End of the Road

End of the Road

This story explores the internal experiences (and external observations) of the main character, Ty, who surreptitiously watches his father leave the family home for good.


Literary fiction


Eileen Herbert-Goodall (Australia)

The old man was ready to go. I could tell ’cause I spied his battered suitcase leaning against the open door, which was letting a slab of sunshine tumble in across the floorboards. The light snatched at dust particles floating through the morning air as that sad feeling turned inside my chest. I’m still here, it said.

I stepped forward then looked out across the stairs; it’d been raining but the weather had cleared and the street twitched with wet light. Up against the curb, the old man’s blue falcon station wagon stood gleaming in the sun. Me and that vehicle shared a whole lot of memories. I’d done my first driving lessons in it, and there were them times at the drive-through where we’d hitch the speaker to the top of the window. That was always fun. Most of all, I remembered cruising through town around Christmas when Maddy was real small. We’d go at night when all them pretty lights were shining, and I’d lie down in the way back section and stare out the rear window. It was like watching some magical, upside down world pull away from us – I never wanted them nights to end.

Soon the falcon would be gone, along with the old man.

The sadness spoke again. Was always gonna happen. Ain’t no great surprise.

Stepping onto the porch, I made my way down the stairs and headed over to the willow tree out front where I used to play as a kid – I’d hide under its branches and dream up pretend worlds, imagining I was a famous Indian, or maybe a badassed outlaw like Jesse James. I couldn’t say when things changed, but at some point I figured I had to get real.

Everyone’s gotta grow up.

Slinking in under the willow’s drooping branches, I lit a cigarette. I wanted to keep an eye on things, while not being obvious about it. I had nothing to say to the old man on account of the fact he had somewhere else to be. Who was I to hold him back?

The street was quiet and birds were singing as if there weren’t no trouble in the world. Judging by appearances, it was a perfect day.

I glanced at my watch and saw it was almost time to head to the garage. Looking towards the front door, I watched the old man walk from the house, suitcase in hand, his chin tilted upright.

There he was, moving onto better things, and I was fine with that ‘cause it’d been coming for a long time.

Inside my chest, the sadness rolled over. Good riddance.

But I hadn’t counted on seeing my little sister, Maddy, run out after him. There was ten years between the two of us, and I often wondered about that. As far as I could tell, our parents weren’t good at making plans and instead lurched from one situation to another, dragging us along as they went. It was no wonder things were falling apart.

Maddy caught up with the old man and tugged at his trousers. The gesture undid my insides in a way I hadn’t expected.

Toughen up, you soft touch.

Taking a drag of my cigarette, I watched as our father bent down and said something. Maddy looked at him, squinting against the sunlight. She smiled, showing her tiny white teeth, then waved as the old man headed for the car.

I knew what she didn’t – he weren’t ever coming back. Sometimes a person gets a gut feeling, you know? Momma calls it her in-tu-i-shun. I get it a lot.

Like a couple of months back when I was set on leaving work real quick, even though it was only early afternoon. I raced home to find my dog, Sarge, had been bit by a snake, probably a Cottonmouth. He didn’t make it. I’d had that dog since I was five, around fourteen years. I remember watching his little paws twitch as he passed while lying on my lap. Damn nearly tore my heart out. He was gone by the time Maddy got home. That’s the trouble with loving things – eventually, you gotta let them go.

Maddy spotted me and came trotting over. ‘Hey, Tyler,’ she said.


‘What are you doing?’

‘Having a cigarette.’

‘I heard they’re bad for you.’

There weren’t no use arguing, so I kept quiet.

She looked at the cigarette between my fingers, then back into my eyes. ‘Daddy has to go away for a while.’

My chest kind of cramped up, but I kept a straight face. I was kicking myself for not having thought about what I’d say when this day finally came. It weren’t no fun being caught off-guard. ‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘I know.’

‘He’s got work on but says he should be back by the end of the month. That ain’t so long is it, Ty?’

Letting my gaze drift back towards the falcon, I saw the old man rifling through the glove box. ‘Nope. He’ll be back in no time.’

‘In no time,’ she said.

Maddy would believe anything I told her and I hated myself for lying.

You gotta do what you gotta do.

I must have let out a sigh ‘cause Maddy reached out to touch my arm. ‘It’s okay – he’ll be back.’

I looked at her and lied again. ‘Sure he will.’

Maddy knelt down and picked a small flower growing in amongst some clover; she stared at it, then stroked the white petals, being real gentle. Seeing her act so sweet cut me up bad and I had to look away.

You might lose her too one day.

Momma appeared on the porch still wearing her nightgown. As she stared out at the street, I could tell her heart was broke and hoped like hell she weren’t gonna end up back in the sanatorium. That place was the pits. I didn’t like the doctors there, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t like me, neither. I think maybe I asked too many questions about how Momma was doing. They didn’t seem to appreciate that.

I heard the old man’s car start and said, ‘Better get a move on, Maddy. Time for school.’

‘Okay.’ She gave the falcon a final wave, then ran towards the house. Calling out over her shoulder, she said, ‘You’re gonna be home for tea, right Ty?’

‘Right. I’ll be here.’

Reaching the porch, Maddy took Momma by the hand and walked her inside.

The blind leading the blind.

I turned round in time to see the falcon swing right at the end of the road before slipping out of view. Shifting my gaze to the willow’s trunk, I saw it was criss-crossed with thick fingers of bark. I touched its rough, knobbly surface; it reminded me of the pain gripping my chest, which felt as if it were bundled up with ropes that’d been pulled tight. Stomping a boot against the ground, I swore under my breath.

Ain’t no time to lose it.

What did I care that he’d gone, anyhow?

It was strange what happened next – a common grackle appeared out of nowhere, landing on a branch beside me. I could’ve reached out and touched it if I’d wanted, but I was happy watching as the pretty colours of its feathers caught the sun like spilled oil. The bird stared at me, its little head tilted to one side, dark eyes shining. It didn’t seem afraid. Then I got this feeling out of the blue that somewhere, somebody had my back. I guessed it was my in-tu-i-shun again, and hoped it was on the money.

The next thing that happened was the grackle stretched out its wings and flew away, disappearing behind the line of houses across the street.

I dropped my cigarette butt, crushed it beneath the heel of my boot, and walked back towards the house. Heading up the stairs, I went through the open door then closed it behind me. The place was quiet. For some reason my breath came out in a rush and I had to shut my eyes real tight for a second.

Goddamn it, Tyler, pull yourself together.

I looked again at my watch and saw it was time to go to work.

The sadness seemed bent on having the last word. Best get on with it, then.

Competition: June 2015 Pen Factor, Assigned reviews incomplete



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