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Inspirational Contemporary

I look at the barren, snow-covered field in front of me; the garden, the backyard all look grim and lifeless. Clouds close in all around the house, gray giants swarming and expanding until becoming one mass overlay. The sky grumbles. Sharp teardrops fall at a rapid pace, piercing the snow, causing a series of exit wounds.


The garden, by the end of the shower, will look ugly, partly dissipated and battered. The trees will have less frost on them, and the grass just might be visible, fighting for its place between the surviving snow and the newly formed puddles of mud.


I can smell the scent of flowers coming from the kitchen. Dad’s stirring a pot of hot water, pouring a bit of vinegar and salt into the mixture. I watch his calloused and spotted hands twist and rip the poppies from their stems, their petals fall to the boiling pot. The colors swirl, the flowers bleed their essence into the water until everything is just one uniform tone of red.


Dad doesn’t speak to me; he simply removes the pot from the fire, covers it with a dishrag, and leaves it to sit on the kitchen counter.

In the beginning, it was learning French, then after a few months of constant repetition and essentially dominating the language, he went on to making homemade bread. His hands cracked and dried up after kneading so much dough and playing around with hefty amounts of flour. Now, it’s making paint, steeping the last of the flower petals from the garden overnight, and straining the life out of them for the simple purpose of having natural colors to paint sheets of watercolor paper.


I get it. Dad needs a hobby; he needs something to keep him sane, a routine. He doesn’t talk much, but he drives me crazy. He refuses to leave the house; he avoids stepping outside to even get the paper.


“Just wear a mask, Dad,” I say.


“A mask isn’t a solution. I’m not going to risk it, Arnit,” he usually replies.


Dad’s a robot; he’s always been rational, made up of automated responses. It’s still a shock to me that someone as systematic as him ended up getting laid-off. Mom, a month after Dad's termination, flew out to her parents. My grandparents are elderly, have a greater risk, and most certainly required her help. But, sometimes, I wonder if she decided to leave, even if temporarily, because she was impatient and knew she would never be able to tolerate Dad at home, every day, for several months. I don’t blame Mom for going, but I wish she had stayed; her presence would have made all of this more bearable.


I walk up to the counter, lift the dishrag slightly, see the petals extruding their pigments, and lacing the water with color. I look at Dad, cleaning down the stove with a soft sponge. He doesn’t hum or whistle while working; he just does the task, looks at the object in front of him, deciphers what needs to be done, and acts. I know my father doesn’t easily show his emotions. He talks when necessary, doesn’t enjoy hugging, and prefers to keep to himself. Yet, I know he bleeds like the flowers; pours himself into the world, even if discreetly.


*


I can feel the lush grass tickling the soles of my feet, scratching the top of my ankles with their gentle blades. It’s still morning, the cold dew chills, and then numbs my toes. There’s something about the limbo between winter and spring, the flow of the season before finally stabilizing. It’s cold but not uncomfortable. The sun is visible for lengthier periods, but the temperature is only slightly warmer.


I hear a snap and look to the garden. I see a deer, the first visitor I have seen in a very long time. Dad doesn’t allow anyone over, claiming that it’s unsanitary and irresponsible, and though an animal that lives in the woods can be pretty dirty, I still dare to bring myself closer to it. The deer doesn't mind my presence; it looks to the sides, to me, reflects my body through its black eyes. Its snout crinkles as if static is running through its nose, and white air flares out from its nostrils. 


“Arnit, what are you doing?” Dad yells from the window. “Get away from that thing!”


The deer gets startled, turns itself rapidly, and prances off into the woods. I catch sight of its white tail being swallowed by the darkness between the greenery.


I turn to my father. “What in the hell did you do that for?” I say, walking back home.


“You were literally a couple feet away from a deer! What were you thinking? Did you want it to bite you, kick you like a donkey, pierce you with its horns?”


“Dad, it was a deer; it’s not a big deal.”


“They’re still dangerous, Arnit,” he claims. “Animals are unpredictable; they’re wild, and on top of that…”


“Unsanitary,” I jump in. “That’s what you were going to say, am I right?”


“Exactly. So you understand what I’m saying, good.” He continues, “I swear, Arnit, sometimes you really drive me up the wall.”


