By Martin Clement
Unless otherwise noted, this story is Copyright 2006 by Martin Clement for Clement & Boule Associes. All rights reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, published, distributed, displayed, performed, copied or stored for public or private use in any information retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any mechanical, photographic or electronic process, including electronically or digitally on the Internet or World Wide Web, or over any network, or local area network, without written permission of the author.
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"What the hell are you talking about?" My father's voice was so loud we could hear everything he was saying. Mr. Howell's, well, we couldn't. "Just think about what you are telling me right about now! Do you really think what you say makes any sense?" I don't know if Mr. Howell wanted to say something, but I could tell by the lack of any pause between my father's sentences that he was being muted by his speech. "Kendall, this is the second time you make me come to your office to tell me about my son's behaviour." Son? Jeez! When did he decide he could call me that again, I don't know... But surely I didn't like that. You don't treat your son as a stranger for five years and expect to have a right to call him your son again. "Let me tell you something, Kendall..." There was a pause, and I assumed that Mr. Howell was telling my father his version of the story. "Have you seen it? Kendall, did you see him doing it?" Another pause. "Bullshit and you know it! Jesus Christ, Kendall, my son is gay! Not a fucking pervert!" Pause. "My God! I can't believe I listened to you the first time you called me to come to your office."
There was a long pause. Then the office's door opened and there stood my father, his face white as a ghost, looking right at me. I felt uncomfortable. My father was dead in my head. But the look in his eyes resembled the one I remembered from a far away past.
"Lucas..." he whispered.
I couldn't look him in the eyes. So I looked at the floor. I knew the meaning of that look and that whispered word, my name.
The first time my father used this tone and looked at me that way, I was only six years old. I remembered my father knocking on my bedroom door very slightly, as if he were not sure of what he was about to do. Since I started going school my father was always there at home when I came back. He started working very early in the morning and could be at home by three in the afternoon, waiting for me to come back from school. It was quite strange when I passed through the door not to see nor hear my father greeting me home. When I started going to first grade, my father started making a point to make me feel how proud he was of me becoming a school boy instead of the baby I used to be. So I found it strange to hear the light knock on my door. There was a policy at our house that you had to knock on the door and to wait for the person in the room to tell you to come in before you did so. But jeez, I was only six, so I always thought my father could enter the room whenever he wanted. But I respected that. Since I knew he was not going to interrupt whatever I was doing, I left my homework and went to the door. As soon as I opened it, there he was... my father with that look... as if he just saw a ghost. He was pale and his hands shaking.
When he came back home that afternoon, my father hadn't seen the dog coming his way and he hit it with his car. At first I thought he was mad at me because I forgot to chain the dog that morning. But he was not. He was feeling guilty. Yeah... guilty for killing my dog. Well, I always considered it as our dog, but since he was my age, my parents had always said it was mine. So he was feeling guilty for killing my dog, and couldn't find the words to tell me what happened.
But why would he feel like that today, after talking to the principal? I wouldn't know. And I didn't want to know. So I did what my senses were telling me. I lifted myself from the seat and walked out of the secretary's office. My mother tried to keep me from leaving the room by grabbing my shirt's sleeve, but I brushed it off and left. I heard Mike calling my name but I didn't turn back. I needed to leave this room. I needed to leave the school. All I really needed was to get the hell out of there and run as fast as I could, as far as I could, hide myself. I was tired of everything. I was mad at everything. But I didn't run. I just walked through the halls to the doors leading outside. Then I heard my name coming almost as a murmur from behind me. "Lucas..." My father's voice... I never heard him say it for over five years, and I thought that I wouldn't recognize the way he called it. So manly... so respectful... As the doors closed behind me, my eyes drifted to the man on the other side. What was missing this day was his confidence... just as the day he confided in me, his eyes full of apology, that he had killed my dog.
