His father had returned. This day should never be. His father was dead to him. He had left the reality of his father many years ago. He had made a life of his own; he had re-created a sense of identity worlds apart and miles beyond those cold, dark rural times of abuse, neglect and maniacal depression. But now, here he was spying behind the curtain, at his one true ghost, on the doorstep below. Again the bell rang, again history came flooding back and once again he cursed an inner chill. What could he possibly want? What was he doing here? Could he open the door? These thoughts raced through his mind as he lit a cigarette with trembling fingers. Why not let him in? He can’t harm you, you’re a grown man… No, he could not.
After a moments discussion with Self, Peter edged the curtain open a fraction more until he felt comfortable with his subterfuge and set about studying the relic below him. His father's hair was considerably shorter, cropped but far from clean. His jersey was an ugly green colour and obviously hand knitted, some time ago in fact as it was falling apart at the seams (Peter wondered if he had suckered in another unfortunate woman to be his bitch and do his bidding? 'Good god! I certainly hope there are no more children', Peter pondered in dread. To be more estrange would render Peter nothing more than a cellular dice roll and he had already landed on snake eyes). His pants were of a faded, mute brown and could possibly be corduroy and with disgust but less surprise Peter saw that gumboots adorned his father's feet. He knocked again with more fury but less determination. 'Try all you want you fuck but there is no way you are coming in here', Peter mentally grimaced. The last Peter had heard of his father’s whereabouts was on TV3 News when Mt Rangitoto last had a wee tantrum and the usual thrill seekers had flocked in their droves to see the depths of hell cover the land in balsatic flourish. No one could say for sure that it was him for his face had been covered by a bandanna as the air was replete with volcanic ash but none had mistook the voice. Grave, deep and solicitous with an oblivious arrogance that made you want to tear… 'No, no, calm', Peter Self admonished. 'Don’t let his presence get to you, he’ll be gone soon' and on that mental note Peter's father turned away with dissatisfied speed and took off down the driveway. Peter breathed out a deep sigh of relief and then, he realised that he was shaking.
Calib sat staring at the ceiling trying not to look at the alarm clock beside his bed. It’s irritating red glow pulsing a reminder of the day’s duties ahead. He couldn't turn the other way either as his 'baby', the once upon a time love of his life, his slowly fading dream, lay comatose beside him. The phone rang. At first, this caused alarm, then aggravation, then curiosity. He watched to see if any response was to be had from Chantal and quickly became bored as he saw that it was futile and picked up.
“Hey Calib, it’s me.”
“Guess what bro.”
Peter could tell that his brother’s patience was waning quickly so he picked up the pace.
“He was here.”
“Holy shit! Did you speak to him?’”
“No, shit no! I didn’t even let him in.’”
“Fuck it’s been years...what the hell does he want?’”
“I don’t know bro but I think we are going to find out real soon.”
'Another boring guy, another boring fuck', was all she could think to herself as she stumbled drunkenly down the dirt road towards home and another hung-over dawn. 'I mean what’s wrong with a little strangulation?' she asked the empty street. 'People in this hick town are so fucking boring!' Helen’s thoughts were put on an abrupt pause as her cell phone began to vibrate in her incredibly disorganised bag. Wiping her blurry eyes she attempted to make out the text but then realised she could not as she dropped the phone quickly followed by her bag and then herself.
This was the only reasonable way to sum up the situation she decided and she felt it worked so well that she followed it with three more like exclamations.
“Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!”
Whilst Helen set about reclaiming her belongings from the dirt, gravel and animal shit, she began to muse on the outcome of her latest sexual conquest. He had seemed nice enough, just another backpacker who accidentally stumbled into this shit-hole town and quickly learnt the only thing to do was get drunk and fuck. So, she had naturally sidled up to him at The Irish and acquired no less than twelve or so free drinks with at least seven red bull and vodkas in the mix. Then, they had gone back to his place and things had begun well until she introduced him to her own style of intercourse and then (Eric? Ernie? James?) ran terrified out of the room and demanded she leave from the safe confines of the bathroom - faggot. Helen smirked to herself as she scraped her hands against a sharp rock and quickly took to sucking at the torn flesh as salt and gravel mingled in her mouth. 'I mean what is wrong with trying to make things interesting?' Helen declared to herself as she knelt in the middle of the road sucking absent-mindedly on her bloody finger. “Huh?” She heard a vibration and then horrible fucking music, what the? Oh yeah phone, she remembered as she fished it out of her bag and slammed it against her ear.
