Forgive Me, Father

FORGIVE ME, FATHER

by Ben R. Charles

The two teenage boys shifted and stirred uncomfortably in the dated classroom chairs that they had found their asses in. Every slight movement caused the rusted metal legs and the cracked plastic seats to moan and creak. At the moment, every one of these minor infractions of the peace was louder than the last. The boys had been in trouble before, but never quite like this.
Across from them was seated Father Riley, a relatively new priest who had been with the church for a decade even though he was just passed the age of thirty. To Robert and Mitch, he might as well have been in his sixties. To be fair to the boys, he looked the part of a sexagenarian; his genetic lottery had blessed him with a prematurely receding hairline and a salt-n-pepper barrage of greys on the thick black hair that he had left. His stern expression added to his authority as he seemed to have stared into both of the boys’ eyes at once. The only distractions from his gaze in the small church office included the humming of the lights, that distinctive church-smell, and those damned creaky chairs. The fulcrum of the tension in the room was between the boys and the Father; it rested silently on the Father’s desk and was yet stuck out like a sore thumb. It also seemed to be the only thing in the room unaware of the tension, as Vida Guerra’s peppy, smiling face looked up at the church ceiling. Her dark, barely-clothed body was covered only by a black laced thong and her long, brunette hair cloaked the title Playboy.
The Father hummed and slid back into his chair, finding relief in the soft velvet of its lining. He removed his grain-farmer glasses to reveal his crows feet and his tired eyes. He rubbed the bridge of his nose with his thumb and index finger.
“Your parents have already been called and you’ve already been caught. There’s no point in lying anymore, boys. I’m only going to ask you this one more time: where did you find the magazine?”
“We already told you!” Robert said, his voice quivering from frustration. “It was laying there just behind the church by the crick. Me and Mitch go down there just to fu- mess around and we just found it under some tall grass. It’s the truth! Tell ‘em, Mitch!” Robert glanced over to his friend, his eyes begging for reassurance.
“Yeah,” Mitch said softly. “We was gonna throw it away, I promise. It wasn’t ours, we just picked it up. We knows we shouldn’t have, we wasn’t thinkin’.”
“No, you were not thinking,” Father Riley replied sharply. “What made you believe that reading this filth was acceptable? Did you boys listen to none of my sermons over the past year? Do you not care for your own sanctity? Have you no respect for yourselves?”
“Yes, Father, we do,” Robert replied. “We weren’t gonna keep it. We just wanted to show our friends and have a laugh. You know, we thought it would make us cool. And you gotta admit, she is pretty hot. You woulda picked it up, too. Whoever it belonged to had good taste.” He laughed nervously.
Robert’s explanation did not impress Fr. Riley. It seemed to have annoyed the exhausted priest even more. He leered at the boys. Robert slunk into his chair and began playing with the strings on his sweater.
Father Riley raised his eyebrows and lowered his voice. “You thought it would make you ‘cool’? Tell me, how? How would it make you ‘cool’, my son?” The Father knew that he had to maintain a stern composure, but he could not help himself from chuckling on the inside in anticipation of hearing the fourteen-year old’s explanation.
Robert bit his lip and cleared his throat to no avail, his voice cracked anyway.
“Well. It’s like- um- yeah, I guess it is kind of stupid. Forgive me, Father.”
“It is kind of stupid, and I know that you boys know better,” the Father replied calmly, partially disappointed in the safe response but relieved by it at the same time. “Now, go in peace. We will deal with this further with your parents next Sunday after mass. You two will be staying here all day to help Mrs. Kovach clean the church top-to-bottom. There’s a whole day’s worth of grass cutting and weeding that you will be doing, too. I will be speaking to the bishop about this,  and you better believe that we will find out where this smut came from.”
The boys moaned and sheepishly walked out of the priest’s office, leaving the door slightly open. Fr. Riley could hear the sounds of muffled footsteps and a shushed argument as the boys left the church.
Father Riley dipped his head into hands and ran his palms over his forehead. A pool of sweat gathered from his head and into the heels of his hands. He ritualistically wiped the moisture onto his lycra dress pants as he had done thousands of times since the church moved him from the East and into the dry prairie heat. The heat and his hectic schedule had made him more tired than he usually was. First of all, he had the bishop on his case about ordaining a new deacon. It would not be such a difficult job if the bishop wasn’t such an arrogant, self-serving prick- not that Riley would ever say that out loud. Secondly, Riley had two funerals, a wedding, three confirmations and a baptism booked in this week alone. Every priest expects summertime to be busy but this had just been absurd, especially for a small Saskatchewan town. Riley had much bigger fish to fry than dealing with a couple of kids who had found a magazine in the bushes. Is looking at a few dirty pictures really that bad, anyway? It’s natural for kids that age to start getting curious about that kind of thing. Big deal.
