Submitted into Contest #149 in response to: Start your story with the flickering of a light.... view prompt


Coming of Age Drama

This story contains sensitive content

[CW : References to sexual practices, occasional use of strong language.]

Light and darkness, brought on the by the flickering fluorescent white light of the morgue, bickered with each other over Sam’s father’s face, none winning yet not losing. His father lay on the frozen tray of the morgue, lifeless. The coroner had sewed up his insides, brought outside by the collision, and the stitching showed as a vertical slash along the axis of his body.

“Do you identify him as Mr. Percival Bratton?” the officer was asking, to him he realized.

All he could do was nod.

“The truck driver has been charged with involuntary vehicular manslaughter,” the officer continued. Sam seemed frozen, in time as well as space. Uncle Jimmy was gently patting his shoulder, the soothing gesture seeming like a nasty irritant.

The funereal was prosaic. Sam did what was expected of him, nodding at the right places, accepting the condolences in all the grace he could muster. He hadn’t slept since his flight back home from university and the headache was just starting with the sure promise of wreaking havoc as the afternoon progressed. His mother, heavily sedated by Dr. Banerjee, lay in the bedroom, alone.

“You holding up?” Uncle Jimmy asked from the left, guests milling about them in the sitting room, talking in hushed voices among themselves. If only their whispers could bring his father back!

“I don’t know what to do now.” he confessed to Jimmy.

Don’t be stupid. Do what needs doing, his father’s voice whispered in his ears, even from beyond the grave.

“He would always drive me crazy with ‘advice’. Do this. Do that. Go there. Don’t go there. But now that I need him, he is silent.” he blurted out.

Uncle Jimmy sighed, nodding his head slowly.

“Listen, I want you to take care of yourself, okay!” Jimmy said. “I want you to be in fighting shape when the time comes. And believe me, the assets that Percival had will soon turn out to be your liabilities. The vultures will soon be here.”

Sam remained silent.

Fighting shape? He wasn’t even in breathing shape.

“I don’t know if I’m up for that.” he replied.

“Okay, do something for me. Tomorrow, collect you father’s belongings, all of them, and donate them to that charity your father always talked about. Bright Light or something.”

“Bright Life.”

“Yeah, that one. You and Wilma, both of you need to start grieving. I’ve talked to a lot of patients who felt they were stuck or frozen after a trauma. I think, getting rid of Percival’s things will start the process.”

Sam nodded. It was as good of an advice as he had had since his father’s death. At least he had some idea of what was required of him.

“I don’t need you to fight, not yet. Start with that.” Jimmy finished his ad-hoc therapy session and moved off to greet some of the guests.

Sam stood in the sitting room, grasping tightly to the idea of the action, the sheer nature of it, required of him tomorrow. It was his only tether to reality.

Sam stood in the threshold of his parents’ bedroom, his mother’s bedroom now. Wilma sat facing away from the door, staring out the window at the bright summer day blooming outside in mockery of their grief.

“What is it, Sam?” his mother asked softly.

“Have you seen dad’s phone? I don’t have the charity’s number. I think it’s in dad’s phone.”

There had been an argument last night, between Uncle Jimmy and his mother. She didn’t want Percival’s belongings taken out so soon. Jimmy had been patient, talking with his sister in a rational voice.

“Check that drawer.” his mother pointed.

So, she had seen the rationale of Uncle Jimmy’s advice finally.

Sam took out his dad’s phone. It had discharged completely. Sam took the phone to his room and connected his charger. No sooner had the phone beeped back to life than a text chimed its entry. The number was not saved on the phone. The text read :

Still up for tonight?

Who was that?

Sam ran the number on the Truecaller app on his phone. The caller-ID simply read ‘Lucy’.

Is this what I think it is? he thought to himself, bemused. This was completely at odds with his father’s holier-than-thou attitude that Sam had grown up knowing.

Before he could think what he was doing, he typed a reply to the text :

Can we meet at Poor Richard’s on Brockner Ave? Around 6?

The reply came with the prompt politeness of an eager salesman.

Sure hon.

At 5:30 that evening, Sam booked a table at Poor Richard’s under the name ‘Bratton’ and sat at the bar with a pint of half-finished beer in anticipation of his prey. There was no doubt Lucy, whoever she was, would be the victim tonight. How dare she enter into their life and corrupt his father by an extra-marital affair. He would put the fear of God in her tonight.

And so she saw Lucy enter and take a seat at the reserved table, apparently in wait for Mr. Percival Bratton.

He could read surprise in her reaction as Sam sat in the chair across from Lucy.

“So who are you, Lucy and what does Percival Bratton mean to you?” Sam asked, trying to throw menace into every word.

“And who the fuck are you?” Lucy asked, taken aback.

