Wind blew through the driver’s hair. There was no way of avoiding that fact because the car he drove was a convertible. It was small, shiny, and blue. Chrome fenders gleamed in the setting sun as he glided across the landscape. The land on either side of the road was barren and had been baked by the sun to a uniform tan, and with the fading light the road stretched forever.
Headlights flared to life as the last embers died in the sky, and projected twin beams of light through the rapidly growing darkness. There was no sign of civilization in any direction, and the sky was a shade of violet only visible away from the lights of a city. As he drove, the young man let his eyes wander from the road. He had been away for years, yet he could still find his way even if he had closed his eyes; blue eyes framed by short black hair that fanned in the wind, and set in a face that seemed playful even through a frown.
Behind him the long highway led to larger towns, and college, and a life he had enjoyed. Dreams that were not only crushed, but carefully bagged up and then burned like the leaves on a lawn. Then lights appeared in the distance ahead, as if materializing on the violet horizon. As cityscapes went it was not a magnificent one, nothing like the pictures he had seen, and dreamed of taking of grand places. Instead of loud beacons in the night, the lights were dull yellow things that only whispered, and the message they hissed to the driver was one he did not wish to hear.
Calling the place a town was a stretch. If horses were still in use it might have been called a one-horse town, but the horses had been replaced long ago even if the people were the same. There was a large factory, it was the largest thing in the entire town and even at night cast a shadow over everything. Scattered across the sandy flats were small houses that looked even smaller beside the imposing bulk of the factory. Everything was placed to one side of the highway, and there was a single road that turned off to pass through the center. To the right of the road was the factory, and across the street were several rows of small houses. Although calling them houses was greater formality than they deserved. If they were found in another country they might have been called huts, but everyone knew that in America people did not live in huts, so they became houses, even if in name only.
The two-lane road ran even farther, where there was a large open swath that seemed out of place in anything said to be a town. A single gas station attempted to fill the void, but did a poor job of connecting what lay behind to the only part of town that lay ahead, a large gated manor. If the huts seemed out of place in a town, then the mansion also seemed out of place in a town as well. It belonged in verdant green hills where people kept horses, played tennis, and spent days in leisure. No matter how hard any gardener had tried, no grass would spread across that expansive lawn, and no trees would shade people walking up the wide path to the grand entrance. The owner had realized the same thing, for the trees had all been removed long ago, and only scant patches of grass clung tenaciously to life on the huge tracts of wasted lawn.
When the car reached the gates it came to a stop next to a small roofed structure just large enough for one man to comfortably relax. A man of middling years with a hard face walked over to the turquoise coupe and stared at the driver for a moment, then said, “Master Alexander? Is that you? Your father, I mean, Mr. Meyers said to expect you this morning.”
“I’m sure he did, but it’s late now so can we move this along?”
The man nodded slowly before walking back into his guardhouse and pushing a button. He waved the car through without expression. Alex followed the driveway around behind the house until he reached a large garage with several doors. The car came to a stop, and he shifted into neutral before letting off the clutch and putting on the parking brake. He opened the first door, but there was a car inside, and so he moved onto the next. At the fourth door he finally found an open space and parked his car inside before turning off the ignition and laying his head against the steering wheel.
Alex knew his father would still be awake. In his entire life he had never seen his father sleeping, not even once. Late to bed and early to rise could have been his motto, if he were a ‘motto’ sort of person. Now that he had returned from college, Alex knew what his father was expecting from him. It took a few more moments before he could will himself to leave the garage and walk to the mansion.
As he reached the back door, it opened to reveal an elderly gentleman with a shock of white hair. He smiled and his head bobbed in greeting, “Welcome home, master Alexander. Your father is waiting for you in his study.”
“Naturally,” Alex replied with a sigh, “is Mrs. Stottings around?”
“I believe she has retired for the evening, sir.”
Alex frowned, if she was already asleep then there was no excuse he could give for delaying his father, “I’ll go see him, thanks for letting me in, Walter.”
