ONE SHOT: The Way brother's lives are slowly becoming worse and there is only one person who can make it better. If only he could come home for Christmas.
Mom has to stay in bed now, because the arthritis in her hips is causing her too much pain. We have to cook our own food, a diet of fish fingers and chips, as neither me nor Gerard can cook particularly well. We have to clean the house ourselves now, too. Well, we try to clean the house. Mom wouldn’t know if we didn’t.
Sometimes I think mom is going mad. She has been acting strange and out of character. She rarely eats the meals we cook her, and she never talks at all. She’ll just lie in bed staring at the pictures on her dresser. Sometimes when I’m walking up to my bedroom, I hear her talking to them. I’ve never told Gerard that out mom might be losing it, but I think he thinks the same thing. When the phone rings she will scream out to me and Gerard. She will scream until we come running to her ensuring the caller was just some guy trying to sell us something, and not what we are all fearing the most. To ensure her it is not that phone call. Although I’m not sure I’d know how to tell her if it was.
I remember once me and Gerard had a baseball match at school. Mom was at her weakest and she couldn’t stand for longer than about three minutes so she had to stay at home. She had heard the phone ring so she managed to get herself down the first flight of stairs. As she attempted to climb down the second flight of stairs, her left hip and knee had locked and she had fallen right down to the bottom. Her head had split open and dislocated both hips, as well as knocking herself out-cold.
Finding her body was one of mine and Gerard’s most traumatic experiences. We would never forget it:
Gerard went ahead, into the house, leaving me to grab our baseball stuff out of his car while he went to check to see if mom was alright. He came running out, screaming to me: “She’s dead!” I dropped everything onto the pavement and ran towards my distraught older brother.
“Shh, shh, Gerard calm down.” I said clasping his shoulders. I forced my phone into his hands and he opened it, immediately dialling 911. I pushed past him and found our mother’s crumped body at the foot of the stairs. My eyes filled with tears and my heart lurched at the sight of the blood splattered up the walls. I knelt down beside her, my white trousers now soaked in her blood, and held her head still. I felt for a pulse under her jaw and luckily found one. She was alive. She was going to be okay.
Gerard stumbled in to the house and threw the phone onto the sofa. Shakily, he made his way towards me and collapsed on his knees besides me. His eyes were dull and hopeless.
“She’s alive.” I whispered to him. He looked at me wide-eyed. I took his hand and place it under her jaw so he could feel her pulse too. As soon as he felt it he sighed of relief and wiped eyes. Then he turned to me and said something I that made my heart hurt even more:
“When is dad coming home?”
I couldn’t answer his question back then because I didn’t know the answer. I can’t answer it now because I’m still clueless. Ever since dad left, everything deteriated. Mom didn’t want him to leave and neither did we. I secretly think he didn’t want to leave either. We all knew it was the only option left as mom and dad had both lost their jobs. Well, mom had to leave because of her poor health. Dad had been fired because he had started a fist fight with his boss.
Sometimes I have dreams that result in me waking up in a cold sweat gasping for breath. I have to lie there for about half an hour ensuring myself that the dream wasn’t real. I drag my shaky body out of bed and sit on the large window sill just looking out of the window at the big silver moon. And I always hope that where ever dad is he is looking at it too, thinking of us and hoping to come home soon. Then I’ll look for the biggest brightest star and wish that tomorrow, daddy will come home. Or praying that something could take me away from here. Away from all of this grief.
I’ve only ever told Gerard about one of my dreams. The most frightening, terrorising dream I’ve had. The one that always seems to pop into my mind when I’m asleep after a particularly bad day at school. In fact, I don’t think I will ever forget it:
I’ll be asleep in my bed when I will hear a knock at the door. The knock will awaken me and I will sit up just as the door opens. My eyes are too weak to see who has stepped in. I then fumble around with my glasses and place them over my eyes. My room is still too dark to see a thing. The light will flicker on and I rub my eyes.
A figure is standing there but I wouldn’t call it a person. It’s a rotting skeleton with flesh hanging off the bones. Across the floorboards is the dripping black blood of the beast standing before me. He will smile a chilling, rotten smile. It has no lips, just teeth.
“W-who are you?” I will choke. It rips the chain from around its neck and throws it a couple of inches from me, onto the bed. Then I’ll pick it up and I realise it’s dog tag. I wipe the black blood from the tag to reveal the name ‘Donald Way.’ My father’s name. My throat then begins to close up and my eyes sting with hot tears. “Get away from me, you sick man. Where did you get this?” I say, holding the tag tight in my hand.
“I am your father. I am home.” The monster will say in my father’s voice.
“No you’re not! You’re a beast! The devil!”
“Michael, calm down. I’m home, everything will be okay.” The monster says. I squint more closely at his face and I see that monster has my father’s eyes…and half of my father’s nose. The other half is barely attached with just a millimetre of molding skin.
The monster will then begin the walk towards me and I will be able to smell the deathly stench of rotting flesh as he approaches with each thundering step. Every step he takes, more deathly blood will drip into the wooden floorboards and flakes of skin will tear from his body.
“Get away from me! Don’t come any closer!” I’ll then scream. The monster doesn’t listen to me; it just grabs me around the shoulders and squeezes me tightly. So tight I will begin to gasp for breath and so tight I will not be able to scream out any longer.
Then I wake up. The images still fresh in my mind. The nightmare still living on in my memory.
Today is Christmas day and some family has come round for dinner. I helped mom down stairs and she’s been sat like an elderly woman in her chair by the fireplace while we all fuss over her, making sure she’s okay. The seven of us all sit round the fire, opening presents. Me, Gerard, mom, Aunty Lisa (who me and Gerard do not like very much, but have to tolerate as she is mom’s sister, Uncle Jeremy (Lisa’s husband, who is slightly more likeable than Lisa) and Gran and Granddad (mom’s parent’s). Dad’s parent’s called to cancel coming round today as apparently they have something more important to attend. Mom would usually be upset that that had cancelled but today she didn’t seem to mind. She seemed unusually excited and happy. Maybe it was the Christmas spirit. But even then, no one would tell me or Gerard where they were going that was more important than the traditional Christmas round ours.
