Stepping into my father’s shoes

Submitted into Contest #151 in response to: Write about a character who’s expected to follow in someone’s footsteps.... view prompt

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Fiction Coming of Age Funny

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

Blue marble encouraged me as I carefully lumbered down our showcase spiral stairway with my father’s heavy Father’s Day gift. I puckishly performed a quick jig and hopped over lucky stair 13, where the ugliest of the bronze gargoyles wickedly grinned from his frozen stance upon the banister.

The beautiful blue marble stairway had been my refuge, my hideout, my playground as I grew into adulthood. Often, the staircase had appeared in countless architectural, fashion and home decor magazines. It’s where my mother was photographed, married and found hanging from a top baluster.

My mother – I wish I could say that I miss her; the fact is – I barely knew her. I was six when she decided to leave for eternity’s journey. I mostly remember a beautiful woman with glistening black hair, impeccably dressed and smelling of spring flowers. She would dash into the nursery, give me a quick peck on the head with her perfectly painted lips and say, “Be a good boy, Jeremy, Mama loves you!” Then off she floated to a luncheon, a charity meeting, perhaps a fashion show and then drinks at a club with friends.

I had reached the final step. The last gargoyle shrugged at me a knowing grin from his twisted form. Who in humanity’s darkest dreams creates a beautiful blue marble spiral stairway and then designs the length of the double banisters with atrocious bronze gargoyles? Why not cherubs or birds? Even fairies would have been more palatable.

As with every misfortune or blot in our lives, I blamed him – the man to whom I was enroute to honor on Father’s Day, by appointment of course. Oh yes, no one saw the Old Man without an appointment, including his pathetic son. He probably chose gargoyles to defile the beautiful blue marble steps … that would have seemed quite funny to him.

I had been terrified of the hideous gargoyles until I became four years old. One day, Ben sat with me on the bottom step and explained that the sculpted creatures were not real and wouldn’t hurt me. Ben was the head of our household staff and the one person that kept sanity flowing through the mansion’s veins.

Once my fear of the gnarled figures was conquered, the gargoyles and I became fast friends. I played up and down those beautiful blue spackled stairs; the gargoyles were my “dolls” so to speak. When I played cowboys, they helped me coral wild horses. Sometimes we were soldiers defending our blue mountain. When I was sad or battled inner fears, the gargoyles listened sympathetically.

I remember using my new paint set to color the eyes of each of my stoic friends. I was punished for my creative benevolence. Ben was commissioned by my father to give me a paddle wallop for every gargoyle I had painted. Good old Ben – he told me to cry out whenever the paddle popped. Our plan worked. Ben grabbed a stiff accent pillow from an alcove and vigorously whacked it with the paddle. As directed, I let out an agonizing screech with every pop. As he sat in his office and listened to my screams, I guess my father’s sense of righteous indignation was assuaged. After my last squawk, he imperiously made an appearance and performed a brilliant soliloquy regarding the rewards of wicked deeds. I think even the gargoyles were impressed.

Now, I stood before the impregnable fortress. Beyond the door sat my father enthroned behind his giant mahogany desk and surrounded by animals. They weren’t live animals, of course: they were stuffed or gutted – all the work of his various big hunts. I despised my father’s office and den. I had become a vegan at seventeen; the room sickened me to my soul, and my heart wept for the hapless animals that were “bagged” to affirm his masculine virility. For me, this room was the most despised in our humble 36-room abode.

I tapped lightly on the door.

“Enter.” He already sounded ready for battle. Today, I was going to satisfy his bloodlust.

I opened the door and shut it, then stood awkwardly in front of his desk with his Father’s Day gift. His arrogant vitality filled the room. He hadn’t looked up and acknowledged me yet; one dared not speak until acknowledged.

As I looked at my father’s tanned chiseled features, I couldn’t imagine any two people being more different than we were. He was robust, large and forceful. His hair was brownish gold, now with a sprinkling of silver. He was the epitome of a golden rich boy. I was frail, scrawny, pale and dark-headed. Our personalities were even more incongruous. My father was domineering, forthright, confident and fearless; I was quiet, timid and reticent. Had no one ever thought to perform a blood test?

He finally looked up. “Well Son, have you reflected any more about our last conversation.”

He never called my by name. I was “Son” to him.

“Yes sir, I have. That’s not why I’m here though. I brought you a Father’s Day gift.”

“So, it’s Father’s Day.” He already was poised to pounce: I could feel it. I noticed a mostly empty crystal decanter and a perspiring rock glass with amber liquid floating melting ice cubes.

“Father’s Day,” he grimaced. “Just another marketing gimmick to make people feel obligated to spend money.” He snorted his disdain and took a sip of Macallan single malt Scotch whisky – his favorite. Watching the act almost made me gag.

