Coming Home

How do you explain to your son that his father will never make it home? How do you explain death? Even if you believe in God, you still have to explain to a child that his father is with God. How do you stop him from trying to join his father?

Martha has to find a way as she struggles with her own grief to explain about her son’s father no longer either. Though the father doesn’t make it easy on her with his ghostly phone calls to their son, telling him that his father is coming home.

*********************

Published by

Breaking Fate Publishing

© 2017 by Breaking Fate Publishing Publishing

All Rights Reserved.  No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, without the written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law.  The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law.  Please purchase only authorized electronic and print editions, and do not participate in or encourage any form of piracy of copyrighted materials.  Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

This is a work of fiction.  Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Please visit us online at http://breakingfatepublishing.com
“Death at Germantown” is available for purchase as a Kindle Single and in Audio
“Death at Germantown” is also featured in the Last Exit anthology.

Edited by Kim Young
Cover Art & Design by Jason R. Davis
Copyright © 2017

*********************

How do you explain to your son that his father will never make it home? How do you explain death? Even if you believe in God, you still have to explain to a child that his father is with God. How do you stop him from trying to join his father?

When the son is only six, barely grasping the principles of life, it seems impossible. That unforgiving job of trying to describe it in a way they can understand. Loss is never easy, especially when it comes to the young.

“Damn him,” Martha said to herself, knowing she didn’t truly mean it. It was just so much easier to express rage at the man who had turned her life upside down. She had loved him so much, had stayed married to him through the good times and the bad, even when he had not made it easy for her to do so.

“Damn him. Damn him. Damn him.” Even though she kept saying it, she could feel the tears threatening to fall again.

She watched as the car in front of her slowly moved up a spot. She quickly wiped at her eyes, first the left and then the right, then eased her car up another spot. The line was moving as usual, so she still had about two minutes before she would be in front of the school and Matty would be climbing into the car.

She looked at the passenger seat and saw the mess of tissues scattered around. Oh god. She hoped no one from the school would need to talk to her. She didn’t want anybody to see the tissues and the state her car was in.

She probably shouldn’t even be driving in her state of mind. She kept thinking about the phone call she had received an hour ago, still trying to figure out how to tell her son that his father was never coming home.

The car in front of her moved up another spot and she followed, edging closer to that moment.

 

 

. . . .

 

 

She looked at her reflection in the mirror, but the haunted shadow looking back at her wasn’t familiar. What happened to the smile that was always there, even when she wasn’t happy, and where did those dark circles come from?

She couldn’t meet the person she saw in the mirror’s eyes because she knew how much of a coward that person was. She had never been weak before, always facing things head-on. Who was this person looking back at her? Whomever it was, she wasn’t proud of her. There was nothing there to be proud of.

“Hey, Mom, what’s for lunch?” Matty said as he ran into the bathroom. His cartoon must have ended, as he never strayed from in front of the TV while it was on…even during the commercials.

She’d rather he be outside, as too much television rotted the brain, but she couldn’t bring herself to yell at him today. It made it easier on her for him to just sit there and watch whatever he wanted.

She still hadn’t told him about his father. She had chickened out yesterday, deciding today would be better. It was Matty’s birthday weekend, though. How could she tell him before his birthday? What kind of mother was she?

But how could she not? It would only lead to him thinking his dad was going to make it home for the party. But he wasn’t going to make it home today, nor any other day. Putting it off was only going to make it worse.

“Just make yourself a jelly butter, okay?”

Matty stayed in the door as she looked over at him. She could feel how raw her eyes were and all she wanted to do was rub them some more. They were tired, puffy, and red. After rubbing them last time, not sure if she imagined it, she heard what sounded like sandpaper. Were they really that dry? They sure felt like it.

She wasn’t sure how much strength she had left.

“Mom, when’s Daddy getting home?”

And there it was. She had hoped to avoid the question a little bit longer, but as much as she tried to put it off, she knew her time was up.

“Go make your jelly butter and I’ll be out in a minute. Okay, hun?” She knew distracting him with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, what Matty had called a jelly butter since he was three, would only last a little while. She had to tell him soon.

“Okay, but can we call Daddy after? He promised he’d make it home in time.”

She nodded as she leaned over the sink, both hands grasping at the sides while she bit back the tears. “You know he can’t always control it, hun. Sometimes his loads get delayed.”