He walked up the stairs, a thousand memories assaulting his senses with every object he passed, many of them about the very man he walked to meet. The Ming vase his mother had brought home during one of her brief visits, an oil panting of his grandfather sitting thoughtfully in his study, even the windows recalled days of sitting alone and staring at the dusty wastes outside the mansion. Although the house was large, all too soon his feet came to a stop before the door to his father’s study. It did not matter how many years had passed, he still felt like the same little boy who had avoided that door at all costs. The large red oak door was banded in dark metal, and had a heavy cast iron doorknob beneath the keyhole. It looked too heavy to open, certainly for the boy he was, but even as a man he wondered if he would be able to budge that door.
“Is that you?”
Taking a deep breath, Alex opened the door, “Hello father.”
His father was remarkably similar in appearance to his son. Were it not for the marks of a few extra decades they could have been brothers. The differences that lurked underneath shone through in the way his father carried himself, as if he owned any room in which he stood. Of course, in that town, he did usually own any given room.
“You’re late,” he said brusquely from behind his desk, “what kept you?”
Alex looked at his father’s desk. It had always seemed massive, only a truly massive desk could withstand the weight of his father’s constant work. The study was spartan, lacking the bookshelves and padded chairs that one usually found in a study. Instead the room contained one large desk, one desk chair, and one smaller chair directly before the desk. In fact the only decor in the whole room was a small wooden stand that cradled a long, slender crome object tipped in red. It was the only thing about the room that suggested the owner might have the barest hint of sentimental attachment to the world. It was his father’s Tucker hood ornament, the first one ever made, and the only one never mounted on a car or destroyed.
When he was younger, around eight, his father had shown him the silvery object. It was one of the few times he had seemed amused or excited, and Alex thought it fortuitous that he had displayed both emotions at the same time. After a near lifetime without any visible emotions, two at once was nearly unbelievable. Especially when neither of them showed disappointment or frustration with his son. He had asked his father what the object was, and with a smile he had said, “The very first hood ornament for a car. A man named Tucker invented a new type of car, and I’m the one who is going to produce all of his hood ornaments. This one, I think I’ll keep.”
It was the only time Alex could remember his father displaying a sentimental attachment to anything; from his ignored son, to a wife that spent twelve months out of the year in Europe. Naturally when Tucker’s business exploded in his face, Alex’s father had never mentioned it again, but the ornament had stayed on his desk. As he grew up, Alex loved and loathed the object at the same time, but most of all he had thought the hood ornament never got a fair shake. It belonged on the front of someone’s car, touring all the sights across America, not on display in an office from which it had never moved. His father had never let it do what it was meant to do.
“Well? What kept you, junior?”
Alex started from his reverie. His father had looked up from the reports on his desk, and that was a bad sign. Anytime the old man made eye contact, it meant he had to take his attention from work, and that meant he was angry. Rubbing his temple, Alex replied, “I took the scenic route.”
“Scenic? I never understood that expression,” his father said tersely, “you drive to get somewhere, why would anyone take waste their time on the road. Well you’re home now, son, and I expect you to get to work tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow? I just got here, I was hoping to…”
“Waste some more time on scenery,” his father cut in abruptly, but not angrily, his father never let himself show his anger, “no more of that. You wasted enough time in college on all those pointless classes, before I talked to your dean and straightened things out. If you had your way you would have taken the ‘scenic route’ through college too, but you graduated on time thanks to me. So the least you can do is start paying back some of that investment.”
“Good, now get to bed. I expect to see you at the factory tomorrow at six.”
His only reply was to wave his son out of the room as his eyes were already back on the reports. Alex walked out eagerly before closing the door behind him. With all of his heart he wanted to walk back to the garage, get in his car, and put his father’s town behind him. Instead he went to his room, where the bed was already prepared, and went to sleep. He had an early day ahead of him.
Alex woke early the next morning. He knew his father would already be at the factory, so he came out of his room willingly. As he stepped into the hallway, the approach of familiar footsteps put a smile on his face.
“Still an early riser, I see.”
He turned to see a matronly old woman who appeared to be in her sixties, although he knew her to be significantly older. After being away four years her face had hardly changed, but then again all his life she had been an elderly woman with uncommon energy. She would have to be to have raised him by herself, for the most part.
“Yes, someone trained me to the habit pretty strongly,” Alex grinned boyishly, “it made me something of an odd bird up at college. My fraternity brothers accused me of being a farmer.”