Fr. Riley sighed, and then stood up into a long stretch. He walked over to his office window, he had always enjoyed the birch and the oaks that surrounded the church and crept into the crick, and the way that the birds would sing outside of his window. Even the bishop, as much of a hard case as he is, loved the beauty of the trees at this church and would often go out for hiking and prayer excursions in the small forest nearly every time he visited. Fr. Riley took a moment to soak in the heat of the afternoon and the chattering of the sparrows. He took in a few deep breaths and he smiled.
Upon regaining his tranquility, the priest knew that he was thinking rashly. It was true that, yes, it is natural for boys to become curious. However, the word of God and a mature perspective are necessary to guide these young minds away from the seduction of pornography and into healthy relationships with their partners and families. To normalize pornography and to cheapen love at such a young age is harmful, dangerous even, for a young mind. Too many times the Father had seen good men fall victim to pursuing lust and too many times had he seen those men lead empty, lonely, and hollow lives. The men of tomorrow need guidance to lead richer lives. If that cannot be provided by a man of God, than by whom?
The sunshine parted through the clouds and into the Father’s office. He became blinded by the bright rays and turned himself to escape the irritation. He shifted his gaze away from the sun, down to his desk, and straight to Vida. Her radiant, brown eyes stared right back at him, and her luscious hair draped over her bare back. She may have been just a model on a magazine cover, but she might as well have been right in the room with him, whispering in his ear. The room became quieter than it was just a few moments ago before he began lecturing the boys. Fr. Riley reminded himself that his next meeting was not to start for another two hours, and he had no expected visitors today. He began to think that maybe he should see for himself what it was that he was giving the boys so much trouble over. It might be best to know his enemy if he wants to continue preaching the word of God in the future, after all. The young priest had successfully kept his vow of both poverty and celibacy for over a decade. Surely taking a quick peek at a magazine wouldn’t hurt, right?
The priest sighed and slid into his chair, caressing the wooden armrests and listening intently to anything that could break the silence in the church before he fully relaxed. Once he was convinced the coast was clear he placed his outstretched palm over Vida’s face and pulled the glossy magazine across his desk and into his hands. He slowly picked the magazine up and examined the covers it carefully, as if expecting it to trigger an alarm. He revealed the back cover to himself, which was nothing more than an advertisement featuring an ecstatic golfer, his female caddy, empty promises of male enhancement in a pill, and some bad puns about “club sizes” and “making a hole in one”. He flipped the magazine back into the reading position, cradling the smut under his desk and on his right arm as if holding Vida, herself. He licked his left thumb and began leafing through the slightly soiled pages.
While glancing through the first few pages the priest had thought to himself how easy it would be for someone to mistake this for a lifestyle magazine. There appeared to be nothing except for advertisements for luxury cars and watches, fitness advice, and even some surprisingly well-written editorials. This would not last long, as the priest had found what he was secretly hoping for. Right there in the center of the magazine and now permanently embedded into the holy man’s mind was Vida’s centerfold. Fr. Riley couldn’t remember the last time he had seen something like this or felt something like this. It felt so aggressively wrong, he knew that he had to stop now and put the magazine away. He knew that, but he was powerless to stop staring at Vida’s completely nude body, her dark curves contorting and contrasting over ivory satin sheets. His mouth hung open and his fingers gently traced over the silhouette of the woman. He thought of his high school crush, Becky Wilson, for some strange reason. He felt a flush of ecstasy invade his Garden of Eden; he began adjusting his robes over his lap to hide his rising Moses and the parting of the seams.
“Those robes can be quite an itch to scratch in the summer, can they not, young Father Riley?” A hoarse voice rattled from above.
“Jesu- Jiminy Cricket!” Riley exclaimed as he almost fell completely backward in his chair. “The Most Reverend Joseph Bolen, I was not expecting you for another few hours! Please, have a seat.”
