38 comments

Aug 13, 2020

General

Guilt is a curious thing, isn't it? I think so. I watch it on the television every night. Yesterday it was the millionaire who touched kids. The day before yesterday was the politician who took money that wasn't his. Before that—was it a murderer? Or another rapist? I forget. There are just too many faces. I change the channel and watch a person on a unicycle get the big shiny buzzer. I clap.


Tonight I walk through the streets. It's dark and everything is very still. I see a bird flying overhead. Alone, while the whole world is asleep. I feel a sense of kinship with it. Maybe we are kindred spirits, our fates entwined forever. It flies out of sight. I shuffle along, trying to get under the reassuring light of the next streetlamp. It's night and everything is very still and thus it is deadly. Like a sleeping serpent, it takes but a wrong step to awaken it and become its prey. So I clutch my small can of pepper spray. Because it's only after they do it that they feel all guilty.


My father used to say that guilt is a useless thing. He had a saying for it: that God wants us to forsake guilt as it will only keep us from becoming who He has created us to be. I took it to heart and believed it until the day I found him hanging in his bedroom. They said it was PTSD. I later found out that he had plagiarized that line from a musty self-help book. I gave it away at the next Christmas drive. May it help someone else forsake their guilt.


I spot two kids running along, chattering excitedly in whispers. They must have snuck out while their parents were watching TV. I glance at my watch and realise that I would probably miss the talent show finals. I make a mental prayer that the unicycle guy wins. He is poor. I walk past the stealthy kids and remember the nightly escapades of my childhood. After Father died, Mother became distraught and a shell of her former self. She let me and my sister go out wherever and whenever we wanted to—or more accurately, she didn't care. She would hole herself up in Father's room, wailing that it was all her fault and muttering other things we didn't understand. We would shrug and run out to play tag instead.


But the older we got, the more problematic the situation became. She wouldn't pay attention to anything. She would just nod at our voices and stare into the distance, lost to the material world, her dead eyes a reflection of her broken soul. Every week, she would take Father's clothes from his room and do the laundry, even though he wasn't there to wear it anymore. I thought it was a waste and tried to swipe a shirt or two. She wouldn't let me. She would say it was Father's. That was the only time she would ever talk. I resented her for it. We drifted apart. My sister, always the kinder one, would put up with her. She was a regular pushover. We always made her the 'it' in tag.


I stare at the kids who reappear and realise that I just lied to myself. My sister was too much of a goody-two-shoes to ever sneak out at night to play tag. It was always me. Alone. I remember the nights I spent under the neighbor's streetlamps, trying to catch the moths which danced so pointlessly under the artificial light, as if afraid of the dark. I only succeeded once. I took it home and pasted it in my scrapbook. I remember how my sister's body shuddered as she threw up. I still have it in my basement cupboard.


I see the kids run into a dark alley, away from sight. It is dangerous. I don't stop them. Nobody used to stop me either. Except that one time when old man Richard from the neighborhood caught me frolicking in his yard at midnight. He dragged me by the ear to my house and started chewing Mother off, telling her she didn't know the first thing about being a parent. She looked him dead in the eyes and said that he better stop or her husband would make him stop. Old man Richard's eyes softened in pity and he made a small bow of apology and left. He never stopped me again.


My sister used to say that Mother felt guilt. I was confused. Guilt of what? She had nothing to do with his death. My sister would shake her head and say that it was complicated. That I wouldn't understand. Then she would look at Mother with those same dark eyes of guilt. It scared me. My sister, my mother, my dead father—all trapped in this vicious chain of regret and remorse. I then look at my sister and feel a small sense of guilt creep up inside. I suppress it in horror and run outside.


I recognise the old withered trees along the road and realise that I am nearing my destination. The sights and the smell are all too familiar. Every bend of the road, crook of a fence, bark of a tree brings with it a jolt of childhood. I feel nostalgic but not overwhelmed. My sister used to say that she wanted to live here her whole life. I would scoff at her, but the look in her eyes was disconcerting. Forever chained. I ended up living just a few miles away. My ego would always push me to say it was not technically 'here'. She would smile kindly. I look for the moths. They are gone.


I reach the quaint old abode of my memories. It still looks as gloomy and antiquated as it did all those years ago. I climb the porch stairs, the rickety wood creaking in protest with every step. I take a deep breath (the same old musty smell) and press the doorbell. One minute passes. I sigh and turn to leave when I see a dark shadow pop up at the window. It disappears as soon as it appears. But that is enough for me. I ring the bell incessantly. I hear some cursing and then footsteps approaching. The door opens and presents a small apron-clad woman with a look of disapproval on her face. I squint. However you look, she's not my mother. I open my mouth to question her but she cuts me off.