“But he promised.”

“I know. Go make your jelly butter.”

When Matty left the upstairs bathroom, the floodgate on the tears she has fought to control let loose.

 

 

. . . .

 

 

John had been a truck driver for five years before he met Martha. They had both been in Texas at the time. He was down there visiting with his father, and she was there as a pharmaceutical sales rep. John and his father could only survive each other’s company for a short time, which they had already exceeded on this trip. Needing some space, John found himself in a bar. Martha was there on a blind date.

However, the date had not gone well. The guy had been a scumbag of a lawyer and was so full of himself, he barely even noticed when she had gone to the bathroom. Instead of returning to the table, she found herself at the restaurant bar and, somehow, they started talking.

They never agreed on how the conversation started. Years later, Martha still claimed it started with John mocking her shoes…a pair of hot pink heels. According to him, he said no such thing, but had seen her in the mirror and walked up behind her, telling her beautiful women weren’t allowed to cry. It was the law.

Sure, he may have eventually said something like that, but it had all started with the shoes.

Sometimes being there during the hard times makes for the best relationships. When her lawyer “friend” eventually found her, John was quick to get rid of the guy. In return, she was there to listen to him complain about his father.

They made plans for the next two evenings, then he was gone, back on the road, and she went back to flying around the country. They talked, meeting periodically, finding that their jobs complimented each other. Whenever she knew she was going to be in a city for a while, he could set his home time for there and they would have the weekend together.

Within two years, they were married. A year after that, Matty was on the way, and six years later, she was still a stay-at-home mother. They had made enough from his job to get by, and the house payments weren’t too much. The plan had been for her to stay home for another year, then get back into sales locally. It wouldn’t pay as much, but she would be home every night, and he would still be home every other weekend.

Now, he was gone…

She wiped away the tears again and sniffed back the runny nose before looking at her reflection. She could hear Matty downstairs making his sandwich.

She knew she would find a mess in the kitchen…jelly would be all over the place, peanut butter on the floor. It didn’t matter how many times she showed him. There would always be the mess. She wouldn’t yell at him this time. It was time to tell him.

 

 

. . . .

 

 

She found the kitchen just as she thought she would, although the peanut butter on the seat of the chair was new. She wished she had seen it before sitting down. She had to work to control her anger when she stood back up and could feel the stickiness on the seat of her pants.

Another time, she probably would have laughed it off, especially if it had happened to John. She could imagine them all laughing at how absurd it was, maybe even having a little peanut butter food fight. In the end, they would all be covered in peanut butter and jelly.

However, the fantasy didn’t match the reality. Had it really happened to John, there would have been yelling, Matty would have had to clean up the mess, then be sent to his room where he would pout and cry until supper. Still, the scene that played out in her head was a good daydream, one she wanted to keep and hold onto for a while.

“I’m sorry, Mommy,” Matty said for the second time. She hadn’t heard him at first, still caught in her own daydream. He probably thought he was in really big trouble.

“Don’t worry about it, hun,” she said, sitting back down. The damage was already done. She’d have to clean it later because she just didn’t feel like she could deal with it right now. “Come over here. I need to talk to you.”

He slipped off his chair and walked over, his half-eaten sandwich in hand. He had pieces of it around his mouth, and he smelled like he had bathed in it as he neared. Once he was within range, she grabbed him and pulled him up onto her lap.

“I need to talk to you about Daddy.”

“Okay. He said he’s going to be here for my birthday party tomorrow.”

“I know, but-”

“And you said Aunt Lucy is bringing Tommy and Michael, and you invited Danielle and Luke from school, right? It should be a great party. You remembered about the cake, right?”

As he kept going, she kept trying to interrupt. All he wanted to do was talk about his birthday party tomorrow night.

“Matty.” He finally stopped and looked at her. “Your dad’s not going to make it to the party tomorrow night.”

“Yes, he is. He promised.”

“I know, but you know how there were times when he said he’d be home and then something happened and he wasn’t able to make it?”

“But he’s going to make it this time. He told me.”

“I know he promised, but something happened and Daddy’s not going to make it.” She was working her way towards it, first trying to get him to not blame his father for not being there. Then maybe she could wait to tell him the rest until after the party, let him have his birthday without the knowledge that his father was never coming home.

