ON THE ROAD
My father was never at home as often as he should've been, and when he was at home, blink and you would miss him. But the snapshots I had of him during his long absences were good ones and I didn't know about the problems he was having with my mum.
I was ten years old and for most of the summer of 1987, I was housebound. I had been staying over at my friend's house. His name was Tommy Boot and we had been tree climbing. I had the great idea of jumping from one branch to the other. I missed the branch and broke both legs. The plaster casts were heavy and uncomfortable. Most of my school friends had been around to sign it, but it was the worst time of my life, sitting in a chair, looking out of the bedroom window and seeing all of my friends oblivious to my pain, playing away as children do.
My mum worked as a librarian so I was never short of books to read. One day, the day before my dad was due to come home for a while, she dumped a pile of books on the bed and said that the library was throwing them out and I could have a look through them and see if any of them were of interest.
I wheeled the chair to my bed and looked through them. Most of the books had their covers torn off, but the book that piqued my interest the most, looked pristine.
It was called On the Road by Jack Kerouac.
I picked it up, opened it and flicked through the pages.
'...But we forgot that and headed straight for North Clark Street, after a spin in the Loop, to see the hootchy-kootchy joints and hear the bop. And what a night it was. '
I decided to read it that very day.
That night with the lights off and reading the book under the duvet with my heavy metal torch, I was seduced and then blown away by the book. Until that moment the only books I had read with a bit of bite to them were the Sherlock Holmes series. On the Road however, was different. I had images of lonely highways and friends drinking and smoky bars and bare boarding rooms. I wanted to get up from my bed, tear off my plaster casts and become one of the Beat Generation as the back of the book loudly said. 'This is THE Book That Defined The Beat Generation!', it screamed in bright, yellow letters.
The batteries in my torch started to dim and I reluctantly stopped reading for the night.
My dreams that night were undefinable, unrepeatable.
I was on page 85 when my dad came in to see me. His face was covered with a rough beard, mostly grey. He smiled, but his eyes were sad. I folded the corner of one of the pages down and placed it onto my writing desk.
"What's the book?" he asked.
"A Biggles book. One where he fights the Red Baron." I told him the lie purely out of self preservation. I didn't want him thinking the book was inappropriate. I didn't want him taking the book off of me.
My dad scratched his beard a few times and sat down on the bed. The mattress and bedsprings groaned and shuddered under his weight. He took out his packet of Red Apples and popped one into his mouth. He pulled his matchsticks out of his pocket and popped one of the matches with his thumb. The sulphur caught and burned, and our eyes stared at the flame, briefly. Then he held the match up to his smoke and lit it.
"I'm going to be leaving home and moving out to Jericho. It's only three hours away and I will see you as often as I can."
"Will you be coming back to stay, Dad?"
The rest of what he said vanished as a roaring noise filled my head. It got louder and louder. Then it stopped and everything was silent. My father was still speaking but I couldn't hear him. He reached forward and ruffled my hair.
My father left an hour later. My mum popped her head in, her eyes red and sore, mascara streaked down her face. She asked me if I wanted a sandwich. I said I wasn't hungry. My mum nodded and closed the door gently. I heard her sobbing as she went down the stairs.
Outside my friends were playing 'What's the time, Mr Wolf'. I could hear Sally, being the wolf, shouting, "Three O'clock!"
I looked around the room and it seemed different, childish. I looked across at my book. I picked it up and continued reading from where I left off.
My legs healed, and so, too, in time, the scars of my parents divorce.
It was hard to deal with the stigma of being a child whose parents committed the holy sin of DIVORCE - I had to suffer taunts and beatings from bullies who were over zealous with their fists.
As I hit my teenage years, I hit the ground running. I read more Kerouac books, The Big Sur, Visions of Cody, but they never had the same deep impact that On the Road had on me. I was taking three books from the library per week, my mum didn't even notice what books I was getting. She was suffering from manic depression, she had never gotten over my dad leaving, and when he came over to visit (less and less as I got older) she would spend hours doing herself up in the hope she would win him back. After he left she would cry herself to sleep. She also threw several plates at the wall, depleting our crockery set.
I started to read Steinbeck and Hemingway, Ginsberg and Bukowski. Charles Bukowski was another writer that affected me deeply, his poetry seemed to dig into my very centre.
'as the knife stopped spinning
the answer came:
you're going to have to
I did well at school, and aced my English exams. I started to write short stories about travelling the lonely roads, hitchiking across the great plains of an untamed America. These stories I kept to myself. When I was fifteen, I got a job as a fish packer in the local factory on the weekends, and the money was good. I had plans. As soon as I was seventeen , I was going to leave and live out my fantasies. My copy of On the Road was my bible, dog eared and torn, but every word inside those covers a magical treasure trove.
My mum was at the stove cooking mince and potatoes for my tea. She said something to me with her back turned. I didn't hear what she said properly and asked her to repeat it.
She turned around and whispered, "I'm dying of cancer. I don't have long to go."
Her skin was stretched tightly across her skull and she looked white, waxy. Instantly she looked like she had lost three stone on weight, skeletal, ghostly.
I got up off of my chair but my legs wouldn't support me and I collapsed onto the floor, weeping. My mum came across and got down with me and held me. I cried into her bosom, my tears soaking her thin, summer top.
My mother died of breast cancer three months later.
When my dad left my mum, he signed the house over to her. He didn't own one brick of it. When we went to the solicitors to hear the reading of the will, he assumed that he would regain the house. He got the shock of his life when he found out that my mum had amended her will, around about the time she found out that she wasn't going to walk away from the big C. I was to have the house, but I wasn't allowed to sell it until I was 18.
