There is no solace in silence, only a never-ending ache.
Standing in the empty hallway, Boris looked for any sign of love, for any hint of a reason to stay, but he was met with only a stinging stillness. The mid-century style house was empty as it had always been, as it probably always would be. With bare ivory-coloured walls and slate grey floors, he often wondered why his parents never bothered to redecorate, or at the very least hang paintings. Instead, they settled for a handful of framed photographs, one from his parents’ wedding, another from his first birthday, but the largest was from the day his parents had graduated flight school together, each of them pilots for separates airlines; two ships in the ceaseless night. Sighing to himself, he bent down and picked up another box and walked back to his truck, ignoring his ringing phone.
Blinking the sun out of his eyes, he felt the heat radiating off the driveway’s clay tiles. “Is that the last one?” Roslyn wined from her place in the driver’s seat. In the warm afternoon sunlight her messy ponytail looking more deranged than usual. Although to be fair, his best friend wasn’t known for her tidiness. A wild thing at the age of seven, and even now at sixteen, she was as impulsive and impatient as he was, the only difference was that he had been to anger management classes and took Adderall for his ADHD, and she didn’t.
“No,” he laughed, “not even close, it’s just about half.” He had packed up most of his things, leaving just enough of his clothes and books for his parents to think that he was becoming more minimalist or whatever lie they decided to tell themselves.
“Half!” I helped you box everything up last week, did the boxes multiply or something? Because I don’t remember there being this many.” Jumping out of his truck, she had her arms crossed over her oversized black t-shirt, aggravation etched across her face.
“Me neither, but it is what it is,” he shrugged. Slotting the box into the last free space, he cringed when Roslyn slammed the trunk shut, rattling the chassis, and his last nerve.
“You’re going to break the hinge if you keep slamming it like that,” he said, glaring at her and then at the truck. He had used all of his savings from work and had borrowed some money from Roslyn’s dad to buy it. Roslyn’s mom had even helped him fill out the insurance forms for it, and he’d be damned if something happened to it. They had given him everything, they had practically raised him.
Throwing her hands up in surrender, she tossed him the keys. “Sorry. How does pizza for dinner sound?”
“Perfect, but only if its cheese.” He smiled, knowing that it would annoy her even more.
“You’re horrendously boring, you know that?” she moaned.
“Yes, because I thought you would answer correctly,” she hollered, as she walked inside the house, “but okay, plain cheese it is, I’ll call it in.”
Taking advantage of Roslyn’s momentary absence, he started to pat down his pockets, where did he leave his phone?
“Yes, he’s right here.” Turning back to the door, he saw Roslyn running back outside with his phone pressed to her ear, eyes as wide as saucers.
What? Who is it, he mouthed, Boris could see the little vein in Roslyn’s head pulse as she ground her teeth together; this couldn’t be good.
“Okay, I’ll let him know, yes sir you too, have a good day.” Grimacing she handed him the phone, but whoever had called had already hung up.
“Who was that?” he asked, shoving the phone into his pocket.
“Your dad,” she said, her voice shaking with thinly concealed rage, “he said that his plane landed an hour ago and that he’ll be here in ten minutes.”
“No,” he gasped, it was all he could say.
“I should go.” Shouldering her bag, she started for the gate, “He’ll be here any minute, and you know he hates me.” Shuddering at the last time the two had spoken or rather got into a yelling match, he nodded in agreement.
“Hey, wait,” grabbing her hand, pressing the keys into her palm, “take the truck with you.”
“What? Why?” she scrunched up her face, driving the truck made her nervous even on a good day, but he needed to get it out of his father’s sight.
“He doesn’t know that I bought it,” he said, eyes boring into her’s. Curling her fingers around the keys, she screwed up her face and began running to the driver’s side when they heard a car in the distance. He could feel his heart trying to pry itself from his chest. It was him.
“I should go,” she said, ripping her hand out of his. “Call me, okay? No matter what he says, call me,” and with those parting words, she sprinted through the open gate, across the road, and up her own driveway, disappearing into the twilight.
The seconds haemorrhaged into minutes after Boris moved the truck to the darkest corner of the garage, throwing an old tarp over it and flicking all of the lights off to be sure that no one saw it. He had begun pacing, by the time the sleek Mercedes his father was no doubt driving, slowly rolled up to the driveway. What was he going to do with the car? How was he going to explain the boxes?
