The father of children

The move to Wishing was the best thing. Frank Cobin wasn’t a big shot in town anymore, engorged with bravado and insolence. He was the stranger in town, and had no favor with the thin-faced men: the corner-men, the hustlers, the scammers, the casually dangerous.

The move to Wishing was the worst thing. Marooned from his pals, Frank took his temper out on his wife and kid, bullied them with his knuckles and insults. His ambitions were volatile, written in chalk, scribbled and wiped clean every day.

Eldridge caught him with his pants down, with that woman from downtown, that woman who worked at Bibby’s Department Store, and his old man didn’t have much to say about that. He had a weakness for the Negro women, he told his boy, and

runnels of sweat ran down her round belly, clean like rain water. Her breasts rose with every inhalation, nipples hard like rock candy, hips churning to a hallowed beat. Eldridge could smell the woman’s sweat, and it was not fear-sweat, but a submissive heat-sweat, her face straining for pleasure, her eyes greedy, flooded with inside light, and

don’t tell your mother, don’t let her know.

And his father cried and groveled, but not for forgiveness. He needed to preserve that secret, that deep echo of himself, and he begged his boy not to draw out that darkness.

Eldridge never did tell, but the secret exhausted him. It was a guilty-belly, hungry-belly secret, like a tongue against a throbbing tooth. His father stopped using his fists, and Eldridge learned to use his. He discovered his own appetite that night, and the shades pulled down on his childhood. The shadows, he understood, never went away. They clove to everything, and soon the headaches began, and his temper grew more sour.

Eldridge stared down at his father, his old and ruptured flesh, and heard Frank’s impious excuses for the last time. He ended that part of his life for good. No one ever knew.

“The father of children”, he said, “has a duty to protect them, not bury them.” That was what Frank Cobin did. He buried his son in a lie.

“The father of children needs to be accountable,” he said, and kneeled on his father’s shoulders. The old man had turned scrawny in his old age, dry as jerky, so it wasn’t hard. It was like resting on a piece of shredded hickory.

“You punished us for the smallest mistakes,” he said. His voice was calm, almost soothing. He lowered the heel of his hand on his father’s throat, and he felt its pulse, irregular but strong. “You betrayed your wife and your child for the sake of a whore.”

“No whore,” the old man wheezed.

“You couldn’t be trusted. Who do I trust now? You made us feel like dirt, like we were useless. And you were whoring around like a man of the town, laughing at us behind our back. And the only thing you’ve ever been ashamed of is that you were caught. How do you think that makes us feel? At least Mom was spared. I protected her.” He sunk his hand deeper into Frank’s throat. He felt bone and gristle, paper thin.

Then things got fuzzy around the edge of his temper.

**Excerpt from The Stone Age — a work in progress**


30 thoughts on “The father of children

  1. Dermott Hayes July 29, 2016 / 11:27 am

    When Hopkins wrote ‘the child is father to the man’, he posed the question of how much responsibility adults have for the actions and lives of their children. This is well written, although, since its an excerpt, the full context is hidden.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Steven Baird July 29, 2016 / 9:41 pm

      Thank you, Dermott. I’m familiar with the quote, and actually had that idea in mind before I wrote it. I appreciate your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dermott Hayes July 29, 2016 / 9:56 pm

        Then you achieved your purpose

        Liked by 1 person

  2. amoodindigosoul July 29, 2016 / 11:50 am

    What a tortured soul !

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Tanya Cliff July 29, 2016 / 4:24 pm

    Excellent and fascinating piece of writing, Steven! I especially like this evocative line:

    His ambitions were volatile, written in chalk, scribbled and wiped clean every day.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Steven Baird July 29, 2016 / 9:40 pm

      Thanks, Tanya. Speaking of characters, I was struggling to know this guy. He’s an important catalyst to the story, so I had to sit down and think about him for a couple of days. And this is what I came up with. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Helen Jones July 30, 2016 / 11:39 am

    Wow, this is so strong, Steven! ‘The thin-faced men’ I love that description, I can see them immediately. But the whole thing is just great 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. August 1, 2016 / 12:25 am

    Woah! You’ve done it/are doing it again. Amazing…and ya…just a wee bit tortured 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  6. cat9984 October 9, 2016 / 7:47 pm

    I love the names of your towns. They’re like a clue to the characters’ lives

    Liked by 1 person

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