“I haven’t spent a lot of money, sir. I made your gift myself.”

“That’s wonderful. You always have been so creative.”

To the casual listener, that may have sounded like a compliment; it wasn’t. My creative pursuits were to him like having a tick lodged in one’s rectal sphincter. (I only know this because that’s exactly what he told me.)

I made my first battleground move. I slammed the heavy present down on his desk with a loud thud within inches of his nose. That brought the Old Boy to his feet.

“Sorry, Father – it slipped.”

He looked somewhat shocked – just as I had been taught – nothing more potent than the element of surprise in battle, eh General Pops?

He quickly masked his astonishment and began to open the package; actually, it was more like he ravaged it. He quickly cut through the purple ribbons and tape with his ivory-handled letter opener. Then he proceeded to rip the wrapping. (Ho hum. I’d seen this play many times before. What’s the matter, Pops, low on new ammo?)

I wondered that he didn’t seem to notice the wrapping paper I had so carefully chosen; it was covered with happy cartoonish animals scattered into the design with bright pastel colors. I was hoping it would tick him off.

“This is an interesting design of wrapping paper, Son.” (Ah ha, he did notice. Score.)

“I know how much you love animals, sir,” I said this as I thoughtfully gazed about the room.

“I don’t love animals. I love to hunt animals,” he thundered. (Did I detect that I had ruffled his feathers?) “There’s a distinct difference.” (Really?)

He had become somewhat absorbed with trying to dislodge his gift from the box. As he finally extracted it and set it down, he started to laugh. “What in the hell is this?”

“I know how you love efficiency. It’s two gifts in one.”

He took a sip from his watered-down whisky and continued to scrutinize the flashy brass expression of my love. He finally said, “How’s that?”

“Well, it’s a bust of a famous Roman emperor and it’s also a plant holder. I sculpted it myself.”

“Your talent amazes me.” (In case you missed it; this was another put-down.)

“Which Roman emperor?”

“His name was Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus,” I explained.

“Never heard of him.”

“He’s quite famous. Some people call him Caligula.”

Daddy-o responded with a grunt. I knew he would be clueless. He only knew business. History and fine arts were beyond his grasp. He had no idea that Caligula was one of the cruelest, sadistic despots in history.

“What kind of plants are those?”

“They are Venus fly traps,” I said brightly. “I know how much you enjoy watching creatures die. This bust and planter should keep you amused for hours.”

“Are you trying to be funny?” His face was becoming increasingly red – not with embarrassment. Redness in my father’s face meant that his anger was starting to rise like boiling water in a pot.

“Yes, Father. I’m trying to be funny. But I didn’t fathom for a moment that you’d pick up on it, being the drunken oaf that you are.”

Now, he was becoming almost purple. “Last week’s proposal is a no-go. You will not be stepping into my shoes and taking over the family business.”

He was spitting mad. I stood back a step to keep from getting sprayed.

“Before things become too unpleasant. I have two more surprises for you.” I was as cool as his billions sitting in a vault. I had planned this battle for years.

Before he could respond, I launched the first missile. “I saw her die.”

“What – are you crazy?”

“No, Father. I watched Mother die. I never told anyone.”

“You’re making this up!” A white flush was spreading around his mouth.

“She was wearing a sapphire blue peignot negligee and robe set. She was beautiful, as usual.”


“She asked me to turn on the giant chandelier in the entry hall. I did. Then, she waved, blew me a kiss and jumped.”

He buried his head in his large meaty hands and raked his fingertips through his hair.

“She was crazy,” he said brokenly.

“No!” I shouted and his head snapped back up and faced my steely glare. I had never talked to the Old Man like this.

“She was lonely, disappointed, unloved – but she was not crazy. That’s your excuse. You murdered her with your indifference.”

“I loved her deeply.” (He almost sounded as if he would cry.)

“Did you love her the way you love your only son? That’s enough to kill anyone – an empty, heartless love that seeks only its own fulfillment.”

Then, before he could respond, I stepped forward and punched him soundly in the jaw. Surprise number two – it was like hitting a cement wall. The Old Boy was like a rock.

“I will throttle you for that!” His rage had now reached unknown heights. Never would he have expected his wimpy son to punch him.

“You couldn’t catch me,” I taunted. He took a drunken lunge toward me, and I easily sidestepped his awkward advance.

“Come back and fight me like a man!” he thundered.

“Why don’t you catch me like a man? You who are such a mighty hunter – catch this trophy and hang my head on your wall, you piss ant!”

I opened the door and dashed into the receiving hall. He pursued me (just as I had planned). I kept just enough ahead of him to keep the chase challenging for him.