As soon as we left the office he turned on me straight away.
"I bought that house with your mother. Most of the money that went into that house was mine. Your mother only put in a third of it. How DARE she give the house to you? Silly, little bitch. Stupid, fucking WHORE!"
I saw red and I smacked him in the face as hard as I could. I heard his jaw crack under my punch. He fell to the ground, it was all happening in slow motion.
"Don't you DARE talk about my mum like that! You signed the house over to her, you didn't want to have anything to do with us! We were out of your life!"
I started to cry.
My dad tried to speak.
"Hoo oken I ucken aww."
I looked at him, lying there on the pavement. People were starting to gather around us.
"It's my house dad. You're not getting it. Mum left it to ME."
Until my eighteenth birthday I lived with Granny and Grandad Smart, my mother's parents. They rented my house, the money going into a bank account that I couldn't touch until I was eighteen. I would see my dad around, he had gotten himself a new girlfriend; the rumour was she had a few quid tucked away from her last marriage. We would pass each other on the street, but we wouldn't talk. I still hated him for what he said about my mother, and I'm sure he hated me for not giving him what he thought was rightfully his.
My eighteenth birthday came and the girl I was seeing, Patricia Highfield, came around with a present for me.
"My brother said you might like it. It's one of his favourite books."
I hadn't been reading as much, I was working full time at the fish factory and the hours were long and hard. I hadn't read On the Road since the day of the fight with my dad. It was on the bookshelf, gathering dust. I ripped the wrapping paper and a bright, yellow book introduced itself to me.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson.
That one book got me back into the swing of things, and that flame, long exstinguished, arose and burned in my chest as brightly as a phoenix. I wanted to write and travel. I wanted to produce great pieces of work about the people I met while sticking my thumb out at the side of some back water road in the middle of nowhere.
I knew what I had to do. I got my Grandad Smart to help me sell the house. It went near enough at the bottom end of the market; there had just been a housing crash - but the money I received was enough to keep me traveling around the globe for the rest of my days If I chose not to settle down. I knew there was a whole ethos about traveling with money, you weren't really traveling, you were just playing at being a traveler. But I knew I would only use the smallest amount of cash to survive on, and hitchhike my way everywhere.
My squeeze understood that I wanted to leave and politely declined when I asked her to come along with me. I heaved an inner sigh of relief. I bought a heavy duty rucksack, a sleeping bag, roll-matt and a one man, lightweight tent. I pulled my copy of On the Road from the bookcase and packed that in with Fear and Loathing. I paid a visit to my mother's grave, placing a bunch of lillies, her favourite flower, on the raised grass. I spent an hour with her, telling her that I was off on my travels, but I would never forget about her, that I would always keep her in my heart.
My Grandad Smart drove me down to the ferry terminal, and after many tears I boarded the ferry. After a few hours of traveling the choppy seas, I arrived in Dieppe, France.
I was on the Road.
Bio: Johnnyelvis is 27 years old, and has been writing seriously
for around a year now. He has had a few pieces published in Thieves Jargon and Skivemagazine and likes blue cheese on toast. This story was workshopped on EOTW.
So This Was Hawaii
The water was smooth, clear. She swam with an ease that belied the severity of an injury that still had yet to heal. From the water she saw him, building a sand-castle with the children. The left tower kept collapsing. She could hear their laughter echo across the water, carried on the current.
What was his name?
It started with a J...
Jack! Her son's name was Jack.
She liked being in the water. It was the one place where she could cry without interruption. It was the only place she could be alone with her thoughts. After the injury, he had promised to take her here.
You'll see. Everything will be fine once you're here.
So this was Hawaii.
From everything she had read, and from everything she had been told, this was home.
This is where we proposed.
Do you remember?
She had nodded. The truth was she'd never have been able to describe the place, had her life depended on it. Had her marriage depended on it.
He was so sure she'd remember. He showed her pictures – so many pictures.When they were alone, when the kids were asleep, she would run her fingers through his hair, over and over again. For hours. She had run her hands over his body, trying to remember him. It had felt like caressing a stranger. A very handsome stranger, with a body that made it easy for her to conceive how she had made children with him – but a stranger, nonetheless. She knew his lips, but that was not enough.
So this was Hawaii.
She took a deep breath, and dove beneath the surface. The water was blue, but it was clear. Under the waves, she did her best to remember her daughter's name.
It starts with an S.
In frustration, she let out a scream upon ascent, one that skimmed across the water to her husband's ears. He looked up, concerned. Even from the ocean, she could see his handsome face. That proud, manly face. Beside him, she saw her son, and she saw her daughter, whose name she could not remember.
His birthday is next week.
When is hers?
According to him, she had been unconscious for three days. During these days, he had stayed by her side, leaving only to comfort the children. When she woke up, and he found that she could not remember, the look on his face had not been one of anger, or of sadness, but one of surprise.
Can't remember? What do you mean?
She found his disbelief maddening.
I mean, I can't remember. You, me, anything.
He had pulled a picture from his wallet, one of the two of them locked in a romantic embrace that she had found strange and foreign. This was before she found out that she was a mother, and he was the father, of two beautiful children. He was a writer, and she was a diver.
In the past three months, she had learned some things, and she had learned to pretend to remember many more. By now, she knew his name was John – but only because she had made up a dirty rhyme to help her.
She loved her children. Somehow, this was a love she had not forgotten. But no matter how much she tried, she could not say the same for her husband. She knew him, but she did not love him. She could make love to him, for hours on end – but she could not bring herself to love him in that way.
He still didn't know.
So this was Hawaii.
Bio: Michael Obilade is an avid fan of the guitar, the banjo, and the short story. He is currently a sophomore in college.