Mrs. Stottings enfolded him in her arms, and for a moment he was the boy who had felt sheltered and loved even with a mother who was never around, and a father who he never wanted to be around. He lingered for a moment or two longer than most hugs, and as he pulled away Alex knew that she would have detected his apprehensions about being home. Then again, he suspected she would have known anyway.
“Well it seems the lovely boy I sent way to college has come back a man,” she smiled, “for the most part, at least.”
“Was that a crack,” Alex smiled sardonically, “I thought you british nannies were too serious for sarcasm.”
“My dear boy, we invented sarcasm. Now let’s have breakfast before you go off to the factory.”
They walked downstairs towards the kitchen, although Alex realized, with a shock, he was old enough to eat in the diningroom. As they walked he looked at Mrs. Stottings from the corner of his eye. She had always seemed full energy, and would never let anyone see her differently, but there was a stiffness in her movements that had not been there before. He was struck with the certainty that she was going to die, and the weight of it almost dropped him to his knees.
“How have you been, lately,” he ventured carefully.
“Keeping everyone in line, as usual, thank you for asking. I am sure you have many stories to tell me as well, but tell me over breakfast, dear.”
He opened his mouth to press the issue further, but closed it instead and kept walking. The kitchen was a large open space, where everything that was normally associated with a kitchen had been stored out of sight. There was a cook on staff that had very particular opinions about how a kitchen should be kept. If he found out that anyone had dared to violate the sanctity of his altar they would never hear the end of it, well anyone but his father. No one was foolish enough to tell his father how to do anything.
They sat down to find that a large breakfast had already been placed on the table. Alex did not see anyone else around, but suspected that they had been expected. As they ate, the two made idle small talk as Alex tried to get up the nerve to broach a more serious subject. He just found that after being away for so long, it was difficult to open up as completely as he had done before. For her part, Mrs. Stottings was pleasant but seemed more than willing to let the meal pass in companionable silence, at least once she had gotten a few anecdotes from Alex about his time away. In time Alex began to feel very foolish for his concern, and realized that he was probably just nervous about being home. He pushed the thoughts out of his head and tried to think about nothing at all.
After they had eaten, Alex realized that he needed to get to the factory. They hugged once again, and promised to talk later, and then he was out the door. In the light of day everything seemed even more desolate than it had at night, at least when it was dark there were limits to how much nothing a person could see. As he walked to his car, Alex could have sworn that the wastes went on forever and his time away had all been a dream.
They hardly ever saw any rainfall, so Alex left the top down on his car as he drove from the house to the factory. By most standards, his father would be considered a very wealthy man, he owned a factory that produced specialized auto parts for companies all over the world, and everything in the tiny border town belonged to him. Standing in the southernmost corner of California, the border to Mexico was to the south and Nevada to the north, and most of all there was nothing but highways stretching to other places. When he was younger, Alex would have agreed that his father had to be the wealthiest man on the planet, but then he went north to cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles. At first he was astonished to see places with so much crowded together, but then he came to crave seeing more, and that was when he started taking photos. Long before he ever picked up his first camera, Alex had started taking pictures mentally, trying to keep the images in his head forever. Then he had tried it with a camera, and suddenly he knew what he wanted to do with his life, felt the desire to see and capture every amazing sight in the world. One of his instructors had even said that his enthusiasm came through in his photos, and he was almost certain that had been a compliment.
Alex pulled his car into the small parking lot behind the main entrance to the factory. None of the workers owned a car, and they lived directly across the street so if they did it would have been pointless to drive. He had seen their faces as they trudged in one great mass to the factory for another day of work. When he was younger they frightened him, with their hard faces and rough hands, and then as he got older they made him curious, he wondered if they had the same desire to see more than the nothingness around them. Unfortunately there is a certain age where if the questions of childhood are not answered, then they will probably never be, and so Alex had forgotten about the factory workers during his time away. It made him feel slightly ashamed of himself that he did not know the name of a single one; while he knew that his father knew everyone by name, and if he never had a smile or kind word for them, at least always made certain their pay was on time. Unlike the front, his father’s entrance opened to a closed stairway that led directly to the office that overlooked the factory. Alex walked up the familiar stairs until he reached the door and knocked.
“Come in,” his father’s voice said, “cutting it close on your first day?”
“Good morning, father,” Alex replied by way of greeting.
“You’re here now, so let’s get started.”