The young priest hurriedly folded his robes back to his sides and placed the magazine face down on the desk.
The old classroom chair released a metallic moan as the bishop lowered his ancient frame into the seat. The bishop crossed his legs much closer together than any man Riley had ever seen, it was almost impressive. The Father was tempted to make a comment on the bishop’s flexibility to break the tension but thought that it was probably for the best not to, considering the circumstances.
The bishop glared knives at Father Riley for what felt like an eternity. He began to question if he had actually died and that this was all some sort of sick Purgatory punishment.
Finally, the bishop spoke. “That is an interesting choice of reading material for a man of the cloth, wouldn’t you agree, young Father Riley?”
The priest immediately lifted his palms towards the bishop and pumped the air twice, as if pushing away the old man’s implications.
“Whoa, whoa. Ok. This is not what it looks like!” Father Riley exclaimed. “Two boys from my parish had found this down behind the church in the trees, I had actually just sent them home. I will be discussing this with their parents and punishing them in a few days. I had just decided to take a brief look at it to see what I am up against. Nothing more, I swear.”
Father Riley had started to sweat heavily, the beads now pouring down his neck and soaking his shirt. Bishop Bolen is not a forgiving man, he had caught Riley red-handed, and he has fired priests for far less. Riley gulped; he knew that this may very well be the end of his priesthood. The magazine advertisement’s dopey grin of Smilin’ John and his ridiculous golf outfit would be the last thing Riley would see as a man of God, he thought to himself.
“What do you take me for, young Father Riley, a fool?” The bishop asked through his teeth. “Do you see me as the blind man from John, 9:1-12?” The bishop became more irate with every word.
Father Riley kept his palms in the air and said, “no, it’s just- I…”
“Shut up,” the bishop snarled. “Close that fly-catcher of yours before you embarrass yourself and The Lord any more. How dare you even think about practicing such a shameful act in The House of The Lord? Have you no shame, young Father Riley, have you no respect?” The saliva and vitriol from the bishop’s mouth were now spraying Riley’s face.
“I do- if you’d just listen…”
“You’re suspended- for three months- without pay. This will be placed on your permanent record, as well. I am being more than merciful, more than fair; I should fire you right now. It’s not like you care about being a priest, anyway.”
Father Riley lowered his face into his hands; he fought back the hot tears welling up in his eyes. This was not right; he had been a devoted priest for ten years. He did care. The bishop had just happened to catch him at the worst possible moment.
As if it were not enough injury the bishop began to berate him some more. “Only you would think that indulging in such perverted acts was even close to acceptable here,” the old man sneered. “It’s bad enough that you brought this… this, harlot into our church, one who does not even have enough dignity than to cover herself with more than a black shoestring.”
Father Riley’s head snapped back up from his hands and his eyes pierced the bishop, no longer sad and defeated, but rather inquisitive and sharp. They flitted down for Riley to see Smilin’ John and his male enhancement advertisement. The magazine was face down.
“What did you just say?” He asked.
“N-nothing!” The bishop stammered. “It hardly matters, you are to be suspended effective immediately. Take your things and get out of my sight. Leave this filth here to be disposed of by a real man of God.”
The priest stood and began to collect his books and knick-knacks from the office. He knew exactly what was going on. He never understood why the bishop needed the hikes and the solitary prayers down by the crick; no other priest, let alone a bishop ever did that. It was all starting to make sense. He collected his items in an office box, taking his time as he lumbered towards the door. He turned to the bishop one last time.
“So, you want me to leave your magazine here, then?”
“Yes.”
The bishop immediately recoiled at what he had just said. He stuttered and bellowed every excuse on God’s green earth. His face became the most violent shade of red that Riley had ever seen. The bishop ceased his fit, he knew that resistance was fruitless. He lowered his head and raised his eyes to Riley’s unconvinced expression.
“No one needs to know about this,” The bishop whispered sheepishly. “Your suspension is lifted, and this little incident will not go on your record. Please, forgive me, Father. Is there anything that I can do to make this right, to make sure that this stays between us?”
Father Riley lowered his box to the ground and smiled.
“You know what? There is. Mrs. Kovach is going to need some help all day next Sunday to give our church a much-needed cleaning and grass cutting. We got weeds growing all around this old building that needs pluckin’, too. And I think that you’re just the right man for the job.”

