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Still Time - Fall Anthology 2023 - Leap of Faith Due 10/1 ×
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Just One Word - 1. Just One Word

Just One Word


The smell hit me first. The musty smell of an old wardrobe, clothes not worn for too long a time, and random items too important to throw out but not important enough to see the light of day. A pair of binoculars with a broken lens. The bolt from a Lee-Enfield rifle once belonging to my great-grandfather. The everyday detritus of an everyday life.

It was not an everyday life, however, at least not to me. He had been my father, and now he was dead. Now it was a youngest son’s duty to pick up the pieces, sort through the wreckage, and decide what to keep and what to send away. I had always tried to be dutiful, but for some reason, this final duty seemed the hardest of all.

As I looked through that wardrobe, it occurred to me I had yet to cry. Through the long fight in the hospital and the many false hopes and shocks, to the brittle stoicism of the funeral and the eulogy, I had sought tears, but they had not come. I was too much a product of my upbringing; the visceral aversion to any public display of emotion burned through my psyche till I could not release my grief even in private. The only time I had come close, my brother had been there to remind me, a cutting rejoinder in his usual style: “Don’t you dare make Mum cry, you selfish prick.” I had drawn on the my anger to regain control as I had often been able to do in the past. And despite later attempts, I found I could not grieve.

Opening the top drawer, I smiled at his endless pile of handkerchiefs neatly folded next to an even larger pile of identical white Bonds y-fronts and singlets. Never a follower of fashion, Dad always seemed a throwback to a different age. It was one of the many things that seemed to divide us no matter how we tried.

And then I saw it. I had no idea he still had it, though I had no reason to presume it would be otherwise; I just had not prepared for the reality. A large, heavy belt of flexible leather with a solid buckle carefully coiled at the back of the drawer. I could still remember the sound it made when he would take it off. But most of all I could remember the sound it made when it hit me.

Unwanted memories returned before I could clamp down on them again, refugees from the darker part of my mind. The first time it had happened, I had been 12, and the humiliation had almost outweighed the pain. The smell of the whiskey on his breath, the words: useless, worthless. And the worst time, the only time I fought back: he had broken my nose and some of my fingers when I screamed out my fear and anger, calling him a drunk, a bastard -- mostly angry at him for trying to kill himself this way and for giving up. Then he had hit and hit until I could not scream any more, and eventually darkness came as sweet relief.

When Mum found me, I at least knew then that she had to know, as much as I wished it wasn’t the case. My fantasies of a better life proved just that, however. Though things changed at least partly for the better, we never spoke about it, and soon new demons came to darken our relationship or at least to add another layer to the growing stain.

Somewhere during these recent weeks I had lost the power to hate him any longer. With my father lying in a palliative-care ward, his lungs filling in his own blood as time slipped by in agonizing seconds, I found I couldn’t hate him. The wrecked man in front of me, a pathetic wizened shadow of his former self, was still Dad. I had loved him. I had hated him. But now that I was to lose him, the pain of losing him was all that remained. When even the steady push of morphine proved inadequate and he came to the surface, he would scream out for his mother, grabbing my collar and trying to pull himself out of the bed. She had died before I was born, but she was there for him now, a comfort in extremis and in those last days when I saw him become a young boy again: lost, frightened, in pain, desperate for his mother to make it all right. A part of me found a common bond that we had lacked for so long. We were uncomfortably similar in many ways, both fighting our demons and often losing the fight.

And yet still I couldn’t grieve.

I lifted the belt from the drawer. In a daze I walked to the bed and sat, the belt in my hands, as emotion wrecked my best attempt at retaining my customary blank stare. A strangled gasp broke my reverie. There stood my Mum, fatigue written in every part of her, as it had been for far too long. Joining it now was a new emotion as she saw me there and what I was holding. Unable to meet my gaze yet unable to leave, she stood waiting with a look of terror and shame I had never seen, simultaneously begging and daring me to speak.

Something finally broke in me then, a wrenching crack that tore through my better judgement as years of repressed pain finally had their day. Raising my gaze, I recognised her fear and chose to ignore it. “Why?” Just one word. But it was enough. “Why?” The question that had reverberated in my mind for so many years till I thought I would go mad. “Why?”

A shudder took her, and she fell to the carpet, head in her hands. “Please don’t ask that.” At last, she met my gaze, tears beginning to fall. “So many questions in that one word. I can’t deal with them now.” Her eyes begging me to stop made me pause.

