Bullets

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When my father died he left me a mess to sort through. The tax people were owed some money and I had the undesirable task of cataloguing my father’s things to see what I could sell. After he and my mother split he’d moved into his own place. I had never been invited over to this second home because of a fight we had—unrelated to my parents’ divorce—that we never got over. I referred to it as his second home because he’d lived in the first one since he was a child, having inherited it when his parents died in a plane crash. He’d let the house go to my mother in the divorce. Said he’d grown tired of it.

There was nothing worth anything in this second home, though. Nothing that I could sell. I knew this the moment I stepped foot in the place, but I spent an hour pretending to consider the value of a few knick knacks and odds-and-ends because I felt that if my father was watching he would have been insulted if I wrote off his life so quickly. After my appraisal I was hungry so I went into his fridge, which turned out to be a mistake. The crisper was filled with moldy and rotten produce and his condiment jars were missing lids for the most part. I had the thought, “So this is what killed him”, even though I knew he’d been hit by a drunk driver.

Given the condition of his fridge, I was afraid to sit on the furniture. The wooden rocking chair seemed the least suspect, as it was only covered with a blanket. I removed the blanket and upset a sheet of dust that hovered in the sunbeams and settled all over the room. I held my breath until it hurt, trying not to inhale any of it. I sat down and took the place in. There was no television or radio. No books or magazines. There were just stacks of these little pocket-sized notepads piled up on the coffee table. I grabbed the top one and opened it. It was filled with enigmatic, bullet-pointed sentences. 

  • Sit in a softly lit place and imagine waves.
  • Cross your left leg tightly over your right. Like a python wrapped around its double.
  • Trace the lines on whichever surface is nearest you. Do not try to see figures, animals, or objects of any kind in the lines. They aren’t there.

I grabbed another notebook further down in the stack and flipped it open. It contained the same nonsensical bulleted gibberish.

  • Observe your environment. Can it be painted? What colour would you paint it? Imagine doing so.
  • Find a place where you blend into the wall, break open your throat and make an alien noise.
  • Consider the ladder. A horizontal ladder is essentially monkey bars.

I wondered if the man who wrote these little messages was the same man I’d shared a home with for twenty years. The man I had lived with never wrote a complete sentence his whole life. The only reason I knew this was his writing was that I recognized it from the half-completed crossword puzzles he left open on the coffee table that I’d finish after he’d abandoned them and gone off to tend the yard—something else he wasn’t particularly that good at.

I closed the notepad and tossed it onto the table. Trying to glean any meaning from these sentences seemed as futile to me as seeing one’s future in tea leaves.

I wasn’t going to spend any more time on it, but as I sat there I couldn’t stop the subconscious nagging. My brain was trying to form connections. I picked up another notepad and read on. There seemed to be not a theme so much as a tone. The words Bad Buddhism flashed across my mind’s eye. Maybe that was it. Maybe in his later years my father found a kind of religion in writing nonsensical yet calming messages to himself. I remembered the fight that had kept us out of each other’s lives all these years. I told him I hated him for passing his rage onto me. I blamed him for my own failed marriage. Thinking about it I wanted to be angry at him all over again. But instead I flipped through the notepad I was holding until I found a blank space. I pulled a pen out of my jacket and made a bullet.

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11 thoughts on “Bullets

  1. I agree with Hema. I also like the character building of the father—the angry man goes zen in the pages of his diary. The first few paragraphs could use some solid details. I’m told there are knickknacks and odds and ends, but I’d like to picture what knickknacks and odds and ends an old man would keep.

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  2. This was my favorite bit: “I spent an hour pretending to consider the value of a few knick knacks and odds-and-ends because I felt that if my father was watching he would have been insulted if I wrote off his life so quickly.”

    The narrator had a strong voice ad his relationship with his father was clear. He is angry but almost seems unaware how deep his anger really goes. I expected the answer to the bad Buddhism question, but yet it is perfect that there wasn’t one. A thought provoking end.

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  3. rubybastille

    The way the narrator finds healing through these “bad Buddhism” notebooks is sweet in a Twin Peaks kind of way. The details about the father never finishing things and discarding things of value (his childhood home, his family) are paced well and tell us a lot about the narrator, too.

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  4. Christine

    I love the detail about the rocking chair – that held breath, waiting for the dust to settle. I also like the lack of resolution in terms of their relationship. The narrator will never truly know what his father was trying to say. It’s a loose end he won’t be able to tie up.

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    • Thanks, Christine. I contemplated finishing it with what the son wrote in the book. But that didn’t feel right. Plus if I were the son, I would have just drawn a bullet and then stared at it for hours. The lack of resolution felt right.

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  5. Your characters voices are always so strong, Josh! I just loved this one, because not only did we get to know the narrator, we got a glimpse into his father as well. Well done!

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