Twelve years old... pffft! Yeah, I had just turned twelve years old when I woke up that morning. Jeez, what a blast... No friends, no family, just a worthless piece of junk that needed to be entertained, I guess, since at dinner that night, my mother started trying to involve me and my father into chatting together. She started blabbing about the famous camping trips we used to do my father and me, the teapot I broke when I was seven and on and on, blah-blah... Whatever she would talk about, my father wouldn't talk to me, simply grunting now and then. Oh he answered my mother! Yeah! He talked about what he used to do with his son. His son... As if I were not even there. As if I were dead. I hated him. I think that's exactly at that moment that I decided that I hated him. What a happy birthday for me it was... Looking back all these years, I think my mother tried her best to make me have a happy birthday. There were gifts wrapped in bright and joyful colours waiting for me to unwrap them on the kitchen counter. She had cooked my favourite meal. And at the end of the meal, she even sang this lame song for birthdays she always did, placing a very well decorated cake full of lit candles. "Blow the candles and make a wish..." she told me, with a wide grin spreading from cheek to cheek. I couldn't help myself and a little smile crossed its way on my lips. But when I looked across the table and found my father looking anywhere but at me, the smile fell. I took a look at the cake, sighed, lifted myself from the table and left for my room without looking back.
The cake stayed in the refrigerator until it was almost walking by itself, never touched and the candles still on top of it. The gifts went to the living room for almost a full month before my mother unwrapped and placed them in my room for me to use. But I couldn't have them. Gifts were supposed to come from the heart. And accepting them had also to come from the heart. So I put them back in the living room. I never saw the fluffy knitted shirt my mother made for me again, nor the journal, nor the Mont Blanc pen I always wanted before. Someday, they just vanished as my spirit to eventually have my family back... my life back.
I don't remember where the day went by. All I know is that I walked a lot that day. I didn't want to go back home. I couldn't. I couldn't face my father if he was going to feel like being my father again. He couldn't. How dare he...? I hated him so much... I hated Mr. Howell. I hated this Mary secretary. I hated Matthew Harris. Matthew Harris... My living hell... I just wanted to know why he needed to burden me the way he was. Why couldn't he just leave me the hell alone? And I thought about Mike. Mike who betrayed me for five long years. Mike who stood up for me today.
At four o'clock, I walked to Federico's Books where I worked for almost three months. Well, I started working there the day I turned sixteen. At first, Federico didn't want me to ruin my birthday, but when I insisted on starting that day, he agreed. Federico's is one of these very little old library located downtown, right across one of these very big multifunctional library-coffee shop-et caetera. We could imagine that he would suffer from being right across the street from one of these giant enterprises, but you could be fooled. As Federico always said, "For the last forty years, I've been loyal to my people, and now my people is loyal to me." Actually, it was quite true. Almost all the students majoring in Literature Studies down at the University were buying their books at Federico's. It was quite funny to see in the front display great authors as Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs or even Poe instead of all the contemporary best sellers we were used to see in the other libraries. Oh! We sold best sellers also, but they were at the back, since "They don't need us to advertise them!" Federico told me one day.
So yes, I was selling books... minimum rate, of course, since it was my first job. But I guess minimum rate for him didn't mean minimum rate in the whole society. Ten dollars an hour. Clear from taxes for me since I was still minor and a student. And a fine staff price on every books I wanted to buy. Federico really was a fine old man. But still, he was an old man. So when I was working for him, he usually retreated himself in his apartment on top of the library, leaving me with the customers until closing time. Night shift started at four and ended at nine every Thursday and Friday. So I was doing these shifts, plus the whole week-ends. As night shifts were not usually very crowded, just a few people mostly looking, less buying or needing help, I could do my homework while working. Well, at first, I wouldn't have done it, but right before school started back, Federico told me I should. So I did.
I loved the atmosphere at Federico's. It was as close as being home for me as I could get. As I was a literature freak, I read Shakespeare, Camus, Kafka and a load of other authors. I was literally eating books since I started working there. Books were my home. So this library was my little tree house...
When I started working for Federico last summer, what I really wanted him to do was hiring me full time.
"Why a fine young guy like you would want to work full time in this old library for a whole summer? Isn't it anything more interesting to do than wasting your youth working?"
"I didn't mean for just the summer, Mr. Cantara."
"Cut the Mr. will you? My name is Federico. Mr. Cantara died two years ago at the respectable age of ninety-three." Federico scratched his almost bald head with the tip of a pen. "Well... I'm sure I could use some help, but you only are sixteen... You will need to go to school in the fall, won't you?"
