The following is the working draft of a short story I am working on to release as part of a collection---my first book. I'd like to share it with Supporting Members as an "early access" perk. The story is finished, but still needs work. I currently have three stories drafted, including this one. If you'd like the first bit of this one, and want to read it all right now, become a Supporting Member today. If you like it, please let me know in the comments, or send an email to email@example.com
The phone rang.
It rang and rang until the answering machine clicked on.
It was Diane.
"John," she said, her words stumbled over each other. "Please pick up…I know you're there. My mother said your truck was in the driveway when she drove home from church."
A few moments passed.
Another pause. She took a drink from something, the ice chattered in the glass.
"I saw our son last night, John. He was sitting at the kitchen table just staring at the fridge--like he was waiting for something." She started to cry, her sobs punctured the crackle of dead air. "I'm losing it John…John, answer!" She kept crying, before finally, she said, "fuck you John. Call me," and hung up.
The 24/7 news cycle flashed combat footage from the wood paneled walls to the plaid couch. John sat in his armchair watching the death ticker in the corner of the television. Blue cigarette smoke drifted to the ceiling in a long coil. As the dead soldiers tallied on the screen, he lined more up on the side table.
This was a new low, even for her.
He understood when she wanted the divorce. That was a different phone call. She said she couldn’t do it any more—raising a kid alone, always waiting for the end of the next deployment. Maybe he could have patched things up, at least until Ryan turned sixteen.
John remembered how the loose strands of hair bobbed defiantly over Joe Smutney’s forehead as he explained why they lost the custody hearing. It made him want to reach across the desk and tear them out.
"...to this point, your ex-wife has been the primary caregiver."
"Yeah, but I was deployed…and I know the military. Christ, it's my fucking life, Joe!"
"I know,” he said, “but like the judge just said, and like I told you the first time you walked into my office, it doesn’t matter what you know about the service or what she doesn’t know. It’s about who will make the best choice for your son. And frankly John, he’s spent most of his life with her and not you.”
"He's going to miss a real chance at action for this. A real opportunity. That’s the best choice.”
"It was always an uphill battle. I am sorry.” Smutney checked his watch. "The facts are what they are," he said, sighing, eyes still down at his wrist. "Ryan can join when he's eighteen."
“Christ Joe, I’ve been chasing combat my entire career. I’d give my left nut for the chance he has now.”
“I know, and he wants it, John. Like I told the judge, he won’t shut up about it.”
“That liberal ratfuck thinks he knows a thing or two.”
“Listen,” Smutney said, getting to his feet. “I’d love to burn up the rest of your retainer discussing the case, but it’s over now. We did what we could. Let it go. You and I both know how quick the time will pass.”
Smutney was right. The time passed quickly. The war however, did not. Ryan enlisted at eighteen. Now he was dead.
John burst out laughing. Well, apparently not! Diane says the kid’s sitting at her table right now, maybe in his dress blues, CAR pinned to his chest—like it was just pinned on. The thought sent a corkscrew down his spine.
John rubbed his face in his hands. He hoisted himself out of the chair, registered a protestation from his back, and hobbled to the fridge. As he stumbled against the coffee table and rounded the corner to the kitchen, he looked up.
And there he was—his son, sitting there at the kitchen table in a dusty set of desert cammies—helmet cratered from the IED blast. Dead, black eyes staring straight through him.
The light of dawn peered through the window. The TV was still playing the 24/7 news cycle. More dead.
John woke up on the carpet, coffin straight, on his back. It was too early to tell how much he’d pay for last night’s festivities.
Is the apparition of John's son real? Will John accept his role in sending his son to war? Supporting Members are reading the rest right now. Join them for $5/month $55/year.