Chapter 1 in my novella about a boy who grows up and dies in jail, accused of Patricide.
| If you must know the story of your Uncle Francis’s life and death, I’ll tell you briefly what I know. But, know that I cannot guarantee the whole and objective truth. No man knows the whole truth, only his or her interpretations of the facts as we know them. From the coroner’s report, we know that my mother was murdered. Yes, Francis was imprisoned. Yes, he died in his cell. Facts are the basis of your curiosity and I would be at fault to blame you for asking about them. But, know that I cannot fathom how he spent his final days or of the mental faculties he possessed when he took his own life. By that time, visitation by anyone was strictly prohibited, save the regular visits by the psychiatrist and his accompanying guard. I’ll tell you the psychiatrist’s opinion of his mental state at the time of his suicide, but only once you have listened to the story of how he murdered my mother.|
Our house was the only inhabited one on our road. Half shaded by large oak trees with wild limbs that laid themselves onto the cracked and neglected angled roof, it appeared from any passersby that nobody could live in a home so overtaken by nature. Indeed, the limbs had begun pushing up shingles, and vines from the forgotten flower gardens met the second story windows. Francis’ room had one window that faced the road, or more factually, faced one of the largest oak trees in our front lawn. If proper maintenance of the estate had been maintained after father’s death, Francis’ view would have included the lush overgrown hillside and a small river and further, on the edge of the horizon, he would just see the edges of civilization.
Our father was an accountant at one of the largest firms in the city. He grew up in the close quarters of urban New York, where his love of man-made constructions, society and human advancement blossomed. He was raised atheistic, in that his parents abstained from attending their church services, and instead frequented local restaurants and parks for social gatherings. He grew up a strong man whose moral code revolved around niceties and manners, and an inherited belief in the power of man over his surroundings.
Mother was altogether different from father. She grew up on a rural ranch, where she received her life’s education from her mother. Her only time outside of her home was twice a week, a few miles away at the small protestant church that her father ministered. She grew up with a love of home life and of God. Mother’s father, while confident in the one and only God, bred an ultimate suspicion towards his fellow man. He kept farmhands for a only a few summers before he deemed them to “know too much,” about his ways of working, and would send them off to another ranch with a scathing review of their abilities, tarnishing their reputations enough to keep them from becoming his own competition. Being a minister, other ranchers would accept his word as fact, just as they did when he stood before them every Wednesday and Sunday. Mother loved her father as any daughter should, although extracted only his attitudes towards God and God’s people, an irreparable class division.
Father and Mother’s paths crossed when she was appointed a clerk at the ranch, and would have to travel with a farmhand to the local accounting office to validate her books. Father was fresh out of his college education and had snatched up the first job offer, sending him several miles outside the city limits to a successful accounting firm which handled mostly small business and agricultural accounts. Mother was Father’s first account, after Mother’s father had demanded his regularly scheduled shift in account managers, which happened every third summer.
The two were married after only a short time together, brought on by Mother’s pressure to wed into a profitable man’s home – something her father valued even more than a man’s beliefs. Beliefs were tangential and mostly irrelevant for him. Indeed, he once employed the community’s outspoken atheist at the church as a custodian. The agreement lasted until his congregation found out by the atheist’s drunken outburst outside a local feed store.
Marriage blinded the two young lovers for several years, until Father’s life as an urban expatriate fell from his favor. He longed for the bustle of the city, with all its opportunities for growth and its variety of life. His one bedroom home had become dull and overwrought with sameness. One night he approached Mother, pleading with her to agree to a beautiful apartment with a spectacular view of her rural homeland. She refused absolutely. While never having been in the city for longer than a few hours, the sounds and the people and the tall buildings offended every ounce of what she knew to be agreeable. No, she would not be going with him.
Months of difficult relations and long droughts between conversations forced a final compromise between them. Father would build a grand estate large enough to host his friends from the city high upon a hill adjacent her father’s own ranch, where he could easily view the city. From there, he would also be able to commute to his new job at a firm downtown. He would also purchase a small flat where he could stay during tax seasons and any time he needed to concentrate on his work. The new career would allow them to hire local hands, mostly the older ranchers her father dismissed, to maintain the property and the landscaping. She would never be forced to come to the city unless she wished, and she could continue her lonely lifestyle.