I ran toward my friends at the stairwell. They watched with excited anticipation. Gargoyles love reckless pursuit. My hunter followed.

Up I ran the beautiful stairway. The Old Boy was in my territory now, my battleground. These were my marble steps which I had navigated all my life.

I came to lucky step 13 and gleefully hopped over it as an antelope on a hilltop.

He breathed heavily and wobbled. Too much drink and a sedentary lifestyle were his foes. He still had his blasted drink in his hand. What a fool.

He came to lucky step 13, but it was not to be lucky for him this day. He tripped and his eyes, mouth and hands spread wide as he grasped the air to no avail. Down he fell to the bottom floor. His glass cracked loudly and shattered across the polished marble.

I looked at the man who was my father, lying as a crumpled marionette abandoned by a child. That’s how she had looked. She had seemed like a puppet to me when she jumped; her body had twirled from the rope. She was beautiful in death, as always.

I slowly walked down the stairs. I untied the blue rope that was tied to my favorite gargoyle’s ankle and another gargoyle’s shin on the other side of lucky stair 13. The blue rope matched the marble stairs perfectly; it was practically invisible unless someone knew it was tied tightly across lucky stair 13.

I reached the bottom and saw that he was still alive.

The fall must have broken his neck because he remained motionless. Only his eyes blinked, and a smile slowly spread across his pearly teeth.

“Caligula and Venus fly traps?” A cackling laugh reverberated in the hallway and ended with a weak cough.

“Well played, Jeremiah, well played.”

I was astonished. He called me by my name. He was laughing. He did get the joke.

“I now know you are ready to step into my shoes.”

Tears started to spill from my eyes. Why the hell couldn’t he be like this all his life?

“Take them. Take the shoes!”

I was stunned into obeying him. I knelt and carefully tried to pull a shoe from each foot.

“Don’t be so namby-pamby. I can’t feel anything. I want to see you wearing them before I go.”

I quickly yanked them off his feet and took off my own shoes and replaced them with his. They almost fit perfectly.

“Now you’re ready.”


“Hush! You did me a service, Son. I’ve been ill for some time. Quickly, go put away your shoes. Call Ben. No one will ever know it was anything but an accident. I’m as drunk as a skunk.

“But don’t ever think you out-played the ol’ man. It was I who set you up.”

He hacked a splintered cough. “I loved your mother, and I love you.”

Then, he was gone.

The tears were now streaming down my face. His words echoed in my mind. He loved me. I ran up the stairs two at a time and quickly tossed the shoes into my closet.

I called Ben, who was in his own private rooms, enjoying his Sunday off.

When Ben appeared, he deftly checked my father’s pulse and proclaimed that he was dead. He then called 911.

Besides the emergency medical team, a detective was dispatched to make sure the fall was truly an accident.

“Why was he barefoot?” the detective suspiciously questioned Ben. I stood near the bottom of the steps and stared vacantly into space.

“Mr. Briggs often was barefoot once he came home. It seemed to be his way to escape from business.”

I couldn’t believe it. Ben was telling a bold-faced lie. My father wouldn’t have been caught dead without his shoes on (dash that comment). Ben carried himself with such dignity and integrity, no one ever question his word … or his loyalty to the family he served, especially to the little boy who looked to him as a dad all his young life.

After the detective left and seemed satisfied that my father had fallen due to his drunkenness, Ben and I headed to the Old Man’s office and den.

“Are you alright, Jeremy?”

I nodded.

Is there anything that I can do for you now?

“I can’t think of anything.”

We sat in silence.

“I guess this room will become your office now.”

“Yes. Could we please get rid of the animal carcasses?”

“Of course.”

“Ben, I’d like to be alone for a bit.”

“I understand, Jeremy.”

Ben turned to leave, then paused.

“By the way, I like your shoes.” He walked out of the room.

Ben knew – yet his unfailing allegiance would stand behind me no matter what.

I sat down at the mahogany desk and looked at Caligula’s cruel sneer. I noticed that one of the Venus fly traps had caught a fly. The insect buzzed fiercely as it tried to escape. Its fate seemed sealed. I reached over to the plant and delicately opened its thorny petal lips and released the fly.

I may have stepped into my father’s shoes, but our paths would be vastly different.

June 23, 2022 22:02

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1 comment

Varian Rain
02:50 Jun 30, 2022

As your first story this is truely amazing. I don't believe my story is quite as a good as this one. This short story kept me guessing and that's amazing. The plot twist in the end was great, I enjoyed the way your wrote Jeremiah's feeling and thoughts into this story, great job! (If you do feel inclinded, I'm open for feedback on my story, "Trapped," however no pressure)


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