When she looked down to meet those eager eyes, she didn’t see the crying or upset boy she expected. Matty was a bright kid. He had to understand what she was trying to tell him.

“You understand what I’m saying, don’t you?”

“I do, but you’re wrong.”

“I’m sorry, hun, but I’m not. Daddy won’t make it home for your birthday.”

“But when did you last talk to him?”

She felt his question stab through her, having to sniffle back the sudden urge to give into the tears. Closing her eyes, she counted back from ten to get herself under control.

“Matty, he’s not coming home.”

“But, Mom, you’re wrong. I just talked to him. He said he’ll be home tonight. He misses us and can’t wait to get home.”

 

 

. . . .

 

 

Martha had been doing the laundry when she got the call. It was Friday. John should have been home late that night, so she wanted to have all the clothes done beforehand so she could do his on Saturday.

He always came home with two weeks’ worth. Although he usually fussed about trying to do it himself, she liked doing it for him. While some stank to high heaven, they all bore his scent and, well… It gave her some time with him while he slept.

He would always sleep in late that first day, and while she enjoyed sharing the bed, she was used to sleeping alone and found it hard. She often got up early. Doing his laundry was her way to be with him and not be with him at the same time.

She was lost in piles of Matty’s socks, taking her time to pull them inside out because the boy could never take them off correctly, when the house phone rang. At first, she ignored it, knowing that a call at this time of day would probably be some telemarketer. It was so much easier just to let the machine pick it up. If it were important, they would call on her cell.

As soon as the house phone quit ringing, her cell started. While the landline was in the kitchen, the cell was sitting on top of the dryer. She didn’t recognize the number, but the display said it was someone in Virginia.

“Hello?”

“Ms. Miller?”

“Yes. Can I help you?”

“May I ask your first name?”

“Martha.” She paused, not wanting to give out any information without first knowing who was calling. However, the guy on the other end already knew her last name, probably knowing her first.

“Hello, Martha. This is Deputy Taggard of the Virginia Highway Patrol.”

She heard the soft timber of his voice, but barely understood what he was saying. After she heard he was from the highway patrol, it was hard to focus.

When she hung up, she found herself sitting on the floor, the vibration of the dryer on her back. The deputy had given her the number of the medical examiner in her county who would talk to her if she needed. Right now, all she felt was the urge to curl up on the floor and pull herself as close to the dryer as she could get.

John was dead. He hadn’t killed anyone in the accident, which was a good thing, but the deputy had hinted that it had been his fault. He was driving past the time on his logs, running on coffee and uppers to keep his wheels moving, but it hadn’t been enough. He had fallen asleep and driven off a bridge.

She knew there had to be more to it than that. John was a good driver and he wouldn’t fake his logs. Sure, he would push himself every now and then, but it was usually just to get to a truck stop to shut down. He had never gone beyond his limits. He was much too safe for that.

But what did it matter? He was gone, and she didn’t know what she was going to do now. What was her life without him?

 

 

. . . .

 

 

“What do you mean you just talked to him?” Martha asked, wiping bread crumbs from Matty’s cheek. When she met his eyes, he smiled.

“He called, Mommy. I talked to him. He said to tell you he’d be home late. He misses us and can’t wait to get home.”

“Mathew…” She opened her mouth, but the words escaped her. They were trapped around her heart and clutching at her chest. Mathew, your dad is gone and never coming back. Why was that so hard to say?

She knew why as she looked into those large, round, innocent eyes that put the weight of the world on her shoulders. How could you destroy his childhood, taking away his happiness? Yes, she wanted to put it off until after his birthday, but it was still going to shatter him.

“Matty, something happened to your father. He was driving and there was … there was an accident.” Her voice caught and she tripped over her words, but there it was. She had finally gotten it out. She watched him as he looked at her. She expected tears, but his brows raised in question. He didn’t understand.

She had to wipe away the tears from her own eyes before she continued.

“He was hurt badly, and he won’t be coming home.”

“But he will, Mom. He called me.”

Why had they never allowed Matty to have a pet? This would be so much easier to talk about had she already had to explain about the death of a pet.

