I’ve wanted to try and write something in second person for a while now, and this is what I came up with. I’m not really that happy with it – so if you want to read a short story I’m actually proud of, I’d recommend The Stars in the Sky and Psychopath, which are my personal favorites.
Still, to take you along on my writing journey and prove that I have actually written some short fiction lately, I thought I’d show it to you anyway. I guess it’s a reminder that you’re never going to like everything you write, even after substantial editing, but you still learn a lot and improve with every story. So here is Son – I hope you nonetheless take something away from it!
You push the door of the cabin open to find motes of dust swirling to greet you. They dance in the warm yellow light that has managed permeate the grimy window. For a moment, you’re a child again, hearing your parents’ laughter ring through the cabin as you twirl with the dust and the whole world’s ahead of you.
You enter the room, dumping your duffel bag on the old couch. There’s still a stain where you dropped your ice cream cone on your eighth birthday.
“Well, with a bit of cleaning, it should do.” Ray has entered the room behind you, carrying the rest of the bags from the car.
“Sure thing, dad.”
You grab your duffel again and swing it over your shoulder. You head for the room that used to be yours and you don’t turn back. He’s getting emotional, you can tell, and you don’t want to be here when he breaks down.
The room is smaller than you remember. You used to be the king of the universe in this intergalactic palace, but now you see that it’s just four faded walls and a few glow-in-the-dark stars stuck to the ceiling. You sit down on the bed, which is much too small for you. You’ll have to use one of the sleeping pads Ray brought after all. A sleeping bag, too. Like everything else, the quilt on your bed is dusty.
You run your fingers over the seams. Your old shirts, cut up and sewn together by a skilled needle. Outside your door, the springs of the couch creak. You imagine Ray, sitting there with his head in his hands. You don’t know what to say, so you just stay in your room while you listen to him cry.
“I ordered takeout,” Ray says when you return. He doesn’t ask what you were doing in a room full of nothing to do.
“Mexican. Chinese place closed down.”
You sit down on the couch next to him. Your hair may be black, not blond, and your features may look Asian, but your posture is exactly like his and you sweep the room with identical gazes.
“You up for some cleaning then?” you finally ask. You’re in those late teenage years where long silences are unbearably awkward.
Ray goes to get some cloths and a bucket.
Minutes later, you’re both on the floor, scrubbing it to a polish it hasn’t seen since the cabin was built. Your shoulders move back and forth in sync and your hair hangs in your eyes. You haven’t been to cut it in a while, with no one to remind you to.
The takeout arrives, and you take a break from scrubbing, both of you leaning against the couch but not actually sitting on it.
“It already looks much better, don’t you think?” Ray asks around his quesadilla.
You smile. That impression is probably subjective. Everything is sopping wet and there are islands of foam spread across the floor.
“Mom would’ve been horrified,” you say.
“I don’t know, son. I think she would’ve praised us for effort.”
“- but I doubt it,” you both finish in unison. Your eyes meet, though tinged in sadness.
“I miss her, dad,” you say.
“I miss her, too.”
You both stare at the grimy window, watching the light fade outside.
“You think mom’d be glad that we came back?” you ask.
“I’m sure she would,” Ray says. He wipes a strand of hair from his forehead. “You know, when we got the first pictures from the adoption agency she said, ‘Look at that poor little boy. He looks so sad.’”
You roll your eyes. You’ve heard this story before.
“Well, she was so happy the first time we brought you here. You had just turned three. You were standing by the water, outside the cabin, and you’d spotted a frog. You came running, grinning all over your face and shouting, ‘Mommy, foggy! Foggy!’ Took us a while to figure out what you meant. But seeing you that happy – well, that made her pretty happy too, kiddo.”
You lean against Ray and he puts his arm around your shoulders. You don’t mind, even though you proclaimed a few months ago that a sixteen-year-old shouldn’t be shown too much affection by his parents.
“You think she’s watching us, dad? From wherever she is now?”
“She might be,” says Ray, forever the agnostic. “I really think she might be.”
“I think she is,” you say.
Together, you watch the window turn to complete darkness. Then you throw out the trash from your meal and mop up the water on the floor.