That's it: the night is lustrous, the cake is styrofoam, and the child is finally still.

Submitted into Contest #216 in response to: Write a story with an open ending that gives readers just enough details to draw their own conclusions.... view prompt

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Fiction Drama Suspense

“Good,” the professor says, his deep voice echoing across the vast lecture hall, carried and emphasized by the microphone clipped to his collar. “Now, once you’ve written five ‘I am’ statements, we’ll take a look at the average responses from the population and see if they correlate with yours.”

I examine the immaculate sheet of white before me, five proclamations of individuality scrawled in pencil between the blue lines: 

I am a writer. 

I am a son. 

I am a brother. 

I am confused. 

I am scared. 

The third statement is a lie and I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing here in this red cushioned seat with a plain white binder from Dollarama on my lap, pages filled with highlighted notes and I am statements. There is noise in my head and my jeans are wet because I barely made it inside before the clouds broke, and the rest of the lecture is like the indecipherable roar of rain on the roof because I am wondering what Petey would think of me here in my red cushioned seat, thinking of him. 

“Yo, check this out,” says a boy in the row in front of me. 

“Oh, I’ve seen this,” says the boy’s friend. 

They are watching a video on the first boy’s phone. The frame is centred on a single telephone pole on the side of a dirt road, and the frame remains still and eventless for perhaps forty seconds; then, a bright yellow Volkswagen Beetle appears and wraps itself around the pole.

“And that’s it?” asks the boy’s friend after they’ve returned to the Instagram homepage.

“That’s it.”

I don’t think he meant to do it. I really don’t. It’s the way he smiles, the way he’s always laughing as if nothing’s wrong—that’s why Mom thinks he did it on purpose.

We were having dinner together last night, sixteen hours ago, and not a word was spoken over the course of the meal. That was Petey’s job: whenever the table went silent, he would scream and Mom would fuss over him and Dad would shake his balding head. 

Now, we just sit in silence. 

Dad’s been drinking more wine lately. Last night, the wine in his cup was white; he has never drank red wine in his life, has always preferred the white stuff, but last night the sun was shining duskily through the kitchen window and his wine was amber. Maybe that’s why he sipped it so carefully.

I helped with the dishes after, and by “helped with the dishes” I mean I washed and rinsed and dried the dishes while they sat, stubbornly, in silence.

When Mom left the table, she left it with a sigh. “You need to take your meds.”

Petey was a sweet little thing: his skin was as soft as shea butter, his eyes like chocolate, but he never seemed to like Dad. Not really, anyway. Whenever he held him, Petey would cry, and whenever this happened, Dad’s face would be blank and grim. 

I used to see them in the kitchen together, Dad with his arms around Petey, Petey with his nails in Dad’s skin, screaming. 

Petey was a siren. 

“Petey,” Dad would say. “You’re a loud, red siren.”

He always said it so monotonously, as if Petey were a malfunctioning toy he would have to fix at some point in time. He never patted Petey’s back or rubbed him while he held his tiny body, just held him still and let him cry as he gazed out the window. 

“Honey,” Mom would say. “You don’t have to act as if it’s such an obligation.”

I don’t think Dad ever wanted Mom to get pregnant; he just loves her enough to never tell her that. 

Six months ago, I was in the driveway and Dad was in the kitchen window. Petey was in the living room, wailing, and Mom was at work. I had my backpack on and the street lights were lustrous at 7:37 PM, stretching my shadow to the seams of the front door. Something about Dad’s expression halted me there on the dark asphalt. He was glaring into the sink, his arms invisible behind the sill, and suddenly he threw his glass of wine across the room. I heard it shatter against the wall, and Petey’s wails were silenced. 

“Well,” I said after a few minutes, and headed inside. 

Petey was lying on his back on the couch, naked but for his diaper, kicking those two-year-old legs of his. His face was calm and his throat was quiet, but there was a certain animosity in the air, leaking like tendrils of smoke from the closed door at the end of the hall.

“Cherisse?”

“It’s me, Dad.”

“Oh.” The door opened. “Would you give me a hand changing your brother?”

Petey was on the kitchen table, an old bath towel laid beneath him, and I was holding his arms while Dad did his best to keep his legs still. None of us said a word throughout the ordeal; even Petey kept himself quiet.

Mom always paid attention to those sorts of things, the way Dad never seemed to enjoy his time with Petey, or the way he’d avoid being alone with him. Unless it was a car ride. Dad loved car rides with Petey.

“I like seeing him so calm,” Dad said one day. “I hate when he isn’t calm, but in the car… he just stares out the window and his lips never move. I could drive with Petey for hours.”

I had this idea a few years ago in the eleventh grade. It came to me as we were pulling out of a Dairy Queen parking lot at one o’clock in the morning on Jamie’s birthday. We had just come from a party at his parents’ house, where we ate burgers and watched the rain pour over the fields. 

The asphalt was wet and shiny and the puddles were not puddles of water but of stardust as we crossed the lot. The clouds had cleared and now, the sky was clear, the stars were bright, and her hand was in mine. We were real, we were us, side by side across the void of space, bathed in the blood of twilight. 

