The Distance and the Damage

              I am your boy, he said to the photograph at the end of the hallway.  Woodboards creaking, he leaned his head on the wall beneath the picture.  Put his hand on the glass of the frame.  Whispered words, the etching of a remembered prayer, the fragment of a stray poem.  I am your boy, repeated the picture, a deep reckoning of a father long gone and sent away.

            At the other end of the hallway, light coming in as though it had known a night before.  As though it had grown large with the morning, and bright with a hope strained from starlight.

            Deckard Maynes Barlow found his way to the boy’s room.  He was still asleep.

            “Time,” he said, as he opened the curtains.  “Come now.”

            “Morning already?” whispered the boy.

            “Come over here.  Let me dress you with my own hands.”  Deckard took the suit from the cupboard and dusted it clear.  Little puffs like busted angels wafted to the window and interrupted the flow of the morning’s light.  The suit was too small for the boy.  The pants came up past his ankles.  The jacket scarcely reached his wrists.

            “But the tie, that’ll work,” said Deckard, as he manipulated the black and grey thing through knots.  He’d forgotten how to do it.  Kept trying and failing, as though the morning were meant for him to stand here forever.

            “You never showed me how to do that,” said the boy.

            “Never saw the need.  Don’t see it now either.”

            “Someone’s going to teach me, though?  Some day?”

            Deckard’s head split; his body tightened beyond the constraints it had been born with until he was knotted up too, and scarcely believing that he was going to slip loose, ever.  His hands fiddled with the tie, touching the skin of this ten-year-old boy whose life he had witnessed in its entirety, every moment.

            “Someone will,” he said finally, after he was done and the tie hung on his boy, the boy who stood surrounded by sunlight in a suit that would not fit, his feet bare, his eyes searching out the face of a father who had to look away.  Everywhere but at him, thought Deckard, taking in the ruins of the room, the gaps in the wood panels, the critters sneaking in through the cracks in the window frame.

            Downstairs, they ate boiled eggs topped with coarse salt, with a lump of cream and some beans that had been cooked yesterday.  “The last of the cream.  The salt, too,” said Deckard, smiling.  The boy nodded and licked his plate clean.  “I have some bread for you.”

            Table was quiet.  The house groaned.  Deckard fancied he could hear whispers upstairs, the ghosts of days past talking about the illusions they perceived in the lives of those who remained alive.

            “Are you going to take me all the way?” asked the boy.

            “Every step,” promised Deckard.  “Every step.”

            “And then you’re going to come back here?”

            “It’s home.”

            “But it’ll just be you.”

            Deckard nodded.  “I’ll have the work.  Plenty of it to be done in the fields.  The house needs fixing too.”  He stared at the blue blue of the boy’s eyes, the mist in them lifting as he realized that this was the day, the first of one thing, the last of another, not just another day, not just another few minutes in a tired old house with a tired old man, but something else –   something that had just come down the road and over the dusty lane, onto a sagging porch to have done with its business.

            They finished the bread.  At the front door, the boy was breathing hard.  He looked up at his father.  “Don’t want to leave.  I want to stay here.”

            “Be brave about it, and maybe you’ll feel otherwise.”

            “I won’t,” he said, like it was endlessly true.  One hand clung to the door.  The other held the hand of his father.

            “Poor house to raise a child.  All those drafts, and the bugs.  And the stuff that don’t work.  This will be better.  This will be fine.”

            He shook his head and squeezed tighter.  But what he really said was, I am your boy, your boy, and that is not something you contain in a house or sift through a screen that removes this truth from the life we have shared, or the memories that we always will own.

            Porch creaked.  Down the steps.  Onto the lane, and then the road.  It’s time to walk, thought Deckard.  Today is not a day for the car.  Today is not a day for walking quickly.

            Fields they passed.  Birds that lurked in trees that watched.  A little parcel of breeze brought by the morning heat.  Sunlight, the same as from when the world was born, just a little older, a bit more tired.  And the words between a boy and his father, as they kicked stones into the ditch, or pitched them at the fence posts.  The names of two brothers and a mother recited as though they had gradually made their way into a song fit only for this morning, only for these moments.  A hand in a hand.  A pulsing of life and itinerant heartbeats, coming from the same source, risen from the same ground and hardness of earth.  The sound of love.  The whispers of ghosts.  The endless travail of one step after another, leading down a road one last time.

            The town came out of no where.  It rose as though the breeze had pulled it from the packed earth, nourished by sunlight only – for it’s good enough – to be all these colours and all these sounds and people.  Deckard drew his boy into the streets, and nodded at people who knew him, people who might have wondered why the boy was dressed in that suit on this day.

