amazing.

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  17. Whoa... Intense. Hard to say precisely what he "should" have done but I love the way you captured his tortured complexities. A great piece of writing.

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  18. The most heartbreaking part of this for me is seeing in my mind's eye the look on the little boy's face when he realizes that his little joke wasn't funny to his father ... that's such a vulnerable age and I think it would be devastating to a little boy to see a monster in the face of someone he wants to love and be like.

    As for the father -- at least he has the self-awareness to see how his father has left a malign legacy; let's hope he has enough of it to realize that he has a choice, that change will be difficult and painful and a matter of some time, but not impossible. I also find myself hoping he at least left a letter behind to his son, explaining that his leaving was an act of love, perhaps the only one he's capable of at this point.

    Good writing, Tony. I'm glad you are polishing all your own facets as a writer.

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    1. This is considerably darker and more intense than I usually go for. Horror stories about ghosts, vampires and demons aside, this is scary because it is all too true for so many people. I wanted to tap into that kind of scary.

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