"Go away. She doesn't want to see you."


Of course she doesn't. I know that. But that doesn't stop me. I straighten up and try to increase my presence, applying the age old technique of physical intimidation. Looking at her unchanged expression of scorn, I conclude that the attempt failed. I then resort to the much more modern method of verbal communication.


"Let me see her. Tell her—" I gulp. "Tell her that I want to talk."


This is met with a dry laugh.


"Of course you do. They always come around when something like this happens. Why do you want to see her? To make amends? To scratch that little itch of guilt?" She sneers derisively. "Maybe you should've thought about it before you abandoned her. She doesn't need you anyway. She has me to take care of everything. And the other daughter is always here for her. She's a good girl, that kid."


"She's not here now, is she?"


The woman looks taken aback. I relish that expression. She looks much better with her trap shut.


"How did you know? She was here last week, and said she would be back by yesterday. But she never showed up." She sighs. "Now Mrs Andrews thinks she relied on her too much and she got tired. I say it's no such thing, that girl is just too sweet and pure to just up and leave her. Unlike a certain other daughter…"


Oh no, my dear, that's where you're wrong. She was tired. And I saved her.


The chain of guilt is finally broken.


I turn around without another word and leave. I hear a snort of contempt and the door shutting. Though I couldn't see Mother, I can't help but feel a sense of smug satisfaction. Now she was feeling guilty for having abused my sister's kindness. But an uncertain feeling also gnaws at my insides. Why do you want to see her? To make amends? To scratch that little itch of guilt? Was that it? Even if I want to refute it and huff about it, I find that I can't. There was no other reason to go there. After all, I didn't go to see her even once these past five years. 


And now the cancer struck.


But I still find it hard to beat myself too much about it. I know my reasons and I am satisfied. But guilt is an irrational thing. It crawls from the past and takes over the soul, choking it to a slow and painful death. But I can't let that happen. I must save myself. Like I saved my sister.


Thus lost in my thoughts I find myself at my doorstep again. I enter. I hold my nose. The smell has spread to the living room. 


It was time to take it out of the basement cupboard. I clear the fridge.


Then I look at the TV and remember. I turn it on. The unicycle guy has won it all. He is crying tears of joy with his family. I clap. He is poor. I change the channel and see another guilty face. This time it is a murderer. He says he did it in a fit of rage. He didn't mean to. I wonder whose face will be on tomorrow. I turn off the TV.


And find my face staring back at me.


Guilty.



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38 comments

Aditya Pillai
10:20 Aug 13, 2020

Author's Note: OK, so this is me trying out a new style. If you've read my previous stories, the difference can certainly be seen in the fact that this one has actual paragraphs and not just lines strung together by spaces ;) I originally wrote another story for this week, but it got really out of hand (4k+ words and I can't for the life of me find anything to cut out). So this is something I wrote today in a fit of inspiration. Would love to hear your feedback on this!

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Asa Frederick
05:07 Aug 14, 2020

This is incredible. Not flashy, no overly flowery descriptions but just great hard-hitting story telling. Dark and compelling. The analogy of the moth and the sister is so clever: colorless, afraid to venture out, always flitting around in one place—till the narrator ripped it/her away. The ending was so great. Chilling. You really really know how to write. Keep this up.

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Aditya Pillai
06:20 Aug 14, 2020

Thank you so much for your generous comment! I intentionally kept out any too vivid/poetic descriptions to convey the mindset of the narrator. Glad you picked up on the analogy. Thanks again! Really appreciate it.

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Rayhan Hidayat
13:00 Aug 13, 2020

Excellent, excellent stuff as per usual 👍🏽 Seriously, what is there not to like? I think your writing style is better than ever here, with the super-precise descriptions so that the reader knows EXACTLY what the narrator wants them to feel. Sometimes subtlety is sacrificed for that, but I think it works great here! 😁 I especially loved how detached she seemed, like she was going about her life like it was her duty and not something to enjoy. You have a way with writing characters that are normal enough to relate to but weird enough th...