I can’t hold back my words. “I drive you up the wall?” I mock. “Why do you think I went outside? I’m sick and tired of being stuck in this place, of keeping myself behind these walls.”


“Arnit…”


“No, Dad! You want to know what’s wrong with me? I want to know what the hell is wrong with you?”


I can see my father’s face, his linear expression that bears an almost indifferent response. He’s processing my words, taking into account everything I’ve said. I’m waiting for it, the explosion, the rampage, the burst of tears, the sound of his feet stomping, and the bang of his bedroom door being shut. Instead, he scratches the back of his head, takes in a single breath.


“Next time, when you go outside, just put on a mask and make sure you’re wearing shoes.”


I scream at him, push him aside like a bully. “What the hell is wrong with you!” I say while thundering down the hall into my room.


*


The ceiling fan above the bed reminds me of a helicopter; when it spins, it’s a clock; I sometimes pretend it’s even a time machine. I look at the time on my cell; it’s still early in the evening. I hear the cabinets opening, the pans being placed on the stove, the chopping of the knife on the cutting board. Dad is either making dinner or brewing more flowers.


My phone vibrates; it’s Mom, making a video call.


“Hi, sweetie?” she greets me. “How are you?” 


I can see the flashing light from the television tube in the background. My grandparents are sitting on the living room sofa behind her. Both of them signal me from afar, my grandma blows me a kiss, and I just wave hello.


“Everything’s fine, Mom,” I answer.


“Really?” she doubts. “I talked to Dad; he said you guys had a little argument.”


“By argument, did he mean that I lost my temper and he did nothing?”


“Sweetie…”


“No, Mom. Dad’s driving me nuts. He’s…he’s…”


“He’s special,” she jumps in. “Your father is smart. He’s organized, he cooks, cleans, helps around the house.”


“I know, but,” I stall my words.


“Your father is difficult sometimes, I get it. He’s a bit closed off from the world; he isn’t the kind to fiddle and doesn't use all his words.”


“Mom, he hardly talks. He just keeps to himself, does some senseless chores.”


“Well, he needs a distraction,” she claims. “Sweetie, have you ever thought how all of this is making someone like your father feel? How hard it is for him to accept change?”


I can’t think of any response to offer her.


“Your father went from working every day, from leaving the house at exactly the same time and arriving home just before sunset.” She continues, “He had a job, you had school, no one had to be careful of anything, in a sense, he was in bliss.”


“Okay, but that doesn’t mean he has to act all weird.”


“And when have you known your father to not act himself?” she asks. “You know how he is; you also know that he loves you.”


“I know, and I love him too, but…”


“It’s complicated,” she interjects. “He was never easy, trust me.”


“How did you do it, Mom?” I ask. “How did you end up putting up with it for so long, with the routine, his wandering eyes, his reactions? You know he isn’t perfect, that his mind works differently than everyone else.”


“And what's the problem with that?” she returns. “When I met your father, I wasn’t sure I could love him, and there you are, looking straight at me, the prime result of it all, Arnit.”


I can feel my chest tighten, it's difficult for me to swallow.


“We’re not just a routine to him, sweetie. If anything, we’re what he feels the most for.”


“Mom?” I call her. “When are you coming home? It’s been months already. You left here before winter, and now it’s spring.”


“Didn’t Dad tell you?”


“What? What happened?”


“I can’t go home right now.” I feel her words take a stab at me. “Grandma and Grandpa got sick a few months ago. They’re still suffering from the side effects, so I’m going to stay here a bit longer.”


“How are they? Will you be back before the end of the season?”


“Every day is a battle, but they’re getting stronger,” she claims. “Hopefully, I’ll be back soon.”


“I love you, Mom.”


“Are you going to talk to your father?”


Her stare perpetuates across the screen. I nod.


“Alright then. Love you too,” she giggles before ending the video call.


I get up from the bed, leave the wrinkles on the sheets behind. I look at the pictures pinned to the board by my bedside. My father, holding me in his lap with his eyes, looking up as if staring at the clouds. In all the pictures, his face is stagnant, his vacant eyes directly at the camera or looking somewhere out in space. My mother is smiling in every shot, showing off the pearls in her mouth. She genuinely looks happy.


