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Another Mourning

Another Mourning

A man wakes up and wonders if human faults like a genetic traits circulate amidst generations.

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Crime / Suspense / Mystery / Thriller


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Kamukai (United States)


I watch her touch Daniel. My mother, on the bed, is framed by the doorway. Daniel, not my father, is with her. Daniel with the sharp nose and elbows... thick, curly chest hair.

I stand with fists clenched, blood dripping from my palms and fingernails. The couple blurs across my cornea.

I shut my eyes and imagine the couple as the organisms they are made of. Their swirling cells mingle in front of me. Rough oxygen is on the mattress. Rough oxygen travels through her lips to her trachea to her Bronchi branches. In her capillary beds, the oxygen finds red blood cells. Two hearts pound. They thrust the blood forward. Lungs contract and carbon is expelled. Veins carry blood; blood carries the rough oxygen to all 74.4 trillion cells in the bodies, 74.4 trillion individual beings. Two couples. Rough oxygen penetrates the membrane, travels to their mitochondria. Adenosine Triphosphate is formed. Bonds break and energy is released. These catabolic reactions are like fire, fiery hatred, divorce. From the formed energy, more can be broken like burning forests leaving charred family members.

My mother and Daniel are not two individuals. They are a universe of cells in collision. They fashion a black hole swallowing my life.


Dawn rouses me from rest. Through my closed eyelids I watch the sun’s vermillion light and forget the horrible dream, the hatred. I taste my breath. It smells like old Chinese food--Lydia and I had ordered takeout last night after she put Tyler to bed. While I was flossing, she said that she had food poisoning. Her face was pale and hollow and her nose dripped. She sat on the toilet and retched into a waste bin. I draped a wet cloth on the small of her back and recited an Emily Dickinson poem.

She went to bed at 8:30 during which I wiped thin, foul, and diluted sludge with Clorox. I sprayed the bathroom with seafoam air freshener and read Kant--our plan to evade cooking backfired, and I forgot to clean my teeth.

I rise slowly and change into a tweed sport coat, leather shoes, and the wool tie folded on the nightstand. I will be teaching at the University in an hour. Everything else I need is in the car.

Lydia’s wedding ring sits by its usual place on the dresser. It is camouflaged in the daffodils I bought her. Although I find the petals to be much brighter than the ring, Albert probably would contend that gold lasts forever; flowers can die within a week. Next to these tokens of affection is a portrait of Lydia, Tyler, and Albert in France. Albert seemed much younger back then.

Lydia sleeps next to me. Looking at her, I realize that my love for her has lasted twenty years. In college, she was the slender swimmer with beautiful back muscles. She played cello in the local quartet for art festivals and restaurants. I was her biggest fan. When I started my PhD program, I thought I lost my chance. I thought that we would be on parallel tracks, close enough to glance at each other’s life, but doomed to never intersect. Then, after 15 years, I found her at a YMCA swing dancing event. We started seeing each other seriously a month after. Since then, she has changed.

Life wears at her. Wrinkles chisel her cheeks and forehands. Veins rise up her calves. Her hair grows thin and light, but her shoulders are still sturdy. Age has liberated her. She has nothing to lose now that her beauty has passed maturity, now that she quit her job to become a wife and mother. Now, she can vomit and allow me to be in the same room. There is a beauty in that. There is a beauty in letting others see you at your worst. There is nothing hidden in her. In a way, I am her biggest secret.

I see in her closed lips a fearlessness, a recklessness which brought me to her. She lies down like Catherine the Great of Russia, tall and wise. How unfortunate that she is Albert’s wife.

I take my clothes and shut the door carefully. I should be ashamed about my relationship with her, but she needs me and I am so lonely. Lydia is my tether to reality. I have no friends.

The hallway door opens.

“Dad?”

Tyler stands against the wall paper, white cane in hand. He stares at me with his dark brown eyes. His cloudy cataracts are what brings Lydia into such close proximity with the doctors at Kaiser, why she cannot let Tyler be alone in the house, why she needs me to comfort her so often.

I straighten as I imagine Albert would. “It’s too early to be up kiddo. You’ll wake up your mom.”

“But… I haven’t seen you in days!”

Tyler hasn’t been able to see for the last four years. He’s been needing hearing aids for the last six. The boy was cursed to live like a clam, inhabiting the world of the mind and body rather than the one of surroundings.

