From his bedroom, Vincent heard the front door open. His heart surged, and he stood, knocking over empty bottles of alcohol as he stumbled out towards the living room. A huge grin came over his face, and he didn’t care if he looked like a kid or an idiot or whatever, because Mom was –
His neck nearly snapped from how hard he stopped, toes never crossing the threshold into the kitchen. A man stood there, sifting through a huge pack on the table. He looked up. Crow’s feet stretched from the corners of his eyes and mouth, but otherwise his age didn’t show. Vincent thought his dad looked younger every time he returned home.
“The house is a mess,” said Dad, gesturing with one hand to the kitchen while the other continued to dig countless books out of the bag. Mud stained the off-white floors, and the dishes piled high in the sink, surrounded by several large, empty bottles and mysterious remnants of what might have once been food. “Did your Mom have to go off for work, too? She’s not going to be happy if she finds out you threw a party.”
Vincent stared at him, saying nothing. He couldn’t get anything past his throat. His stomach curled at the mention of her, and his eyes grew hot, but he didn’t say anything. Dad looked back at him and narrowed his eyes, then set the last book down on the table before stepping towards his son.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, then smiled slightly. “Look, I know she’s scary, but I won’t tell-”
The smile dropped immediately. Dad stared at him, body tense, but he never asked for Vincent to repeat it. He never asked if it was true. He only asked –
“She got-” Vincent stopped, throat closing up around the words. His body couldn’t bear to let them out, to say it truthfully to another human being. This was his father, and he couldn’t brush it off with “She was old, anyway”s or “Early inheritance to me, then, eh?”s. Being a shit kid wasn’t going to help now, not with enough liquor in his system that he might get sick enough to follow his mother into the grave.
He tried to say it again, but instead he choked on tears. He ducked his head. Body curling forward in pain, his hands covered his face. He didn’t notice when his father came and embraced him, started to cry himself. For the first time in a very, very long time, Vincent didn’t try to push him away, either. He let his dad be his dad for once, and they stood beneath the doorway and cried.
Several minutes later, Vincent collected himself, taking a step away from his father so he could dry his eyes with his palms. His father did the same. Without a word, they went to the living room. Dad brushed crumbs from the couch before he sat.
“Are all these bottles yours?” he asked.
Vincent shook his head.
“That’s good.” He cleared his throat and stared at his hands. “How long has she…?”
“About a week,” Vince managed after clearing his throat. “I thought having a party might make it easier.”
His father didn’t need to ask if it had worked.
“I saw some antanamae on this last expedition,” Dad said after awhile. “I managed to get some pictures, too.”
Admittedly, it piqued Vincent’s interest. The idea of seeing an actual photograph delighted him, but then he thought about them – green, mutated, cannibals. Some said the antanamae were aliens, others said they were mutated humans. There were a lot of people who claimed they were he dead risen. So he shook his head and chuckled, rubbing at his eyes.
“Shit, Dad. You’re worse at this grieving thing than I am.”
“I wasn’t the one who threw a rager, was I?”
“God, you’re so old. ‘Rager’? Seriously?”
They both laughed, the kind of sad, aching laugh you make when you can’t find anything funny anymore, that died off slowly because you tried to cling to it for as long as possible, because if the laughter stopped, the real world would rush right back in.
Dad said, “I’m sorry I wasn’t here.”
Vincent shrugged. “It’s not like I expected more from you.”
“I’m going to try to be a better father. I haven’t been great in the past, and I know it. I’m gone all the time and-”
“Father, stop.” Vince looked up, eyes hardened slightly. The usual hard lines of his mouth and brow, reserved specifically for his father, returned. “You’re sick with grief, and you’re saying stuff that you don’t mean. Don’t say something if you’re not going to keep your word. I’m done with that shit.”
Dad opened his mouth, ready to argue, then shut it. He hung his head.
“I miss your mom,” he murmured.
Vincent stood, scoffing. Every moment of his father’s absence, every argument, every glare, every broken promise flashed through his head. He walked past his father to his bedroom. Let him pick up all this trash. He lay down on his bed and dug around the sides, searching for just a little more liquor among the dirty bottles, food wrappers, and used condoms. When he came up empty-handed, he lay back down and threw his arm over his eyes, wondering if he could fall asleep again.
I miss her, too.