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Drama Creative Nonfiction Mystery

He caressed the piano so lovingly that it may have forgotten the years of neglect it had suffered from him, but the memories proved deeper than forgiveness. Though his touch was tender, it fell on keys out of tune and yellowed, and while he breathed softly so as to not perturb it, dust still flew off on every exhale. He got up off of the stiff bench after a few minutes, putting his fingers once more on middle C, the way his old teacher had taught him when he was a child. He remembered the years of lectures from, and shouting matches with, his father, who was never convinced of his passion to learn, since it was not present, and yet made piano feel like a punishment rather than a reprieve to him. He remembered looking forlornly out of the window on gorgeous summer days, with azure skies and emerald grass beckoning him to leave the bench. His father would come in and chastise him about something relating to focus and discipline, and he’d bang on the keys a little until he got bored, at which point his gaze returned to the unconquered wilderness of his backyard. 

Looking once more out of the window, he saw only his reflection, as the sky was a steel coffin. He saw the whispers of  a beard on his face, the beginnings of a mustache, and lines on his forehead which cast doubt on his age. He also couldn’t help but notice that some of the hair on his head was starting to match the shade of the sky. 

“Jude, honey?” His mother asked timidly from the opposite end of the room, “You ready for dinner?”

He didn’t answer her at first, recalling how he had looked when he was nine, staring out of this window. No lines on his forehead, no acne scars on his cheeks, and with a zeal for life in his eyes which was unmistakable. After a few minutes, he replied, “Yes, mom,” but Mrs. Whittington had left her son to steep in his thoughts. 

He found his parents sitting at the long, ornate dining table saying grace in hurried whispers, as though they were afraid he’d hear and blaspheme. When they were done, he took his seat, trying not to look at his father, who’s surly face was fixed on the green bean casserole, a dish which he loathed and Jude loved. His mother rarely made it due to the juxtaposition of views, but this last week she had been preparing all of Jude’s favorite meals. He was going off to college soon, and no one felt the impending doom of the occasion more than his mother.

“How was your day, Peter?” asked his mother kindly. She seemed to know nothing but kindness - her heart was given fully to her son in the pinnacle of maternal love, now more than ever. Jude had always suspected that his father resented this in the deepest recesses of his mind. 

“Fine. Isn’t there anything besides casserole?” His dad’s voice was more of a growl now from years of smoking, though there had been a noticeable uptick in his consumption of cigarettes in the past few years.

“No, there isn’t,” said his mother, ladling more onto Jude’s plate.

“Thanks for making this, mom,” said Jude softly. His voice had always been rather quiet, though it could be firm when it needed to, but around his dad, Jude seemed never to progress much further than whispers.

“Oh, it was nothing sweetie,” she said with a bright smile, “You want some iced tea?”

“Yes, please,” he said. It was his favorite drink. 

“You’re poisoning him with the sugar, Diane,” Peter said roughly, “First the brownies you made yesterday, then the cookies this morning, and now this?”

“Oh, hush,” retorted his mom, “He’s always been too thin.”

This was true. Jude had always been rather small for his size, until a latent growth spurt stretched him out to a towering 6’2”. Unfortunately, it did little for his weight, so he appeared skeletal in comparison to his peers. 

“Maybe if the boy saw the inside of a gym…” began his father.

Jude’s fork clattered to the ground. His mother immediately went through a series of emotions for him, starting with, “Jude, he didn’t mean it!”, going to “Please, honey,” and then ending at, “Look what you’ve done, Peter!” Jude heard none of it. He pushed out from the table, wishing he could muster more strength, and went up the stairs, wishing his steps were heavier to reflect the magnitude of his rage. 

It was a low brow hit, thought Jude as he slammed his bedroom door satisfyingly. So derivative in father-son relationships that he shouldn’t have even reacted to it, but he couldn’t help but be instinctual. Instinct was what moved him away from the piano. It was what put him into computer science and landed him an admission to Carnegie Mellon University. He sat on his bed and looked around his room, many of the items in neatly labeled boxes. The room felt alien to him. Where was his desktop, which he had spent a week building after school? In a box labeled “FRAGILE”. His father had remarked that the box should’ve contained Jude.

“Jude?” He heard his mother’s voice from just outside his door. “Can I come in?”

“Yeah,” he said. He wasn’t angry anymore, he just needed to leave this room. This house, even. His father’s sniping was not even grating on his nerves anymore - it was simply tiring. 

He didn’t hear his mother enter, but he felt her sit gently next to him. “Your father is just-”

“Don’t make excuses for him, mom. He hates me.” 

“He does not!” She said firmly.

“He’s disappointed in me.”

She didn’t validate that response, but her silence was telling. She said, “What happened to… John,” her voice cracked slightly, “It was tough on your father, too. Maybe tougher than it was on us.”

“I would’ve thought that having your kid killed in a hit and run would make you like the other one more.” He spoke with such candour as to force his mother to turn away.

