This scene takes place on Christmas and primarily consists of dialogue between the 12-year-old protagonist’s grieving father Brad and his less-than-tactful lesbian sister, Sharon. For other stories with this POV character (and more details on this project,) click HERE and HERE.–
Dad came in and he hugged Aunt Sharon too. I was relieved that they were getting along. Then Daddy looked at all the shopping bags on the floor and said “What’s all this, Sharon?”
“It’s some food for you and Charlotte to eat over the next few days. I also went by JC Penneys and bought my favorite girl some new clothes.”
Dad frowned. “Sharon, I already told you I don’t accept charity. Charlie and I are doing just fine. We aren’t exactly living in squalor. I provide for my kids, maybe we seem impoverished to you, but we’re getting by, okay? We’re doing okay.”
“Brad, I know your family is managing, okay? But I’m your sister, I want to help. I’m not trying to be condescending…”
“You are being condescending.” Dad snapped. “I’ve been working my ass off since I was seventeen, I don’t have free shit given to me when things get hard. I love you, but I won’t accept charity from you, ever.”
“What about that free car? What about when I helped pay for you and Tracy’s honeymoon in Maui?”
Dad rolled his eyes. He picked up the bags and brought them into the living room. “You have a good heart, Sharon.”
“You do too, Brad, but you’re stubborn as a mule. It’s okay to ask for help. Everybody needs it once in a while. Even hard-working but incredibly proud men.”
“Sharon, you talk about me needing to ask for help more often. I’m going to hit the road in a few days, and I’ll be gone for a few weeks. I’ll be trucking all the way to Austin, Texas and back. Do you think you could look after Charlie, Sharon? And Teddy…. If he comes home before I get back?”
“Of course, Brad. I’m glad you asked.” Sharon hugged Dad and he kissed her lightly on the lips. When he kissed me his beard always tickled and I laughed. I almost expected Aunt Sharon to laugh too, but she didn’t. They both looked more relaxed, though.
“I brought a beautiful turkey we can roast up. Do you like turkey, Charlie?”
I shrugged. “I guess.”
Dad laughed. “She likes turkey. I guess she just hasn’t eaten it in a while.”
“Well, what do you eat on Christmas?”
“Last year Tracy burnt the turkey to a crisp. She was so humiliated she started crying, but I just made extra stuffing with green beans and applesauce. We ended up eating everything except the turkey and we still went to bed absolutely stuffed. It was okay, though, because it turned out Teddy and Charlie absolutely loved stuffing. For weeks all they could talk about was the goddamn stuffing.” He laughed and then he was very quiet for a moment. His face was serious and I noticed for the first time that day how tired he looked. “I fucking miss her, Sharon. I think about her every day. Every single goddamn day. Everything about her, the good and the bad. It haunts me everywhere I go. I can’t get over how angry I still am at her.”
“Brad, you were an amazing husband. You did the best you possibly could. There was nothing you could have done.”
“I could have stopped her.”
“You couldn’t have stopped her. She was determined to do it. Suicide isn’t preventable. Not always. You can’t spend your whole life blaming yourself because the woman you loved decided she didn’t want to live.”
“We really shouldn’t be having this conversation in front of Charlie. Honey, do you want to see what clothes Aunt Sharon got you? If it’s okay with her of course.”
Aunt Sharon nodded. “I didn’t really know what to get. I mostly go with what’s comfortable, I don’t know much about what’s trendy.”
Aunt Sharon got a ton of clothes, three bags full of them; pants, shirts, skirts, dresses, socks, panties, a bathing suit for summer, and two winter coats. Daddy thought some of the skirts were a little too short, he said he didn’t want his twelve-year-old daughter looking like Brittany Spears. Aunt Sharon said the price tags were still on everything she had bought and he could still return any clothes he didn’t want to keep to JC Penney’s. Then Aunt Sharon picked up another bag and pulled out three different-colored training bras.
“What’s this?” Dad asked.
“I thought it was about time. She’s getting around that age. Is that okay, Brad? I thought she might want to get something like this from a female family member.”
Dad nodded. “It’s okay, Sharon. Charlie, what do you say to Aunt Sharon for getting you all these nice clothes?”
“You’re quite welcome, Charlie. Do you like them?”
I nodded. “Mostly.”
Aunt Sharon smiled. “‘Mostly?’”
“I mean, I like a lot of them. Some of them I’m not so crazy about.”