"I won't go back next fall." I simply said.
"Oh." was all that came from his mouth. He didn't say anything else. Not "you're stupid" or "you won't do that" or "young and stupid" or anything that crossed his way of thinking. Federico thought he had no right to give any lecture to anybody but himself, or people who asked him for advices. Just like my father.
"Oh?" I had asked. "Just oh?"
"Well, I can't say much more... Well, actually, what about I make you work full time for the rest of the summer, and we talk about it again before school starts?" He asked, looking over his glasses, much more as a grand-father would do instead of the professional he was.
So that's the way I started to work at Federico's Library. I must say that it was a lot of work. The week-ends were really crowded. But I started loving working there. It was my security. My rock. Kids from my school preferred going to the big library and the mall adjoining it than loosing their time in an old fashioned library. Instead, I met a lot of people I had never talked to before. People who didn't know anything about my perverted lifestyle.
My favourite customers were these Literature Studies students. They were on vacations, as everybody else, but they seemed to be really engrossed in their reading, saying that life was a book. Some of them knew Federico for many years. Some told me how admirable he was. And helpful.
"I just hope he could help me too..." I mumbled when this chubby but very nice girl told me how he helped her when it came to make her own decision about her future.
"Well you can always ask him for advices." she simply said.
At the end of that day, when Federico came downstairs to help me with the closing, I just looked at him with what I could say was a puzzled look in my eyes.
"Is there something I could help you with, Lucas?"
Was I that readable? I didn't know. Maybe reading what was in my eyes was as easy to do as reading a book for him..."
"Well..." I started. Jeez, I was good, wasn't I? "It's about what we talked a couple of weeks ago."
"I'm afraid you will have to remind me, Lucas."
"About leaving school."
"Oh." he said again. I waited for any sign that he would continue, but he simply sat down and looked at me over his glasses, scratching his head with the tip of a pen. When I realized he was waiting for me to get ready and talk, or back up, that's when I started telling him about my life at home. Yeah, like that. So much for wanting to keep the library as my rock, I needed to talk to somebody.
I thought maybe he would tell me he wanted me to leave right away and never come back. I was afraid it would be the last issue for me and that I would find myself on the street without this place I was almost calling home. I was afraid he would cut me off and throw me out, but what I saw was nothing but the calm you find when someone just wants to hear you to make you feel better. That was at exactly that moment that I realized I found some allies in this world. I told him my story and he listened. He didn't smile nor shed a tear. He just stayed quiet. As he always was.
"I can't stay in this house anymore. I need to find myself a home now. And for being able to do that, I need a full time job."
"And for that, you need to leave school, if I understand."
"Since you asked for my advice, I'm going to tell you that leaving right now would bring you only harm. Are you sure you couldn't live a single more year at your parents' house? Is the situation that bad that you wouldn't feel safe staying there for another year?"
"I don't know."
"Does your father hit you?"
"Does he threaten you?"
"You say your father wouldn't talk to you. Would he talk to you more if you left?"
"I guess not."
"You're on terminal. Next year, you'll go to College. Next year, you can have a scholarship if you keep your grades up, as you tell me. Now, it is impossible. And the only way for you to get to College would be to finish high school."
"Yeah, I know."
"One year, is that too long?"
"I guess not..."
"I know how it feels, Lucas. I know how it feels to be alone in life. I did what you almost did. You know, I could have become a pretty good Literature teacher, if I had had the chance to go to College. But things were complicated. I wanted to live my life. I wanted to be free. I didn't want to wait. So I quit school at about your age. Maybe a bit younger, I don't exactly remember. But you know what? Life is not only now. I am sixty-seven years old, Lucas. I could have waited. I know my life doesn't sound that awful... it was not. I didn't have to pass through what you have to. But one year... It is just what you need, Lucas. Just one year. You know, I've seen you work. I can say that you are a very good worker. I also heard the customers when they told me how good you are. And as much as I would love to hire you full time in this library, I don't like the idea of you missing your life for something that is not life. Do you understand?"
"Yes, I understand."