“He loves you, Jude.” She didn’t meet his eyes. “I know he does. When he looks at your picture at night before he goes to bed. When he watches golf he remembers how you used to sit on his lap and watch it with him, and-”

“It’s okay, mom,” he said with almost startling calmness, “I’ll be a thousand miles away in a few days, so you really don’t have to make excuses for him. I just wish it wasn’t so-” He finished the sentence in his head, I wish it wasn’t so cliche. It was a strange thing to want, but he thought that if his father was going to hate him, he should have a good reason for it, and not one which Jude had served up for him, either.

His mom got off the bed and sat down in the middle of several boxes. “Look at this, Jude,” she said, pulling out an old action figure which was to be donated, “Remember who bought this for you?”

“Yeah,” he answered wearily, “But it took a lot of convincing.”

“Either way, did you see your dad’s face when you opened it on Christmas? I bet you didn’t - you were so young at the time all you wanted to do was play with the new toy.” He confirmed he had not, so his mother continued, “Well, he looked damn happy, just watching you mess around with it.”

“So you think he hates me because he can’t relate to me? Because I don’t like sports, or never really got into hunting? Is it really that simple?” He spoke blandly, just entertaining his mother while his thoughts meandered along to what he was going to do in college.

“Nothing’s just that simple, dear. But all I’m saying is that your father didn’t get along with John that well, either. See,” she pulled out another toy to be donated, this time a foam baseball bat, “This was for John when he was little, before you were born. Peter wanted to get him into sports, but he never took to that.”

“So he was just as much of a disappointment to dad as I am,” Jude said sardonically.

“Don’t say that!” cried his mother, “John was a… he was special, in his own way, and so are you, Jude.”

“John said something to me before he left for college,” said Jude, looking straight at his mother, who continued to root around boxes, “You know what it was?”

“What?”

“That he was really excited to be leaving home. I didn’t really understand it at the time, but he spoke as though he was going to Disneyland rather than Michigan… I think I get what he was saying now. He just wanted to be away from dad.” He saw his mother deflate a little, and somewhat regretted his words, as the woman was the last bastion of civility in a house of two contentious wills. 

“Here we are,” she said, ignoring Jude for the moment, “Your first Snap Circuits kit. It’s broken as hell now, but your dad bought it for you, do you remember?”

“Mom, he bought most of the stuff in the house… he’s the only one with a paying job around here.”

His mother smiled sourly, “Well, you know your father hates to spend on superficial things, right?” He nodded, and his mother grinned, triumphant. “So that means that everything in this house was bought for good reason, in his eyes. Including all of this stuff.”

“I remember when John had his first beer with dad when he was seventeen,” said Jude, his eyes distant, “Dad looked happy then. Happier than I’d ever seen him, at any rate… I never got that moment. He never shared a beer with me.”

“Oh, Jude… don’t you think your brother’s death might have something to do with that? You know what the… report said,” his mother’s voice was tremulous, and a toy dropped out of her hand as she spoke. 

“That John’s BAC was .12… He fell on the street just as a car was coming by…” Jude didn’t want to trouble his mom anymore, but he couldn’t see a way out of their current line of conversation.

“He had been drinking that night… he was only 19, but he was drunk,” tears fell onto an old toy car, “Don’t you think that affected your dad?”

“Everyone drinks in college, mom. It was just an accident,” He had surprisingly never thought that his brother’s death had anything to do with his father’s treatment of him.

“Your father gave John his first sips of alcohol… and his first beer. He introduced that into his son’s life, and the next thing he knew, he was getting a call from Michigan about his son being in the hospital, and-” his mother’s voice broke, and she began sobbing in earnest.

Jude hurried down and sat next to her, putting an arm around her while he wrestled with his own turbulent thoughts. What his mother was saying made sense, but it didn’t justify everything. “He could have at least shown me he cared about me,” he said almost defensively, “He could have gone to one of my Scientific Olympiad meets, or something.”

“He was… scared, Jude,” his mother said, trying to steady herself. 

“Scared of having a loving son?” Jude could not keep the spite out of his voice now.

“Of losing a loving son.”

Jude felt the breath leave his lungs as though someone had hit him. True, there was still an element to his dad’s behavior this didn’t quantify, but even he, as cynical as he was about his father, had to admit that it made sense. John and his dad had never truly gotten along, as John was rather like Jude, or vice versa, in that he wasn’t into sports, preferring to spend his time outdoors playing in a fantasy rather than throwing a ball around. Still, Jude often remembered his father and John sharing laughs, as the two had apparently reached some sort of agreement in which his father would not dog John about sports, fitness, or whatever else he was into, and John wouldn’t deride what his father was interested in out of contemptuous rebellion. Jude never had that sort of understanding. 

“I need to go,” said his mom suddenly, wiping away her tears and pushing herself up off of the floor with haste.

