by John S
A story about a man returning to his family home and finding deceit and treachery.
Man, I hate buses, Jack thought to himself. He hadn't been on one in years. The last time was seven or eight years ago when he decided he needed to go to the family home for Christmas. That time he had just got out of prison for the first time and he really wanted to see his mother and sister. Of course, things didn't go very well, his drunk, low-life father sucked the joy out of everything in his family. This time would be different, his sister was gone and he promised himself the old man would not spoil his time with his mother. He’d just done another three years and only wanted a fresh start.
Jack boarded the Greyhound in front of the prison and took a seat towards the back. An old con he barely knew followed him on to the bus and took the seat next to Jack. They said their hellos and began their respective journeys in silence. Jack muttered to himself “I don’t ever want to come back.”
Sam, the old con, thought Jack was speaking to him and replied, “Man, we all come back sooner or later.”
Sam couldn’t wait for the first rest stop, the driver told him there was a Burger King there and Sam was chomping at the bit. Jack preferred to wait, he wanted the first meal he tasted after the prison slop he’d been eating to be his mother’s pot roast and mashed potatoes. Instead of dwelling on his hunger he tried to kill time by observing his fellow passengers. He could swear the same people that were on his last bus ride were still on this bus. There were a couple of drunks in the back taking turns puking in the bus's one rest room. Lots of old people, they bothered him the most, it's just kind of sad to see someone's lonely looking mother or father riding on a long-distance bus. Last but not least was the screaming baby, he loved kids and hoped to be a father someday, but the screaming was getting to him. At least the young mother was trying to keep the kid quiet, most mothers didn’t even bother anymore.
As he stared out the large window watching the cars whiz by and the few homes in the very rural area his thoughts turned to home. His mother was a great cook. Sitting there with his eyes shut to the world he could almost smell the wonderful aromas escaping the kitchen and invading the whole house. He could imagine his mother rushing to hug him until it almost hurt. She had driven the five hours to and from the prison to visit him at least once a month. His mother was all he had left. None of his so-called friends had even written him a letter. His father hated his guts, then again, his father hated almost everything.
As he grew older Jack’s mother had explained to him that his father hadn’t always been that way. Life hadn’t been kind to Eugene Sterling. He’d joined the Army right after they’d married. Eugene wanted to be John Wayne but the Army had treated him like Barney Fife. After the Army, he got a job with the railroad with dreams of running the rails like Casey Jones. Instead he’d worked in the same storeroom for thirty-seven years. He began to drink, both on and off the job, the booze turned him from a loveable loser to a vicious drunk. He took his hate of the world out on young Jack and his wife. Curiously he’d never laid a hand on his daughter, even during his most violent rages.
Jack snapped out of his stupor. He knew he didn’t have much to be proud of either. Since he’d left home he’d been to prison twice, the next trip would get him a lifetime ticket. The first trip had been warranted, he’d sold crack to an undercover cop. The second conviction had been bogus. He’d gotten into a bar fight with an off-duty cop. Jack didn’t know he was a cop at the time, but with his record it didn’t matter, he was sent back to prison. He swore to himself he would stay out of trouble for the rest of his life.
The driver called his stop and off he went. The house was only a few blocks from the bus stop so he picked up his duffel bag and started hoofing it. As a kid, he spent a lot of time on these streets. He walked past the deli where Bobby Moore had kicked his ass. Further along he passed Jacob’s garage where out behind the garage Rosie O’Hare had let him get his first feel. His old house came into view, old was right, it was never a great looking place but now it looked like it might be abandoned. Junk was all over the yard, the old green paint was peeling and faded. There was no lawn, just weed. Two mangy, snarling, barking, mutts greeted him at the front gate. Ah to be back home!
He heard her before he saw her, his mother was on the porch yelling at the dogs to shut up. She saw him on the sidewalk and made a mad dash for him, the dogs followed close behind. She grabbed him around the neck and almost crushed his ribs with a bear hug. The dogs were growling and good old mom turned to one and smacked him in the mouth, both mutts took off running.
"Great to see you Jack, come on, let’s go in, I have a big surprise for you." She was as happy as he had ever seen her. He thought something must be up, his mother actually looked happy. In all the years in this house he had never seen her in this kind of mood. They entered the house and he was hit with the sweet smell of home cooking. The smells were better than he remembered. He looked around and didn’t see the old man. He wasn’t in his usual spot in front of the TV.
"Where is he, I might as well get this over with?"
"Well he's upstairs, but before we go up, there is something we need to discuss. Sit" she patted the cushion next to her on the couch. He sat down next to her, very curious about her big surprise.
"I know you hate him and the only reason you came was to see me and maybe to hurt or kill him," she was staring her son in the eyes.
He started to object.