Spinning to face the blinding headlights he saw his father’s granite rough face, the sight made his fingers twitch. Stepping out of the car, in his usual black suit and polished shoes, he noted that his father’s broad build and dark eyes that scarcely resembled his own bottle-green eyes and lean frame. The only hint that they were related lied in their shared smiles; they shared the same lopsided smile. “Son,” he smiled, his grin was as sharp as broken glass. “It’s been what three months? Come and give your old man a hug.” With a heavy hand, his father patted him on the back, laughing at what, he didn’t know. His father had been gone for six months, giving him an occasional phone call or email.
“Hey, dad.” Boris forced himself to hug his father back, “why didn’t you tell me you were coming?” Usually, his father would email him when he returned, but he hadn’t seen anything in his inbox other than the usual promotional email.
“I emailed you yesterday.” Releasing him Boris felt his shoulders tighten as he remembered that the Wi-Fi had been out for the last week, “I also picked up dinner from that Chinese restaurant you like, let’s go inside and eat.”
Plastering an excuse of a pleasant expression over his face, he grabbed the food and headed for the kitchen. Kicking off his shoes at the door, he prayed that his father would go to bed early as usual so that he could at the very least park the truck in Roslyn’s driveway so that he wouldn’t see it in the morning.
That night, against the faint screams of distant sirens, the two sat across from each other at the dining table; with everything but love between them. They ate in silence in the kitchen’s fluorescent white radiances, exchanging an occasional frivolous fact about the weather or trivial opinions on cricket. Bobbing his leg under the intricately carved wooden table, he did his best impression of an average teenager. Drinking soda instead of water, talking about the latest action movie instead of an upcoming book tour, and most boring of all sports, especially cricket and football; things he was even remotely aware of because Roslyn’s brothers wouldn’t shut up about them. Boris hadn’t spared his father a single glance after finishing his plate when he cleared the table, packing away the leftovers.
Water spluttered and splashed in the sink as Boris did his best to ignore his father’s presence, trying not to stare at the sight of him. He couldn’t remember the last time he had seen his father sit at the dining table, far less eat. Although he supposed that he shouldn’t have been surprised, he hadn’t seen his father in six months, his mother in almost a year, it was time that one of them dropped by; but this, eating dinner with each other; it was a sad joke. How many times had he wished for this very thing to happen, how many times had he asked his father to come home, or spend a weekend with him? He had spent most of his childhood begging from more time with his parents, and now as he had a foot out the door, one of them had come back.
Shutting the tap off he was about to tell his father goodnight, when the lights began to flicker and surge, plunging them into darkness; a cool breeze blew through the window kissing a shiver into his cheek.
Letting out a low whistle, his father pushed the heavy wooden chair back. “The fuse box must have tripped; I’ll go fix it.”
“Alright.” Fishing his phone out is jean pocket, he was about to text Roslyn before he felt his heart stop, the fuse box was in the garage.
The symphony of cicadas fell to a hush when he saw his father walk through the kitchen door, the lights trembling back to life. “Is someone here?”
“No one, it’s just us.” Balling his hands into his pockets, he began to focus on his breathing, feeling his lungs inhale and exhale; just like they had taught him in anger management.
“You bought a truck? When?” he bellowed, still standing by the doorway, Boris could see the red bloom of rage blossom across his father’s face.
Deciding that seven six months ago was too much, he forced out an overly relaxed, “last week.”
Crossing the sand wood floor, Boris took a few steps back, but his father kept advancing. He clicked his tongue in disapproval, looking at his son, head to toe, and at that moment, Boris was taken back to the times his father had lost his temper when teaching him how to read. His spine turned to steel, but that didn’t quell the tremors that ran through him when his father yelled, “I hope you filled out the insurance properly―”
“I did.” Answering too quickly, Boris earned a glare from his father; he would be livid if he knew that Roslyn’s dad had helped him out.
“Good, that’s good.” Bracing his hands on the kitchen counter, he pauses, “Boris, if it’s just us, what’s with all the boxes?” his father gestured towards the stacks of boxes by the door, numerous and visible. “Is someone moving in?” her barked, throwing his hands up in the air.
“Dad―” Boris forced out a laugh trying to divert the conversation to something else.
“I hope it’s not that flighty girl from across the road, what’s her name, Rachel?”
Flexing and curling his fingers into first, his hands shook with the effort not to yell, to not fight back. “Her name is Roslyn, and no she’s not moving in.”
Returning to his seat, he braced himself and folded his ankle over his knee, leaning back. Boris could see him thinking out the possibilities. “Then what’s with all the boxes? Did your mother order more furniture?” His father mused, chuckling to himself, “she’s always decorating something.”