            In front of the smithy’s, a truck had parked.  The engine was running.

            “Could go back with you,” said the boy.  His voice was done.  It was ruined.

            “I would if it could be,” said Deckard, a few precious words not the equal of what he needed to say now, what he had to get out before it became too late.  He tried.  The words came, familiar ones, practiced ones about how it would be okay, how the future was still bright, how there were so many possibilities in this life.

            No more ghosts whispering.  No more wind blowing.  The small sound that came to Deckard pleaded to stay, first for forever, then just for another year, then finally just for another day, one last day in the house if it could be, if it could be made to be so.  “You be brave about it,” returned Deckard.  You be brave, for you are my boy.  You be whole, and proud of yourself and what you will be, and you think on me, your dad, when you look around you at the world into which you have come.  For I’ll be here, and I’ll think on you for the rest of my life, I promise it to you.

            “This him?” growled Chad.  The old man was sweating, and there was food in his beard.  He hobbled around the boy, tugging at the suit.  “No need for this finery.  Simple clothes would have been just fine.”

            “It’s the best he has.”

            Chad frowned.  “I bet it is.  But he’ll have no use for a tie and jacket.  I’ll sell them later.  Buy him a better cot, maybe.”

            Deckard stopped him.  “You’ll take care of him.  You will.  You promise that to me here, while you’re in front of me.”

            “I made you all the advertisements I’m going to.  There’s no more to be had.  You understand that, Deckard.”  He didn’t wait for a response.  “Listen now.  You’ll write no letters.  If you do, they’ll be burned.  You’ll never try to visit.  If you do, you’ll be shot as a trespasser.  You’ll not raise hell with the authorities.  If you do, something may happen to this boy.  What you should try to do is forget.  Go drink it out.  Work it away.  Find something, Deckard – best advice I have for you.”

            Chad turned to the boy.  “Listen, and carefully.  I want you to climb into that truck right now.  And I want you to look down at the floorboards.  Don’t you look back at this man, your daddy.  Don’t you dare stare out the corner of your eye for a last look.  You don’t do that, you hear?  You keep this moment, your hand in his, as your last of him.  That’ll stand you in good stead.  I figure in a few years you’ll lose even that.  You’ll forget it, what his hand even feels like to cling to so hard.  Do as I say now.  Do it now.  Let go his hand and get in the truck.”

            The hesitation was only a second, but it was a lifetime in the making.  Deckard felt the fingers slip out of his, leaving a trace of heat.  He watched a small back and tight clothes climb the steps into the back of the truck.  A head staring at the boards, not moving.

            “There, it’s done,” said Chad.  Deckard said nothing.  The fat man tugged at his beard and spat.  “Do yourself a kindness.  Go to the pub and drink it away.  Your debt’s paid off now, and you’re alone.  No one cares if you go down that road again.  There’s nothing more to lose, Deckard.  Nothing.”

            “Debt’s paid,” croaked Deckard.

            “It is.  All that you owe, we forgive now.  You’re free, man.  Free.”

            Deckard stood there, in the silence of a breeze and within the scrutiny of a sun that judged his every breath.  People may have been looking at him, but he wouldn’t have known it.  The next thing he knew, diesel fumes gathered around him as an engine roared; then the sound of wheels groaning into motion.  Don’t look up, he told himself, only be with yourself and the hardness of the ground on which you stand – for there is nothing else left to consider, nothing at all.  But his eyes rose anyway, to watch the truck move down the street, belching fumes into the open air of the new morning.  And there in the back of that truck, a little figure sitting there in a suit too small, with a heart too big, with a life too new, given commands not to look back – but looking back anyway.  Blue blue eyes staring down the road, and a small hand waving a goodbye, the last treasure that Deckard was ever going to know.

*****

            In truth, Deckard walked to the steps of the pub.  People inside saw him coming and a few called him over.  He made it as far as the porch.

            The road was hard.  Cars and horses mingled with each other in some insane dance that was only heading in one direction, but he was the only one walking.  At the edge of the buildings, the breeze picked up.  He kicked a stone into the ditch.  He layered his hands with dust as he grabbed other stones and threw them as far as he could into the crisped fields.

            The whole way home, he saw no one.  Not even a ghost.

            The porch creaked.  The door opened.  He went through the house to the other side, and into the garden and then just beyond, to a small plot where three graves had been dug.  One small and so old he couldn’t remember having done it.  The second small, too, but newer.  And the third, a place where he had put his love not so long ago.

