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Wednesday Briefs: The Lucky and the Damned

Welcome to Wednesday Briefs―a blog hop where authors post 500-1000 words of free flash fiction every week.  In this week's, flash fiction, a gay son confronts his father for the last time

St John and his father were not close though they’d only had one argument in their life as father and son. When St John confessed he was gay, his father had called him immoral.
“Heterosexuality,” St John roared, “Is not a universal truth!”
You,” his father had countered angrily, “are an abomination! You and your kind, are damned.”
“Damned? Damned, did you say? Hah! We soar, unchained by your righteous morality, your church-sanctioned unions. Our possibilities are unlimitedunlike yours which are limited by the circumference of a vagina!”
The argument had occurred when St John was fifteen. His mother China had intervened and calmed
"Man in Black Suit IV," - Fabian Perez
them both down. But the chasm that opened between them that day was to remain open, uncrossable. After that, when he and his father did speak, they did so cautiously; their language constricted, their wording taut. They asked each other only closed questions, tightly phrased, which allowed no wrong answers and led to no conversations.
Now looking at his father, laying in his coffin, St John thought he didn’t look so much at peace as robbed of malevolence. He was surprised to feel grateful his father’s lips were sealed so he couldn’t laugh at the tears in my eyes, his eyes closed so he couldn’t sneer at the paint splatters on his suit, the modeling clay caked under his nails.
His father had lived on an estate in West Palm Beach in a vast pink stucco mansion, that was much beloved and much photographed by architectural historians and editors of Home and Garden magazines, where he had raised prize-winning Beagles and largely ignored St John.
He lived with his second wife, Sally, who was twenty years younger than his first wife, St John’s mother, who was herself twenty-five years younger than he. Sally was a big girl. She wasn’t fat. Nor was she particularly tall. She was just big: big hair; big smile; big heart. Buxom. Boisterous. She came from Texas. St. John’s father unabashedly adored her. He was relatively circumspect in his admiration generally. Butas the servants could attest―he was prone to shout, in fits of vocal passion during intimate moments behind closed doors, “God Bless Texas!” Thus, the new Mrs. Rivers was soon known as “God Bless Texas.”
St John looked at Sally. She sat, not stiffly, not stoically bearing her grief like his mother, but instead seemed to be melting inside her black dress, her eyes red-rimmed and swollen, the tissues she held beneath her nose coming apart like the woman herself. As St. John watched, China put her arm around Sally’s quaking shoulder and whispered something in her ear. Sally nodded, sniffled. Looking at the two women together, seeing how different they were, St. John could scarcely believe that his father had been married to them both.
St. John’s mother, China, lived on Philadelphia’s Main Line. She rescued Greyhounds and was seldom seen without a brace of them. He supposed that for a woman who had spent her youth on the runways of America and moving through its pageants, there was a kind of symmetry, a kind of justice in this particular act of charity. The dogs had been professional racers; she had been a professional beauty. Hers had been an atmospheric beauty. Her aging had been like the collapsing of the universe. When you looked at her now, you could see her once upon a time beauty like a lingering afternoon shadow in the folds of her melting face.
She refused to have plastic surgery though, saying that she’d had her day and that her beauty was rightly behind her. And he admired her for that.
“I am old, I look old,” she explained to St. John once. “My face is wrinkled, my hair is grey. I cannot say I am proud of my age, for it is not really of my doing if I’ve lived to this age, but I appreciate it. So many of our friends did not make it this far. I feel lucky. I think of the dead and know that they would have been happy for the opportunity to have aged, to have grayed, to have lived. To dye my hair, or lift my face would be to spit in the face of my luck.”
So, she was cheerful when she took her ravaged made-up face and offered it to the world; a smile hung across the painted ruins. China was what she was: Beautiful, delicate, expensive. 
Sally was the sort of woman who read the Ladies Home Journal and Readers’ Digest Condensed Books. She read “Popular Mechanics,” and “Field and Stream.” She changed her own oil and blown-out tires, waving off would-be knights posturing to save her from her distress. She preferred denim to taffeta and was not afraid to wear Stride-Rite shoes and blue eye shadow. If China was bone, Sally was stone. It was what his father had needed: someone human, someone who slept in rollers, who got soiled.
His father’s business partner finished the eulogy and the organist played the opening chords of the closing hymn. China leaned towards Sally and squeezed her shoulder. St. John was touched by his mother’s compassion given his father’s betrayal and subsequent remarriage had not been easy on China. The day of his father’s wedding, he had found China sitting in front of her vanity wearing her satin and lace wedding dress, jaundiced and brittle with age. Her beige hose, slipping from a garter, loose around an emaciated thigh, bagged at her ankles. With a tired, bejeweled hand, she pushed a wisp of pale, dry hair out of her eyes and sighed.
A picture of her at her wedding sat on the table.
China turned and saw St John sitting several pews behind. She offered him a wan, loving smile. He knew she was surprised to see him because he had refused to attend his father’s funeral, would not have had Gatsby not shown up at his studio that morning and wrestled him into a cab to LaGuardia airport.
“I’m not going,” he had insisted.
“You are!” Gatsby was equally insistent. “You will never regret going to your father’s funeral but you will always regret not going.”
“He called me an abomination! He said I was damned.”
“Perhaps he was the one who was damned,” Gatsby had said quietly. “He never got to know the man you became. He never saw the poetry in the art you create.”
St John had stopped fighting and struggled into the suit Gatsby had brought. Now, as the pallbearers carried his father’s coffin past him, he whispered, “Goodbye, Papa.”

Copyright ©2014 Larry Benjamin

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Comments

  1. A beautiful piece. So much said in such a short space.

    ReplyDelete
  2. thank you Nephylim! For me the challenge of flash fiction is to express a lot in a few words. I've been honing my skills on Twitter ;-)

    Larry

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great. "Her aging had been like the collapsing of the universe. When you looked at her now, you could see her once upon a time beauty like a lingering afternoon shadow in the folds of her melting face." I thought these were words were such beautiful and provocative imagery.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey Josef

      thanks so much. That is one of my favorite passages.

      Larry

      Delete

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