She could tell him the same thing her mother had said to her when she was young, but her mom was a devout Catholic. Martha hadn’t stepped foot in a church in nearly ten years. She wanted to say, “Matty, your dad is up in heaven now,” but she couldn’t. It would be like telling him that daddy was off with Santa Claus, like a fairy tale.

“Matty, Daddy died. You know, like…” Her mind was blank. Hadn’t they watched a thousand cartoons? There had been families dealing with death in a few of those, but why was it so hard to remember any of them now?

She remembered a lion. That was relevant, but why? Then it came to her.

“Remember how Simba’s father died and went up to the clouds?”

“Yes.”

“When Daddy had his accident, he died. He’s up in the clouds now.” She hated lying to him, but how else do you explain death to a six-year-old?

She watched Matty to see if he understood. He still looked confused and wasn’t getting sad like he should. Was that shock? Had she traumatized him that much?

“Matty?”

He looked at her, the confused expression falling away. He smiled. “What?”

“Do you understand?”

“I understand, Mommy, but you’re wrong. He just called and I talked to him. He said he had an accident, but was okay and running late. He apologized for not being here and said he’ll be home late tonight. He really misses us.”

Martha looked up from her son’s eyes and used the palm of her hand to wipe away more tears, sniffling. She knew this would be hard, but he was making it impossible.

As she looked around the kitchen, she noticed the phone was off the cradle and sitting by the open jar of peanut butter. The smudges of peanut butter and jelly around the receiver were visible from across the room.

“Matty, could you bring me the phone, please?”

He slipped off her lap and ran to the phone, bringing it back to her. She was starting to wonder if maybe the state police had it wrong. Could John have survived the accident? The deputy had sounded so sure, and the details she had been given of the accident made it sound like they had a definite confirmation that he had been in the truck.

Could they have been wrong?

She scrolled through the received calls with a flutter of hope that maybe he had called. What should she be looking for? It wouldn’t be his cell because that was with the police, so she would have to look for calls from Virginia numbers.

There weren’t any. There were no Virginia numbers, no calls from out of state, and no calls from numbers she didn’t know, other than the one from the deputy. There had also been no incoming call after her mother called early that morning. The phone had been quiet ever since.

She looked back at Matty, who was smiling.

“See, Mom. Daddy’s coming home.”

 

 

. . . .

 

 

After that, she let the subject drop and carried on as the day passed. She tried to keep busy, always working to think of other things, but there were momentary lapses when John would sneak into her thoughts. She would be putting away a dish and come across his “Handsome Devil” coffee mug, or she would walk out to the garage and see his motorcycle. It was almost the time of year when he would take her out and she would feel the wind through her hair.

Later, as she was doing laundry, she came across one of his favorite shirts…an old, well-worn ’85 Chicago Bears shirt with many holes. He loved that shirt and wore it often. She hadn’t washed it yet, putting it to the side.

After she tucked Matty in for the night, she put John’s pillow into the shirt, using it like a pillowcase, then cuddled up to it. She could smell him, the slight linger of diesel fuel mixed with mild sweat and his deodorant, which she always said smelled like pineapples.

Her room was dark, the night quiet. It took her some time before she finally drifted off into a restless sleep.

 

. . . .

 

She didn’t know if it were a dream remnant or if she actually heard the winding down whine of a diesel engine as it downshifted through the gears. She grabbed tighter to his pillow, pulling it deeper into her bosom. His essence wrapped around her, and she could feel the shirt moisten from her tears.

“Why did you leave me?” she whispered into the cold, dark room.

When she heard the gravel crunch under the tires of a vehicle pulling into their driveway, her eyes flew open and she jumped out of bed much faster than her sleep rattled brain could take. She felt the wave of dizziness as she hurried to the window, fighting to keep upright. She found the curtains and pulled them aside, expecting to see his rig pulling in.

Maybe it was all a mistake. Maybe he actually was coming home and would be there for Matty’s birthday. She could run downstairs, wrap her arms around him, and give him the best kiss since their wedding. Maybe it would even be a little better. A kiss after he returned from the dead.

But no one was there. The driveway was empty, other than her own car parked near the house. There was no semi working its way up the long driveway.

She realized that she didn’t hear the semi or the crunching gravel anymore. The night had gone quiet, leaving her alone with her thoughts.

Sighing, she walked back to the bed, falling into it, looking at the bedside clock. It was almost three in the morning. She wasn’t sure if she would even be able to get back to sleep, and if she did, it would almost be time to get up again to get a jump on the day.