“Well, show me some of the ones you’re not crazy about and me and your dad can return those to JC Penney’s.” We picked through them together and Daddy put the skirts he decided were just too short for a twelve-year-old in the pile of clothes that needed to be returned. I didn’t care, I was more interested in the shirts, because Aunt Sharon had picked out some really nice ones. She had pretty good taste in clothes considering she was like fifty. After we were done choosing Daddy loaded the clothes we didn’t want to keep back in JC Penney’s bags and took them out to the car. He thanked Aunt Sharon for being so generous, so I thanked her too. We had dinner early and we sat at the dining room table, Dad cleared it off. He set out candles and played soft Christmas music to make things extra special. A man sang “White Christmas” while the stereo crackled. It was very old, we needed a new one but Dad kept holding it off because of money issues.
“How’s Janet doing?” Dad said.
“She’s doing all right. She’s really stressed out, with the bar exam and some of the problems she’s been having with her family.”
Dad took a swig of beer. “Families are hard. I know our family was nuts; I’m actually beginning to doubt any family is normal.”
“I guess batshit is the new normal, then.” Aunt Sharon said. Then she covered her mouth because she realized she’d said a curse word. “Sorry, Brad.”
“It’s okay, she’s heard those words before. You know, I was so jealous when you moved out and went to college. I was mad for about a year that you wouldn’t take me with you. Mom and Dad’s fighting was insane.”
“I couldn’t take my eleven-year-old brother to university with me. You know that.”
Daddy raised his eyebrows. “I know that now. But I went to basic training to get away from my family. It’s pretty bad when listening to a drill instructor scream at you and berate you is preferable to listening to your parents’ long, sullen silences. Sometimes I felt like there were weeks where they didn’t say shit to each other, they couldn’t be in the same room with each other. I guess it was different when you were a kid. They had fun, didn’t they?”
“Sometimes. It wasn’t all that different, but I guess you got the raw end of the deal. We were children of divorce, except Mom and Dad never got divorced. We kept waiting. I think after a certain point I was actually hoping they’d split up. Isn’t that awful?”
Dad shook his head. “Not really.”
“I remember how pissed off I was over how you used to take Mom’s side, like she was the victim.”
“Well, getting smacked around by your mother when you’re a teenager puts some things in perspective. She didn’t seem like such a victim when she gave me a split lip.”
“Did Dad ever hit you?”
“No, he just yelled. Sometimes that was worse. At least he prepared you for basic training. Getting backhanded when you’re fifteen for having a stack of Playboys in your closet doesn’t prepare you for anything.”
“Marriage?” Aunt Sharon suggested. Dad looked at her a moment, then he started laughing. He wiped his eyes and took a sip of his beer. I didn’t think it was very funny, but I kept my mouth shut. “Yeah,” Dad said. “Tracy would have had my balls out to dry if she had found anything like that. But I didn’t care, she was always enough for me. I always felt like I wasn’t good enough for her actually. And man, when we got into our fights, she’d play on my insecurities like nobody’s business. She could have had anybody else, anybody else. She was beautiful, she was intelligent. Sometimes I was just the guy who held her back.”
“You had some good times, though.”
Dad looked at his empty plate. “Yeah. We had times that were so good we thought they were never going to end. You know, Sharon, Tracy wanted to go to a therapist a few years ago. Not marriage counseling, just her. She wanted someone to talk about her issues with. She didn’t feel like she could talk to me, I guess. I found out that out insurance wouldn’t cover it and I told her that we couldn’t afford it. I put my foot down.”
“God, Brad, it’s not your fault.”
“What if it is? What if I sentenced my wife to death?”
“Brad, did you put that rope around her neck?” Aunt Sharon looked at me. “Oh my God, I’m sorry. I’m a little drunk, I need to watch my freaking mouth, don’t I?” Dad dropped his fork on the table with a clatter and got up.
“Charlie, get ready for bed,” Dad said tiredly. “Merry Christmas.” He went upstairs and I could hear the shower running. Aunt Sharon dropped her fork too and put her head in her hands. “Well, fuck.”
“Good night, Aunt Sharon.”
“Good night, Charlie. Sweet dreams.”
“Yeah right.” I ran upstairs as fast as I could. I kept my toothbrush in the upstairs bathroom so I had to wait until Daddy was out of the shower to brush my teeth. Aunt Sharon had done laundry so I had a fresh pair of PJ’s to put on. I brushed out my hair, which I sometimes did right before bed, and I fed Suzie Q. I knew Daddy probably wasn’t going to remember to do it. Dad’s shower was taking forever so I decided to skip brushing my teeth for the night. Then I turned the lights off and turned my dolphin night light on, and I stuffed blankets and pillows in Teddy’s bed so it would feel like he was in the room with me. “Good night, Teddy,” I said to myself. Finally I fell asleep, and for the first time in my life I was relieved Christmas was over.
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