Soon, Francis was born and myself three years later. She raised us up in our lonely estate up on the hill. Father by this time was rarely around, having instead taken up permanent residency in his flat, and only made the trip out to the country on the weekends to ensure the care he paid for was issued properly. He stayed one night a week, usually a Sunday night. Francis and I would come home from our bi-weekly church services to find him at our home with gifts and new clothes for us. Francis took instantly to his father’s lifestyle and admired him for his career ambitions and his success. Nearly every visit he would plead for Father to take him to the city, just for a day, to experience the exceptional and unreserved power of Man. By this time our father was used to living more as a bachelor than a married man which children, and would only occasionally take us to the flat. We were stunned each time we walked into the living room, assaulted from every angle by large modern artworks, sculptures and even the sprawling miniature model cities my father would hand assemble during his occasional downtime. His close friends, whom in later years would receive worldwide acclaim, created many of the paintings and sculptures. We were never allowed to touch them, but he encouraged us to create and build and experience the joy and the everlasting satisfaction of producing an original creation. During our stays we would paint for hours on end, and each time we returned to his home, we could see our paintings framed and displayed proudly amongst his collection. I tended to paint the bible scenes I had come to memorize from Mother’s teachings. Francis’ work focused more on the linear geometry of the city, but with vivid colors that burst from the painting, competing as an equal to the works of Father’s friends.
Francis’ love of his Father was only matched by the idea of Father. It was true that Francis and I only knew the part of Father away from his friends and his work – two of the most important aspects in his own life. But the idea of him would envelope our imaginations. When we were away from him, we would imagine him holding a wine glass inside a ritzy hotel ballroom in a black tie and shining suit swapping stories with artists, businessmen and politicians, sharing his ideas of the world with others who were just as curious and friendly as himself. And so, in time, just before Fathers untimely death, Francis took to attempting to reproduce Father’s lifestyle inside his own room. While Mother would never allow anything other than her own decorations inside the public areas of the home, Francis covered his own walls with reproductions of the paintings and artwork he saw in the flat. This project was most probably what allowed him to gain the real skill and craftsmanship that would consume all his passions and interests later in life.
Father died when Francis was 11, and I only 8 years old. Francis was devastated, and he distracted himself from his new reality without Father by throwing himself into his own hobbies, covering every inch of wall space with color, sharp lines and geometric constructions I couldn’t explain if I tried. Hardly a speck of the room Mother had created for Francis survived his total renovation. Even the furniture inside his room he disassembled and shaved and sanded until it felt completely new and urban. Only the window remained untouched. Through it he could see the front lawn, speckled with immaculate trees and gardens and the distant city’s edge. In the same moment he savored the view of what represented his father, it reminded him just how far removed he was from Father’s world.
Mother only became more insular to the outside world. If she went outside at all, it was to a small vegetable garden that supplied our daily meals. Father’s wealth lasted for only a short time before it became clear that our isolated, yet pristine lifestyle would need to end. Mother first laid off the handy men just as her father would, and then the maid. She sold the flat to the first bidder, totally apathetic to its current condition and to the extraordinary value of its contents. By then her father had died, and she had inherited his ranch. She let it run down until the grasses were overgrown and filled with weeds, though she wouldn’t sell it. The ranch property acted as a barricade to society for her. If she sold the property, she would then have to deal with neighbors., an inconvenience she preferred to the supplemental income. The death of her father also meant she needn’t worry herself with going to church. Instead, she led the two of us in our own bible studies.
By the time Francis had entered his 14th year, a rift had clearly opened between the views of Mother and himself. He no longer attended our weekly bible studies. The first time he didn’t attend, mother had run to his room screaming and swearing. She rattled and twisted his bedroom doorknob, but with no success. She beat on his door for half an hour, swearing to him that she wouldn’t dare let him become like everyone else in the world, whom she classified as “venomous sinners,” and “ungrateful leeches”. After exhausting herself, she walked slowly down the staircase towards the great room and sat down next to me. “Your brother has lost his way, and I will not waste my valuable time mourning the loss of his soul.”
I would rarely ever see Francis in the same room as my mother afterwards. Francis got into the habit of preparing his own meals, since Mother declared she would only cook for “god-fearing members of this house.” And while at the time I had my own doubts, influenced heavily by Francis, I would never tell Mother my beliefs and decided that hot meals were more important.
And while Francis rebelled from Mother, he was undoubtedly cloth clipped from the same bolt. Just as Mother was suspicious of society outside of her family, Francis was suspicious of Mother. He would talk to me when Mother was sleeping about his dreams of society and how the isolation of our home was slowly killing him. Society and his inclusion in it was the pinnicle of his life’s success. And at his first chance to leave the home for the city, he would take it. Just as Mother would refuse to go near sin, which manifested itself wholly in the form of cities, Francis could not handle a life outside of its walls.
By the time the vines of the flower gardens began to creep over Francis’ windowpanes, he decided to leave. He did not plan it. He was much too impulsive to do such a thing as that. Instead, one summer afternoon while Mother was outside, during her long visits in the shaded vegetable garden, I saw him creep down the steps with a small sack of clothes and food. “I won’t suffer here any longer,” he whispered to me. “Today is the last day I will see this home. Please don’t let it be the last time I see you, brother.”
And with that, I never saw my brother at home again. But, as we know, it was not the last time he was there.