“Mom, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to-” 

“It’s not your fault, honey… just try to see things from our perspective.” She stopped and turned around when she got to the door, a grimace on her face. “John went off to study far away and he died less than a year after he left… now you’re going to college three states away… Remember when we tried to convince you to go to school around here?” His mother closed the door softly behind her, leaving Jude dazed amongst the towers of boxes containing the material fragments of his life. 

A stubborn part of him rejected what his mother had said, and belittled the revelation as “too little, too late.” Yet most of him was enveloped in something akin to shame at his own shortsightedness. There was no shocking epiphany in which he saw all the ways his father had been kind to him over the years, like buying him the toys he wanted, because most of those recollections were either connected to other memories of the extreme convincing it took for his father to buy him anything, or were recognized as unrepresentative of any potentially meaningful relationship they may have had. Still, he held an old Lego creation in his hand gingerly. He pondered going out of his room. Perhaps apologizing to his father. He pictured a banal situation in which he had a candid talk with his father which culminated in a hug and shuddered. He would not leave his room just yet. He would wait for his father to go to sleep before going back downstairs. 

A few hours later he found himself lying in bed with his eyes open and lights off, waiting for the hallway to go dark. Finally, at 1:31am, the house was in uniform darkness. He immediately sprang off the bed and walked lithely downstairs, avoiding every creak in the old floorboards. He found himself sitting at the old piano in the living room, with only a small lamp on the mantle to light the room. In the warm orange glow, he thought about why his father had made him learn the piano in the first place, as it was certainly aloof from the other activities his father had tried to get him into. He sat there, occasionally pressing a key lightly so as to not create any noise. He felt their weight with each gentle tap, a weight which he had so resented in his youth. 

He tried to think about what his mom would say to him. She might have pointed out that his father had given him piano lessons relatively late in his childhood, at the age of 12, after all of the failed attempts at sports, boy scouts, or craftsmanship. His mother would have said that the piano was probably his father succumbing to the whims of his son and giving him something artistic rather than rugged. John had at least had a penchant for hunting, so he never needed piano lessons. His father had given them to Jude to try and satisfy his child’s divergent interests, though he was misguided in what domain they lay in. Jude hadn’t taken to piano, as his mind was in computers, even at that age. Jude had been spiteful about it at the time, forcing his father to continue to pay for lessons for years feigning interest, until at last he had gotten too busy with school to continue them. 

Two nights from now he would be in Pittsburgh in a cold dorm room with a person he hadn’t yet met in person. His parents would have no idea whether or not he was safe at any given time of day. He had already proven himself loathe to call when he was away at science camps over the summer. He pressed a key a little too hard, and it sound pierced his eardrums, sending a jolt through his heart. He listened carefully for the sounds of footsteps from his parents room, but heard nothing. His eyes fell once more on the instrument, withering in decay from the wrath of his rebellious abandonment. Having never had the ability to stand up for himself physically, especially to his father, Jude realized that he had taken the more nefarious path to vengeance in consciously abdicating all that his father had tried to teach him, more often out of his own misguided principle than actual dislike for the activity. 

This reality brought tears to his eyes which even the conversation with his mother had not done. For years he had felt John’s death in a somewhat derisive manner, blaming his passed brother for the widening of the rift between Jude and his father. John had always been kind to Jude, being five years older than he, and was often the only person Jude could go to with his problems. That he had perverted the meaning of his brother’s life to conflate with his own broken relationship with his father, when the breaking had been done largely by Jude himself, pained him deeply. 

He stared at the piano through blurry eyes and swallowed harshly. He knew he couldn’t make everything right between him and his father in the next two days, but he had to try. His flight wasn’t until the morning after next, on Sunday. Perhaps there was golf on TV tomorrow. 

August 02, 2020 17:24

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5 comments

Nandan Prasad
07:33 Aug 12, 2020

Oh my God! What an amazing story! I loved every bit of it. You brought out the emotions so well and the relationship between Jude and his mother was also touching. Very very well-written and keep writing! Also, would you mind checking out my story 'Number Theory' if it is not too much trouble? Thanks and good luck!

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Dhruv Srivastava
20:51 Aug 12, 2020

Thank you! I checked out your story as well, and it was really intriguing!

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Nandan Prasad
01:54 Aug 13, 2020

Thanks!

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Gopika Ashokan
11:47 Aug 09, 2020

This piece has all my heart! The father-son relationship like all other relationships is very intimate but there is this imaginary wall that sometimes father's create in order to protect their children, that in a way may lead to series of suppositions and feeling of alienation for the child. You have shown this tension in such a raw way. That one could actually feel your words. And the fact that mothers always try to act as a mediator, is so true. "His father had remarked that the box should’ve contained Jude." -this sentence hit home, ...

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Dhruv Srivastava
15:16 Aug 09, 2020

Thank you for appreciating it :) I enjoyed your submission "House of Cards" as well. Very poignant and well written.

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