            “It’s done,” he said to her.  “You told me what it would cost to do the things I did.  But you didn’t know what you meant by that.  You didn’t.  And all I can hope is that you can’t see what’s become of us.  I never meant to bring this calamity.  I hope you know that.  Truth is, I don’t know how it happened.  All I know is that I’m here alone now.  Seemed not long ago.  Seemed not that long ago.”

            That night, the house was quiet.  Lights were dimmed.  And if there were any sifting to be done of starlight or other things belonging to the ether, they were the purview of people far away from that sagging little house.  Heat had come, as it would.  Breezes had mixed with it, as they were wont to do.  And upstairs, at the end of a hallway, Deckard rested his forehead against a wall, one hand touching the glass of a picture frame as his words whispered the night through, I am your boy.  I am your boy.  I am.

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119 thoughts on “The Distance and the Damage

  1. Is this Philip K. Dick’s Rick Deckard? It certainly could be. It carries the same sad, heavy weight. Stories about separation kind of upset me. They didn’t used to but they do now. This was awful, which, I suppose, is to say it was quite good. I haven’t been laid this low by a bunch of words since Cormac McCarthy stomped all over my delicate feelings.

    • His Deckard… one of my favorites ever. The true meaning of meaning. I don’t care if androids dream of electric anything, but I do care that it’s possible for sentience to be born in the unliving. Anyway, I won’t write anything that approaches that particular story, I’m simply not worthy.

      Sorry Mark, don’t mean to lay you low, but if it’s any consolation, this quite floored me in the writing. I know you know what it is to feel for your kids, so this just hurts. Still does. Another notch in a belt full of my own stories that I will never read again.

    • Thanks Jaded. This was not so easy to write, and at that, written on an airplane with some bloke leaning his chair back into my laptop. At least it was a window seat. I think I was looking on the gulf coast. Such as it is.

      • Love this little glimpse into when and where you write. That you could do this on airplane — fall into Deckard’s world and pull the reader in so completely — is pretty damn impressive.

            • For me, it’s amazing how that works at times. You’re uncomfortable, you’re cramped, you’re not in a great place at all, but you just start and everything gets tuned out. It just fades away, and then you’re somewhere else, making worlds and words (as Catastrophe Jones says).

  2. I second what Silver Poet said. I cannot believe we get to read your mastery for free. This is achingly good..

  3. Beautiful. Now I will go cry. Dear me, this was achingly sad. Still I held on to your words, arranged with such poise and precision that it was an effortless, breathtaking read. I love the walk through the fields. I could feel the longing and the loss. Bravo, Trent!

  4. What can I say about this? There really aren’t any words that describe how well you have crafted a story that communicates the ache and loss Deckard and his son experience here. I’m going to have to read this several times just to get it all in — in the first read, I found myself skimming because I wanted so desperately to get to the point where the reason for the parting was revealed. Just incredible. I don’t know what you do with your stories, besides post them on your blog and every once in awhile enter a national short story contest, but you really need to do something with these. You have an incredible talent that leaves the reader uttering “wow” throughout the entire story. You really need to explore doing more with that talent.

    • Mark, thank you. I hardly know how to respond to that. Mostly I just post here, but I have my other stories that I don’t really put out anywhere… not sure why. Really appreciate the words, and that you liked this story.

  5. I didn’t feel like I was reading a story. I felt like I was there, frozen and helpless but I’ll try and remember these are just words, beautifully chosen to evoke whatever this is I’m feeling.

  6. I see Deckard’s face in the night, as time passes for him, alone. His eyes and cheeks, lined too soon, haggard too early; dry as the dustbowl in which his empty heart rests. Too parched of love for tears, now.

    Without useless words, using a simple narrative that easily catches us, you write a perfect picture of what it means to truly lose, and to ache, for always. Stunning, like all the rest. You are the master, and we are merely floundering apprentices who watch in awe and gratitude.

  7. My thoughts on your talent echo all that has been said already…the emotions you’ve drawn out of me with this story were as others have mentioned…the aching sadness first and foremost. Yet, for me…only for the boy. Deckard standing at the graves of ones not there to witness, yet witnesses still, to this selfish man’s descension to hell for debts laid on his son’s soul…I’m glad you didn’t see fit to have him ask for forgiveness…for there is none. In fact, his stated hope that she didn’t see what had become of them and how he was alone now…had a sour odor of self pity which made it easier for me to think ‘may you rot’ Others may have felt it, though I’ve not seen it stated…but he’s a coward. Damned good writing NB, damned good.

    • Only for the boy… well said, SB, and to me makes this sadder than it already felt. I hate what we lose because we are lost. I feel your sentiments here, that he was a coward, and likely he was just that.

      • his life will be reflected in his death…he will die without love, alone in every way, and know he deserved it. and yes…I too hate what we lose, and force others to lose, because we are lost.