All the family photos contain the same mood. There’s only one picture different from the bunch. My father seems to be towering over me, his eyes looking up, his posture straight like an oak. It’s a side profile shot that I took when I was six. We were outside, watching the sunset. My mother was sitting on the ground, her hands around my hips and a Polaroid in my hands. I snapped a single shot that blinded my father; his lips in the image are slightly curved in a state of content.


*


I open the door to my bedroom, walk to the kitchen at a turtle’s pace. I see my father hunched over the marble counter with a roller.


“Making dinner?”


Oui, I’m thinking about making some pizza,” he comments. “I know it’s your favorite, and since we can’t go out, we might as well stay in.”


“Dad?”


“Yes, Arnit?”


“I’m sorry,” I say. “I didn’t mean to blow up. It’s just that…”


“Times are tough.” He continues, “It can’t be easy having to spend so much time with me either, I bet.”


I rub my eyes in an attempt to push back my tears. “I miss Mom.”


“I know, son. Me too.”


“Things just aren’t the same,” I comment.


“Well, things don’t always have to be the same,” he says.


“Can you repeat that? You know, just one more time for the record?”


I chuckle and Dad doesn't. He continues rolling out the dough, but something tells me that he understood the comment, that the joke was well received. He just isn’t used to laughing.


I reach my hand out, “Come on,” I say.


He walks to me without taking my hand. He goes for a dish rag and wipes it around his floured palms and fingers while following me out the kitchen.


“Maybe I should get my mask,” he ponders out loud.


“It’s fine, Dad; it’s only us.”


I step onto the grass, the cold air whips the back of my neck. Dad takes a step forward, another step, and then another. We stroll down to the middle of the field. The dark clouds have receded, the snow has turned to puddles, forming portals of life scattered across the lawn.


Dad and I look at the setting sun. Tones of orange and pink streak across the sky; like a bleeding flower or a healing exit wound. I see my father’s frozen expression, and I toss some of my weight onto his shoulder. His lips curve just a bit. My father never was the kind of man to laugh, but at least I know that he can smile.

March 22, 2021 15:47

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17 comments

K. Antonio
15:48 Mar 22, 2021

It took me awhile, but I beat my writer's block! Yay! This piece was an emotional ride even for myself to produce, but I'm happy I pulled it off. It still needs to go through some editing, but I really do hope you enjoy. I set it in a time that I'm sure we're all too familiar with. Please, read, comment and feel free to critique it! - Thank you all, and have a wonderful day. Stay safe!

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21:33 Mar 25, 2021

I feel you on the writer’s block! But I’m glad you overcame it! This story was captivating until the very end. I adore how you describe things, how do you have such a way with words?

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Michael Boquet
19:34 Mar 24, 2021

This a really interesting take on the prompt. I really like how you describe the setting from the main character's point of view at the beginning of each section. One spot I noticed: "You’re father went from working" - Your I love the ending. Based on the title and the tags you chose, I expected tragedy. Glad things turn hopeful at the end, I was rooting for your characters.

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K. Antonio
19:57 Mar 24, 2021

Oh, thanks for catching that! I'm glad you enjoyed the piece and rooted for them!

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Claire Lewis
22:59 Apr 02, 2021

I’m trying to figure out how in the world this didn’t win or at least shortlist. It’s breathtaking. “Yet, I know he bleeds like the flowers; pours himself into the world, even if discreetly.” —this line is absolutely stunning. Seriously, I had to stop and just bask in it for a bit.

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K. Antonio
23:25 Apr 02, 2021

That means a lot to me. I hoped this piece would get some more recognition (my other piece stole some of the spot light, being approved earlier and all), even though it wasn't shortlisted I'm extremely proud of it!! Thank you for the kindness. I'll return the compliment and once again state how breathtaking your piece was too!!

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Kristin Neubauer
10:09 Mar 28, 2021

Bravo on creating such an interesting character in the father. I think my favorite characters are the ones who keep me off balance - the ones I like and dislike, feel compassion for. “Dad” was all of those. Although he seemed robotic, stoic and out-of-touch, you conveyed the impression that there is much more to him at some deeper level, which brought out his humanity. He actually reminded me a bit of my father and brother. Amazing work - it is difficult to produce complex characters like you have done. I finally posted a new story. I...

