So I’ve been working quite diligently on my first novel for the past year. I’m in the process of my last proofread and decided to post my first chapter on here to see what people think of it. I hope you enjoy and definitely leave some feedback if you can.
“Just promise me you won’t tell her,” Eric said gruffly, his patience waning.
It was raining outside, heavier than usual on an autumn evening this time of year. An old man stood in the frame of his front doorway, looking at his only son, Eric, outside on the front porch. There was a dim, yellow incandescent light above the doorway barely lighting the porch with its yellow glow. Eric was a handsome man with dark, sharp features inherited from his old man. He’d come straight to his father’s house after work. All day he’d been thinking of how he was going to tell his father, wanting to tell him in a way that was understanding yet firm–that’s what his therapist had advised him to do. Yet despite all of his preparation, all that came out was a short, angry phrase: “Don’t tell her,” Eric repeated in a more aggressive tone since he’d gotten no response from the old man.
The night was dark and the hour was late. The only scenery around were the other suburban houses and poplar trees neatly spaced apart all along the street. Eric had been working overtime again, as he tended to do for the past year, trying to drown his sorrows in work. The old man could see it on his face–he was tired and pale, a rough five o’clock shadow cast a dark shadow on his face and the smell of whiskey was on his breath. Ever since the accident, Eric had been running away and trying any means to cope with what had happened. From work to the booze, Eric was in rough shape. “You’re working too much again,” the old man said, worry creasing his wrinkled brow, not ready to touch the subject of drinking head-on. He knew that usually ended in frustration and rage from Eric’s part.
A strong gust of wind blew some raindrops onto the patio, wetting Eric’s slacks. He didn’t seem to notice, nor did he fall for his father’s attempt to change the subject. “Just promise you won’t tell her,” Eric said softer this time. “I can’t let you tell her. It’s not right. She’s got enough to deal with and I don’t want you filling her head with nonsense.” Eric took out a cigarette and the lighter his wife had bought him to light it up. The flame lit up his eyes in flames for a moment. He was supposed the quit smoking. The lighter was an ironic gift. But so much had changed since then, he couldn’t see himself quitting now. “I can’t let her come see you anymore if you tell her. She loves to visit you, especially after the accident, so please don’t make me do that!”
“Has it really come to this? What’s wrong with telling the truth?” The old man asked. “What happened to us?” His voice was fatigued and full of sadness. He knew the answer to his own question.
“Just promise me, god damn it!” Eric was screaming now, his cigarette smothered by another wash of rain. Yet again, he didn’t notice. He was getting angry now, as he often did since his wife had died. “If you’d just admit that it’s a story, that it’s bullshit!” Eric’s words were slurring slightly and the old man realized his son was intoxicated. “I want to help you. You’re sick—physically—and mentally,” he said.
“Help me what, Eric? You want me to go into one of those homes? Or a hospital, a house of death? The tumor has given me clarity and I don’t want it removed. It’s not just some story, Eric, my head is clearer than it’s ever been. It’s the truth. I want to tell Sandy the truth!” the old man persisted.
Eric rolled his eyes unapologetically. The fact that his father wouldn’t treat the tumor the doctors had found was a sore spot for him. “Why don’t you tell her the real truth then? Tell her that her mother and grandmother are dead and not some fairytale. Tell her you’re dying and not even trying to treat it!” Eric took a deep drag on his unlit cigarette, realized it was out, he took out the lighter and lit it up again. He tried to calm himself using a breathing exercise his therapist had given him. Inhale—he dragged on his cigarette—one one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand—exhale—one one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand. Slightly calmer, Eric continued, “I’m not saying you’re a liar, Dad. It’s post-traumatic stress syndrome or something like that. You’re going through a lot. We just need to face the truth. And you need to treat that damned tumor! What are you thinking just letting yourself die? After you told me that story, I know you’re just trying to cope with everything that’s happened, but at least you don’t have to let yourself die, too.”
Hopelessness filled the old man’s heart. He couldn’t believe his only son thought he would make up a story like that, or that he had some mental illness. How can my own son not believe me? He wondered sadly. “And we should all cope like you, right? Ignore our family and drink ourselves into a drunken mess? Fine, I won’t tell her!” The old man agreed, frustrated. “But it’s time for you to clean up your act! I’m only doing this so I can see my granddaughter. You still need to take care of her, not overwork and get wasted every night of the week!”
“Worry about your own goddamned business and that tumor of yours,” Eric said angrily. Eric could rarely hold his feelings in and they erupted like a volcano. “You need to accept that Mom’s dead and you’re making up some crazy stories to cope with the guilt. I know I’d feel guilty! And I can’t lie to you, I’m angry with you, too. I’ve been seeing a therapist. Did you know that? Listen, I’ll let Sandy come see you but that’s it. Don’t expect me to come until you’re ready to accept the truth. Face it Dad—Mom’s dead. My wife is dead. They’re not coming back. There’s not some other world where you’re going to meet. It’s all bullshit! Just take it seriously like rest of us! They’re dead!” The words filled the air like thunder, and silence followed.
The only thing Eric didn’t say is what had been angering him most. He wanted to say, “You killed them! If you didn’t get into the car that night, they’d still be alive. You killed my mom. You killed my wife.” But he didn’t. Even angry, he couldn’t bring himself to say the words to his father. He just kept it inside, bottled up and kept away. Both men were quiet now. The only sound was the rain hitting the old man’s roof, a constant pitter-patter.
The old man reached out a hand and touched his son’s arm, tears welled up in his eyes. “There’s no death, Eric. You think we’re just flesh and bone? I’ll see her again. And you’ll see Rachel again. We’ll see them again…” He drifted off, tears running down his face now.
Eric shook his father’s hand from his arm. “I wish you wouldn’t keep saying that. You keep believing in fairytales and thinking that everything’s going to be all right? You want to trivialize their deaths like they didn’t happen? Or maybe you want a reason to let yourself die. I know you’re sick and all but I just can’t be around you right now. I can’t watch you die.” Eric turned away, starting down the porch steps and entering the rain.
“Don’t you think I loved them the same?” The old man screamed at his back, anger finally seething out of him. Emotions were running hot through his body. His breathing was getting faster, and clouds of vapor clashed in the air in front of his face with each exhale. “Don’t you think I miss her? You’re damn right this is my coping mechanism. Of course I’m sad every day I don’t get to spend next to my wife. And don’t you think I feel guilt for your wife’s death? The burden of both of them on my shoulders every single minute of every single day. Yet I also found the truth that night. I know that we’ll be together again. I promise I’ll find her again. And I promise you can, too!” He couldn’t tell what he was sadder about—losing his wife, or his only son not believing him. He wanted so badly for Eric to believe him. He longed to be validated.
“I can’t take this anymore–your fantasies, your delusions. You’re sick and won’t accept my help. You won’t even get treatment for your tumor. I can’t take this anymore,” Eric repeated, his back still to his father. He seemed to have calm down slightly, practicing his breathing exercises again. Eric watched the mist from his breath dissipate into the air. “You can see Sandy. I just don’t want you filling her head with nonsense. Understand me?” Eric said as he looked over his shoulder. He stepped off the porch, paused for a moment, then walked to his car. Turning back one last time next to the door he said, “Call me when you get some sense again.” Eric got into his car, started it up, and drove away into the night.
The old man stood under his doorway, watching the car drive off, a pair of red taillights disappearing into the rain past the perfectly spaced houses and trees. The pitter-patter of the rain continued. The old man cried to himself on his front porch that night—missing his wife, losing his son.