 

The Squatters

THE SQUATTERS

by Ben R. Charles  

Late afternoon sunlight saturated the living room of John’s humble home, exposing a shroud of dust dancing wistfully in the air. The breezy June day was calm and peaceful, but John was not at peace. Daytime T.V. whirred in the background tales of divorce trials, empty promises of free credit checks and guaranteed approval on premium insurance rates. It was hardly entertainment, but it was more appealing than silence.

Lately, it always felt like he had somewhere to be, but it’s not like he could just get up and go. The doctor had ordered at least another month of resting at home but told John that he wanted a check-up before then. Rest was all that John did, but it always felt as if he never got enough, as if he never got any. Everything hurt, all the time. He could not move, save for pushing his wheelchair around slightly and doing basic day-to-day things like making tea or attempting to eat. He did not have the strength to speak; his throat was burnt and charred. He feared that he would never tell a tale again. His physical wounds kept him grounded in his home, bound to a wheelchair, his mental wounds kept him bound in time.

Every single day he replayed that crash in his head. What he could have done differently. What could have been?

If only he wasn’t so dark that night. If only it wasn’t so dark and icy. If only he wasn’t so fucking drunk. He knew he was a monster, and reminded himself of that every day.

He shook his head sleepily and tried his best to focus on Judge Judy. Despite his every sight and sound becoming fuzzier and more distant by the day he fought to keep focused on the mundane. Otherwise, he knew he would get thinking about the people in that Caravan that night. He wasn’t ready for that.

He wasn’t ready.

John had completely lost track of time, and not just of the time of day but of the date. He did know it was sometime in the mid-afternoon, around 3:00 or 4:00 maybe? He squinted at his old Coca-Cola clock, he couldn’t quite make it out. Ever since the accident looking at a clock was like it would be in a dream, where every few moments the hands distort into something completely different. He felt like he might have an appointment with the doctor today. But maybe it was tomorrow?

“I’ll just take ‘er easy today and give him a call tomorrow. I’m sure he’ll forgive me for mixing up one day considering my circumstances,” he thought to himself.

He closed his eyes and attempted to get some rest, but in what felt like only a few moments later he was jarred by the sound of a key opening a lock and his front door swinging open, followed by footsteps.

“Hmm”, John thought indignantly, “Dana finally decided it’s time for a visit, did she? Christ, woman. You’re my only family left alive and you stuck me here me to rot. I never even got a phone call. I’ve been doing fine so far without you, and I’ll keep doing so after you leave. First thing I’m gonna when I get my voice back is giving you a piece of my mind, you stupid bitch.”

John fantasized about the righteous venom that he was going to bring down upon his sister, but that was immediately cut off by another set of footprints and distant voices.

John was now annoyed and puzzled. “Who the Hell could that be? Does Dana have a new boyfriend? Wouldn’t doubt it, she can’t hold a man down for a week. Can’t say I blame ’em for leaving, either.”

All of John’s energy was now solely focused on trying to hear the intruders. The footprints sounded closer now but the voices were still muffled. John faintly made out the voices of a man and a woman.

“Great, fucking great.” John sneered. “Dana’s probably got some new trust-fund, boat shoes-wearing, middle-management soy boy with her. I’ll get to sit here while both of them pretend to feel sorry for me and talk to me like I’m a fucking Labrador.”

John made one of the voices out, but he couldn’t tell how far it was yet. Finally, John made out the man’s voice saying, “After all that we’ve been through, I’m still amazed that we got here. I love you.”

“All you’ve been through!?” John laughed. “You people are real pieces of work.”

The footsteps were now fully audible, even for John. They were careless and aimless as if they had been wandering around, snooping. After a few minutes, they began closing in on the living room. John closed his eyes, let out a sigh, and prepared himself for the worst.

The man turned left through the corridor and into the living room. He was basically what John was expecting, but younger. He was dressed well, handsome and tall, he seemed like the kind of guy who does pretty well for himself but is cripplingly boring. He had that ‘My father is a lawyer’ look to him; John guessed that his favourite band was probably Capital Cities or maybe Imagine Dragons.

“Yeah, that’s her type.” John thought. “Good for Dana for snagging a younger one, I guess.”

The young man seemed more interested in surveying the living room than he did in acknowledging John, scanning the whole room up and down, his eyes flitted in every direction. He would momentarily look at John before instantly catching another detail in the living room.

The woman then walked in, and to John’s surprise, she was not his sister. This woman was at least ten years younger. She had shoulder-length brunette hair and the biggest blue eyes John had ever seen. John was taken back at how beautiful she was. She had an innocence to her as if she was just a child herself. Or at least she would have, if not for the infant wrapped in a pink fleece blanket clutched to her shoulder.

John pulled himself out of his bewilderment. He gathered all of his strength to attempt to ask just who the Hell these people are and what they were doing in his house. But before he could, the woman spoke, “I love this living room! It’s so cosy! Imagine how nice it will be once we get this carpet replaced for hardwood and get rid of this outdated furniture. That ugly old thing in the middle of the living room has got to go, too.”

John was so furious that he was shaking.