We proceed with the present opening. I receive a new red Fender Bass Guitar from mom, a Misfits band shirt and the red skinny jeans I had written on my Christmas list from Gran and Granddad and a pair of Red converse with black laces from Aunty Lisa and Uncle Jeremy. Gerard received the expensive new paint set he had been going on about for months from mom, an Iron Maiden t-shirt and black skinny jeans from Gran and Granddad and black converse with red laces from Aunty Lisa and Uncle Jeremy.
We had all devoured the turkey which Uncle John had cooked for us and the snow even began to fall outside, leaving the garden dusted white. But slowly as the seconds, minutes and hours ticked by the snow on the ground grew deeper.
“Can we raise our glasses for the families, like ours, who are missing a husband, a son, a dad or a brother, and hope they keep their strength and think of their loved ones on days like today.” Gran says, raising her glass. We all raise our glasses in silence and the room goes quiet for a couple of minutes. Everyone is missing dad; Christmas without him just doesn’t feel right. Then we were served plates of hot Christmas pudding which the adults all ate in a matter of seconds, consumed in their conversation about current affairs. Me and Gerard are both sitting there in silence trying to hold back the tears.
Gerard gets up from the table and heads out to the garden wearing his new converse. I follow after him wearing mine. He’s already managed to get away to the far end of the garden hidden by bushes and trees where no one can see us from the house. This is where me and Gerard spend our time when we need to be alone. He pulls a cigarette and a lighter from his pocket and furiously tries to light it. The spark never combusts into a big enough flame to light the cigarette and I can see him growing angry with every attempt. Suddenly he throws the lighter and the unlit cigarette to the snow covered ground and collapses to his knees.
“Why does this have to be so fucking painful?” He yells up the sky. I’ve never seen him so distraught. I’ve always wondered if he’s tried to keep his true feelings from me, to keep me as strong as possible. The pain of it all is just eating us both from the inside no matter how many walls we put up to keep it out. "Please take me away from here." he says to me with big pleading eyes.
“G-Gerard.” I all I manage to choke out before the tears begin to stream down my numb cheeks.
“You’d have thought they’d let him come home for Christmas, wouldn’t you?” Gerard cries. I can’t think of anything to say that will make him feel better when we both feel the same. “You’d have thought they would want him to see his family at least once in three years. We need him.”
I sit down crossed legged in front of him in the snow. And pick up my brother’s hand.
“You need to be strong, we both do. We are here for each other and we’re not going to give up. You hear me?” I have to grit my teeth as I speak because otherwise I’ll just burst out in an uncontrollable fit of tears. “I said: you hear me?”
Gerard looks up and nods shakily. His eyes are all red and puffy and I’m sure mine don’t look so different. I pull myself to my knees and hug him tightly. He hugs me back. We are going to be strong together. We’re brothers and we do everything together, after all. We need to be as brave as we can for each other must most of all; we need to be brave for mom and dad. I close my eyes as they begin to sting from the cold wind and I’m starting to hallucinate from the cold tears clouding my eyes. For a moment I thought I saw dad. We both kneel up and hold each other tighter as the bitter December wind bites at our bare arms and the snow soaks our jeans freezing our knees.
“I love you, bro.” Gerard whispers. It makes me smile and one of my salty tears rolls into my mouth.
“I love you, too.” I say in reply. I scrunch my eyes up tighter to clear them from the tears and refine my vision. I rub my eyes with my free hand and hope that the hallucination of dad isn’t there anymore. If I see his face again, I will not be able to keep myself from breaking down. I miss him so much.
I pull away from Gerard and my eyes flick open. Gerard grins at me and wipes a stray tear from my cheeks with the back of his hand. But the hallucination of dad hasn’t gone away. He’s still…standing…by the bushes…
Dressed in his khaki army uniform, his black boots laced up tightly, his hair still evenly shaved. His eyes are red and puffy and he brings a hand up to his chin as if he can’t believe he is seeing us. I let my mouth hang low and the happy tears begin to stream down my face.
“What’s the matter?” Gerard asks. I don’t look down at him; I keep my eyes glued to Dad’s face. My mouth twitches into a smile and Gerard follows my gaze. He looks at dad for a split second before jumping to his feet and sprinting towards our father. I run towards him too, and we both throw our arms around his waist. He holds us close and my lungs are filled with that familiar, comforting, safe smell of him.
“Happy Christmas.” He mumbles as he told us tighter. Daddy is home for Christmas. “I missed you both.”
“We missed you so much.” Gerard sobs. Dad’s army shirt is becoming damp with tears but he doesn’t seem to care. All that matters is that he is safe, at home with us, home from the war at last. I lift my head up to see my dad’s parents smiling at us with tears in their eyes as the snow falls around us. I bury my face back into dad’s chest and put my arm around Gerard too.
Suddenly I no longer feel scared and isolated. I know that there is a little bit of hope and our lives are no longer going to be grey now he is home. We’ve needed him to be home for longer than anyone could have imagined. It was as if he was gone and he was never coming home. The truth is, no one knew if he would make it out of Afghanistan alive or not. It’s comforting to know that the person you look up to and love with all your heart is safe and out of danger. It’s comforting to know that me, Gerard and mom no longer have to live with the fear of him never coming home. The dread of answering that phone call. The anxiety of receiving that letter.
Maybe, just Maybe, we’ll be okay now. Maybe now we won’t have to be sad.