July Writing Contest
Each month we hold a writing contest for our members, by our members. Writers are given parameters, such as a word count and/or a prompt. Entries are judged and discussed blindly. For July, submitters had up to 4,000 words to write a story about Time.
By R.C. Calvio
The sun shone bright even as scattered clouds dotted the sky. It was supposed to rain later, the air heavy with morning dew. Reese smiled to himself. He always did when he thought of the rain. It made him think of Yuan—the most brilliant inventor of their time—getting stumped by an exposed wire in a storm. Reese never intended to let him live it down, even though that mistake nearly costed Reese his life. To this day Yuan insisted things had not been so dire. As the owner of said exposed wire, Reese politely disagreed.
Weird, he thought, catching himself in the memory and noticing his smile didn’t fade even as he stood before his father’s grave. Reese never smiled here. That’s time—it takes you pretty goddamn far before you realize it.
Reese never thought time would be on his side long enough to understand this. He never thought he’d live past twenty, let alone get to now, nearly forty. If eighteen-year-old Reese looked in the mirror and saw 37-year-old Reese staring back, he wouldn’t recognize him. In every way possible, he would be looking at a different person. The only identifiable trait would be his eyes. You don’t live the kind of life he did and not carry it with you somewhere on your body.
His biomechanical limbs, surgery scars, gunshot scars, burn scars, the telling marks on the insides of his wrists, all of that was superficial. They each held a part of his story, sure, but not the core of him. What Reese carried from a life hard lived was soul deep. A place where only he could touch. Well, he and the man in the ground and the woman left behind.
Reese’s smile faded.
“I’m back,” he said to the headstone, not even seeing the words carved there anymore. He’d read them enough times that if he didn’t know Martin Powell’s birthday before, he sure as hell did now. And his death-day? Please. Forgetting his own name would be more likely than forgetting that day. “I told you I would, though God knows why I even bother. If our positions were reversed, you would forget where I was buried.” Reese sighed. He still didn’t know if he gave Martin too much credit in the Shitty Father Department, or not enough. “I hope you can hear me,” he said. “I like to think it pisses you off hearing how well I’m doing.”
“He would love that you visit.”
Reese did not immediately turn around. He knew his mother’s voice better than even his kids’ and his husband’s. And he liked to think he knew theirs pretty damn well.
“And he would love to know you are happy.” She stopped just behind him and in the silence he felt her wait for him to turn around. He didn’t. He continued to stare at the grave without seeing a thing. It was easier than contradicting her. “I didn’t know you…” she trailed off, tried again, “I haven’t seen you here before.”
“That’s by design.” His voice was colder than the breeze between them. “It’s a bit awkward, don’t you think? Being here together, knowing what we all know.”
Karen Powell didn’t say anything. Reese still thought she should have changed her name when she got remarried to Nate. He was a man worth having a legacy, not Martin. Certainly Reese would have loved to take Yuan’s last name. He secretly felt Reese Hawthorne had a better ring than Yuan Powell. Alas.
“The murderer at his funeral,” Reese intoned. “You said you couldn’t forgive seeing the murderer at his funeral. I figured you’d feel the same way about seeing him at his grave.” Reese turned to look at his mother. Her lips were a thin line, but even so he could see the grief that weighed her down. She hadn’t just lost her husband. She’d lost her son, too. A son that used to grovel and beg and give anything for her to stop looking at him as if he’d betrayed her. Time had moved him past those days too, albeit with more kicking and screaming.
“No.” Reese shook his head at the use of her favorite nickname for him. “Don’t. You don’t get to call me that anymore. I’m not that person.” But even as he said it he disagreed. Because he was that person, underneath everything else. And he was finally getting that person back after crawling his way through every circle of hell with just his hands. He was finally getting back to that bouncy, curious, and honest person that “Peanut Butter” used to be.
Reese sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He didn’t know how to talk to her anymore. The last conversation they’d had, he’d practically strong-armed her into forgiving him. It was what he’d needed at the time, but he realized now it was only a bandaid for a broken bone that had already healed wrong. To put it right, Reese would have to re-break it.
“Do you visit him a lot?” She asked in the silence.
“More than I’d like to.” On the day Martin was buried, Reese swore he would never come to this cemetery again. He’d held out for a while. There was a war to fight and a life to scramble together after. But like all things, the dust settled and old demons returned to haunt him. His father, dead or alive, had always been one hell of a demon.
“I’ve been thinking,” Reese said, “scary I know. But I’ve been thinking about the last time we talked.”
“Me too,” she said quietly.
Reese smiled but it was taunting and cold. “Is this where you take back your forgiveness?” To the surprise of no one, she said nothing. Reese nodded, turning thoughtful again. He didn’t have it in him to feel hurt. He used to be terrified of silence from his mother. Her refusal to say something always hurt more than hearing the truth. It felt like this weird thing where she loved him enough to want to shield him, but not enough to lie. “That’s okay,” he said, and he meant it. “I don’t need your forgiveness. I think I did once, but not anymore.”
He used to think he needed her forgiveness in order to forgive himself. He used to think her absolution would cleanse him, would mean every bad thing he did had a reason. He used to believe someone else’s forgiveness was the hardest thing to attain. Sometimes it was a desperate lie Reese told himself to make it to the next day. More and more he was letting himself see that not only had he tied himself to someone unreliable, but also, he would never get the kind of forgiveness he needed from another person, even his mother. “You said what I did was unforgivable.” Reese hadn’t believed her. He thought she would come around because he needed her to, and every time she didn’t, he felt cast aside and unloved. “Took me long enough, but I accept it now.”