“I don’t know- I kind of like it, Jen,” the man laughed. “Besides, it probably belongs to Dana. We should probably hang on to it at least until she comes back to see if she wants it. If not, we’ll throw it out.”

“It!?” John gasped as loudly as he could. “I may be stuck in this wheelchair and eat out of a tube, but I’m still a human being, you assholes!”

“I guess so,” said the woman, seeming to completely ignore John. “We still have a full day of unpacking ahead of us. It will be a while before this house really becomes home, this is the least of our worries. Why don’t you set it aside and I’ll start getting more boxes out of the car?

The man agreed and kissed his new wife with a quick peck on the cheek. She disappeared back into the hall as the man approached John and took hold of his wheelchair.

“I’m sorry.” The man said as he grabbed the handle of John’s wheelchair. “If it were up to me we’d put you away somewhere in case we needed you. You know how it is, though. She’s the woman, so she makes the rules.”

The man started pushing the wheelchair out of the living room and into the hall. John’s anger turned into panic. He tried fruitlessly to make a sound, grab the man, protest in any way. It was all to no avail, despite his best efforts the man did not notice his pleas.

“No. Please.” John helplessly bargained softly to anyone who would listen. “Come into my home, take anything that you want, even stay here. Just leave me be, don’t put me in there. I don’t want to go into the dark. I won’t, I can’t. I want to stay.”

The man either could not see John’s panic or didn’t care. He had reached the end of the hall, his hand stretched over John to open the stairwell closet door.

“Ok, buddy, in you go. I hope Dana comes for you soon. You can’t stay here, but I hope that someday you find somewhere you can.” The man gently pushed John and the chair into the tiny stairwell closet. John barely fit in his old closet that he once used to keep old coats and empty liquor bottles in. The light reflecting off his tear-filled eyes was fully extinguished as the door shut on his silent anguish.

The stale stench of mothballs and mildew was the only sense that John had in the darkness. He would be completely numb had it not be for the white-hot rage that was pulsing through him. His anger never had the opportunity to subside as every time he heard the man and the woman’s muffled voices and footsteps either above or around him was another insult to injury.

Despite his rage, John knew that he was defeated. He sat in the darkness and thought that he might as well just wait to die. While he waited he wondered how these people just strolled in and flipped his already pathetic world upside down in a matter of minutes. He wondered why his own sister was the one who let them do it. But then again, she was never there before, she never had an interest in ever helping him before or after the accident, why would it be any different now? He cursed her name and bet to himself that she couldn’t wait for this to happen. He was fed-up and exhausted, he was ready to let go and leave. In that moment he would have, had he not heard the woman clearly over the sounds of moving furniture and busy footsteps.

“We will have to do some work on this place, especially on the windows and the foundation. Can you feel that? I get a wicked chill every now and then in the living room. If I can feel it that bad now imagine what it will be like in the winter? Amanda has been way fussier than usual too since we got here and I’m thinking that’s is probably why. We need to do some maintenance here, fast.”

John had heard enough. No one asked these people to come here, and they’re certainly not welcome. How can someone just walk into a place that’s not theirs, lock an incapacitated man in the closet, and start complaining that it’s not good enough for them? The audacity and the arrogance of it all made him sick. John made up his mind that he was not going to waste away in this closet to be thrown away and forgotten. He was going to get out and show these millennial dipshits that they aren’t entitled to everything. The only problem was figuring out how to do it.

He focused his eyes on his immediate surroundings. His movement was limited, but if he could find anything at all that could help him he might be able to pry the door open and at least find some help. He wished that he had the strength to get the couple out by himself. If he did then they would have been gone a long time ago. After a few feeble attempts, he was finally able to lift his arm up to feel around the walls and clutter in the closet. There appeared to be appeared to be only old coats and water-stained boxes within arms-reach. Nothing that could pry or even pick the door was open was there. He did not like it, but he knew what he had to do.

John’s shaky hands miraculously clasped the doorknob. Clasping both of his hands on the doorknob required all of his focus and surgical precision, keeping them there was even more difficult. He began to push and pull on the doorknob, rocking his body back and forth to gain momentum. John was going to go right through that door and he knew that he only had one chance to do it. Once he had all the momentum he could get John lunged at the door with all of his weight. Darkness turned to light and before he knew it he was lying prone on the floor of his hall. He didn’t hear the door slam open nor closed, he didn’t care. He was out and that was all that mattered.

