This week instead of a blog post I decided I'm going to post a little bit from a book I'll be publishing digitally in the new couple of weeks. Still working on the cover so I don't have that to put up yet, but I've got this from the first chapter of House of Cards...Hope you enjoy it and please sign up for my Facebook fan page to find out the exact pub date!
I sit in the dark, alone, despite my two brothers and three dogs being piled around me, snoring, drooling, farting: doing the kinds of things that teenaged boys and dogs do in their sleep. Sleep, however, eludes me.
We’re in the backseat of our Custom Cruiser, driving through Pennsylvania, on our way to the Jersey shore. It’s part of my family’s annual attempt to pretend that we like each other and want to be confined together for an eight-hour drive.
I squint to see the clock in the front seat; it’s hard to see clearly in the dark, but I think it says it’s about 3:45 a.m. We always leave for this trip at an ungodly hour, so that we avoid the rush hour traffic near Philly and get a full day at the beach upon our arrival.
I hear the familiar click of metal on metal as my father lights yet another cigarette and snaps shut his Zippo lighter; this must be his tenth smoke, and we only left Pittsburgh two hours ago.
It had been eerily silent for a while but for the hum of the engine, the whir of tires on pavement and the depressing tinny strains of the Mantovani string orchestra on the AM radio. But now my folks--no doubt assuming I, too, am asleep--are at it again, doing what they do best: fighting.
“Look, I’m not asking for anything from you but your blessings,” my mother almost pleads, an air of abandonment tainting her weary voice. She’s been lobbying for his approval to take a teaching job she’d been offered in the linguistics department at Pitt. We all expend a lot of wasted energy seeking my father’s elusive approval. “It won’t affect you at all. It won’t affect the kids. I’ll work my schedule around everyone else’s lives, I promise.”
“I don’t care what you say. I said no, and that’s that.” My father sucks a long hit on his unfiltered Camel. I see the fiery glow of its tip reflected in the windshield.
“But what’s the harm in it?” The sadness in her voice makes my insides feel empty. My mother bears a mantle of sorrow around her as if it was part of her biological make-up, as integral to her as a hump to a camel.
“Because it’s not what we agreed to, goddammit.”
My father could never be accused of being overly reasonable or amenable to change.
“Look, that was a long time ago. I’ve already practically raised the kids. They’re almost grown; they’re independent now. They don’t need me anymore. But I need to do something that will carry me through once the kids are gone.” Her voice falters as she anxiously twines her long hair around her index finger.
“No!” my father pinches his cigarette between his thumb and forefinger and punctuates his brevity with another intense drag on his smoke.
Silence ensues as Moon River drones on in the background. I hate that song. It makes me want to jump out the window and end it all.
The tension coursing through the hazy, smoke-filled atmosphere in the car is palpable. I can feel my mother’s sorrow as if it were my own. I can feel the anguish of a lifetime of her yielding to my tyrannical father, to living beneath the boot heel of this man she must have loved at some point in her life.
My mother steels herself, and continues.
“I can’t go on like this much longer, Finnegan.”
Silence. My father consumes the final stubble of smoldering tobacco, holding his breath in like you might when smoking a joint. Like he was relishing the lingering sensation for a precious moment longer.
Smoke surges through his nostrils as my father grinds the butt of his Camel into the ashtray emphatically. He remains silent, leaving it to Mom to continue.
“I think it’s time for us to try a trial separation,” she whispers.
My father lets the sour taste of her words swirl around his mental palate, much as he’d do with a sip of wine from that pretentious sommelier’s cup that he loves to wear around his neck on a tacky gold chain at dinner parties. He’s unwilling to ingest them, however, and instead spits them back at her.
“I dare you,” he sneers. “I just dare you. But let me warn you right now: you will never get away from me. Not ever.”
The weight of his vitriol is heavy on my heart, making a vise-like press of anxiety envelope me.
“And if you do leave, I promise you this: I’ll kill you. And I’ll get away with it, too.” He speaks so matter-of-factly, as if he’s asking her how much further it is on the turnpike till we reach the Walt Whitman Bridge, rather than threatening her with bodily harm.
The silence returns, but for the quiet sobs my mother dares let escape her. The mournful strains of Somewhere Over the Rainbow are filling the night air now. I’m suffocated by the gloom it imparts on the already desperate atmosphere in the car. If ever a more hopeless song was written, I can’t imagine what it might be.
My father turns on the windshield wipers as a hard rain begins to pummel the car. My eyes, unwilling to yield to the late hour and the fatigue that comes with being awake in the middle of the night, burn with suppressed tears. To the steady beat of the wipers, I scratch the head of one of the dogs and silently wipe the moisture from my eyes. Sometimes there is such clarity in the dark of night.