Biting down on his tongue, he flicked his eyes to the door and then back at his father, the room growing hotter with every breathe. You would think he would know his wife of twenty plus years more, but Boris supposed that his father was always pushing the boundaries of what it meant to be dense. “No, they’re― they’re mine… I am moving out.” The words came out smoother than he thought they would, and now he had to wrestle the smile that threatened to spread across his face because, for the first time in years, his father looked dumbstruck.
“What!” he spluttered. His father sprang up from the chair, his steps uneven like he wasn’t sure how to lunge at Boris now that he was taller and stronger than him.
“I am moving out,” he repeated, this time baring his teeth in triumph. He pushed down the memory of his father’s hands on him, savouring this new feeling bubbling through him.
“Does your mother know about this?” he seethed, and Boris could practically see the steam rolling off his father’s salt and pepper hair.
“I sent her an email about it last month, and she hasn’t called, so I am assuming yes.” Feeling the keys in his back pocket, he slowly moved towards the garage.
“You’re moving out, this is a pretty big deal.” Ripping at his hair, his father followed him.
“I know,” he shot back, whipping around to stare down at him, and for the first time, Boris felt calm. His fingers stopped twitching, a quiet rage settled over him, the kind that only settled over him when he was about to go too far.
“Then let’s talk about it before you do something rash.”
Now in front of the truck, he stood his ground. “Rash? The only thing I’ve done in this house for the last year was sleep and shower.” It was true enough, but what he didn’t tell his father was that he spent most of his time across the road with Roslyn’s family or work. “I’ve been thinking about moving out for the last year, this― this is anything bit rash. But how would you know, you’re never here.”
“Don’t―this is your home.” He said this time with forced stillness, was he asking him to stay?
“This is the house I grew up in, but this isn’t my home.”
“Son,” he said, reaching out a hand to put on his shoulder, but he sidestepped the gesture like his father had avoided him.
“Don’t call me that,” he yelled, throwing open the driver’s door.
“Boris―” The slap across his face didn’t sting as much as he remembered, his father’s voice shook with rage, the same rage that ran through his own veins. With his father, it always started with yelling, and then some cruel laughter, then the beatings; always the beatings. “I am your father, and this is your home, and we are a family. You, me and your mother, we are a family.”
You’re wrong. Bracing himself, he swallowed hard, curling his fingers into a fist he exhaled. He could beat his father into a pulp and walk away, or he could just walk away. He could leave. “No! You’re not, and this isn’t my home!” Ducking another blow, he continued, “Sure I’ve lived here for most my life, but you were never here. Mom was never here. It was just me.” It will always be just me.
“Don't say that, your mother and I work very hard to give you this life. Who do you think paid for your schooling, your clothes, your everything?"
“You think I am ungrateful?”
“Only because you are.”
“I am not ungrateful; I am tired. I am tired of being last.”
“I am your sixth priority, at any given time; I am sixth.”
“No, you’re not―”
“Yes, I am! After work, there’s golf, and then there’s your marathon training, your gardening, choir practice, and then me. On any given day, they come first, they’re more important than me, and you can’t tell me otherwise.”
“You’re overreacting, name one time―”
“You left to play at a golf competition that you voluntarily signed up for on my sixteenth birthday. You’ve never once been to any of my prize-giving ceremonies for school because you didn't want to take time off, and you didn't even call when I broke my leg last year. So don’t tell me you care, because if you did you would have called, you would have asked how I was, you would have been here. But you weren’t, and neither was mom. It was just me.” Boris yelled till he could feel his pulse thumb in his veins, ratcheting in his chest. Jumping into the truck her slammed the door behind him. “It will always be just me.”
His father pressed his hands to the door, trying to open it. “Boris―”
Sitting in the driver’s seat with his hand on the keys, Boris paused and listened. There was no reason to stay, only hollow words that somehow managed to break him, he was met with only a stinging stillness; he didn’t even try to make him stay. He didn’t even try.
Winding down the windows, he started the engine, “No. I am done waiting. So when you go back to work tomorrow, don’t call me when you get there, don’t email me, or send me a text. You’ve done a good job forgetting me so far, I am sure you’ll excel at it now. So don’t talk to me, because I am not your son and you don’t know me.” He drove through the gates and down the road with his foot on the gas, leaving behind a hollow house and an empty man.
There was an ache in his bones, Boris could feel the fight fall out of him. His hands were steady, but yet his vision blurred with the sting of tears. Swallowing hard he couldn’t make all the grief fit in his chest, so instead, he shut off the radio and drove into the black night. Into the silence that could not be kept at bay, there was never any solace to be found that house. Although if he was honest, the silence was as much his family as he was his own.
It was always just him.
The illusion of family was always worse than being alone.