He lifted his face off of the dark, tattered hardwood floor. A few feet from him were the man and the woman’s backs; the worst of it was who was speaking to them in front- Dana. John’s rage came right back at the sight of her, but he couldn’t deny feeling a sense of relief that someone would be here to help get these people out of his home and out of his life.

“Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Lavasseur. You are now officially homeowners.” Dana said as she shook their hands and pulled a set of keys out her pocket for each of them.

John was still not strong enough to lift himself off the floor; otherwise, he would have leapt at that moment and socked that bitch right in the cheek. On the other hand, he wasn’t sure that he wanted to lift himself off the floor. Why would she do this to him? John could understand that he was not the easiest person to be around, not the easiest person to love, but this is the coldest he had ever been treated. What did he do that made him deserve this? John felt the hot welling of tears gather in his eyes.

“Thanks, Dana,” said the man. “We’re excited to start a new chapter in our new home. We’re excited to bring love from the pain of the past. You’ve been so great this whole time to all three of us, especially with your circumstances.”

“Tyson- what about the thing?” The woman piped in.

“I’m right here. I am right here! Might as well just drag me out and throw me in the dumpster, you bastards.’ John said almost audibly to himself, the sadness and wrath in his eyes now piercing Dana.

“Right,” said the man. “We have something that I believe belongs to you, Dana. Did you want it back?” The couple turned around and faced John. John lifted his arms, preparing for the man to drag him, however, the man stepped right over him and opened the closet door. After a brief lift, the sounds clinking glass and a mild curse word the man withdrew the wheelchair from the closet and rolled it to Dana.

“John,” Dana whispered.

“Yeah. John. He’s right here on the floor in agony, you know? You don’t have the stones to even look at me but you’re all torn up about my wheelchair? This just keeps getting richer and richer.”

“If you want a moment, we can go for a coffee or a walk or something for a bit. I know that this all can’t be easy for you,” said the man.

“No, no. That’s alright,” assured Dana, despite the quivering of her voice. “You two are sweet, though. Little Amanda is going to turn out just fine with you as parents.” She forced a smile and pulled the chair to the front door.

Dana exhaled regretfully, “I do have to throw this away, though. I can’t hang on to it. I need to let go of everything in the past, and that includes my guilt. Can I tell you both something?”

“This is really fucking rich, now,” John mumbled, still on the floor.

“Of course,” the couple stammered almost in unison.

“After the accident, I helped John back home from the hospital. The doctors insisted that he stay, insisted that he needed medical supervision for at least another week. I… I was just so angry, but I still loved him.”

Loved me, huh?’ John thought, rolling his eyes.

Dana took a moment to compose herself and continued, “I thought he deserved to at least be in his own home, but he was so stubborn. So was I, he wasn’t ready to be home alone yet and I was just so damn mad, tired of arguing with him. I dropped him off here and decided to let him figure it out. I wasn’t mad at him for the accident, as awful as it was; I knew that was gonna happen eventually. I was mad that I told him over and over and over again that his drinking needed to stop, but he never listened to me.”

“Way to drag my name through the mud while I’m right here on the floor. You haven’t spoken a word to me yet.” John was starting to wonder why that was; a part of him wished that she would.

“I wish that I could speak to him again.” Dana was now fully in tears and struggling to talk through stifled sobs. “I was so busy being mad at him when I should have been there for him. I say that he was stubborn as if I were any better. I left him here in his condition; I turned my back on him then and for almost his entire life. He was dying his entire life, why didn’t I forgive him and stick by him? I just let him die, I don’t even remember the last time I told him that I love him.”

The couple and John were all totally motionless for the same yet different reasons. The man reached out and massaged Dana’s shoulder, he glanced at his wife with uncertainty and concern.

John closed his eyes and took a breath, not believing what he had just heard.

“No, no. This can’t be right. How can I be dead if I’m still here if I’m still in so much pain? This doesn’t make sense. It cannot be. The doctor fully expected me to see him again, he couldn’t be wrong.”

Dana and the man were now in an embrace, which was short-lived as the baby began to cry. In his rage, the cries gave John an awful idea.

“The baby… None of this was my fault, and you were never there for me, Dana; you said it yourself. I never chose death, neither will the child. You all brought this upon yourselves.’

John found new strength and resolve in his wretched idea. He rose from his stomach and on to his feet. A sense of pride overwhelmed him as the doctor said he would never do that again. Trudging and determined footsteps carried John to the stairwell, each one carrying blistering pain.

Thud. Thud. Thud.

Each heavy step assisted by a deathly pull on the handrail was heavier and more difficult than the last, the sound of his steps was deafening. Despite their noise, only the odd step captivated nothing but a split-second glance from the couple and Dana.

