My only disclaimer is that this is a work in progress, not a polished first chapter. I understand there is a risk putting it out here for all to read in its current state, but I wanted to share this process with you. No writer’s first, or even tenth draft if perfect. Simply appreciate the process and enjoy the excerpt.
Beyond My Father’s Sins
“Run, Justus! Run!”
I watched my little brother’s back as he stirred up dust, running frantically down the long gravel driveway, away from the rundown shack we called home. The screen door swung open and banged against the side of the house. I turned to watch as our father stepped out onto the porch with a beer in one hand and his shotgun in the other. He leveled the barrel down the driveway. The screen door wobbled as it swung closed, bouncing several times before finally resting its bare wooden frame across the doorway. Flakes of chipped, white paint fluttered to the porch like snowflakes. I dropped the basket of eggs I had just collected from the chicken coop and ran to stand between him and Justus. Not that it would do any good if he intended to shoot him. He could see over my head from his place on the porch.
A hot summer wind blew across the dead grass that had long given up on growing around the house. Even the trees were dull. The leaves sagged under the weight of the dust that clung to them, choking out what life remained within. I looked at him, willing him to lower the gun, my arms stuck to my sides. I’m not sure which I felt more, fear or courage.
He fired off a round into the air. I jumped, and he laughed a low, menacing laugh that said he was totally in control, but really wasn’t. Birds scattered from their hiding places among the treetops. Jerking my head around, I looked for Justus. He was gone. He would be safe at Mrs. Dean’s house. He always ran to Mrs. Dean’s. I turned back to face my father. He drained the last of his beer, crushed the can in his hand and tossed it into the yard with a belch. I wanted to be mad at him. I wanted to hate him. Each time I thought I had the nerve to scare him with a loaded shotgun the way he did Justus, I remembered the way he cried late at night. The thin walls of our home offered no barrier to the despair.
Right now though, he looked like a wild dog with his stained, sleeveless white shirt and grungy old jeans. There was no telling how many days he had worn the same clothes. His eyes, however, looked lonely, bereft, like a stray dog that wanted love, but had no reference for how to accept or even give it in return.
“Your brother is just like your mother. Weak. I hate weak.” He stumbled across the rotting porch to a rusted metal chair. The blackened boards curled up at the ends. It was only a matter of time before someone fell through them and broke a leg. I retraced my steps to pick up the basket of eggs, hoping they were not all broken. “He’ll run off just like her someday.”
“Can you blame him if he does?” I asked, making my way up the steps to the porch with the few unbroken eggs.
“He wants to play the flute. The flute! He already plays that blasted piano. He’s a sissy. My boy! A sissy,” he said shaking his head in disgust.
“That’s why you chased him away?” I opened the screen door.
“It’s embarrassin’. My boy, a girly flute player.” He spit out the words as though they tasted foul. “He should be playing football, or even baseball for crying out loud.” He hit the arm of the chair with his fist.
“He’s thirteen. He’s just trying out different things to see what he likes,” I said, letting the door close behind me.
“Get me another beer while you’re in the kitchen,” he yelled after me. I considered pretending I didn’t hear him, but decided it would be prudent not to test his foul temper.
I put the eggs into the refrigerator and grabbed him a beer. Besides the beer, eggs and a half-empty bottle of ketchup, the refrigerator was bare. Looking up at the clock, I knew Mrs. Dean would be fixing Justus lunch and giving him an extra piano lesson to pass the time while he waited to return home. Justus, in turn, would help her with something around the house. She knew we didn’t have the money to pay for piano lessons. She also knew we didn’t want a handout, but she saw something in Justus…a talented musician.
Stepping onto the porch, I handed him the cold can and said while wiping the sweat left from the can on my hand against my hip, “I know we don’t have much money, but we need some food in the house. I don’t get paid until next week. Do you have any you can spare?”
He grunted and pulled out his wallet. After taking the cash from him, I reached for his shotgun that lay across his lap. He allowed me to take it from him.
“I’ll give you another twenty if you can hit that bottle on the fence post,” he said motioning in the direction he was talking about with the beer in his hand.
“Deal.” I stepped to the edge of the porch and brought the bottle into my sights. I took several steady breaths. As I let out the last one, I pulled the trigger, letting my shoulder absorb the recoil. I knew I hit the mark before lowering the weapon. My father was laughing.
“Now why can’t my boy do that? He shrinks away from my guns like a cat from a broom.”
I held out my hand for him to pay up.
“Because, if he knew how to use one he might shoot you.”
This made him laugh even more. He slapped a twenty into my palm.
“One can dream,” he said with a drunken laugh. “One can only dream.”
I shook my head and walked down the creaky steps to my old Ford Escort. Rust was gaining ground around the fenders, but it ran and got me where I needed to go. Right now that meant to check on Justus and buy some much needed groceries.
As I drove down the dusty driveway, many thoughts weighed my mind. The summer after my senior year of high school was not as carefree as some of my friends. I call them friends, but in reality, they are more like lifelong acquaintances. My childhood in no way reflected theirs. They were spending their days working part-time and floating down the river on inner tubes. I was working full-time and standing between a drunk with loaded shotgun and my little brother. The girls I knew spent hours talking about their latest crush, make-up and how they were fat. I didn’t have time for a boyfriend. Besides, there was a high possibility of my father shooting any boy that ventured near our door. There wasn’t enough money to spare for make-up when the fridge was empty, and I certainly didn’t have the time to waste on frivolous talk about being fat when I was grateful simply to have food to eat.
There was only a few short weeks left for me to teach Justus to drive. He wasn’t old enough for his license yet, but he could see over the dash and reach the pedals. The reality was, it was safer for him to drive without a license than leave him trapped at home with our father. Maybe, if I spoke with Mrs. Dean she would let Justus to stay with her while I was away at boot camp. Dad never went to Mrs. Dean’s house, even in a drunken stupor he refused to venture near her door. No wonder Justus always ran to her. I crossed my fingers and said a little prayer as I drove away from the house, hoping Mrs. Dean would agree with me.
Looking in the rear-view mirror, I watched as my father finished the last of his beer and threw the can near the other in the yard.