It’s odd, he thinks. A soda-skin paradox as he walks down the street, like a memory seen through smoke and mirror but in high-definition. He remembers this, though this body. This walking bag of blood doesn’t. To the core of him, there’s magic tingling with human memories that longed to be forgotten: hope, dreams, mercy, and despair.
He’s walking in sunlight, yet that isn’t what is so strange to him. It’s the where and how of where he is walking, through a town he hadn’t visited in decades. There’s a chill in the air, customary of this time of year, for this small lakeside town where nothing ever happened besides a chaplain, a notification officer, and a procession of bodies. He can hear the sound of the water hitting the old docks, the smell of the wharf, and the sound of everyone going about their day.
It isn’t a long walk from the pier to the small section of town where that house still sat. It had been old when he’d lived in it, growing older when he’d been nearly killed in the street. He knew, just from feeling, that his parents still lived there. His mother was probably making some sort of chowder, muttering in that soft way about his sister’s children. One of them was probably off to college, the younger still in high school or maybe she had another, a smaller one. He really didn’t know, but he knew from the soda-fizz on his skin that she would be muttering on about them while his father sat in the living room only half listening, maybe staring through the dead years behind him.
Perhaps, sometimes, probably during the commercial breaks, he replied. Maybe, sometimes he thought of James, but none of that mattered because when he stopped in front of the house and looked up at it. His mother wasn’t there. The car was gone, but inside he could hear a single heartbeat.
His father, one James Kent, would have been a senior if not for the middle name: Big Jim, the Tank. The retired old man who’d made his high school career as a jock, then college as an engineer. The father of one son and one daughter. James took a breath and took in the simplicity of the house. Number 1297 on Dawson Street, across the street the Monahan’s still lived. Probably with Danny’s Louisville slugger mounted on the wall with his medal for his oh-so heroic and tragically meaningless death in a country far away from anyone he loved.
Danny, he thought with a misty smile. He wondered if perhaps he should have gone with him into the military. They could have died together on the battlefield together, the way they had been all their lives only to be separated when they were shipped back to the States, but at least their memories would have gone on without the smudge they had in the hearts and minds of their families.
He smiled at the shutters that still hadn’t been painted, the way the porch creaked as he walked up the stairs and the near agitated sound of Big Jim’s voice after he knocked on the door and waited.
“We don’t want any!” He yelled, and James smiled at that and knocked again.
He walked quickly, angrily, seventy-two years old but still without a cane, a spry old man, spry enough to have bounced his grandchildren on his knees and carry them if they were young enough.
Big Jim, the Tank.
James isn’t sure what to expect when the man opens the door, but he’s sure that somewhere in his heart of hearts, beneath the carbonated fizzle of his skin in sunlight, that expression is there. He lifts his sunglasses to meet the man’s eyes.
“J-James, h-how are you–?”
“Hi, Dad,” he started with a tense smile. “Mind if I come in?”
His eyes narrowed, “For what?”
“To talk,” he said easily. “I can’t come in unless you invite me.”
“No son of mine would need to be invited into this house.”
James nodded, his eyes flickering to the room behind him where the living room had changed so drastically. They’d redone the wallpaper, redone the floors, and there was no sign that James had ever survived beyond what was in people’s memories… The broken body in the middle of the street, the missing, sensitive pacifist who wouldn’t so much as swing his fist even if someone else was punching his lights out.
The man who’d been the bigger man of the two though he was barely in his twenties and all of a hundred and sixty pounds soaking wet. He was still the bigger of the two though Big Jim was definitely still two hundred plus.
“That’s fair,” he said, “I’m not. I don’t have much to say, so it won’t be long.”
The man lifted his chin a bit as James pressed on, hands in his pockets.
“I’ve been through some things in the past few years. Something like an internment camp for vampires and a whole lot of other things. It’s given me some time to think. When I was pretty sure I was going to die there was one more thing that I wanted to do.”
Big Jim squared his shoulders; for a moment, James thought that perhaps his father thought he’d wanted to punch him. Maybe kill him in broad daylight. Interestingly, he didn’t step back into the house, out of reach. He didn’t even flinch. James, however, took a step back, getting further away from the man’s personal space, hoping that it would make the man relax a little.
“What was that?”
James looked down for just a moment and smiled before squaring his shoulders just like Big Jim, the way he always did before a bully punched him in the face before he’d asked Danny if he could kiss him before Danny told him he was going to war before he’d left home the first time before he’d walked across the street to meet what should have been his death.
We don’t run, James, his father had said as a child, rubbing his shoulders as he pressed half a bag of frozen vegetables to his swelling face. Even when the other guy is bigger than you. You take the ass-kicking, but you don’t ever run.
“I just wanted to tell you that I’m sorry that I was such a disappointment to you,” he said. “That I’m sorry that I never quite got it right. Even dying I couldn’t get it right, but no matter how you feel about me, about what I am now, who I was then, who I still am, I have always been proud to be your son.”
Big Jim’s eyes widened.
“And I forgive you.”
James let out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding before nodding at the sudden light feeling that filled him. It’s almost as good as the last Tuinal he’d had with Danny just before he went to war. It’s a kind of high that makes him remember the beach and its cool waves, so high on barbiturates and endorphins from the slow strokes of Danny behind him.
It feels almost like peace.
“I love you, Dad,” he said before stepping back. “Not too painful, right?”
Big Jim didn’t say anything merely watching his son pull down the shades and seemingly drift and stumble farther away from him and down the stairs.
“I’ll get out of here before Mom or the Monahans get back. Wouldn’t want a repeat of history. It would be far messier than last time, I think.”
It’s a wry and dark chuckle that escaped him as he turned and walked down the street, squaring his shoulders and forcing himself to put on foot in front of the other, and another until he was down the street, back at the wharf, beyond the town and heading back to the ghetto je ne sais quoi abode in Bon Temps, Louisiana of weed and pharmacy. It would take him a few days walking leisurely, feeding sparingly–a New Blood here or there as he headed back. It was the middle of the day when he arrived opening the door and locking it behind him. He looked around for just a second and found himself with an inexplicable urge to party. The sound of Woodstock and waves of consciousness drifting out to sea in his ears, in his blood. He’d only partially wished that Lafayette was there when the first cool, thick wet tear escaped because Lafayette would have been a hell of a better cure for this than funk.