Arden Goes Home (Excerpt)
I slowly entered the house. It’d been years since I'd made it past the threshold. Just get mum's journals, and get out. Through the porch door I could make out George standing in the kitchen, his head low and his back perpetually hunched over, as he leaned slightly against the countertop.
“Dad?” I whispered.
His head rose and he turned to look at me, but the grimace on his face was unrecognizable. Beaten down by age or guilt, this was not the menace I left behind years ago.
“How are you, George?” I asked. His eyes fluttered at the informal introduction, as he staggered to the brandy in the corner.
“It’s nearly three in the afternoon, Dad.” I left an emphasis on Dad. He ignored me as he poured the last of the warm Aqua Vitae into his clearly overused glass, atop a single useless stone.
“Four years gone by and no hello? Maybe a hug? A fucking lingering look of sentiment?” I exhaled. I took notice of an old photo strewn across the chair in the veranda while I waited for his response. Posed proudly in front of a lush garden stood Mum, Dad, Nigel, and Marcus at the old homestead.
I ran my fingers along the frail cardboard blanketing the Buddy Guy album Nigel had saved all summer for, transfixed on the thick film of grime coating every surface. I must have made a face at the stale air and the stench of sweat densely clogging my nostrils, or maybe the mere silence enraged him. Regardless, the calm had passed and I was no longer in the eye of the storm.
This was George’s way, it was all or nothing with him. His chalky face cracked as he spoke and the flakes of skin mingled in the air with his words. A dreadfully long wait to finish an argument I’d walked away from four years prior.
Crimson red engulfed his clenched jaw, so tight his upper teeth cut into his lower lip, he spewed blood along with the venomous words that came out of his mouth, “It doesn’t make any fucking sense, it never has. You were a warning! We would have stopped, she would have lived! You don’t get to take her place, you ungrateful little dyke!” Sobbing into his glass by this point, he begged, “Oh god, why?!”
I’d had this conversation too many times to entertain a response, he wasn’t looking for one anyway. Rather, I made my way towards the stairs, shuffling through the contrasting memories of Christmas mornings spent waiting on the stairs. The journals, get them, get out. Nearing the base of the staircase, his sobs grew closer, they were almost guttural behind me.
“Arden I swear to god, get back here!” I glossed over the slew of derogatory phrases littering his words, but the shrill rise of intonation kicks in my fight or flight and I bolt up the first few steps. The rest of this encounter is almost a blur. I can still feel his lanky fingers wrapped around my ankle and the skin as it tore open across my forehead. My face had slammed into the edge of the step when he pulled me down. My hand immersed in the blood, I attempted to drag myself to freedom. It took all my strength to pry loose his grip.
Is he fuelled by hatred? My God.
At that thought, he slipped onto his stomach and I took my chance. Clamoring my way to the top of the stairs, I took one fleeting moment to gauge my choices, but our faces were only inches apart as I turned around. There was no time to decide between making a run for the bedroom where I knew they were, or back down the stairs before my hands were trapped in his grip.
“You can’t take them, Arden, you just can’t..” The desperation in his voice caused me to waver. “Please, you have everything, everyone, please leave me the one fragment of her I have left.”
Piercing silence rang through my ears. Did he just say I had everything? Had this piece of shit truly not realized all he had done to commit to his own demise? How dare he? He could have had everything. He had the choice, to have Cole and Holly in his life, to strengthen our family after we lost her. WE lost her. I lost her. He tore us apart. My anger restored, but my arms were still restrained so I spit in his blistering face.
I was seething. “This was all you! This was your ignorance, you sad excuse for a man! My entire life I’ve tried to help you see, I did all mom had left behind and more to save you, to save us! All you had to do was choose us. That was it, George. All you had to do was see outside of yourself. We all lost mom, you lost Camilla and you had no choice in that matter, I know. But you had choices, Dad. You chose this, this loneliness, and I refuse to lose myself in the process of choosing you.” I stated.
He let my hands go and I quickly retrieved the journals from the first bedroom. On my way back down the stairs, George took my wrist in his hand and whimpered, “Arden…”
"Let go of me, George..” Quiet fear filled the space between us. “Let me go.”