A single light flickered in the darkness. Earlier, around 2:00am, he had lit a candle on the shoreline, a symbol of remembrance for his father. Then he climbed into his rowboat, pulling his way smoothly out into Puget Sound. He rowed until he was exhausted, then laid back in his boat, looking up. The night sky was smothered in dark woolen clouds, without a star piercing its inky blackness.
He lit a joint and thought about his father, and about death. He always knew, in a vague, abstract way, that his father would die one day. He was selfish enough he wished his father had waited until he himself died, so he wouldn’t be left alone.
How could he live without his father? The man who had molded him, challenged him, fought with him… and loved him. He sat up, looking. The spark of the candle was just visible to him, floating far out, suspended in darkness. His boat suddenly lifted on an unseen swell, and a whoosh of breath meant a whale had breached nearby.
He never talked to his father without them fighting, like flint meeting steel, sparks always flying. Perhaps that was why he lit the candle. He really had no idea why he did it, it just seemed the right thing to do.
He had seen his father’s casket lowered into the ground earlier that day. He refused to stay to see dirt thrown down on him. He briefly touched his mother’s headstone, then strode down the rolling hill of the cemetery. He didn’t want to be around anyone, but of course, the funeral was its own strange sideshow, a twisted circus in a darkling world.
His stepmother came striding down the hill after him, determined to drag him back into the show, to play his part of the Loving Grieving Son. It was enough to turn his stomach, all the hypocrisy. He stood there in implacable silence, uncomfortable in his new suit, with his wild hair all cut short and tidy, his beard shorn. He had dressed for his father in death the way he refused to do in life.
The waves bobbed him gently up and down. It was easy to keep pointed toward that star of light, a pinpoint in the darkness. His father had been that, a lifeline when the world got too crazy. He always bailed him out, bought him expensive toys, paid off his credit card debt.
And how had he repaid his dad? By starting fights with him, by storming off and sulking, until need made him pull out his cell phone, call his dad again. He was a bad son, he always felt that way. Like he would never be good enough, never live up to his dad’s expectations for him. He worked construction, a man’s job, loved the outdoors. He rode his motorcycle everywhere.
He thought back further, to a nomad’s childhood, his dad’s job requiring them to up house and move every few years. He never got to make any real friends, and it was his dad’s fault.
He was furious at his dad, felt like he never paid him any attention. He started using drugs early, and although his parents took him to a counselor once, no one guessed that he was eating tabs of acid daily in school. When he got older, he drank some, but drugs were his thing. Speed and meth and cocaine and acid and mushrooms and always marijuana, crazy cocktails that kept him up for days, helped fuel his rage until he ground his teeth to stubs.
He thrived on hate, fed on fury, an emotional vampire who got excited by being angry. It was his refuge, his go-to in any unknown or unpleasant situation.
He loved his job, his construction work. He would find a job, usually through the efforts of his one close friend in the union. He’d work it hard, get it just so, perfectly, then find his co-workers didn’t appreciate his genius. He’d start picking fights. And soon enough, he’d be let off the work crew.
He didn’t really mind; he’d collect unemployment until his money ran out, then look for work again. He boasted that he worked eight months and got paid for twelve, every year.
With those off months, he’d fuel his other passions, traveling and skiing. He’d ski during the week, when the slopes were uncrowded, and the powder was fresh. He avoided the crowds of the weekends and holidays.
He avoided his parents’ religion with the same fervor, a source of many disagreements and arguments. He was secretly afraid of hell, but would never admit that he believed in it to anyone.
Fights, reconciliation, running away, an eternal cycle of love expressed in pain and rage. He never told his dad he loved him. Another thing he believed but would never admit. He couldn’t quit the drugs, or his beloved anger. He worked himself up, found things to be upset about, began to rant and rave like a street person. He looked and dressed the same as one of them, too. Even though he wasn’t, not really. He was a fake, if they only saw under his exterior. He had a comfortable home, paid for by his dad, warm dry clean clothes, money in the bank. But he didn’t belong anywhere else, either.
His dad belonged. Maybe that’s what he hated about him. But now he was gone, and all his belonging and religion were no help, they changed nothing. His corpse was lowered into the ground. He forced himself not to envision that. He loved him; he hated him; he missed him — he would never forgive him.
A freshening of the air told him dawn was not far off. The candle had burned throughout the night hours, staying lit despite gusts of wind. He thought about lowering himself over the side of his rowboat, slipping into the frigid waters of Puget Sound, where cold and waves would soon overcome him. No parents, no siblings. He was alone now. He had cousins, a few relatives who stayed in touch. But that distant blood was not his family.
Finally, he chickened out. He was too much of a coward to take his own life. Instead, he rowed steadily through the blackness, toward the candle. It flickered, now, as it burned low. He rowed faster.
He reached the beach, pulled his boat ashore. As he walked toward the candle, it flickered one last time, guttering, then burned out. At that second, dawn’s light sprayed over the distant hills, flooding the beach in gold, making the candle glow again, sunlight making rainbows in his teardrops as they fell.