Although he had never officially worked at the factory before, Alex was familiar with his father’s work and so picked up on things quickly. There was a new door in the wall of the office that led to a small, closet-like structure that contained a small desk, chair, and coat rack. On the desk was a single lamp, clock, and one pen laying perpendicular to the other two objects. Inside his desk was a box that contained several more pens, two legal pads, and a single pencil. Alex noticed there was a drawer, he noticed because there was very little else to notice in the confining room, and inside was a typewriter and a stack of paper. The clock on his desk ticked regularly, and the sound, which would normally go unnoticed in a room, reverberated in the tiny closet/office like a church bell that struck every second. Time passed with excruciating slowness, and the highlight of Alex’s day was when he left the closet for lunch before being locked away in his dungeon once again.
The work he did for his father was simple, but very tedious and long. Endless lists of shipping manifests blurred together until it was hard for Alex to say if anything was being sent to the right place. Naturally his father did not pass along any work pertaining to the money in his factory, he had always been strict in handling money and that was true in every way. When he was away at college, Alex was astonished to discover that most business owners employed managers and accountants, he had thought his father’s approach was the norm.
When the clock struck five he heard a loud whistle sound from below in the factory and the muffled sounds of men shutting down their work and leaving. He peeked out of his office to see his father still reviewing files and making business calls, so Alex retreated once again to his closet purgatory. More time passed, and it passed in the slowest and least enjoyable manner possible, until finally at half past seven Alex stepped into his father’s office once again.
It took a moment before he responded, “Yes?”
“Well it’s getting late,” Alex said slowly, “I was wondering when you would be heading home.”
“I am still working, I’ll go later.”
They stood in silence.
“Right, well I was wondering, it doesn’t seem like there is any work for me to do right now, so…”
Silence once again.
“…and dinner sounds good, so I can have an early start tomorrow…”
His father rubbed the bridge of his nose.
“I will see you tomorrow.”
Alex left his father’s office in a very reserved manner, but there was a definite spring in his step. Once he had been excited by the prospects of new and exciting things, and somehow that had transformed into a dizzying joy at simply being able to leave the factory. He drove back to the mansion, and realized there was no road or path around the house. Main street simply ended at the gate, and the only way to leave would be to drive in the exact opposite direction. This time the guard waved him through without coming out of his little booth. Alex thought he saw the light of a small television inside, and felt a brief surge of jealousy after his day at work.
Walter let him inside, and told him that dinner would be prepared and served very quickly. Alex had no doubts, they were probably so used to his father’s late and sudden arrivals that they could almost manifest the dinner from thin air. He looked around for Mrs. Stottings but she was not in the lounge or the diningroom, so Alex ate his dinner alone. After he finished, Alex walked into the mostly unused lounge. Long ago his grandfather had built the mansion, or rather paid to have it built, and like his son he spent most of his time in the dusty factory. He had heard stories as a child that his mother had left in the scant few months after he had been born, apparently she had done her job and did not want to linger in the barren town any longer than necessary. Any man other than his father might have put his foot down to keep her from leaving, or at least sought a divorce when she left, but he just went to work and made sure she received her monthly allowance. It made Alex wonder briefly if, strange as it was, would that qualify as a successful marriage. Luckily Mrs. Stottings had been there to take care of him, as she had done with his father since she had been hired by his grandfather. Officially her job was to oversee the running of the household, but since child rearing took place in the house, she had taken that job as well. She had never doted exactly, but at the same time Alex had formed a very strong attachment to her, maybe because she was the only person who was not an absent relative or a servant he could order around. In time they had come to love one another very much.
He was so lost in his thoughts that he did not hear the familiar footsteps enter the room. Alex looked up to see Mrs. Stottings take the chair nearest to his own. She smiled wanly and sat in silence. Unlike most silences, this one fell lightly onto Alex’s shoulders and comforted him without pressuring him to speak, instead of demanding words it simply left space for them to be said.
“I don’t want to be here,” Alex said slowly, after an eternity.
“Anyone can see that.”
“How can he…why does he go on living like this?”
She gave a brief shrug.
“Why does he expect me to do it too?”
“You’re his son,” Mrs. Stottings whispered, “without you, all he’s worked for his entire life will be lost.”
“He doesn’t understand what I want out of life, I’ll go crazy here.”