  8. Deckard… I kept waiting for the hint that the boy was actually an android.
    And, then, when it didn’t come, I desperately wanted to know what his debts had been, and what could have warranted the trade and sacrifice… and how soon his grave would be dug next to the others.

    • We were talking about Blade Runner the other day, no? He’s no android. But maybe we are, you and I. Hard to tell sometimes, isn’t it.

      I think that poor soul will love a long life dealing with the hell of his decisions, and the demands of his debts.

      • We were talking about BR, yes. So when you called out Deckard there was only one place my brain could go. The story drove me away from there eventually. But, still, I’m wondering if the boy was an android… how would any of us now? Though, perhaps you would, since you wrote it… Then again, if your stories fill your pages like mine do, you might know the whole truth of the matter either.
        Pour soul is an understatement. My life would not be long if I had made those decisions. I would see to that.

  9. I could feel the ghosts of memories sweeping through that house, its like you’re a short story poet Trent, god you’re so good sometimes, you blow my mind. I wish you’d pick 10 of your greatest, this being the first title in a book and publish it on Createspace! It’s FREE. You might want to wait to have them published professionally, but they can always republish them later, when you’re famous! I was just re-reading some Asimov this week, and you’re stories are just as creative, yet some are so damn poetic and flow also, you really need to get them out there! take a gander up there and read through all those other comments again… stop being humble… it’s TIME!! 🙂

    • Really, free? I don’t even know how that works, cause it seems to me that I’ve already published this stuff on WordPress, and I’m sure there’s some insidious clause in some back-alley agreement that retains everything I write here in perpetuity, to be consumed by the WordPress gods at their leisure. It could be the wine talking. I guess.

      You guys, seriously, are utterly destroying my ability to keep a level head. All I want to do is give you guys massive hugs.

      • Trent … you own your rights to this. When you publish through CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing, you’re just publishing the works that you own the rights to. There’s nothing wrong with publishing through those venues stories you’ve already posted to WordPress. I don’t believe there’s anything in WordPress’s Terms and Conditions that would prevent you from publishing them in a collection. If you ever want to learn a little more about the self-publishing world, let me know. Although, I think the right grouping of the stories you’ve posted here would be very attractive to an agent and a traditional publisher.

        • I didn’t know that… never thought to check. Interesting idea. Honestly, I’ve got like dozens of stories kicking about, it used to be a problem when I printed them, now they’re just these weird formless files on a hard drive. You’ve given me something to think about, and I think I may just take you up on your offer of learning more. Really appreciate it, Mark.

      • no Trent, it’s totally free. the ONLY thing I’ve paid for is when I ordered my own copies (at only $5.00 a piece)…. that’s IT. and EVERYTHING you have posted here, is now virtually copyrighted! Did you know that? You’ve published it here, with your name attached, and in the US anyway, legally NO one can reproduce it unless you agree. SO GET BUSY MY FRIEND!!! It’s really easy, and if you need a few pointers, just ask, there are a few tricks I had help from friends on… and vwalaaa!
        and ps., Asimov has an old book called Robot Dreams, where he published about 15 short stories together, all about scifi, but all unrelated in story, but a few referenced each other with maybe one sentence at the most, connecting them just a hair. YOU COULD SO EASILY do this….so that even if you don’t have that novel finished… you could be getting your shit out there!! and I am not saying any of this to increase your ‘head’ size…. hehehehe
        you really are that good!

        • You guys have given me something to think about, and taught me something huge. Thank you. I like the idea of weaving the stories together somehow. Makes great sense.

  10. It took me a couple of tries to read this, Trent. It broke my heart. Tears are still there as I finally comment. Your words ring so true it is hard to believe you haven’t experienced these things first hand. Those of us who have lived with too much tragedy, sadness, loss, etc. can attest to how genuine your piece feels. The heart wrenching aspect is only equal to the beauty of the writing. You make me weep.

    • Makes me sad to think you have lived through such tragedy, Michelle. I’m so sorry for that. These aren’t my experiences, or of anyone that I know (thankfully). I admit to a certain guilt about that.

      • No guilt necessary, Trent. I’m just amazed at how you can nail the feelings so well. As far as tragedies go, we all have our own in our own way. I have always felt that what ever they are they are the norm for your life. So that is your base line of what is normal. If you don’t know different you don’t know that it is bad or “tragic”.
        I remember the first time that I saw different behaviour in a friends home. I was very young and I was at my little friends home when her Daddy came home. She ran to him and he picked her up and then sat with her on his lap and hugged and cuddled. I backed away. Alarmed. I didn’t understand what was happening. Later when we were playing I asked her about it. I remember clearly saying, “Daddies don’t hug, Mommies hug. Daddies hurt.” That was my norm. To me she was the “different” one. My point is I never felt tragic or anything else like that. The things that happened, as far as I was concerned were happening to everyone else as well. OK, I think I have hijacked this comment section long enough. 😉

        • I don’t know what you’ve gone through Michelle but your telling here terrifies me. I know these things are true, I know about hurts that have been done, but I have not really felt any of them. Please don’t worry about hijacking the comment section, this comment in particular just gave me a perspective that I need to hear.