“‘What, what, who is this?”
“Sis', it’s me.”
“What, Pete', fuck, what do you want? You don’t call people on the phone.”
“Yeah I know but this is something, something big!”
“Oh yeah, what’s so big?”
A rude thought almost escaped her lips but that was cut short by the information that followed down the phone line threatening to supernova her drunken star-ship.
“He’s back, dad, hes' come back.”
“Shit, shit!” She doubly exclaimed as she collapsed onto her side cutting the palm of her hand on a shard of glass.
“Yeah I know, big aye!”
Helen’s pain and confusion was occluded by another shocking thought, 'does Mum know'?
been fed as well as the cats but not in that exact order', she chuckled to herself as she set about squashing the cans to be put in the recycling. “Ah, I'm on laundry today' she reminded herself with satisfied glee. She knew it was hard work but that is what she enjoyed, 'hard work, why?' because she can that’s why!' With David she was never allowed to work. Dot never knew what his problem was, always screaming and shouting about how he was the man and she was just a woman. Well, now she does more work than ten men could do in a week, of course that doesn’t leave much time or energy for any sort of social life but what the hell! Who needs a social life when you have a job! 'Besides men are just trouble, that is perfectly clear, I mean, look at my life up to this point, what has it been worth?' “Now now Dorothy! Don’t think like that! Your life is better now.” She reassured herself as she set about doing the dishes. 'Yes much better', she internally chanted a domestic mantra as she picked up the phone. 'Much better' she continued to chant as she recognised her step son’s voice on the other end of the line. 'Much better', she chanted as Peter told her news that made her world fall down around her. “Much better” she exclaimed as shock and subsequent fear made the tears run down her face. “Much better”, she murmured as she looked out the kitchen window and wished she had never been born.
Peter paced his flat and smoked the longest train in existence. He glanced, once again, at the clock. An hour to go. One hour and the past would come crashing back. The past he had tried so hard to forget would return and the horror story would become the present and the ghosts would be here to stay. Would he be able to deal with such a visitation? The last time he had seen David had been at the hospital. All of the nurses surrounded him as David held the pen to sign the form; the signature that had legally granted Peter his freedom. David had not been happy about relinquishing his control over to the State but he was powerless to do anything and both he and Peter had known it. Peter smiled to himself as he remembered the incomparable sensation of telling him to get fucked. Yep, that had been quite a day as David had sat there fuming with his hands rubbing themselves raw. Unable to do a thing flanked by burly male nurses and Peter being scared as hell but knowing that he had finally snipped the chord. But now David was coming back with that cut and bloody chord in his hand and Peter could virtually feel it wrapping itself around his throat stealing his breath and stopping his heart dead in its tracks. One hour to go. Would he be able to forgive? Could he even conceive of such a thing? He knew that people could forgive but he also knew that they did not forget and when memory strikes you in the face, forgiveness is truly forgotten. And how would his family react? Could they cope with such a thing? Back when the horror tale was at its narrative arch it was he who had caught the main blow of David’s tyranny and he still wore the scars. When he had finally left and had won his freedom, Peter in turn, had granted his siblings and step mother’s theirs but his step mother was nothing but an automaton and his siblings were far too young to bear any scar for long but would this visitation dredge subconscious feelings and sensations that would destroy any security or sanity they had created? Would they forget who they were and view themselves from now on as mere figments of a stolen life and fade away into a dust storm of doubt and self loathing? And what of himself, how would he react? Would a veil be torn to reveal the small, frightened child with a barbwire heart and broken soul toy? 'Why did he want to see us?' 'What did he expect to be the outcome?' 'A reuniting of the family wherein we would all hop in the van and make our merry way back to the West Coast?' No. That could not be allowed to happen.
