The Man Within, Chapter 1 – a novella excerpt

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Chapter 2 | Chapter 3

We are coming from the funeral. Mother sits beside me in the car. She tries her best not to cry, but I can still hear her. Then again, it is so quiet in the car, I could hear a spider spin its web. All her efforts to remain strong in front of me were long quashed. Nothing seals the finality of death more than a coffin descending into the ground.

In that moment, it dawned on me that I would never see him again, that it was truly the end. I was forced to let go with each descent of the coffin. It was like watching him die for real. I wished I wasn’t there to see it. All I could do was cry helplessly.

I maintain my gaze through the car window. I avoid looking at mother, otherwise I will also cry.

A stroke, the doctor said. It was sudden, he told us, unexpected. My father was only forty-four, in the prime of his life and his work. He was running his company with his research partner. Noel Rovert spoke about how he had never met a better neuroscientist and friend and how he could have never wished for a better business partner. I only knew him as the coolest and smartest dad in the world. And now he is gone. I take a deep breath to stifle tears. I’d rather not distress mother any further.

Father’s death unravelled her. If I was hit by a sledgehammer, she was hit by a freightliner. For three days she has hardly spoken about the issue. When she was in her bedroom, pretending to make phone calls, when she was actually crying, I was answering all the calls to do with the funeral and informing the family friends about the arrangements. I had to rummage through Dad’s office for most of his contacts.

With every call it hit me again and again – he is dead. I could not believe that I had to call people to inform them of my father’s funeral.

Only a few weeks before, my most pressing concern was what he was going to get me for my fifteenth birthday. I had been badgering him to get me a neural controlled virtual computer. Now the thought of it fills me with emptiness. It all feels hollow – who I was and what I valued. I would give up everything just to have him back.

I thought I would join him one day at Cerecon Solutions. I was the unofficial Prototype Tester at one point. How he loved showing me his new inventions and giving them to me to test. As much as he loved it, I loved it more. Remembering those visits to his office makes me smile but it also makes me sad. I must fight back the tears again. He is gone. The only thing I can do is remember him and move on.

We approach the driveway to our house. I never noticed how beautiful our house was. It is a juxtaposition of the rustic and the sophisticated. Its jagged stone walls leap out against the adjacent glass and steel.

I guess beauty really stands out when surrounded by ugliness.

Someone is waiting for us on our driveway. I look at mother. Her expression immediately darkens. It is uncle Godfrey, my father’s older brother.

Whereas my father was able to educate himself on awarded scholarships and accomplish so much in his brief life, his brother had not been dealt such a good deal. He instead works as a government clerk.

Whenever he came to the house when I was younger, I would notice that mother became uncomfortable. It is only when I overheard her telling father that Godfrey was a freeloader that I understood why.

We get out of the car. Mother quickly wipes off her tears. Uncle Godfrey stands awkwardly in the driveway. He doesn’t budge, but instead waits for us.

“Hello Martha, William.”

His gaze shifts from mother to me like he gives a formal address, like we are strangers to him. Maybe he does feel that way. I was never close to him, and mother was always reserved around him. Even at the funeral, we hardly spoke, past him offering his condolences.

“I came early so that I could help out with anything you need. I can also stay afterward if there are any messes that need to be dealt with.”

“That won’t be necessary,” mother tells him.

“I have decided to cancel the gathering.”

Uncle Godfrey looks something between confusion and hemorrhoidal.

“I’m sorry but I need to be alone,” she adds before he can answer.

I’m not surprised. She hasn’t been her usual self lately. But who can be at a time like this?

She opens the door into the house and gets in without as much as a glance back. When she disappears into the house, Uncle Godfrey shifts his attention from her to me. He looks at me like a recently received gift he doesn’t know what to do with.

“William, you have to talk to your mother.”

He is formal again.

“She can’t just cancel. You both need to be around friends and family in this sad time. You need to convince her that this is the best thing for the both of you.”

“I’ll try,” I lie.

I too am not in the mood to be reminded about my grief by a room full of people I hardly know. Besides, I know I can’t convince her when she is like this.

“But I think it would be better if you leave for the moment.”

He frowns at me like I’m kicking him out of his own house.

“She won’t listen to me if she feels like I’m being pushed to change her mind.”

I would also rather be alone than be preoccupied with appeasing Uncle Godfrey.

“I will call you about any new schedules.”

Better to break bad news over the phone.

“Ok. I’ll give you some time,” he says gently.

I can’t tell if he believed me or not. He touches me on the shoulder.

“Things may seem impossibly difficult now but they will get better. Hard as it may be, you must soldier on.”

He smiles at me and then turns to leave. I get into the house. Mother has shut herself in her bedroom. I won’t even bother trying to convince her not to cancel. If she feels the way I do, she would rather rest; she would rather pretend that it’s a bad dream which will evaporate the moment she wakes up.

I get into the living room and pick up the guest list. There are thirty invited guests. It will take me time to call all of them. At least when I call Uncle Godfrey last, enough time would have passed for me to have tried to convince mother not to cancel.

I call and cancel with everyone except the caterer. With mother incapacitated, I have a feeling we will be needing food for days to come.

 

Go to Chapter 2

 

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