“I know another word that made you feel like that once before, Mother.” The bitterness I’d felt for so long crept in. “Gay.” The flicker in her eyes told me all I needed.

“He was my husband. I couldn’t abandon him.”

“I was your son. But it didn’t feel like it.”

The words came unbidden, but the truth echoed.

A sigh. “I know”

Looking at her afresh, I saw the heart of her shame. She had known, but known no other way to be. A sudden surge of pity came from I- know-not-where, as my own sigh rose to match hers.

“So what do we do now, Mum?”

She drew herself together and started to speak in a low whisper.

“Your father was a good man, and a loving one. But he had a hard life, and he never was as strong as I had thought when we first met. He tried…..we tried to do the best to make you as strong as we could but never knew how to do it right. He was determined that you would not end up like him. Unfortunately, he was a proud man, also, and would never accept help or admit he was wrong. Coming out to him…it was like he had failed again. He was so broken for those years, and something self-destructive inside him took hold. I didn’t know what to do. “

“He never knew how to be with you. You were so unlike the others, so self-contained and strong. I thought you could handle whatever came, and I let that blind me. As did he. I was so worried about him, I pretended I didn’t have to worry about you, because I couldn’t worry about both of you at the same time.”

I could barely frame the question, but I had to know.

“Did…did he love me?”

I will never forget my Mum’s face when I asked that. It was as if the magnitude of her failing had at last been stripped bare, and it wounded her to the core.

“Yes. It was the last thing we talked about when they took him off the respirator. Neither of us knew how to say it to you, but you were our world. We were so proud of you but also so frightened of making a mistake; we made so many trying to make you perfect.”

“He wrote you a letter; it’s on the computer. I think he knew he was dying, though he hid it. He couldn’t bring himself to send it, but he told me to tell you about it.” With that she turned and walked away.

It took me some time to find the file. All the lessons I had given Dad, the ultimate luddite, and he still hadn’t learned to set up folders properly. I hesitated, a world of indecision crowding my brain. Did I really want to know? Did I really want to know enough to deal with it if it was bad? With a mental shrug I clicked on the icon. I had started this, and for the first time in my life I was no longer frightened where it led. Fear, pain, regret – old companions of my past. Now was the time to leave them behind for good or ill.

“My dear son. I never told you this, and I don’t even know why, and now it is too late for me to tell you myself. I love you. I love everything about you. You made me proud, every day. ….”

I felt my Mum’s hands on my shoulders as the words sank in. Love. Just one word, but the most important of them all, and I hadn’t realised how much its absence had hurt. And here it was at last, like a benediction.

“I love you, Dad.” And then, the dam broken at last; the tears came.

Copyright © 2012 Roan; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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  • Site Administrator

As I've said to others who have shared their stories of abuse; it takes a lot of courage to go back there and think of those times, much less write about them and share for others to see. You made the journey of the emotions quite clear in the story and for me, they ring true. When it happens the ultimate questions you are plagued with are most assuredly 'why' and 'how could you do that to me'. A parent is supposed to love and protect their children and when they don't. . .it's tragic. I'm glad you got some answers because holding on to that is painful. Thanks for sharing your story.

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Roan,my friend, you are a talent. So much emotion. Also, maturity and dignity. I will look forward eagerly for the next one. The young stallion has spoken!!!

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If you read my stuff you know I came from the same place, just a different parent. And mine never loved me. I can remember even from a small child. I was never loved.

It was an incredible piece of writing Roan and you do need to write more. It's made me sad and also made me think of my past and how it made me who I am now. That at least I can be grateful for. :hug:

So a very well done and write more :hug:.

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Hey, Thanks for sharing it with me before you put it up here. And I hope you find whatever answers you are looking for. :)

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Roan for some odd reason this story brought a smile to my face?? I don’t know closure some thing every one wishes they could have and some never get…. It was very well written and it was heartfelt.. Going forward is all we can do in this world even with demons we hold with in.. Thank you for posting this you conveyed emotions really well :) made me think of some things.. Good job

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Thank you for sharing this with us, Roan. Very well written and I hope you will continue writing. You have a lot of talent.

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Roan, thank you for sharing a part of yourself. I felt the emotions in it and that takes talent. I look forward to reading more of you work in the near future.

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