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Aditya Pillai
16:32 Aug 13, 2020

Thank you so much for your very generous words! I am glad you liked this. It's weird but everything I write turns out to be dark! This one was something I wrote today on a whim, because the story I originally intended became monstrously huge (and you guessed it—it was a really dark psychological one as well ;)) Its always so great to read your comments! I checked out your new one and it's wonderful! Looking forward for more :)

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Rayhan Hidayat
00:13 Aug 15, 2020

Dang if only I could write quality stuff like this “On a whim” 😆

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Cricketer Amogh
10:12 Aug 15, 2020

It's an amazing story P.S read my both story what is a Second Chance The Secret Mission Meeting

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Shruti Saxena
11:40 Aug 13, 2020

Wow. I just connected the dots at the end. Holy shit!! You did it again! That was such an intriguing read. You really pulled me in with the narration. The undertone of guilt was so well done. That sentence though: I remember how my sister's body shuddered as she threw up. I still have it in my basement cupboard. Rereading it gave me the chills. You so casually gave it away in the middle and I didn't even notice! Awesome stuff. Really really great!! :)

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Aditya Pillai
16:34 Aug 13, 2020

Thank you so much for the lovely comment! Haha, that was the reaction I was going for. I just want to see how many suspect that sentence at first glance ;) thanks again, your thoughts are always great to read!

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Jonathan Blaauw
11:05 Aug 15, 2020

Ok, full review time. Like before, you’ve built a story on underlying (guilt, in this case) incredibly. You’re so good at that, and your portrayal of guilt and its effects, especially in family dynamics, is as accurate as it is astute. And I love the way you told it. First-person present is a bit overused, in my opinion – it needs the right setting and plot to make it come off properly, and you have both here. Telling the story in that way really makes it come alive. And, if you’re anything like me, that wasn’t a choice you made consciously...

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Aditya Pillai
19:11 Aug 15, 2020

Thanks for your generous words, it's always great to hear your take! About the tense, it is as you say: I don't actually decide the tense, I just write a story and it automatically has a certain tense. And it might be because of the type of books I read, but is first person present overused? I don't seem to see that very often, but that may just come down to my innate disregard for specifically looking at the tense. And I would love to see what you come up with this week, fingers crossed! The werewolves will be fine by their own, no need to ...

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Jonathan Blaauw
07:32 Aug 17, 2020

When I said overused, I meant in stories I read on here. You’re right, in books, it’s seldom used. When it is, it’s often in YA stuff (Hunger Games, Divergent, etc...) which is probably why younger writers tend naturally towards it. Nothing wrong with that at all, of course. But I find it works best in gritty, personal stories (Fight Club for example), which is why your use of it here works so well. It’s that kind of story, and the perspective/tense you’ve used achieves the desired effect perfectly.

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D. Jaymz
02:33 Aug 15, 2020

Well-written. You have wound a plot throughout the story very subtly. Excellent 👏 I enjoyed your story immensely with the musing on social issues and the deep introspection. ~~~~~~ In the sentence, 'Guilt of what?'. It would be more accurate to say, 'Guilty of what?'. But, if you want to keep to the word 'guilt', then it would read as, 'Guilt, for what?'. But 'Guilty of what?' does sound better when read aloud. ~~~~~~ Well done 😊

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Aditya Pillai
06:35 Aug 15, 2020

Thank you so much for your feedback and generous words! It means a lot! I was under the impression that "guilt of smthng" was an accurate usage...for eg: She felt the guilt of not supporting him through his dark times. Is it not? Or am I missing something here?

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D. Jaymz
18:06 Aug 15, 2020

In the sentence that you used here (She felt the guilt of not supporting him through his dark times), it sounds fine, but in the short (Guilt of what), it sounds 'off'. Using 'the' in that sentence for guilt as a noun sounds right, but if you dropped 'the', then I would say to use 'for' instead of 'of', such as, ' She felt guilt for not supporting him through his dark times (Grammarly wants 'the' added also, when 'of' is used instead of 'for'). I'm sure we are getting caught up on some grammar point, that requires someone better equipped tha...

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Aditya Pillai
19:04 Aug 15, 2020

Thank you for your detailed comments! You make some great points, and I really like the rule of thumb you use. This is thought-provoking and it will certainly help me. Thanks again, you're awesome :)

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Roshna Rusiniya
11:06 Aug 14, 2020

Another amazing story from you. Impactful narrative. Great descriptions. Loved the words of wisdom. But, that ending line! It gave me a chill!