“We already have cake,” Jamie had said. 

“The cake is terrible,” she argued. “It’s like eating styrofoam.”

“Well… my mom made it gluten free.”

“See, that’s your problem. Come on. Ice cream doesn’t make people fat, it only makes fat people fatter.”

“What?”

“Whatever. Let’s go.”

I ordered ice cream for both of us and her nails dug into my arms when the explosion echoed through the seams of the glass doors. Our eyes were still and focused and wide; there were no words in the mouths that were moving, no indication that God had ever given noise to inanimate objects as chairs slid away from tables, and there was no evidence that gravity held sway over the weight of our feet as people came to stare through the smeared glass. 

We saw her car as we pulled out of the parking lot, wrapped around a telephone pole. And then we saw her, gracing the tar with her twisted limbs; streaks of titanium hair and liquid streams of scarlet haloed around her head. Even through the glass pane, across the metres between us, I could feel the kiss of her pink lips bidding the cold, glittering stars goodbye.

“That’s seriously messed up,” Jamie said when we got to his house. 

“Hmm,” I murmured, laughing a little. 

“What?”

“Have you ever thought of telephone poles as characters in a movie where nothing happens?”

“Man, you’re tripping.”

“No, I’m serious. Hear me out.” We were all in the basement, trying not to think about the tragedy we’d just witnessed. “Imagine, like, a two-hour movie but it’s just this one, single shot of a telephone pole.”

“And nothing happens?”

“No. Not until—oh. Or, we could have more than one thing happen. So, it’s just this shot of a telephone pole, and maybe at, I dunno, a half hour or something, we hit it with some paintballs. We could even divide it into episodes; episode one: the paintballs.”

Jamie was shaking his head. Everyone else was laughing.

“This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“No, wait,” I laughed. “Wait. At the very end, a car crashes into the pole.”

Everyone just kept laughing with me and telling me I was out of my mind—even I thought it was ridiculous at first. 

But then I decided to do it. 

“Come on, man,” I said to Jamie one day in the summer. We were on his porch and he was trying to get to work. “It’s a good idea.”

“Man, shut up,” he chuckled. “I’ll help you out after my shift, all right?”

“We should do it in the morning so we have daylight. I want to get a long shot.”

“Can’t we just edit it?”

“I don’t know, man. I’m not good at this stuff. Just meet me out there whenever you want, I’m getting the shot regardless.”

We filmed a few miles from home, out towards the deep part of the woods. The gravel crunched under our shoes as we unloaded from Jamie’s pickup truck and the sun was like a hand, a thousand fingers of fire reaching between the trees.

“We’ll put the camera here,” I said.

We got ourselves set up and started recording at seven o’clock, long before Petey was ever awake, even longer before any traffic would hit the dirt road. 

At nine o’clock, we stopped the camera and got the paintballs ready. 

“Why didn’t we just get these in the main shot?” Jamie asked. 

I shrugged. “I want to have a variety of shots to choose from.”

“Oh, so now you know how to edit things. Man, you’re overthinking this. It’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.”

“It’s the kind of thing that’ll go viral these days,” I said. “Can’t you imagine a trend like this going around? The telephone pole trend. And people are just like, ‘have you seen the paintball scene?’ And they’re like, ‘do you think they crashed a real truck into it?’”

Jamie just shook his head and started shooting paintballs at the pole. 

“My dad’s gonna be here with Petey soon,” I said. “He wants to watch us make the final scene.”

The final scene would involve Jamie’s truck, and neither of us had any real idea of how we were going to make it happen. Obviously, Jamie couldn’t afford to just wrap his truck around a telephone pole, and we weren’t going to spend weeks trying to find someone willing to destroy their vehicle for a video that might, on a one-percent chance, go viral on social media. 

“We’ll just have you drive super close to the pole,” I said. “And then hopefully we can find someone who knows photoshop and they can, like… you know.”

“Yeah. All right.”

But before Jamie had his truck in gear, a yellow Beetle came roaring over the hill, clouds of dust swirling among its silver tires, and the impact was the end of everything. 

“Oh, my…”

My feet were like anvils and I fought to lug them across the empty road. I fell against the side of the car and inspected the backseat, careful not to cut my hands on the shattered glass. There was a black and red baby seat in the back, but it was empty. 

“Oh, f—”

“Dad?”

His head was on the steering wheel, blood leaking from his ears and his face, his mouth. 

“Dad… was Petey with you?”

I staggered away from the car and found Jamie a few feet away, standing stockstill, staring at something lying motionless in the ferns.

September 22, 2023 17:23

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1 comment

Anna Mac
01:31 Sep 28, 2023

Hi Hosea, Wow. This is a powerful piece. Beautifully constructed. Did the father drive into the pole on purpose? Up to the reader to decide... The mother thinks he did. I think he had some sort of psychic break and probably intended to kill himself and not his young son. There are gorgeous descriptive passages, and these are a few favorites: His face was calm and his throat was quiet, but there was a certain animosity in the air, leaking like tendrils of smoke from the closed door at the end of the hall. The asphalt was wet and shiny and...

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