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  • Writer's pictureAnamika Anand

After The Father

Style: N/A.

Statement: N/A.

Clouds of brown gnats congregated in the sticky air. Beyond the forest, a dust storm was gathering. Gray could see it on the horizon: an amber glow above the setting sun, blooming like a cloud. The setting sun — the thought made his lips curl upward as he sauntered away from his father’s funeral. As his lean frame headed sunward, the walnut hues of his hair and his ever-tanning skin were lost in a silhouette.

He kicked a small rock with his firm boot, and it skipped seven times on the dirt road before feebly rolling to a stop in front of a pair of blue sneakers. Gray’s eyes traveled slowly upward as he looked the young boy in front of him up and down, from cotton t-shirt to khakis to new shoes, then back north to the face with soft features. Clenching his teeth, he felt his fists close up, bones pressing skin, knuckles longing to beat and bruise. Instead, he released his muscles, looked straight ahead, and continued home.

Nineteen years old and a typical high school dropout, Gray lived with his parents — well, now just one — and five younger siblings in Matis County, an insignificant town in rural Texas. Their modest, blue-shingled home sat nestled by the forest, where the crickets loudly conversed in the sultry late evenings. Just in front of the door, a lone cricket chirped.

Gray knelt down, calloused knees popping with the sudden movement. He picked up the pickle-green insect with his finger and thumb. Holding it up against the foggy light, he squished it slowly, watching the small body bulge and then pop, savoring the rich color of the blood that spewed from the creature and ran down his hand like sweet cranberry juice. A drop of blood reached his forearm, following the thin scar that ran all the way to his elbow. Gray crushed another cricket under his boot before heading inside to wait out the storm.

Inside the air was less suffocating. Gray closed the door, the ancient shotgun rattling on its hook. Without kicking off his boots, he went to his room and stood by the window, perhaps to reflect on certain recent happenings. A curious, impalpable pull tugged at his fingertips, and he felt his hand gain a mind of its own, snaking to his back pocket and returning holding his pocket knife. There he stood, stone still except for his coarse fingers. With every person that strolled by, his thumb stroking the steel blade became slower, more intense, until it punctured rough skin. A deep crimson, perfectly shaped drop was born. Human blood. The lip curled.

At the sound of the front door unlocking, Gray licked the blossoming crimson away. An iron aftertaste followed. A room away, his mother, Lisa, along with his two sisters and three brothers filed into the house. Fresh out of her husband’s funeral, Lisa should have been a grieving widow, but it seemed that she thought differently. She bustled into the kitchen, calling out for everyone to close the windows tightly in preparation for the storm. Gray entered to see her chopping up an onion, a pungent smell wafting from the once sphere-shaped root and burning blinking eyes. The onion wasn’t quite ripe yet; the inside was slightly tough, layer upon layer. It was no match though for the small silver knife, dull from years of use. The tip still held a slight shine, catching the light and shooting like a laser beam into Gray’s emerald eyes.

He focused on that beam of light that flashed again and again as his mind traveled to the past. He remembered every detail of that day as if watching a cassette tape of recorded footage unroll: Walking home from school with his younger brother, shouts from under those blue shingles stretched all the way down the road. The two boys had sprinted home, desperate strides failing to make them fast enough, and through the door to a familiar scene, yet just as blood-chilling as the time before. The monster stabbed the kitchen knife into empty air each time. Disappointment that it wasn’t rich flesh had only fueled the thirst to cause pain, draw blood from even his own children.

That afternoon, Gray had tried to confront his father, who had slashed at his eldest son’s forearm, knife trailing for at least seven inches and leaving the memory forever etched into the young boy. The scar didn’t stand alone, and neither did the intentions of its creator.

Since that day, Gray had spent the years unfolding in a twisted angle. He would sit for hours after school in the forest, finding trails of red ants that seemed to never end and killing each speck. Occasionally he suffered a bite or two that would form pink welts on his fingers: battle scars to be proud of, especially when he always won.

Leaving his mother in the kitchen on this dusty day, Gray unhooked the shotgun from the front door, padding to his room with silent stealth. Standing on his bedroom floor, Gray felt his father’s footsteps ever vibrating from the wood planks. The man was gone, yet his legacy would survive in this house and his son’s in this town. Gray checked to make sure the gun was loaded, caressing the rough grip that held hands with the smooth metal of the chamber. Then, jumping out the window, he slipped into the forest, deeper and deeper, to leave his mark.



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