Excerpt from current project

JUNE – 1966

“So, she’s dead.”

Bill leaned against the kitchen table, dropping the letter before the crisp white page contaminated the good left in him.

“I should have trusted my first instincts. Left it unopened.”

The letter settled into the bowl of raspberry jam, the juice bleeding into the weave of the paper, staining the words he didn’t want to read.

“But the sight of that bastard’s name, in his goddamn careful script … I’ll be damned if it didn’t call to me. Like a bloody webworm moth to an open flame.”

“Huh? What bastard?” Chad finally looked up from the American Pharmacy textbook. “Billy, what’s happened? You’ve gone white as a swan’s neck.”

“What bastard? Glen Gosford. Stepfather Diablo. That bastard.”

“You haven’t seen or heard from that man in six years. Why now?”

“Ma’s dead.”

Chad closed his book. “Billy, I’m so sorry. Are you okay?”

He wasn’t sure how he felt yet. The news was too fresh. And unexpected. Forty-four was too young … even for her. He pictured his stepfather’s board-straight back, bent over his desk, pressing the linen page into three distinct folds with military precision. Not like Ma, who never seemed to get the edges straight. The sickly sweet smell of Glen’s pipe tobacco made his stomach scrunch. He remembered that feeling, had to press his fingers against the bridge of his nose to hold the old demons at bay.

“Just like Ma to dive-bomb bad news. Even at the bitter end. And just like her to ruin another birthday. Even from the grave.” He looked up and called out. “Some birthday present, Ma. Never were much good with birthday presents.”

The kitchen fell quiet, other than Percy Sledge belting out “When a Man Loves a Woman” from the transistor radio sitting on the fridge.

Chad stood, started to take a step toward him, but stopped. “I’m sorry I never got to meet her.”

“Ha! Consider yourself lucky. She’d have frozen your ball sack and shattered it with a well-placed jab.”

“I hope ....”  Chad looked down. “You don’t need to feel guilty, Billy.”

“Guilty? Why would I feel guilty? Because I haven’t seen Ma in six years either and now she’s dead?”

“I didn’t mean … I just know …” Chad’s voice tapered off.

“God. Sorry I’m being such a jackass, but I had no desire or intent to ever see that bastard again.” He ran his hands through his hair. “Glen says he needs me, has something important to discuss. What the hell could that be? Dear old step-daddy never needed me for any family decision-making before. And I’m too damn old for a beating.”

He sank onto a chair and leaned his elbows on the table, nodding towards the torn envelope on the floor.

“Look at that. Jesus. Typical Glen, lining up his name precisely one eighth inch from the top left edge of the envelope, return address precisely one eighth inch below that. And is it just me or does that address pop off the paper like it was backlit?”

325 Derby Lane, Bowling Green, Kentucky. Still couldn’t bring himself to call it home even though he’d spent the first thirteen years of his life there. Until the summer of 1960. The summer of his 13th birthday. The summer that changed everything.