She laid her hand on his gently, “You are the same, both of you. If you stay here you will not go crazy, you will simply become like him. He is just doing what he was taught to do.”
Alex found himself deeply offended by her words. Irrationally he was angry at her for the comparison, and was certain that in all the world there were no two people more different than him and his father. He pulled his hand away a little bit quicker than was necessary and his eyes narrowed, “So that gives him the right to pull me back to this pit?”
Mrs. Stottings shook her head sadly as she stood up, “No one pulls us anywhere, we go where we choose, dear boy.”
She kissed him softy on the forehead and then walked out of the room stiffly. Alex sat in the chair for a long time without stirring, wondering if what she said was true. He had driven there on his own, no one had forced him, but on the other hand he had obligations, debts to pay to his father. What kind of son would he be if he simply turned his back on his father’s life work? Those thoughts and many others spent the night with Alex, as he fell asleep in the chair. His dreams were vivid and kept him well occupied until morning.
Alex dreamed that Mrs. Stottings had died during the night. He had walked to her room to apologize for being thick headed, and found her laying in a sleep too profound for mortal man. At first he had experienced shock and horror, and then an overpowering sadness that washed all other emotions away. The thought of life without her, especially in that town, was unbearable. Only then, he wiped away his tears and took a longer look at the woman who had meant so much to him. She had been right, no one had forced her to travel across the world to raised two boys, who might not be so different after all. The first one had let himself get pulled into his father’s life, forsaking all that might have made him happy, but the second one could go wherever he wanted.
Sun streamed through the window of the lounge. Alex looked up at the clock and realized that he had overslept, and would be late for work. He was still dressed in his clothes from the night before, and was stiff from the position he had slept in the chair. Only as he came to full wakefulness did Alex remember his dream about Mrs. Stottings. It seemed so real that even in the light of day he felt the cold hand of fear take hold of his heart and squeeze.
Springing from the chair he sprinted up the stairs. He ran down the hallway heedless of the obstacles in his way, and as he rounded a corner he heard the crash as his hasty passing knocked an antique vase from its perch. None of that mattered to him in that moment, the vase, being late to work, nothing. The rug seemed to pull at his feet, and every corner reached out to snag at his shirt, but he reached her door all the same and for the first time in his life, entered without knocking.
Her bed was empty, and had been made neatly. The room appeared as it usually did, with the appearance of being perfectly clean but lived in as well, and sitting before her mirror was Mrs. Stottings. She turned to regard the panting brigand who had just burst into her room with one arched eyebrow.
“Alexander,” she only used his full name when he was acting strangely, “are you feeling alright? You look flushed.”
He swept her up into a hug and spun a full circle before putting her down. She smiled demurely and patted his cheek when she saw the concern in his eyes, “What is wrong?”
“Nothing, nothing at all. I just had a good morning,” Alex smiled genuinely, “and…wow, look at the time! Father’s going to skin me alive!”
She patted him fondly on the cheek, “You be careful, I am worried the dry air might be doing strange things to your mind.”
He chuckled and made a face before running off to get ready for work. Once he left Mrs. Stottings room, Alex breathed deeply and wondered why he had the strange dream. Mrs. Stottings was healthy as ever, and even though she was growing older she also showed no signs of slowing down. Something about the dream stuck with him, and as he went to work that morning Alex began to wonder about his father’s life. Were they really more alike than he had suspected?
Alex had been exaggerating about his father’s reaction. For his severe lateness he had received no more than a stern glance and an order to ‘get to work’. Unlike the first day, the work came easier to Alex as time passed, and he found himself started to enjoy the feeling of power that came from directing the resources of a powerful business. Most surprisingly of all he dared to wonder if there was an end to the work. If he worked hard enough, and his father naturally worked hard as well, would there be a point where it ended?
His theory did not prove itself right away. For all the work he finished, there was always more to be done, but Alex thought he noticed his father looking up at him a few times as he came into the office to grab another stack of papers. Normally a glance from his father would have been enough to snap the young man out of any activity, but that day he just gave a friendly nod and returned to his tiny office. Lunch passed by without him noticing, and dinner as well, until finally Alex looked at his clock and was astonished to see that it was after ten.