David walked up the driveway of his son’s flat and stopped. He looked at his wristwatch and saw that he was a few minutes early. He tapped his pockets to make sure it was still in his pocket; without it, this whole exercise would be moot. He knew his son did not want to see him even though he had agreed on this meeting over the phone. He could tell his presence was not welcome through the restrained tone of his son’s voice; the terse, clenched instructions he gave as to time, direction and place: “Knock on the door three times, pause, and then knock again, so I know it’s you.” Those were Peter's instructions and David knew he had to follow them if this reconciliation had any chance of being favourable. Tapping his pocket once more he slowly walked up the drive until he came to stand outside the front door of the apartment. He knocked three times, paused, and then knocked again. Silence. He waited, as he dared not go against instructions but the silence remained. It remained until he became fidgety and the anger began to rise. 'No! do not get angry.' 'This will not work if you become angry.' 'You love him, you know that.' 'You have always loved him; you just showed it in the wrong way... but this is your chance to show him that you love him and make him forgive, your chance to take back your son and make him yours again.' The silence remained. He tried the door. It was unlocked. At that moment he almost turned back. He almost decided that it was not worth the trouble, that it was better to go back to the trailer park and forget about this plan and to throw away what he had found, to forget it had ever existed and to carry on as he was. But that line of thought was nullified by his subsequent action of opening the door and stepping inside, inside, to face the past and attempt to make him, me, forgive.
“Hello?” “Hello, ‘Peter?” “Son?”
Nothing, no response, just silence and the cold, dark welcome of an empty hallway.
“Peter, I’m here.” “I’m here as we discussed, just like you said on the phone.’” “In one hour, knock three times, pause, and then knock again. I knocked, I paused and I’m here.”
“‘Boy get out here, don’t be a prick!”
The anger began to rise.
“Come on for fuck sake! I kept my part of the bargain!”
David's voice began to rise and Peter smiled to himself. 'That’s right, get angry you son of a bitch.' 'I’m the one who is in control now', he silently declared to a freshly sharpened kitchen knife.
“Peter you little fuck, get out here now!’
David's footfall became louder and more desperate as he tried to lead his hands in an enraged attempt to find a light switch. 'Hmm, mains are switched off, sorry daddy, no light for you except the candle of remembrance.' On the striking of this mental note all noise of feet and curses suddenly ceased. Peter could see from his vantage point that Father had found his shrine to paternity. A simple photograph framed in non-de-script wooden frame mounted on a disused stereo speaker surrounded by tea candles, constructed in the middle of the otherwise dark living room. It was a photograph of Peter with his father, David, seated outside the chicken coop of their farm on the West Coast. They were both happy. They looked to be conversing in a jovial fashion whilst the sun beat down on them with love in their eyes and joy in their hearts. And like everything else in their relationship, it was a facade. It was bullshit. It was an ideal representation of a lie to be placed on the mantle of denial. No better than a fucking white picket fence and it was time for the truth to be told.
When the authorities came the following day they found two dead bodies. One was of a Caucasian male in his early thirties and the other was of a Caucasian male in his late fifties. The latter had been stabbed multiple times and his throat had been slit from ear to ear and the former had taken his own life by slitting his wrists down the main arterial vein of both wrists. Both bodies had been found in the centre of the living room of an inner city flat and it is determined that no breaking and entering had occurred therefore the crime has been considered premeditated in nature. Furthermore both parties are considered to have been related due to the fact that the body of the younger male, supposed perpetrator of said crime, once he had taken the life of the older male, had positioned himself in a gruesome embrace of the dead body and proceeded to take his own life with the murder weapon - a large kitchen knife of carbon steel alloy – which was found covering a blood splattered photograph depicting both parties in a domestic scene supposedly taken some years before due to style of print development and age of parties in question. No other evidence has been found at this point apart from a letter found in the murdered victim’s coat pocket postmarked 1973, Queensland, Australia. The content of the letter is undisclosed at this time but it is believed to be connected to the family in question.
Gene Von Banyard's short story: The Familial
by Gene Von Banyard