Saturday, March 1, 2014

The King Is Dead

It's been a while since I've done a prompt. Or any writing calisthenics, really. I'm out of shape, out of practice.

For this week's (February 24th) Studio30Plus prompt: "My Father is the King."

I'm trying out a different style with this one. As always, with prompt responses, there's been very little editing. (I try to keep as close to my initial thoughts as possible with these. It's an exercise in learning to deal with imperfect first drafts.)

My father is the king.

The king is dead.

My mother finds him, not-asleep in the worn chair from which he so often ruled, issuing demands, proclamations, meting out punishments.

When she finds me—sweeping up the mess of a lunch that had not passed inspection—her eyes are bright behind her ruined makeup. The smudges of her mascara almost hide the recent bruising.

His heart gave out, she'll say to me later, voice awash with wonderment.

The coroner carts my father's body away in a black bag. I wonder if he'll end up on a curb.

My brother, on his way back from a school trip, doesn't get the news until he walks through the door the next morning.

He drops his dirty cleats in the middle of the foyer; red clay crumbles onto the hardwood floor. His duffel, filled with odorous laundry, he tosses onto the couch as turns and startles at the sight of mother in our father's chair.

When she tells him what's happened, he calls her a liar, locks himself in his room. He won't come out, won't let us in.

We leave him alone. Mom sweeps up red clay. She carries his duffel to the washer, opens it, begins pulling the stained and stinking uniform from the bag, then stops. Her fingers clench white on the jersey. She tucks the uniform back into the bag, sets it outside his door.

She is already breaking old habits.

Later in the evening, she puts a plate in my hand and I take my brother his dinner. He opens the door for me.

He's been crying. He's an ugly crier, his face red, splotchy, his eyes bloodshot.

"Did you cry?" he asks, setting his full plate on the desk, next to the framed photo of him and my father on the day my brother's team took the state championship.

"Yes," I say. I shed two tears.

"Liar," he spits. "You didn't love him."

I shrug, leave the room. I don't tell him love is finite. And fragile. It can be bruised, broken, can seep out of the body like blood from a wound.

My father is the king.

The king is dead.

My mother seems taller, her spine straight and taught as she strides across the lawn in dark pants, a fashionable blouse, her hair piled high on her head. The bruises on her face are no more than ghosts of shadows. She's never looked more beautiful.

She takes her seat between my brother and me, listens to the droning script of the burial, mouth flattening on the minister's line about forgiveness for wrongs committed.

As the last word tremors into silence, the casket sinks into the earth.

My mother sniffs. My brother chokes. I make no sound.

My father is the king.

The king is dead.

Months pass.

Too much time.

Or maybe too little.

She goes out on the weekends, now. With friends. With colleagues. With one very special friend from work. His name is David. She comes home with smiles and faded lipstick.

My brother watches her for weeks.

"She's forgetting him," he says, to me, one evening, after they've driven away.

Some people, I think, deserve to be forgotten.

The night of the big date, the one she's been prepping for the whole last week, my mother comes home late, her dress rumpled, a wide smile on her pale lips, a ring glittering on her hand.

My brother catches her just inside the door, stepping out from the little alcove that holds coats and shoes. It was one of my father's favorite spots, just out of sight.

He screams at her.

She screams back.

The heavy, wet crunch of fist meeting bone is loud in the hallway. I make myself small. I blend with the wallpaper as I've not done in over a year. I slink toward the living room, to the harsh melody of lungs gasping for air.

My mother's doubled over, right arm around her belly, left hand against her cheek, her new ring a little star burst scratch of brightness in the dim room.

My brother stands rigid, red faced, clenched fists. He sucks in air like a desert dweller does water.

His mouth opens, his nostrils flare. His face has changed, hardened, grown both alien and familiar.

My father is the king.

The king is dead.

Long live the king.


L. M. Leffew said...

Your use of repetition really really gave an added creepiness to the story, and the ending line sealed it. Wow!

L. M. Leffew said...

Yikes! The king is strong in that brother. I liked this - a lot. The take on the prompt is clever, the images are vivid, and the repetition ties it all together beautifully.

L. M. Leffew said...

The king's mantel is passed to the son... very powerful. I agree with Stephanie and Joe, the repeated phrase carries along the tension nicely.

L. M. Leffew said...

I agree with SAM - the repetition is brilliant. I'm a huge fan of repetition... Welcome to our world of prompts and thank you so much for linking up!

L. M. Leffew said...

this is simply too good, love the repetition. Great imagery and details. many favorites here but - "My brother stands rigid, red faced, clenched fists. He sucks in air like a desert dweller does water." Great line. I missed it reading before.

L. M. Leffew said...

Wow ... I'm really sorry I missed this post until now. Unfortunately those ugly and destructive habits pass their way down to the "prince."

Especially liked, "I don't tell him love is finite. And fragile. It can be bruised, broken, can seep out of the body like blood from a wound."

L. M. Leffew said...

Very nicely done!

L. M. Leffew said...

Thanks so much.

L. M. Leffew said...

It's a sad reality.

I'm glad you stopped by.

L. M. Leffew said... I am speechless...

That was incredibly written. (And I hope they get away from the new kind.)

L. M. Leffew said...

Speechless is good. :) Glad you enjoyed.

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