Here’s a preview for Sins of the Father (Ghosts II), which will be out later in the week.
2am, Monday December 20th 2004. Just outside the town of Texas.
“Mommy!” shouts Henry. “Slow down!”
But Laura doesn’t listen to him. She keeps her foot down, sending the car speeding along the deserted, under-lit road. She knows she’s going too fast, and she knows she’s terrifying her son, but she has a wild look in her eyes. She knows where she’s going, and she has no intention of getting there late. To get there late would mean risking the chance of exposing her lousy husband for everything that he is. Doing that in front of Henry might seem mean, but she figures her son might as well learn what a creep his father is.
“Mommy!” Henry shouts again as the car rounds a bend, its tyres screeching.
“Quiet, Henry,” Laura says. “Mommy’s trying to concentrate on the road”.
“Please don’t crash, Mommy!” Henry shouts, his eyes filled with tears. He grips the seat, eyes staring ahead at the road as it rushes towards them and as the trees of the forest whizz past.
“I won’t crash,” says Laura, momentarily taking one hand off the wheel to grab her cigarette from the dashboard and put it in her mouth. The nicotine makes her feel good, though it doesn’t exactly calm her down. Then again, she doesn’t want to calm down. Calming down has always been a problem, and other people have always taken advantage of her. But not tonight. Tonight she’s not going to calm down until –
Henry starts coughing, the cigarette smoke getting into his lungs.
Laura slows the car down as they reach a turn-off, and she takes a left, heading into the car park of E.H. Rampf & Sons, the local building contractor. She drives past all the parking bays and pulls up right outside the main door.
“Come on,” she says, getting out of the car.
Henry pauses, and then his mother opens the passenger door and waits as he gets out. Henry looks up at the four-storey building, most of which is shrouded in darkness. But one or two windows near the top have lights on. Laura grabs Henry’s hand and marches him through the front door, past the empty reception desk and over to the elevators.
“Fuck!” Laura says when she realises the lifts aren’t working, having been switched off for the night. She leads Henry to the stairwell and they start going up. Laura’s heels make a loud clacking sound in the stairwell, and Henry struggles to keep up with his mother. There are still tears in his eyes. They eventually reach the top floor, and now Laura isn’t quite sure which way to go. There’s a large office next to the stairwell, with lots of desks and computers, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone here.
“Joe!” Laura shouts out. “Joe, where are you?”
Still holding Henry’s hand, she half-drags him between the desks as she looks for her husband. Believing he might be hiding under one of the desks, she checks under them all before realising that he’s nowhere to be found. She stares at the empty office. She was so sure he’d be here. So certain she’d catch him in the act. Now she’s disappointed, and she’s starting to feel that – yet again – he has managed to trick her. Did he stay late on purpose, just to trick her into thinking he’d be here so that she’d come over here like this?
“There’s his desk,” she says, marching Henry over. “Wait here,” she says, going over to a filing cabinet and grabbing some pens from on top. She walks back to the desk and scribbles on a piece of A4 paper: FUCK YOU. SIGNED, YOUR SOON TO BE EX-WIFE AND EX-SON. She puts a hole-puncher on top of the note to hold it down. “Come on,” she says, grabbing Henry’s hand and leading him back to the stairwell. As they go, Henry glances back at the desk. He’s never seen where his father works before.
When they get back outside to the car, Laura lets Henry into the passenger side and then lights up another cigarette, smoking it while standing looking up at the building.
“Mommy,” Henry says, “I’m cold”.
“I know, honey,” Laura replies, not looking at him. “Just give Mommy another minute”. She’s looking for any sign of life, for any sign that her husband was hiding. But there’s nothing. Wherever he is – and he sure isn’t at home – Joe clearly has better taste than to bang his secretaries in the office. No, he probably takes them to some local motel for the night. So now Laura is trying to work out which motel he might be at, because she wants their son to see his father in all his lack of glory.
“Mommy, what time is it?” Henry asks.
“Late, honey,” she says, getting back into the car and starting the engine. She glances over at her son and sees his tired, sore eyes staring back at her. “I’m sorry,” she says quickly, and then she realises she has to get the boy home. She sighs. This can wait. She’s a mother as well as a wife, and tonight she has to get her son home to bed. “I’m sorry,” she says again, this time meaning it. She leans over and gives Henry a hug.
“You smell of cigarettes,” Henry says as they separate.
“Sorry about that,” Laura says. She takes a deep breath. She knows she shouldn’t be out here, dragging her son around like this. She steers the car out of the car park and back onto the road, heading home. “You can sleep in tomorrow morning,” she says, glancing at Henry. She sees her son’s sad, tired face and her heart sinks a little. “I’ll even bring you breakfast in bed,” she adds, hoping for a smile.
There’s a pause as they head along the dark road.
“With eggs?” Henry asks.
“Two eggs,” Laura replies.
There’s another pause. “Three?” Henry asks, sounding a little happier.
“Three,” Laura says. “But don’t blame me when you grow up with crappy cholesterol”.
Henry sniffs away the tears. “What’s cholesterol?”
Laura smiles, turning to her son. “It’s when your -” At that moment, there’s a flash in the corner of her eye. Nothing much, but enough to catch her attention. She turns and sees a figure in the road, lit up by the headlights. It’s a young-looking man, maybe late teens or early twenties, looking shocked as he stares straight into Laura’s eyes. Like a deer in the headlights. Laura steers to try to avoid him, but the car just seems to go straight through him and off the road, taking a glancing blow against a large tree and spinning around before coming to a rest on its side. The wheels are still spinning and there’s smoke coming from the engine, and the air is filled with the sound of the engine grinding against itself.
“Henry…” Laura says, finding herself strapped into her seat, unsure for a moment what has happened. “Henry!” she shouts. She looks over and sees Henry starting to move. “Oh my God,” she says, unbuckling both their seatbelts and slowly pulling Henry out of the car and up onto the road.
“Are you okay?” she says when they get up onto the verge, looking into his eyes, checking his head and the rest of his body for any kind of injury. She’s terrified that her son is hurt; so terrified, she hasn’t even checked herself yet. All she can think about is Henry.
“I’m okay,” he says, sounding shocked.
Laura keeps looking, keeps searching for any kind of injury.
“My arm hurts,” Henry says.
Laura checks his arm. There’s no blood. “Can you move your hand?” she asks, and Henry shows her that he can. She hugs her son tight and looks around, wondering what happened to the guy she saw in the middle of the road, but she sees no sign of him and she feels sure that the car just… went straight through him. She closes her eyes as she hugs Henry tighter.
“Mommy, you’re squeezing me,” Henry says.
She loosens the grip she has on him, and she looks along the dark road. They’re in the middle of nowhere, but they’re not too far from town. She pulls her mobile phone from her pocket and fumbles to call for help. “It’s okay, honey,” she says as she dials. “It’s okay. It’s okay”…