A Foray Into Fiction

16 Mar

Today, I share with you the prologue of a fictional book that I have been working on over the last couple of years. Read it and tell me: would you want to read on?

At last they’re all gone.  They took forever this morning, and I thought I’d never be alone. Cass’s hairdryer broke. Leah couldn’t find her track shoes.  The coffee machine spilled over.  Daniel accidentally spilled a full box of Cheerios all over the kitchen floor.  I yelled at him and then felt like a piece of shit, so I atoned by making him pancakes.

I love them all, and that’s why I am always so edgy until they’ve left in the mornings. I don’t want them to see the bleakness and desperation in my soul.  When they’re here I have to be cheerful.  I have to pretend everything is OK.  I have to make sure no-one can see the cracks in my life, and it drains my energy.  By the time we’re all eating a breakfast that makes me feel nauseous, I’m exhausted.

But now they’re gone, and I can relax. I’m by myself, so I don’t have to hide anything. I can let the anxiety consume me, I can let the knot in my stomach expand until it chokes me, I can let the trembling take over.

I watch the children disappear around the corner on their way to school, and then I go into the living room and lie down on the couch.  I run my fingers through my hair, no doubt making it stand up every which way.  I’ve tried all of those man-gels that are supposed to make hair lie flat, but none of them work. I once had a brush-cut in an attempt to tame it, but Cass begged me to grow it out. She says my unruly locks are sexy.

I dig my hand down behind the seat cushions in search of the remote.  Daniel is always stuffing things down there when he has nowhere else to put them.  Cass once found an entire little toy army under there. I root around for a minute and find the remote.  I turn on the TV and immediately wish I hadn’t bothered.

The news is on. As usual, the anchor is going on about the economic meltdown engulfing most of the civilized world. Stock market indices have hit rock bottom. Two major companies have posted massive third-quarter losses.  The real estate market is in freefall.  Another thirty thousand people are expected to lose their jobs in the next week. Small businesses are being forced to close up shop by the dozen.

Join the fucking club. Knowing that I’m not the only guy to go out of business doesn’t help.  There’s no comfort in being part of a sad statistic.

As screwed-up as it is, losing my business is the least of my problems. I cannot believe how stupid I’ve been. If I had told Cass the truth ten months ago I wouldn’t have this unbelievable mess to deal with now. But she was so excited about finally getting her promotion and I didn’t want to burst her bubble. I thought I could sort everything out myself, without dragging Cass and the kids into it. I’ll have to come clean now, though, and that will be so much harder. Cass will stand by me, I know she will. But my heart constricts when I think of the look of hurt I will see on her face when she discovers how I have deceived her.

I have to cut the crap. I got myself into this. I don’t deserve sympathy from anyone, least of all myself. I have to bite the bullet and fix this.

Today I will make the phone call, the call that will set the wheels in motion to put everything right again. I picture the slip of paper in my wallet that has the number written on it, and I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. But I have to do it. I will do it. Today.

There. I’ve made a promise, a commitment to myself and my family.  If I break it, I’m scum. I have to do the right thing, and I will.  There’s no way to fix this without dragging Cass into it.  But it will be so much worse if I don’t. Hopefully we can keep the kids out of it.

I head into the kitchen and put on another pot of coffee.  My nerves are about to spontaneously combust. Caffeine is probably not what I need right now. But it’s that or whisky, and it’s not even nine in the morning. My life’s already fucked up, I really don’t need a foray into alcoholism on top of everything else.

I go upstairs and take a shower and pick out something to wear. Usually I don’t give a rat’s ass what I put on in the mornings, but today is different. It sounds dumb, but I need to look respectable when I make this phone call, out of deference to the person I will be talking to. I put on my new black jeans and a dark blue button-down shirt. My hair – well, there’s not much I can do about that. I’ll probably have to cut it off at some point out of respect for due process. When this is all over I can grow it back, and I’ll never hide anything from Cass again.

I pour myself some coffee and sit at the kitchen table. I try to distract myself by thinking of this weekend. Mom and Dad are flying in from Vancouver tomorrow for the Thanksgiving weekend. Tom and Mike are driving up from Boston tonight. I think they’re both bringing girlfriends. Drew and his family may live just twenty minutes away, but they’ll be at my house for most of the weekend. This place will be a madhouse for three days, but maybe it’ll keep my mind off things.

OK. Focus. All I have to do is make one phone call.  After that it’ll be all out of my control.  Surely I can make one little call. I pour more coffee and find my wallet. I slowly extract the small scrap of paper I’ve been saving since the spring, and for a long time I stare at the name and number scrawled on it.  James Hutchinson. Local number. I don’t really need to look at the paper.  I’ve had the number memorized for months. I could probably just throw it away, but instead I put it back into my wallet. I rehearse the upcoming phone call in my head and try to calm my shattered nerves. This James Hutchinson will help me. I’ll tell him everything. It will be OK.

I take a deep, shaky breath and pick up my BlackBerry.  My hands are shaking so badly that it takes four or five attempts for me to unlock the keyboard. This is it. Barely able to breathe, I start entering the number. I suddenly realize that I have no idea what I’m going to say.

I’m halfway through punching in the number when the doorbell rings. My heart leaps out of my throat and the BlackBerry slips out of my grasp and clatters on the kitchen table.  For a wild moment I think that James Hutchinson is at the door. That’s ridiculous, of course. James Hutchinson doesn’t even know I exist.

I open the door, irrationally hoping for redemption and instead seeing my worst nightmare. As I look into my visitor’s eyes, a knot of excruciating fear grips my stomach. I need to get out of here. I need to run as fast as I can without looking back, but I find myself rooted to the spot. I feel like an invisible hand is wrapping around my throat, constricting my breath, choking the life out of me.

It’s OK. All I have to do is get through the next five minutes.

Then I will make that phone call.

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