"This library will always be opened for you. If something happened that made you decide against my advice, I would be glad to hire you full time. Until then, I'd like you to continue with your good work the way you do and try to enjoy life the best you could. You know, I'm not the Great Master of the Truth, I might be wrong sometimes... But I think that keeping things the way they are right now for one more year... one more year, that's all, would be best for you.
"Good day, Federico!" I said, trying to look as joyful as everyday.
Behind the counter, Federico looked at me over his glasses while scratching his head with the tip of a pen. As soon as he saw me, a troubled look appeared on his face and his eyes drifted to the corner of the boutique. My eyes followed his. That's when I saw him, sitting in one of the comfy English chairs, seeming engrossed in a novel of Henry James, one leg folded on his other knee, an elbow on his thigh, his hand close to his mouth, an index finger holding the side of his glasses. My father. Dressed in the same navy blue suit he was wearing in the morning. There was the sign of a smile on his face.
"Lucas..." Federico mumbled.
Hearing my name, my father jumped out of the chair and closed the book before putting it back on a display. When he turned back to face me, putting his glasses back in his jacket pocket, the smile was gone. When he saw the frown that was spread all over my face, his eyes went to the floor.
"Could we talk?" he whispered.
"No." I simply said.
"Not here!" I hissed. "It's my job!"
"I know..." He sighed. "We... we need to talk..."
"Who are "we"?" I asked through gritted teeth.
"We... I mean us, you and me..."
"I don't need to talk to you." I said flatly. "Now if you don't mind, I have to work."
"You choose your time to want to talk! Now I don't. Isn't it simple? Please, now can you leave? I have to work."
"You stop at nine?"
"Why would you care?"
"Is it okay if I come and pick you up after your shift?"
"No!" I snapped. "I can walk and that's what I'll do!"
"Okay..." my father said, defeated, putting his hands in his pockets, before walking to the door.. "I'm sorry, Lucas for not being a good father."
"You're not my father..." I whispered, fighting tears that were coming to my eyes.
My father pushed the door and left.
"Lucas..." Federico said lightly, putting a hand on my shoulder. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah..." I sighed. "Sorry about that, Federico."
"It's okay, Lucas. It's okay." he said, massaging my shoulder with his hand. "Are you sure you don't want the night off so you can go talk with him?"
"Yeah, I'm sure."
"I will pay your shift, you know." he said with a comforting smile. "If it's what you think about."
"No, I will be fine. I just need to stop thinking for a bit. So working will be a blessing. Unless you really want me to take the night off..."
"Not at all, Lucas. I was just suggesting."
"Thank you, Federico."
"Just one thing I need you to know... Nothing can erase the past. But remember that sometimes in life, we all have to make compromises, even if we are not the authors of the great disasters. Although we are not, we are the authors of our lives."
To be continued...
There we are again, the bottom of the page. I hope you liked the turn in the story. Here in Montreal, I write in a cross-current poetry monthly magazine once in a while, and the launch takes place in a very little library with so many titles of books it is overwhelming. Well, for me. The whole place smells books. Not antiseptic, not bleach, not anything else than books. And every launch is a big party where a lot of well known or less known poets and writers meet and share their way of seeing the world. I had to talk about a library because of that. Thank you Richard for your treasure boutique.
I want to thank you all, people who sent me comments about Hate. Almost all of your comments were very constructive. But I have to make a point of order right here. I'm a writer and you read my novel because I want to share it. Mostly comments are very nice, but some just stung to my ears. As an example of it, I received an e-mail from somebody who asked me if I wanted him to come and slap me to write faster. Sorry to say that, but it is my story, it is not my first novel, even if it is my first in English, I've been published, I will be again, and I don't need any threat to write it the way I want. If that doesn't please these people, I will reconsider putting the rest of my story on Nifty, and will be obliged to ask Nifty to retract everything I wrote, so I can continue writing it in secret without having to receive insults. I wouldn't feel good doing so, simply because I really like writing on Nifty, but if I don't have a choice, I'll do it.
Right now, I'm writing chapter 6 and hope to be able to deliver it soon. I said "hope" and "soon", not yesterday. Keep commenting by sending e-mails. I really like comments from intelligent people.