“Does that mean you don’t regret what you did? Are you still sorry?”
“That’s between me, Dad, and God.” It was as hard thing to say. He wanted to defend himself, he wanted her to see he wasn’t some kind of monster; but he’d already tried that and still she looked at him like she didn’t know him.
Karen dropped her gaze to the grave. Reese had already cleaned it up—pulled weeds, put in fresh flowers and discarded the old ones, adjusted the flags, dusted the headstone, the whole shit and shebang. He’d bitched about how Martin didn’t deserve it the whole time, but the grave was as fresh as the day it was dug.
Do you understand yet? He wanted to ask. Are you beginning to realize how complicated this is for me? Martin was his Goliath, and as David, Reese beat him in every respect. What Reese had expected was for all of his bad memories to go away—to cease to exist, to have never happened at all. When the reality was Goliath was just a man who was no more special than anyone else. Most sons discover this about their fathers with time. Technically Reese had, too, but in the same way a gamer uses a glitch to speed-run through a level. He’d beat it. He’d finished the game, but God at what cost?
“I pray for you every day,” Karen said and somehow Reese knew she didn’t mean it in that passive-aggressive-Southern-white-lady kind of way. She was being sincere. “I know you are angry, Reese, and hurt, and all kinds of other things I won’t pretend to understand.”
Reese didn’t move. Didn’t speak. This was sounding too much like the beginnings of what he wanted from her. It was too much to hope. But…if he was changing and growing, why wouldn’t she? Time moved for both of them.
“We’ve spent a long time being hurt and trying to nurse our wounds. I know you are different from my son who signed up to be a soldier, and different from the man who came home after the war. Hell,” her voice choked even as she laughed, just a little, “you are different every time I see you.”
Reese didn’t know what to say. He was trained well to be suspicious of everything she said—to see the cutting edge in her words even when none existed.
“I don’t know how to talk to you.” It was something he’d said before, a sentiment that bounced between them in this echo chamber of vitriol they were stuck in. “I don’t know where to begin to try,” she continued. “Every time I think I’ve figured you out again, you…” she gestured to him, to the cleaned grave of a man he spent every waking moment hating.
“It’s…I don’t know,” Reese said around a tight throat.
“I know. I have been watching you try and figure everything out and you seem so lost, Peanut Butter. Sometimes I feel like you need someone to hate to keep you going, and now that Martin’s gone, you…”
Reese clenched his fists. He felt himself shut her out as the lump in his throat turned into anger. That was the thing about his mother. She was so good at saying the wrong thing. He was just starting to think they were making headway and then she had to go and say something like that. “I’m not some hate-fueled Energizer bunny that beats my little drum,” he snapped.
“That’s not what I meant.” She shook her head, disappointed he assumed the worse. “This is what I mean, honey. You are so angry with me when, frankly, you have no reason. I am not in the wrong here.”
Reese laughed. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “What? Are you kidding me? I didn’t wake up the day after Dad’s funeral and decide you were my next target.” She visibly winced. They both knew he could have chosen his words better. “You are so used to seeing me be mad at other people, but that doesn’t mean you’ve never done anything wrong.”
“I know I’m not perfect.”
“Are you sure?” He asked, incredulous. “Because it sure as hell sounds like you think you are.”
“What did I do, then?” She challenged. “What have I ever done to you?”
“You let me down!” Reese shouted, feeling the dam burst. “It was so easy for me to be mad at Dad because he was blatantly careless with me. He was open and honest about not being on my side. But you? You had me fooled. You promised you would always love and protect me, but when it came down to it, you chose him over me.”
“Reese, you’re the one who—“
“I know!” He threw his hands in the air. “You think I don’t know that? You think I’ve magically forgotten? You think I don’t live with it every day? I know what I did! I’m not mad at you for being upset about it. I’m mad at you for not protecting me as a child, when everyone else in my life was hurting me!”
The wind kicked up leaves between them. She didn’t seem to care that her hair was in her face. “I did the best that I could.”
Reese shook his head. “That’s the thing. I know you believe that, and there’s nothing I can say to convince you. That’s not my deal.” It was a testament to his growth, because not too long ago he would have killed himself trying to make her see his side. Having a family of his own gave him much needed perspective. ‘You’re a person before you’re a parent,’ that’s what he’d learned. As much as he tried not to, he carried his flaws into his kids’ upbringing and he had to consciously choose to be better. His mother had to make that same choice. No one else could do it for her. “I know hindsight is 20/20. And I know you can love me and still be wrong. Those two things can exist together.”
Karen let out a breath. “I feel like we’re having two different conversations.”
“Kinda. And they both matter, because you’re right, we’re both hurt and trying to recover. You’re still my mom and I love you. I don’t need your forgiveness because that’s not mine to ask for.” If she ever forgave him, then it would be on her time or not at all. “What I want from you is an apology—for promising me more than you could give.”
She stared at Reese, red splotches of anger on her cheeks. He could see all the ways she wanted to argue. He could see her righteousness in the set of her shoulders. Her reasons for being angry at him were valid. He never questioned that, not really, not when he sat down with himself. However her anger did not cancel out his own, even if it was over something different. He was holding her accountable because he loved her. If she couldn’t see that, fine.
“I can’t do that,” she said at last through gritted teeth. She turned on her heel and left without another word. Reese expected to be angry or disappointed. He wasn’t. Not when this was the most honest she had ever been.
Reese turned back to the grave and kicked the headstone hard enough to make a point without doing any damage. “Don’t think you’re off the hook,” he said to his dad. “You’re still an asshole."