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Aditya Pillai
03:05 Aug 15, 2020

Thanks you so much! :)

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D. Holmes
06:00 Aug 14, 2020

Oh my god. The way you subverted this prompt was brilliant.

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Aditya Pillai
06:24 Aug 14, 2020

Thank you!

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Keerththan 😀
06:44 Aug 21, 2020

The ending was great. 'Guilty' nice word. Wonderful story for the prompt. The descriptions were well written. Keep writing. Waiting for more of yours.... Would you mind reading my new story "Secrets don't remain buried" and share your views on it?

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Tariq Saeed
14:35 Aug 19, 2020

Pillar,v good.

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Thom Brodkin
18:39 Aug 18, 2020

This is the first story I have read of yours so I have the advantage of giving feedback without anything to muddy my thoughts. I think this was very well written and if you did indeed just pound it out at the last minute you should be proud because it proves your natural talent. You have a gift for description that isn't overdone. I read a lot of stories on Reedsy where it feels as if there is a contest to see who can say in 100 words what could be said in 5. You seem to find the balance. I believe we write to make people think and you ...

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Aditya Pillai
09:03 Aug 19, 2020

I am really grateful for your kind words. Thanks! And one thing, you've actually commented on my previous works, you must've forgotten the name (quite understandable as we deal with hundreds of names here!). And I've already read and liked your story! In fact I've read all of yours, you're a great writer.

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Deborah Angevin
10:31 Aug 17, 2020

The emotions conveyed really well; the descriptions were nicely written. I really enjoyed reading this story, Aditya! P.S: would you mind checking my recent story out, "Grey Clouds"? Thank you :D

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Anoushka Jain
06:25 Aug 17, 2020

Amazing! I simply love your writing style. It's always really fun/interesting to read!

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00:56 Aug 15, 2020

Oh my goodness! This was amazing like seriously. The flow was so calm even though the story was quite sad. I don't even know how to explain this, this was just so good. You explained guilt so good, and you added those little details like the moths. And her mother was terrible, even if she was sad that was terrible what she did to her children, but then again I feel so bad for her. This story just brought up so many feelings. It was truly amazing👏👏

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Aditya Pillai
03:07 Aug 15, 2020

Thank you so much for your lovely words! They mean a lot :) Glad you liked it.

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Laura Clark
22:37 Aug 14, 2020

Hey hey! I really enjoyed this one! I was hooked all the way to the end, trying to figure out what was going on. One thing that I didn’t quite get was the connection between the dad and the protagonist in terms of guilt. Did she have any reason to feel guilty about his death? If I had a critique it would be about making the reasons for the various guilts felt more explicit - what did the mother do? What did the sister do? I loved the darkness of this. I’ve got an idea for a story for this week but I’m worried it might be a little too dar...

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Aditya Pillai
00:31 Aug 15, 2020

Ah, I have a really troublesome habit of keeping things ambiguous because I kind of want the readers to make their own interpretations, but I guess I do this too much. So, guilt being an irrational thing, it gnaws away at people even if they didn't specifically do something—when a family member/close friend commits suicide or is in a very bad mental state, many people get the tendency to blame themselves—"I was with them the whole time and I didn't do anything, I didn't notice, it's all my fault...." I have seen this happen and it struck an ...

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Blake Hogen
19:41 Aug 14, 2020

Really love this one. Again, the emotion of the protagonist is very powerful, and the emotions of the other characters only add to the story. I love the flow and style of this piece and how the ending connects back to where it all began. Awesome job!

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Aditya Pillai
03:05 Aug 15, 2020

Thank you for the lovely comment!

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Jamela Faye
07:38 Aug 14, 2020

Again, another one of your awesome and unexpected stories. This one is cool too!

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Aditya Pillai
03:04 Aug 15, 2020

Thank you so much!

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Jonathan Blaauw
18:29 Aug 13, 2020

A new story, yay! I keep an eye out for new one's from you. This is up to your usual high standard. I have much more to say so I'll be back for a detailed comment tomorrow, when I've got time to read it again and savour every word. In the meantime though, I just wanted to give a much deserved 👍

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Aditya Pillai
07:30 Aug 14, 2020

Thank you! It's always great to hear your thoughts :)

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Deborah Mercer
09:40 Aug 14, 2020

A great story. You have described and evoked the nag and drag of guilt so well. And I think it's great to work with different styles - this certainly was a good mixture of theme and form.

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Aditya Pillai
03:05 Aug 15, 2020

Thank you for reading and commenting! Glad to hear you liked it.

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