He stepped outside the office and was surprised to see that his father was gone. Briefly he considered the possibility that the factory had caught fire and everyone else evacuated, but there appeared to be no sign of damage to the building. That left only one possibility, and no matter how unbelievable it had to be true, his father had finished working before him. Alex stepped outside and locked the office behind him. In the parking lot his car sat alone, which only confirmed his suspicions.
He drove him in a state of astonishment.
The next day Alex got an early start at work and kept himself focused through the entire day. It was still tough for him to keep his mind on business, sometimes he still wandered to thoughts that had no place in the factory. Despite the difficulty, he ended up working faster than he did the previous day, and his father left at eight.
Days passed without Alex taking much notice, he just kept his head down and never stopped working. Anytime he noticed his father was not around the mansion, he would track him back to the factory and dive in right beside him. The weekend came, and even though the factory did not run, the father and son worked.
One day Alex noticed a tension in his father’s office as he walked in to grab more paperwork. It was different from the usual tension he felt around his father, and if pressed he would have sworn that his father wanted to say something. As he gathered a large stack of papers, the last stack on the table, Alex finally looked up and said, “Is something wrong, father?”
His father sniffed dryly, “Not at all, Alex, you have been…efficient.”
Nodding slowly, Alex said, “Is that all?”
Alex looked over his father’s desk before he turned to walk back to his office, at the door he looked over his shoulder and said, “Looks like I have everything under control here, why don’t you go home. I don’t mind.”
Then he walked into his office and closed the door.
Later that evening, Mrs. Stottings was waiting for Alex as he arrived. Alex carried a smaller stack of papers with him, that he intended to handle as he ate, but he arched an eyebrow as he noticed her. It had been nearly a week since he had seen her, with all his work at the factory, and it felt strange that he had only just noticed.
“Hard at work, I see,” she nodded towards the papers.
“Yeah…running that factory takes a lot more effort than I thought,” Alex said absently as he sat down at the dinner table, “I was hoping to get a little more work in as I ate.”
“Are you certain about this?”
Alex frowned, “Well yeah, all I’m doing is eating, why not finish a little paperwork?”
“That is not what I meant.”
A page turned, and Alex made a noise of agreement without looking up. He turned another page, and another, before he noticed Mrs. Stottings had stopped speaking.
“What was that?”
She paused a moment, and gazed into Alex’s eyes intently, holding his attention before she spoke, “I asked if this is what you really want.”
That caught him off guard, and Alex held his breath before exhaling with a deep rush of air. He felt like he was just waking from a night’s sleep that had lasted all month.
“Tell me why you rushed into my room.”
“What,” Alex shook his head, “what do you mean?”
“Why did you rush to my room and make such a fuss the morning after you arrived?”
He thought back to that day, and then remember the dream. It had been on his mind everyday since then, but not consciously. Losing Mrs. Stottings, or for that matter losing his father, was something that filled Alex with trepidation. For all the years he had longed to get away from the town, he had overlooked the feeling of security he found in his father’s town. When he had gone away to college, there was a long period of time where Alex was terrified of being in such a large place, free to do whatever he wanted. Just as he started to find something that spoke to him, a way to capture the emotions he felt with every image he saw, his father had stepped on everything.
Why was he taking photography classes? Why had he not enrolled in the business courses? How would he get his degree by taking pictures?
After a few words with the Dean, Alex was enrolled in the ‘right’ classes and graduated on time. At first his mind had rebelled against the classes that held no interest, but then he decided to push through the discomfort and do what his father asked. Only in that moment did Alex realize he was doing the same thing at the factory, only instead of pushing forward for a degree, he would be pushing through the rest of his life.
“I had a dream,” he said finally, “that you died, that I became my father, and that I was here all alone.”
“I am not getting any younger, dear. It is going to happen someday, I have dealt with that fact and now you must do the same.”
“What should I do?”
Mrs. Stottings smiled, “If I told you that, we would be back where we started. Doing what others tell you seems to be the root of this problem. Figure it out for yourself. You are a smart boy, I know you can do it.”
Alex nodded slowly, “I’m going to bed now. Not feeling very hungry.”
Mrs. Stottings caught his hand and laid a soft kiss on his forehead, and Alex walked out of the room without a second thought. His paperwork lay forgotten on the table.
The next morning Alex packed his belongings.
There was a knock on his door that shook Alex from his thoughts. He opened the door to see Walter standing with a slightly shaken expression on his face, “Sir, your father wishes to see you in his study.”