John made his way through the familiar yet surreal upstairs of his house. Shuffling as if a drunken stupor, he creaked open the first door on the right into the baby’s room. There she was, the baby. She was laying in her crib sleeping like an angel. She was at peace. John stared down at her, shivering in contempt.

He remembered how the last time he this it was an accident, not this time. He cupped his hands as if he was holding on to his anger and descended them towards the baby’s throat.

At that moment Amanda opened her eyes. Her eyes were sleepy and dazed at first, and then lit up at the sight of John. Her infectious giggle pierced the silence and John’s spirit. He stumbled back, never taking his eyes off of Amanda and hers from him. Her arms flailing and legs kicking erratically as she babbled and giggled, her bright smile welcoming John. He collapsed on the crib, his hands clutching the rail.

“No, I can’t do this again, not like this. This pain; I cannot pass it on to you, too. I will not. It is no way to go through life,” John paused for a moment and sighed. “And it is certainly not the way to accept death.”

John rose from the crib. Something had changed within him and within the world, and now he stood tall. Ironically, he never felt more alive. If only the doctor could see him now. He glanced back down at Amanda, and for the first time in perhaps an eternity, he smiled.

“Young lady, let me tell you: your life is a gift. You will only ever be given one and there are no refunds, returns, or in-store credit. Though that is the truth, I’m sure that you will hear that cliché line a few several hundred times throughout it. What people will be less comfortable telling you at graduations, weddings, and dinner parties is that the gift given to you is also merciless, cruel, and inexplicably unfair. You will see cheats go unnoticed, liars celebrated, and monsters harming the innocent with no justice. You will feel pain, suffering, failure, and heartbreak. I’d like nothing more than tell you some sap about how enduring it that is all worth it because you will find love, but that’s not the truth either. You might go through your whole life and never find love, or even worse, you might have more than you deserve but chose pride and anger instead.”

John paused; an overwhelming urge to leave overtook him. He remembered that his appointment with the doctor was soon.

“But, you can choose to be better, Amanda. Find the worth of the gift that you have. Never feel ashamed or bashful of what that worth means to you. If others do not see what it all means to you then to hell with them; it’s your gift, not theirs. That worth is what will someday save you, will let you endure. Life will do everything in its power to break you as it did me, be better than I was, Amanda. The gift will teach you to endure, and in that endurance, you will find strength.”

John smiled down at the baby and pulled her pink covers up to her chin, his hands flat and calm. He then put his hands in his pockets and walked soberly back to the staircase. He looked down at Dana, Tyson, and Jen, but did not look down upon them. He had so much to say to all three of them but no piece of his mind to give them. He slinked down the stairs and came to Dana, who was now in John’s precious living room sitting on his old couch. John stood behind her and rested his head on his sister’s shoulder, wrapping his arms around her. Unlike the closet door mere moments ago, he felt and saw every second of this. He did not want to go but knew that he had to, and he was ready.

“Goodbye, Dana. I have so much I regret in life and how I treated you. I regret that I held on to so much, both good and bad, including everything that I needed to say to you. I hope that I found a way to say it to you now.”

John kissed his lovely sister on the cheek and then stepped into the hall and towards the front door. He looked back and smiled at the newlyweds. He wanted to speak his peace with Tyson and Jen too but felt that this was their time, not his. It was time to leave them in peace.

Besides, he had an appointment with the doctor, and he was ready to go. He opened the door, stepped out into the summer light, leaving only ashes and dust swimming gracefully in the humid air.

The Life of An Adult-Baby Daddy

I took the last drag of my cigarette and exhaled the cancerous, delicious tar slowly. The poisonous mist danced gracefully away and disappeared into the hot summer air. My eyes gazed up towards the stars wistfully. I wanted to light another one to prolong the peace of the summer night and the beautiful sky. I knew deep down that I had to go back inside.

Back to her.

I entered my house slowly, with the caution of an experienced burglar. I slunk over to fridge to grab a beer, then plopped down on the couch and opened my Miller High Life, opening it ever-so delicatley as to make as little noise as possible. A pop and a small hiss escaped the cylinder. I turned on the hockey game and watched mindlessly. It’s all I wanted to do after my 10-hour shift, I needed this. Maybe tonight I could finally get some normality.

“Honey. We need to talk.”

Maybe not.

“Ok. What is it?” I asked. Although I didn’t need to, knew exactly what was coming. I knew I had to choose my words carefully. I knew that my life will never know peace.