  11. You have an amazing ability to create a sense of mood. I’m usually listening to some upbeat Katy Perry song when I read blogs and then I come to your stuff. I’m immediately pulled into another world, sucked right into the story. Great job, as usual!

    • Thanks Jen, hopefully I’m not too much of a buzzkill. Maybe the next story I’ll try to make lighter. Glad you get into this one, I certainly was when writing it.

      • I didn’t mean it in a bad way. I was just saying how amazing you are because it’s hard to be sad when Katy Perry is singing about last Friday night and California Gurls.

        And who are you kidding? None of your stories are light, are they?

  12. Whoa. So glad I bookmarked this one and didn’t attempt just skimming while driving to the airport.

    When I read your stories, Trent, it’s seriously as though I’m watching a film. I actually see it come to life in my head. You are fantastic.

  13. Early on, I wanted to stop. The mounting sadness was almost too much. Almost. Inste
    As I clung to every last word.

    Such a beautiful piece, Trend.

    • Babbage! Thank you, I think it’s a decent story. I’ve been thinking about Rhonda’s comment. She is not compromising, and that is an amazing quality. She calls it like it is. I think the follow-up story, if such a beast were ever to be written, is to find the trick in this man’s redemption (if it exists).

      Good to hear from you man – hope you’re well, and looking at coming back to us.

      • It’s better than decent. Yeah I get the impression that she takes no prisoners, but I reckon you’ve left it open enough in order to find the redemption – should indeed the beast be written.

        I’m working on the book; it’s just sitting there staring at me; it may well not work but there’s no point in not attempting it!

        • If I may interject in the midst of your intercourse…It’s true. I felt (and feel) NO sympathy for him. None. And the only redemption he has a fire in hell’s chance of finding, will be when he kicks it and goes south for eternity. Now…strange as it may seem…I am one very forgiving mofo…truly, I am. I have more empathy in my little finger than most and would give every last thing I possess to help another. Just not when it comes to adults hurting kids…in any way…but most especially when the hurt comes from bad choices that they themselves are not willing to pay for. I would love to see this story continue though, should you ever get the itch NB…I’d like to see where one not as rigid as I would take this ‘man’.

          • I’m soooo glad you called it intercourse… I was thinking of the other thing… wait, that is the other thing!

            Yeah, he’s not much of a man, but I suppose even the worst souls can find redemption, the trick being how. Or if it means anything after sins that big. And I agree about adults hurting kids… that is a sin.

            • Who am I to say he shall never find redemption. As usual, it was a gut reaction. If I am to claim a belief in a higher power, then I must too allow that, that higher power knows what’s truly in a being’s heart and therefore condemn or redeem as He chooses. Perhaps I should have said that I would never forgive such an act and leave it at that. Intolerance is my own cross to bare and it may land me in the same place as those I am intolerant of. Now, there’s a hell eh?

  14. A good one. Best part was the separation, of course. I humbly feel the main challenge here is how one combines the pain and drama of the separation with the level of passion and hopelessness expected of a man in that degree of degeneration. And it’s dicey.
    Good one, Trent.

  15. so beautiful, so beautiful. my fave after Cavegirl. so very well written, every word, every line, even the furniture, the floorboards, are characters; emotions everywhere, hiding in corners.

  16. So I wanted to come back here and let you know that this one has staying power. Lasting brilliance. You should get a collection of these published. You’ve got so many that are so rich, so glorious, so full of thrumming heart, vivid and to the point of bursting.

    I love to read your words, Trent. When you do this, when you capture this, you’re beyond genius.

    • You have to know that such a comment coming from a writer like you puts me into a place that I don’t even understand. But it feels good, Jones, so I thank you.

      My friend Mark mentioned the short story collection idea. I never thought of that, but it sounds like a good one. I have like a couple hundred old ones, but they all suck. I have a couple dozen fresh ones that haven’t seen the light of day, but once I write one I forget it and lose interest quick. Still, I like the idea. But first have to finish up the book, it’s still banging me against the walls (in the nicest way possible).

  17. Pingback: The Two Years of Trent Lewin | Trent Lewin

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