“Look. I wish you could stay, but I got… I have work to do.” He waits for me to say more; Albert would have said more. “Gosh Tyler. You need sleep. What would Lydia say about this?” What would Lydia say about this!? I feel my facade failing like a dried mud mask engulfed in warm water.

“Can I eat with you at least? Please?”

“Erm… Five minutes, but that’s it! I need to be at work real soon and… um… don’t tell mom I let you do this.” I want to tell him not mention it to his father either, but I don’t know how to phrase it. I need to escape!

“Thank you. I--I’ll be quiet, I promise.” He smiles. I let him hold my elbow and guide him to the kitchen. He sits at the table fluttering his fingers across its surface.

I set the table quickly. Where are the napkins? Does the Rogers family use place mats? Utensils chime in my shaking hands. I set an egg timer for five minutes.

Tyler watches my motions, tilts his head slightly, and frowns. He waits. Silence. “You aren’t my father.” He states it wistfully as if it was a trick that he should have seen coming, as if it was foolish to assume that he would be ordained five full minutes with his own dad.

“No,” I reply. Why did I stay? Why did I offer breakfast?

“What are you doing here?” He grips the table tight. His pupils dilate.

“I love your mother very much, Tyler.” My voice quivers more than his. My knuckles turn white and my neck veins bulge.

He slowly comprehends my words. “Is this the first time?”

“No.” I can’t look at him. “I really love her.”

“Then why are you here? Leave! Leave me alone.” I stand up. He tilts back, holds onto the tablecloth, and crashes from his chair. Spoons trickle down like a metallic waterfall. His clouded eyes well tears like a thunder storm. I rush over. “No,” he says. He climbs up slowly, broken. I want to sink into the linoleum.

“You don’t understand,” I say. “I’m not a bad person.” I lick my lips. “What I did, what I am doing is wrong. I know. But I love your mom.” My hands are clenched. My sharp fingernails catch blood. I imagine myself as Daniel, as the man with the curly dark hair. I hate him as much as I hate myself.

My body is a galaxy of cells and with this galaxy I have scarred a blind child. I feel the oxygen within my throat. I feel my heart pumping blood and oxygen. I feel the energy I have made through destruction. I feel my shame. Is this what Daniel felt?

I right the chair and put the utensils away. Tyler is still crying. I walk to him, footsteps heavy. I beg him, “Please forgive me.”

“Leave.”

We stand in silence.

Who can I call myself in this cycle of ruin? Daniel or Tyler? Destroyer or destroyed?

The egg timer rings.


Competition: The Pen Factor 2016, Round 1

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Review 1:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Attention to mechanics
  • You demonstrate a professional quality of writing throughout the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • Your story struck a good balance between narration and authentic dialogue.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • Your characters’ voices were convincing and authentic.
Characterization
  • Your characters were multidimensional. I found them believable and engaging and they genuinely responded to the events of the story.
Main character
  • Connect us to your main protagonist with a deeper characterization. Could your protagonist have a few more distinguishing character traits?
Character conflict
  • Your characters drew me into their world from the very beginning. Their goals and conflicts were clearly conveyed.
Plot and pace
  • Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a challenging balancing act. The story had a clear and coherent progression with a structured plot.
Suspense and conflict
  • The joy of reading often lies in the element of suspense prompted by internal or external conflicts. The build-up was intriguing and I felt the tension mounting with each word.
Technique and tight writing
  • The writing was tight and economical and each word had purpose. This enabled the plot to unravel clearly. Your writing exhibits technical proficiency.
Point of view
  • The story successfully solicited the reader’s empathy through the clever use of the narrator's point of view. You show great deftness in handling point of view.
Style and originality
  • I loved your fresh approach. Creating a unique writing style while maintaining quality of prose requires both skill and practice.
Atmosphere and description
  • Your story was a feast for the senses. The atmosphere wrapped itself around me and transported me onto the page alongside your characters.
Authentic and vivid setting
  • The setting was realistic and vivid. The characters’ mood and emotions were conveyed successfully through the believable setting.
Opening line, paragraph and hook
  • Great stories, nowadays, start with a powerful opening line and compelling hook in order to keep the reader engaged. Have you baited the reader enough?
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