Short story: Acknowledgement
Worthing – 32 miles
We are driving to see your parents. It will be the first time they’ve seen you in 20 years.
They don’t know we’re coming. It’s a surprise.
The stereo is on, loud. But we like the same songs. Your head is against the window. Last night you’d been drinking – a lot. But I know I’ll recognise the house. I’ve seen you pour over it from awkward, jerky angles on Google Maps. I’ll recognise the gate.
I wonder what they look like. I wonder about their cupboards, mantelpieces. Do they have pictures of you on the mantelpiece? Most likely, you’re stashed in a drawer. I want to see your baby photos. I’ll take them if they don’t want them.
You’d taken me once to see the house where you grew up, not the downsized version they’d retired to. It reminded me of those houses in the LA hills, tucked away on a private winding lane with other luxurious houses. One wall was made entirely of glass. I wondered if they had blinds or curtains – how they kept the light out. But the pathway was just too long to get a proper look. It was like looking at something just across the way; just out of reach.
You took me through the woods, to the patch of grass where you used to go to escape, to smoke cigarettes. This was how you’d grown up; rich but unhappy, rich but unwanted.
I had been poor but unhappy.
‘We’ll be there in less in 15 minutes,’ I say, but your eyes are still closed. I wondered if they still had the letters you’d written them, three over the past five years. Photos of the boy they hadn’t seen in 20 years. Had they even opened them, or just chucked them away? Once you’d sent twice. An extra one I’d written, but never told you. They’d ignored the lot.
I’d been trying to drive you down here for a couple of years now, but you’d always resisted. I reasoned that if you were in front of them, what could they do?
‘Oh no, I wouldn’t want to embarrass them. My mum would be mortified about unexpected visitors.’
‘But you’re her son.’
‘Even more so.’
I am checking street signs now, checking road names. We are nearly there. I’ve finally got my own way, haven’t I? We are going to make them acknowledge us. I reach out for your hand, some sort of moral support.
‘Oh, God, here it is.’
And then we’re on it, we’re on their street, their safe haven, their home to die in, alone. I know exactly where on the street their house is. I knew their gates. Silly gates really, waist-high. A child could hop over them.
The gates are closed, of course. But that doesn’t stop me. I drive right into them, right through them, and they buckle underneath my wheels, moaning. You jolt forward, but your seatbelt is on. I’m probably not going to drive out of here. But it doesn’t matter. I’ve made an entrance.
Then there they are. No hiding behind a curtain, hiding behind a wall, hiding behind a letterbox. They are running out the front door, quite spritely for an old pair, really.
‘It’s time,’ I say.
She catches my eye, and recognises me – you’d sent her a photo of us – but pretends not to.
I lean across you, open your door from the inside, unclip your seat belt. She is looking, looking in the car. Your mother. He – your dad – hasn’t quite realised what’s happening yet.
Last night had been another night just trying to drink away the pain. Except this time you’d succeeded. Well, I wasn’t going to write to them to tell them. Wasn’t going to phone. Wasn’t even going to chuck a brick through the window bearing the news.
No – I was going to make them acknowledge you.
‘I’m sorry,’ I say, and push your body out onto their driveway.
And I wonder – and they wonder – what will the neighbours say?