There was still so much to do. Sure, the cake was already baked, but she still had to decorate. There were all the balloons to put around the house, and she wanted most, if not all, the decorations up before Matty woke up and came downstairs.

Much to her surprise, she did slip back into sleep.

 

 

. . . .

 

 

Her eyes flew open with the sound of the crashing door, and she barely had any time to prepare before Matty flew onto her bed and into her arms. He was crying, sobbing hard, and when she wrapped him in her arms, she could feel him trembling.

“Honey, what’s wrong?” she asked, running her hands though his hair. She looked at the clock. It had just turned three. She had only been back to sleep maybe ten minutes.

“Daddy’s home,” Matty said through his tears. “Daddy’s a monster.” He went into a new set of trembles, grabbing her harder.

“Hun, I told you. Daddy’s gone.”

“You said Daddy was dead.”

“Yes, Daddy passed away.”

“But he’s here, Mommy, and he’s a monster.”

“Oh, Matty.” She pulled him closer. “It’s all okay. No one is going to hurt you. It was just a bad dream. Okay?” Matty nodded, but he didn’t relax his breathing. Whenever his grasp started to relax, he quickly reached out to get another strong grip on her.

She stroked his hair. She should have realized he would have nightmares, and should have suggested he sleep with her, at least for the next couple of nights until he started to get a grip on it.

Suddenly, Martha heard something creak outside her door. It sounded like someone walking along the hard wood had stepped onto the soft spot. What if someone were in the house? Maybe that was what woke Matty up and had him thinking it was John?

She had the revolver in the gun safe in the closet, but that was too far away. She would make too much noise if she got up and went to it. Of course, there was another option. When John had suggested it to her, it seemed silly and childish, but it was safer than an unsecured gun in the house.

While she kept Matty tight to her chest, she leaned over and reached into the night table and pulled out the pellet gun, aiming it at the door. In the light of day, she doubted anyone would ever mistake it for a real gun, but in the dark, she was confident it would scare the hell out of anyone trying to get at them.

When she heard the footsteps getting closer, her breath caught in her chest, and Matty whimpered.

“Daddy’s here,” he whispered, crying, “and he’s a monster.”

The door slowly swung open, creaking as a cold gust of air rushed in. In the doorway, a shape stood. In the moonlight streaming through the window, she could make out a faint outline. Somehow, she could tell it really was him. John really was standing there. She didn’t know how he had made it, but he had. He was there and had made it home just for them.

She pushed Matty a little to the side, wanting to rush to him and take him in her arms, but Matty wasn’t letting go. But it was John, her husband. She had to rush to him and welcome him home. Who knew what he had gone through to get there. She needed to comfort him.

He took a slow step forward, then another, dragging his right leg.

The light illuminated his legs first, making her see why he was dragging one behind him. Just below his pelvis, there was a long sheet of metal imbedded into his right leg. He shouldn’t even be able to stand, let alone walk.

She stopped trying to get up and pushed herself back on the bed, pulling Matty against her as she sat against the headboard.

“John?” Her voice was faint as she watched him approach.

“I…came…home…like…I…promised…” The voice sounded nothing like John’s, but she still knew it was him. He rasped and gurgled, each word sounding like painful torture as they worked themselves out.

When John took another step forward, more light hit him. She could see his shirt torn in many places, burned and dirty, metal fragments buried in the fabric, the burned impression of a steering wheel across his chest.

She didn’t have to see the rest of him to know. She didn’t know how he made it home, but he had…although he really was dead. She didn’t know how she could handle this.

Close your eyes. Don’t look, said a voice in her head, and she knew she should listen. He was about to step closer so she would see his face, see the confirmation. Her sanity would never be able to handle it, and Matty… What would it do to a six-year-old mind?

When he took a step forward, she saw what was left of his face, a sheet of glass cutting through half of it. Parts of skin were torn away. His teeth were exposed, much of his jaw missing. His left eye was gone just above where the glass had cut through. Most of his nose had fallen away, and there were cuts all over.

“Happ-”

When she noticed the sound came through a large gash in his throat, his mouth not moving, her screams were all she heard as she slipped away into her own darkness.

He had kept his promise. He made it home…just not alive.

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