Spring, Part Six
A Solstice story
Start at the beginning of the Solstice series
The broadleaf forests dripped with heavy rain, staining the grey bark into deep and shadowy figures. They were the figures of men, women and children, trapped and screaming along the concrete walls of Hiroshima. Hiroshima, where the great Okamoto had led his horsemen in a futile charge. Charge, cried Custer, and sealed the fate of too many more good men. Men, who were pieces in a game, pieces in a puzzle, lesser creatures struggling beneath a sky that was worse than uncaring, rather, a sky that oversaw and cared all too well what became of those who crawled or soared below their sight...
Michael looked up from his dinner plate, shaking his head. "What?"
"God. You've got to snap out of whatever you've got going on. You've been spaced since that stupid holiday party. When was the last time a girl had to drive her own dad home, huh? Real classy."
"Drop that. We've been over it." He pushed a piece of beef to the side of the plate, trailing the tines of his fork in the mealy gravy.
"Stop playing with your food, too. It's gross."
"Who's the parent here?"
"Could fool me," snorted Victoria.
It would be too much to ask for her to understand. It would be too much to ask for her to have an ounce of sympathy. Even if he could explain what had come of the seed planted in his brain at Mayor Long's holiday drama, she was a teenager. She was mortal. She'd have no idea what it meant to suddenly comprehend all he had been, the very father and fountainhead of the very concept of war.
Had he been back before? He didn't know. Had he been reborn more than once, struggling on through the recognition of mortality, the blow of anger that landed alongside the temples of his soul, the realization of how futile the entirety of his life had suddenly become?
"Did anyone call the house?"
"How should I know?"
"Can you just look? You're closer to the machine than me, all right?"
"I don't know why you even keep that thing. The cell phones work better."
His life was reduced to arguing over cell phone plans and obsolescence with a teenager. The white sands of Roman beaches meant less now than keeping the shower drain unclogged, the plunder of ten thousand heroic struggles would never amount to keeping the mortgage paid on time.
"Your shrink called again. He's probably pissed."
"Are you ever going back? For serious, you need to talk to someone."
"I don't know." He turned his attention back to the plate. It didn't seem to matter any longer what he did, where he went, who he would talk to. Some of the other people in Solstice had reached out, neighbors and barflies, old friends and some people he'd always considered more than a little fucked in the head. He knew them, now; recognized some of them the way he'd recognized himself.
Was it every time? He had no idea. The way the plants had shimmered as Keely walked past them at the party, for all the world like a living curtain parting before their lover. The sharp look on the Sheriff's face and the sudden cold intensity of Long's stare. There were tells, he thought; but nothing more substantial. Just the sense that they knew something, they were something, out of the ordinary. Like him.
What could they tell him? More to the point, what would they? They'd brought him there for a reason, they'd made damn sure to bring him into this little circle. He remembered the endless circles of diplomacy and counters, the shifting games the other Olympians had taken so much joy in. He'd never been good at it. His temper had always been a hindrance, holding him back from the constant webs of intrigue.
"You better get to know. Jesus, dad. I can't do everything for us."
He closed his eyes, trying not to picture the spear in his hands, trying to keep the shadows of rage in check. He'd killed people for less. It was his constant thought these days, routinely pressing against his mind, ever in the forefront. People cutting him off at the on-ramp, or those bringing too many groceries into the express lane; the small, everyday annoyances that every human on Earth had to contend with every day, and he'd killed men and women for less.
Every day with her was an ordeal. It had been bad enough before, but now ... now he could see himself choking her, see himself dragging her to a cliff and flinging her broken form across the chasms. They were terrible fantasies, dangerous visions, and he'd been holding them off for months.
"You're right," he said, quietly. "I've got to talk to somebody."
"Stop. Saying. That." His voice remained quiet.
Her eyes rolled back into her head. "Fine. God."
"When did you turn into a preacher?"
His arm tensed, and his plate was across the room before he knew anything about it, shattering to pieces against the wall just behind her ear. He was standing, shaking, veins thrust from beneath the skin of his corded forearms, screaming, screaming at the top of his lungs, screaming to be heard from the street outside.
He saw her, eyes wide with sudden, uncomprehending fear. It was a fear he recognized from a million mortal faces, and a fear he didn't know if he would ever see again. She knew how close she had come to being hurt and she didn't know how bad those wounds might have been, and she didn't know if more or worse was coming.
He couldn't stop screaming, even as she bolted from the chair, screaming herself, tearing to the door and throwing it open to the front porch of the ranch house where the God of War bellowed half-understood obscenities into the evening air.
She ran, and he didn't stop her. He couldn't stop himself.
It was dawn before he got the call.
"You can't come home."
"Dad," her voice was raw. "Dad, I didn't mean anything ..."
"You can't come home." The dullness in his voice frightened her as much as the rage had earlier.
"Dad, please, I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
"I know. I am too. And I'll have you home again when I've had some time to talk to someone."
The silence stretched on, burning between them like the dark waters of an endless ocean alight with Greek fire.
"Dad, what do you mean?"
"I'm going to talk to the shrink again. You're going to go live with your Aunt Sue for a while."
The silence shifted. "Dad," she said slowly, "you haven't talked to Aunt Sue in a long time."
"I talked to her last night."
"I talked to her last night and I told her she was right. I told her I should never have gone into the forces. I told her something bad happened. I told her I need help and that you needed somewhere safe."
"You told her..."
"Something bad happened. That's all I'm saying now to either of you. You are going to be safe with her and I..."
He could hear her swallow. "You don't think I'm safe with you?"
"I don't know."
"You really scared me, dad."
"I know I did. I scared me too. That's why I'm doing this and it's why I should have done it a while ago."
"How..." she swallowed again. "How long do you think?"
He paused. "Summer at least. You'll like it in Michigan for the summer. Nothing but lakes and beaches up there, you'll have a great time."
"Aunt Sue said okay?"
"She said okay."
She let the pause stretch longer. "How do I get there?"
"She's driving down already. You come home and start packing."
"Today? Dad, I need..."
"Today." He was sharp and still. "Today. You can buy new clothes if you forget any."
There was no response.
"Honey. Listen. I'm still not sure where my head is. You know I don't talk like this. You know I wouldn't send you away if there wasn't a really, really good reason. You understand? I'm ..." I'm dangerous, he thought, but he swallowed the words.
When she spoke again her voice was small. "Can ... can I see you before I go?"
"Do you want to?"
"Yes! Yes, dad, for ... yes!" She was crying again, breath coming in rasps. "Yes, I want to see you, and I don't, I don't want to go away, and, and, and you just got back and now I'm going away, and I don't know how long, and where, and... yes, I want to say good-bye and I want to see you and not just be on the telephone because, because..." Her voice got quiet.
"Okay. Okay, honey. I love you, too, okay? I'm doing this because I have to, not because I want to."
"I know... I'm so sorry, dad, I do love you, I'm so sorry."
"It'll be okay. I promise, okay? I'll talk to... I'm going to talk to a lot of people and I'm going to get a handle around some things, and... they won't be the way they were before, honey, but they'll be better than they've been in a long time. Okay?"
"Yeah, at least this summer. It may be a little longer. But I promise I'll try."
Story and image by Ivan Ewert, Copyright 2010