Looking over at his clock, Alex’s eyes widened. It was only a little after nine in the morning, his father would never be home at that time. At least not under normal circumstances. He looked down at his packed suitcase, and took a deep breath before looking back at the nervous man before him, “I’ll be right there, thank you, Walter.”
Walter gave a brief bow and went on his way. Alex stepped out into the hallway and started the walk to his father’s study. As he walked, Alex tried to memorize every detail about the house around him. If things went as he expected he might never be coming back and he wanted to remember the good things as well as the bad. Most of all he felt a budding excitement in his chest, he had never stood up to his father before, and the thought of deciding rather than following was very appealing. All too soon his feet stopped at the door to his father’s study and he raised his hand to knock, but then reconsidered and opened the door before stepping inside.
“Father,” he said by way of greeting, “you wanted to see me?”
“You never showed up this morning.”
“I know,” Alex caught himself as he nearly gave an excuse, “I know. I…don’t want to work here.”
His father’s brow furrowed as he looked up, “What?”
“This is not the life I want, I need to do something that makes me happy.”
“Well this is the life you’re going to lead,” his father stood up, a first that would have been shocking to Alex on any other day, “I put you through college, paid for your entire life. Everything you have, everything you are, is because of me.”
Alex looked down at the floor, doubts plaguing his thoughts as his father spoke. The words blurred together, but the meaning was the same, and the result was very familiar. If he dared to act against his father, he would be throwing away his family and fortune all in one fell swoop. As much as he resented his father’s tone, part of his mind cautioned him to realize that and make his decision carefully in that watershed moment.
“That’s the problem, I am you. Everyday I stay here that becomes more apparent to me, and I don’t want to have this life. I’m sorry you traded in your dreams, whatever they were, but it’s clear to me that if I stay here then I’ll end up becoming you.”
His father rubbed the bridge of his nose in thought. It took him longer than Alex thought it would to finally reply, but he looked his son directly in the eyes as he spoke, “I will not support another family member who runs away from this family. Walk out that door and you are on your own, junior.”
Without waiting for a response he brushed past his son and opened the door to leave. Alex shook his head sadly, for all they were alike, his father just did not understand him. He looked over his shoulder and spoke, “Maybe once I’m on my own, I can become a man you would respect.”
His father stopped at the door, his shoulders bunched up and he almost turned around. Almost. Instead he only said, “I’ll be expecting you at the factory.”
Alex looked away as his father walked out the door. Although it might be the last time they ever spoke, he could not quell the growing excitement he felt. His entire life had been spent treading carefully for fear of angering his father, and when it finally happened Alex found it was not nearly as terrible as he had feared. Maybe even one day his father would understand his choice, if only he could remember the young man he had been. As he thought on that, Alex looked at his father’s desk, to the shining testament to his father’s youth. Once he had hopes and dreams as well, and they had been reduced to a shiny bauble on his massive desk. Reaching out he carefully took hold of the object, marvelling that it was much lighter than he had always suspected, and then walked out of his father’s study.
When he drove away from the mansion this time, it was for the highway.
A few weeks later, Alexander William Myers I sat at the desk in his study. He looked down at the reports and files on his desk, but as had been happening lately his attention wandered to the empty spot before him. In one day he had lost junior and his Tucker. At his door there was a gentle knocking, almost a soft scratching, and he knew it was Walter.
“Come in,” he said irritably.
Walter bowed and bobbed his way over to the desk and laid a large manilla envelope down. Then he bounced and bobbed his way backwards out the door. Alexander looked at the envelope, it was addressed to him with no return address. With a silver letter opener he slit the top and looked inside to see several glossy surfaces staring back. Upending the envelope, a rain of pictures fell out onto the desk before him. He recognized the car in the photo instantly, even though they were all only of the front. Looking, he also recognized the silver object on the hood, it had no business being on the hood of a corvette, but somehow seemed to fit. All the photos were shot beautifully to display the hood ornament at the center of the various surroundings, from the Grand Canyon to Time Square.
Reaching out, Alexander placed one of the photos against the wooden stand where the ornament had once stood. A faint smile crossed his face like wind blowing across the desert plains. Then as quickly as it came, it was gone and he stacked the photos neatly to the side and went back to work.