"No let me continue, you have every right to hate him, he made your life a living hell but that's all changed. You know he didn't just beat you, he beat me too. He beat me sometimes until I bled, he was out of control for years. I told you this before, believe it or not I loved that man when we married. Over time the world beat him down. He started to drink and he turned vicious when he drank. The more he drank the worse the beatings got, I was kidding myself, I always thought he would quit drinking and he would magically return to the wonderful man I married. It never happened, but something almost as good did. He's a changed man now" she stopped to take a breadth.
"What did he find religion or something? It's too late for that stuff, every lying piece of crap I met in prison found God at one time or another." He didn’t want to hear anymore.
“No, it wasn't religion or anything like that, it was a stroke, got him as weak as a kitten, can't even feed himself, he's in real bad shape." Jack didn't know how to react, should he be sad or happy? Neither, he guessed, just kind of confused.
"You know son we all took a lot of abuse from that monster for a long time, I guess this is where I'm supposed to tell you I forgive him, guess what... I don't, I hate him now more than ever. He's just pathetic, can't do nothing but mumble. He seats in his wheelchair all day and cries a lot, mostly after I beat the hell out of him." she had a great big grin on her face.
"C’mon ma you actually beat him?"
"All the time, every chance I get, you know what they say about payback being a bitch; well let me tell you they were right. Come on up, I’ll show you.”
Jack followed his mother up the rickety old staircase and into her bedroom. There sat the father who had ruined his life. The smell turned his stomach. “Don’t you change him ma?”
“Every once in a while, but he wets himself right after I do, so I let him sit in it for a while.”
The old man looked shrunken, and scared to death. He looked at Jack with pleading eyes and mumbled something that Jack couldn’t understand.
“What did he say ma?” Jack asked.
“I think he wants you to rescue him, imagine that, he wants the only person who hates him worse than me to save him.” She said as she punched her husband in the face. The force of the blow almost knocked the old man out of his wheelchair.”
“Ma you can’t do this, if someone finds out they’ll throw you in jail.”
“Who’s going to find out? The same people who didn’t do a damn thing when he tortured us. Let’s go downstairs and have a nice dinner.”
Jack couldn’t even think about eating. He’d dreamt of the pot roast and potatoes in front of him for years, but he couldn’t touch it.
“What’s the matter Jack, come on eat, don’t let that piece of crap ruin our dinner.” As she said it they both heard a loud thump from above. ‘Don’t worry Jack, he just turned over in his wheel chair, he’s done it before.” she rose and headed upstairs. Jack sat there glued to his seat. What the hell had happened to his dear sweet mother? He heard some more banging from the room above, and decided to try to help. The sight he saw sickened him. His mother had his father on the hardwood floor bashing his bleeding head on the floor time after time. Jack rushed to stop her but he knew it was too late.
“Damn ma, he’s dead.” Jack got up covered in his father’s blood.
“Serves him right, the bastard.” She spoke with tears in her eyes. “Jack, help me.”
“It’s too late for that. Will anyone miss him, a doctor or somebody?”
“No, his doctor washed his hands of him years ago. Please Jack, I didn’t mean it, you know that.”
“I’m not so sure ma. Why don’t you wait for me to leave and call the cops.”
“Why so they can throw me in jail like they did you?”
The doorbell rings and Jack starts to panic. His mother remains cool, calm and collected. “I’ll see who it is?”
Jack was stuck there in the bedroom with his father’s stinking blood and urine soaked body. He went into the bathroom and got two towels. One he uses to cover his father’s face, the other he places over his own nose and mouth. His mother returns and tells him there were Jehovah Witnesses at the door wanting her to convert. ‘If they only knew what was up here they probably wouldn’t want me.” Looking at Jack she asks, “What’s the matter, what’s going on in that thick skull of yours?
Jack hesitates then stares her in the eyes and asks if she had set him up. They both know who the police will blame for his father’s murder.
With tears in her eyes she says, “Of course not, I didn’t mean to kill him. I just got carried away. You being here reminded me of the time he almost beat you to death. I lost you that day.”
“Yea I got out of here before I killed the bastard.”
“So, help me Jack? We can bury him in the backyard no-one will ever know but us.”
They wait till dark and dig a large hole in the backyard. Jack does most of the work. He wraps his father’s body in a bedspread and carries him to the hole. As he’s throwing the last few shovelfuls of dirt on his father his mother tells him she’s going to go start cleaning up the mess in the bedroom. Once in the bedroom Mrs. Sterling dials 911 and reports that her son Jack Sterling has just killed his father and is burying him in the backyard. She also tells the operator that her son is also threatening to kill her.
Three patrol cars respond to the call and find Jack in the backyard. It doesn’t take long for them to see where he’s been digging and find Mr. Sterling’s body. The detectives arrive and ask Mrs. Sterling what had happened. She tells them that her husband was a wonderful man and that their son, Jack was a no-good drug addict who blamed his parents for all his problems. He’d come to the house to kill both of them.
Jack was taken away in cuffs never to see freedom again. His mother took her cold dinner,, heated it in the micro-wave and put the first mouthful of pot roast in her smiling face just as Jack was paraded past her front door.