So she cursed. His mother never cursed.

“I am Percival’s son. Nice to meet you.” Sam extended his hand toward Lucy in mockery.

Lucy ignored the dig but remained quiet.

Don’t be mean to a guest, Sam. Be polite, his father’s voice echoed in his ears. And she was his guest; he had invited her over, that too under pretense.

“Dad died in a car accident on Tuesday.” Sam said somberly, embarrassed over his previous crudeness.

Lucy gasped in shock, eyes almost bulging out of their sockets.

“Yes. Can you please be honest with me Lucy? I’ve had a very rough week, as you may well understand.”

“Ask questions wisely Mr. Bratton. Some doors are best left unopened.”

Two things shook the very core of Sam’s existence. Dad had been Mr. Bratton. He had always been Sam. On top of that, Lucy’s words seemed to have the mysterious quality that witches of the old had before proclaiming a prophecy.

“How did you come across Dad?”

“I didn’t. He did. He responded to my advertisement on Craigslist.”

What? No, no, no, NO!

“Please don’t lie.”

“I’m not lying. I can show you the transfer receipts he made as my payment.”

Through the the window, Sam could see that the heat of the day finally precipitated in heavy rainfall, the rain blown haphazardly every which way by the destabilizing winds.

“Payment to you for what?” Sam hissed.

“What are you, like twenty. I think you know what I’m talking about.”

Sam’s chest tightened till he couldn’t breathe steadily, his jaws clamping shut.

Don’t assume. Get all the information before you act, his father’s voice roared in his head, the voice of a leviathan.

“Hey listen. I’m really sorry, okay, for what happened to your father. But please leave me out of the shit show. I just want to run my service peacefully.” Lucy said, almost embarrassed.

“So, I just want to get this straight,” Sam continued, forcing himself to speak distinctly instead of in a mumble, “my father took your ‘service’? And what might that be?”

“Do you want to know?” Lucy asked.

When Sam nodded, she continued, “I’m a sub. That would make him a dom. Do you understand now?”

Oh, he understood. He understood a little too well.

A death is capable of casting a big shadow across blooming life yet it is not permanent. After a week or so, the constant barrage of condolences died down. Guests stopped coming over. Only then could Sam feel the absence of his father. He sat down with the lawyers and financial consultants droning on about the lakeside property or the business structure in Percival’s absence. He did everything like a dutiful son to a hypocrite of a father, who did not apparently believe in his own principles of good and bad, right and wrong.

When Sam had move off to university, he had felt he was finally out of his father’s constant barrage of axiomatic advice and suggestions. While living alone in a big city for the first time, his father’s voice droning on about dos and don’ts in the back of his head had almost seemed comfortable to Sam. It gave him a path, the right path, to live by. Even when Sam had followed his father’s advice unwillingly, in his rational mind he had always known that the advice made sense. Even if this realization hadn’t been immediate, it had seemed so in retrospect.

Upon discovering his father’s dormant fantasies, he found the voice of a filthy drooling predator in his mind in place of that of his father’s and he did not want to live by what the predator threw out at him in hungry growls.

As things settled down and it became evident that his mother will not move in with Uncle Jimmy and chose to live alone, Sam flew back to university with this ferret gnawing at his heart, the ferret he had dug out and caged himself.

Back at the university, Sam found it hard to concentrate on the coursework. He slept poorly. In the semi-conscious state between wakefulness and sleep, hypothetical became certainty and his worst assumptions became factual imperatives. He lost his appetite completely. He would try to eat but before he took his first bite he would see his father lying on the tray in the morgue, his face bashed in at odd angles, his lifeless eyes staring accusingly at him. The image nauseated him and made the food taste like synthetic rubber. Then he would go to bed and he would see Lucy, her face contorted in agony as his father ‘dominated’ her.

And the cycle continued throughout the semester.

Fitful and broken sleep, lost appetite, empty stomach, inability to concentrate and on and on and on it went.

“Dear God! What has happened to you, Sammy! Why’s your face so dry?” his mother asked as he stood in the doorway of their house. The semester had finally finished and he had decided to come home, check on his mother.

“Don’t call me Sammy, okay.” Sam said in a mock-severe tone, kissing his mother’s cheek.

As he came in he saw the house exactly as he remembered it, his father’s absence unable to dent Wilma’s decorating skills. In spite of a house kept in order her mind was not so well put together. As they conversed further, Sam observed his mother trailing off-topic mid-sentence. There was also that startled look to her face, a face that was constantly in surprise of what the world threw at her.