“I’ve had a rough day today, and my anxiety is really bad. I’m going to revert tonight. Probably in five minutes or so. I need a diapy change.” Those words pierced the core of my soul.

“Alright- well- look, this is a playoff game. The Jets haven’t been this close to the Cup in a long time and there’s only 10 minutes left in the third period. Just let me watch it and-”

“No! ” She shrieked. “Baby need diapy change and stowy-time now!”

I sighed deeply, but not loud enough for her to hear, and turned off the TV. I held her hand and walked her to our bedroom. I sleep in a bedroom with over 200 stuffed animals.

I thought back to when Melissa had told me she was into some weird roleplaying when we first met at a La Dispute show in 2015. I just assumed that meant she liked to pretend she was a school teacher or a cop or something during sex. I never imagined it would be anything like this. She was cute, fun, and seemingly cool when I met her. I was a young, desperate fool who just had to have a girlfriend. Too desperate. Now here I am, reading “Green Eggs and Ham” to a 22-year-old with a septum piercing, a pacifier, and sparrow tattoos.

My life is a cruel joke. I drive to work and back every day in complete silence. No radio, no podcasts. Nothing. It’s the only solitude I get in a day and I cherish it dearly. My friends belittle me mercilessly, and my family does not take me seriously. I have to adhere to all of her rules and follow Melissa’s vegan diet, I haven’t had friends over for a BBQ or even grilled a steak in years, I’m not even sure I can anymore. I’m not sure I can do any of this anymore.

I snapped out of my cruel past and back into my cruel present. It was her “beddy-time”. I carefully played my part in her routine of singing “Mary Had A Little Lamb” to her, putting on her jammies, and tucking her into her crib. The crib that I had spent my Christmas bonus on last year.

“I wuv you, daddy.” She said in her faux sleepy voice. It’s a good thing I had died inside long ago, or else that would have sent me into a furious rage.

“I- I wuv you too.”

I sat back down on the sofa, I downed my Miller in one thirsty swallow and immediately cracked another. In total tranquillity and darkness I stayed, staring into the void. The late-night infomercial salesmen were far more comforting than they could ever imagine. I had thought that I could finally be free for the night. That was the case until Melissa’s piercing cry molested the moment over the baby monitor. In one long and efficient numb-seeking slurp I finish my second beer- It’s time to be “Daddy” again.

My mother always wanted me to have a baby, and now I do. Do not live like me, for I am dead.

The Hunt for Phil Begins

“You know the Council of Nine isn’t going to go for this, right?” Mr. Claus had mumbled with apathetic caution. He drew a hot cherry of his wooden pipe, the rich tobacco adding a fitting haze to his humid, humble Havana office. The sweet stench of heat, wood and rum still overpowered the smoke.

“My balls are already in a vice with them as it is. It doesn’t help that my work overshadows the bosses’ birthday. That puts me on thin ice already, you know. Now you’re here to put this shit on me? I don’t need this.”

I stared through his steel grey eyes. They had a cold quality; as if they had seen countless lifetimes. Maybe they had. I wasn’t sure. All I knew was I actually was quite fond of this man, but I was desperate. My despair formed rage and it slammed my fist on the thick wood of his desk. It hurt like a motherfucker.

“Now you listen to me- you fat, sorry excuse for a demigod! I don’t give a hot, sweet fuck with Eleanor goddamn Roosevelt that you got issues with the Council of Nine. We all do- they’re dicks. That does not change the fact that one of your miniature servants is out there, making life Hell for me and all mankind! Will you do nothing? Or fight, like a man!?”

Mr. Claus drew again from his oak pipe. His face was cherry red; the sweat from the heat and the anger now almost a vapour. His eyes pierced my soul, smoke now smouldering from his nose. Despite his anger, he knew that I was right. He sighed remorsefully.

“I created all of the Elves with powerful magic borrowed from the Council. I don’t even fully understand it. Phil is no exception. His lust for power and weaponry grow; malevolence in his tiny black heart. The Council isn’t going to like it, but it is true, my creation and my mistake must be destroyed. It is of the Fallen.”

The silence was deafening. I rose from my leather chair with the pace of a Redwood tree’s growth. I picked up a burlap bag from from his floor and a hammer from his workbench. We gave an unspoken nod of agreement as I walked out into the blistering Caribbean heat. We both knew what must be done.

You can’t ask Snap, Crackle or Pop how damn good I am at my job, because I did it well on them. Oprah Winfrey, your TV career, nor a fake doctorate can save you, I’m comin’ for you Phil. Cash me outside.