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A.Dot Ram
06:18 Mar 28, 2021

Beautiful. I love the ways you used the setting to mirror the emotion, and I'm so glad you revisited the meaning of exit wounds. I also liked the part about the paint: "I know he bleeds like the flowers; pours himself into the world, even if discreetly." You really showed a lot of the dad character. So intimate. Incidentally, I tried making and paint out of dandelions last spring. It was really hard to get the color saturated enough (needed more flowers I guess).

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Beth Connor
16:55 Mar 25, 2021

This story was beautiful and touching and it feels really authentic. I tend to enjoy most everything you write, but the ones like this seem to come from someplace deeper- they have a particular aura, often they are a bit sad and forlorn, but this one felt like peace amidst the chaos.

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Nina Chyll
15:15 Mar 25, 2021

Hope you don't mind a couple more critiques on singular things: I have to be honest, I'm not a big fan of weeping skies, it's just been said so much and the paragraph is otherwise beautifully poetic. I may be wrong and there may be some recipes where sourdough requires kneading, but I have never made a loaf like that and there's little touching of the dough by hand, so perhaps there could be a different reason for the father to abandon it? Like learning how to score all kinds of patterns in the bread and moving on. 'the prime example of i...

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K. Antonio
15:57 Mar 25, 2021

Haha, I'm just going to make it regular bread to justify the kneading. 😂🙃 I'm glad you enjoyed the read and that it resonated with you in such a way. I still need to go through the story and give it another pass. Your comment is a help, seeing as it is Thursday and I'll still have some time to edit before approval! Thanks a lot!! I honestly have never liked snow, simply because of the slush, yet I always find the abstract shapes of nature to be so intriguing. I always thought those holes made by the rain or hail to look like bullet holes...

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K. Antonio
16:17 Mar 25, 2021

Just an update, changed the "weep" to another active verb. In the end, since I did explain that it rained the verb was a bit redundant. Changed sourdough to regular bread xD. Changed example for result (that was a good catch, result made a lot more sense). Thanks again!

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Nina Chyll
19:25 Mar 25, 2021

I know it’s so stupidly picky with the bread, but I also think part of the seamless experience is being able to believe what you read, and with millions now baking bread like crazy, I think you’ll find a lot of people grumbling (good change in the sky department, by the way). I think I too have thought about the fascinating shape of raindrops in the snow, and the bullet / exit wound analogy really fits like a glove here. Thanks for the read again!

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H L Mc Quaid
08:51 Mar 24, 2021

Hi K! Wow, this was lovely, the story, the characters, and descriptions that verged on poetry. And the situations and dialogue felt very authentic. It might just be one of my new favorites of yours. Lot of imagery that I loved, including: "The sky bleeds various tones of orange and pink; it's like a bleeding flower or a healing exit wound." (tho wondering if you could remove 'it's") I spotted one typo: should be "with" not "will" here: "I walk up to the counter, lift the dishrag slightly, see the petals extruding their pigments, and laci...

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K. Antonio
10:14 Mar 24, 2021

Your kind words meant a lot to me. Though, this piece is probably inside my realm of comfort, its probably also one that I felt the most insecure about. Thanks a lot for this comment. I'll be editing this week, but I'm overjoyed that you liked the piece. It still needs some work, but I got to say, that I enjoyed this story; your comment on this piece is really validating. Just made my morning!

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H L Mc Quaid
10:36 Mar 24, 2021

Oh, good, we all deserve some happy mornings, now and again. :) I'm reflecting on some of the stories I posted and remember being really insecure about several of them so I think insecurity is just part of the deal of being a writer and daring to share our stories with others.

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04:14 Mar 23, 2021

First off, I absolutely adore the way you write description. The beginning when you described the changing seasons? Stunning. Most people focus on the beauty of spring, but by talking about the ignored “ugliness” that is necessary you really set the tone of the story. The stuff you detailed made sense, too, the little things you start to notice when you’ve been cooped up for so long. Overall you really captured the feeling of reaching a year in this pandemic. Thank you for sharing!

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