She had lost a lot of weight. Her skin seemed to be draped over bone and sinew. Beneath her eyes, the dark pouches indicated a person with chronic insomnia. Once he was back in his room, he saw himself for the first time in a long while in the mirror. He did not look much different from his mother. Sure, there was that sturdiness to him, a gift from his youth yet his eyes had a dark and ominous line beneath them. He was just tired, carrying this ferret around, never able to talk to anyone about it. The ferret seemed to have aged him greatly.

It was time to let the ferret go lest it gnaw right out his heart, tearing it apart in the process. Maybe it was selfish to pass the burden to someone else but he had been a good son.

He just wanted, for once, to be bad, like his father.

He found Wilma preparing dinner in the kitchen, softly humming to herself. How she could conjure up so much sunlight in such dreary days was beyond him.

“Mom, I need to talk to to you about something.” Sam managed to blurt the line out despite the reluctance of his better self.

“What is it honey?” his mother replied.

Sure hon, the text shouted at him. He suppressed the maniacal laughter of fate and said, “It’s about dad.”

Wilma’s eyebrows drew down in a frown.

“The day after the funereal, I found out something about him.”

“What?” his mother asked, panic seeping into the question.

“There was this woman. Called Lu-”

“Oh, her!” her mother rolled her eyes, almost in relief.

“You knew about her?”

“Oh yes. Dad didn’t have half the intelligence that you give him credit for.”

Sam stood in the kitchen, heavens breaking over his head, confronting his mother. What was it? Love? Devotion? Whatever it was, it was toxic.

Every child assumes their parents to be soul mates. Sam had discovered the cracks and now his mother claimed the cracks were always there? That she knew of the cracks and did not do anything about it?

“Did you ever say anything to him?” Sam asked, his mouth dry.

“Yes,” Wilma nodded, “but the thing is, it stopped bothering me after some time.”

“Are you mad? Your husband hired a prostitute to take out his anger, to feed on the pain of someone else and you’re saying that it’s okay that he was a monster?”

Sam realized he had been slapped, hard, across his cheeks. But he was beyond feeling any pain, his very self reduced to being a factory of adrenaline.

“Do not, ever, talk about your father like that.” Wilma hissed, breathing heavily.

“How are you okay with this? How can you support something so wrong and love him despite that.” Sam said, every word rising in intensity.

“Percival was a complex man,” his mother replied with a sigh. “It took time and effort to understand him. Do not presume anything.”

“But it was wrong. How can you excuse his infidelity?”

“I’m not excusing his infidelity. I’m accepting it - have accepted it long before you came to know about it. I choose to love him despite that.”

“How?” It was all that Sam could manage.

“Because that’s what it means to love someone. You accept the bad as graciously as you accept the good.”

“So you kept quite? Its not love, its self-sacrifice.”

“It is, in a way. I talked with him, reasoned with him to pull himself out of that facet of his life. I fought and I cried with him. But I never stopped loving him.”


“Because I chose to. It was my choice to make, not Percival’s and I made it.”

Sam realized he was crying, tear and snort drooling to the corner of his upper lip. He rubbed it off with the back of his hand and said, “Well, I can’t. And that’s the choice I make. It was wrong of him to cheat on you. It was wrong of him to feast on someone’s pain, however willing Lucy might’ve been. I choose to see him as the monster he was.”

Wilma shrugged. That was not the response Sam had expected.

“That is your choice to make. But remember, your dad and Lucy and even I are consenting adults and you cannot force us to see the world through your eyes.”

Sam nodded, reluctantly, unable to meet his mother’s eyes.

“Look at me, Sam.” Wilma said softly.

Sam obeyed, as he had done so many hundreds of times before.

“Your father was the advice sort of guy but remember this, good and bad, right and wrong, they are not absolute. It’s a spectrum. And your father was somewhere in the middle, and I accepted him as he was.”

“Well, I disagree.” Sam replied. He had been obedient long enough.

Wilma smiled and said, “Is it not better to keep you father alive through disagreements rather than burying him under reluctant agreements and unspoken silences? I accept your stubbornness, Sam, as I’ve accepted you father’s lust and I love you both.”

Dinner was a silent affair. Sam had come to fear the nights. Time flowed slowest through the nocturnal darkness and the conscious brain was hijacked by demons buried under shallow graves.

Yet, on that night, Sam slept soundly.

He dreamed of laughing at his father’s jokes, crying with him when his grandfather passed away, sharing a silent cup of coffee on Sunday evenings. And it was all right after all. On this night the dreams did not discount the happiness just as they had not excused the sadness and shock for so many nights. They existed together, in balance.

Light and darkness.

June 08, 2022 13:05

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Monica Hawkins
23:03 Jun 15, 2022

I love the use of this prompt! You can feel the sadness the story brings, and really understand the characters. Great job!


04:16 Jun 16, 2022

Glad you liked it. Thanks a lot❤️


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