By John Thomas Tuft (with D.H.)

Tony sits in the old rocking chair, watching the rain trickle down the dark windowpane, listening to Live singing ‘Lightning Crashes.’ Periodically he rubs his hands over his face and through his hair. This is the room, this is the chair, where his mother rocked him to sleep with her soft singing filling the room. It is the room where he took his first steps, learned to enter the magical realm of reading, became a mighty pirate off on adventures or a Jedi knight exploring other worlds. This is his holy retreat where he could put on ‘his’ music and let his imagination take him to encounters that every teenager longs to really occur, pain of it all be damned, even embraced. This is the sanctuary of lost innocence, lost love, lost time. He thought about all the hours he spent at this same window, watching, planning, hoping. And above all else in this moment, this is the room where, after harsh, irretrievable words, he last spoke to his father, ten years ago.

Tony was fifteen when he found it. The all too familiar feeling of cold tightness in his chest returns as he lets himself picture it once again. He had gone into his parents’ bedroom looking for money to take so he could get out of there. Get as far away as possible. People in their forties should not be allowed to have teenagers, any fifteen-year-old can attest to that. Tony cannot keep his heart from racing, his breathing growing shallow, as he pictures again opening the closet door, rooting around in their stuff, and finding the small wooden box. He opened it and took out the folded piece of cardstock. He unfolded and read it, tears stinging his eyes. No, this could not be right! Hearing footsteps in the hallway, he threw it into the back of the closet and ran.

Tony had no control over the universe, the laws of physics and human behavior, the course of human events, spirit world or fairyland. It was not his fault that this was the night his mother was tragically killed in an accident. He had no control over what was on the hidden piece of paper. He and his father made it through the funeral with barely a word spoken between them. Then, after an angry exchange, he insisted on going to live with his aunt and uncle, on his mother’s side, and cut off all contact with his father. For ten years. Not a word between them. Now here he is, back in his old room, a young man, returned to his father’s house to find…what?

Before he can figure it out, he hears the key in the front door. Unbidden, dark clouds fill his thoughts as his body tenses. Time for one last confrontation, one profound cutting of all ties. He will do it calmly, confidently, just like he has been rehearsing over and over and over in his mind. There are footsteps on the stairs, heavy and slow. He hears a loud sigh as his father reaches the top and pauses before continuing on into his bedroom. Tony hears the closet door open, things being moved around, then the door closes. With a knot in his throat, Tony peers hard at the door, feeling like a little boy afraid of what might be under the bed in the night. Then, suddenly, his father appears in the door, holding the small, wooden box.

The man’s visage startles Tony, more so than what he is holding. The face looks twenty years older, the lines around his eyes and mouth unexpectedly pronounced. There is a great, sad weariness in his father’s eyes, almost as if they have forgotten how to smile. His shoulders are rounded and slumped, his clothes ill fitting. He takes a step into the bedroom and Tony, defiant, stays seated by the window. He can hear the rain beating against it, almost loud enough to muffle his father’s voice, “Son.” The word rattles around in Tony’s head like an old memory trying to break free. Tony waits one more defiant moment before he stands and takes a deep breath.

Before he can start his rehearsed speech, his father holds the box out to him. “Release me.” Tony is thrown off guard. “Wh-what?” Before his eyes, his father’s face starts to crumble. “Release me.” He starts his speech, “Father, I have something I want to sa…” The words come again. “Release me.” Tony takes another breath. “I don’t understand.” A tear works its way out of his father’s eye and wanders down the troubled terrain. “Release me. Your hatred, your silence, your absence…it’s a prison to me. Son, release me.” Tony turns away, stares out the window, seeing nothing. His hand wanders to the back of the old rocker, traces the edge over and over. Finally, he realizes. He and he alone, holds the key. He turns back to his father. His voice shaking, he says, “Dad, I’m sor…” but the rest is muffled by the embrace of his father’s shoulder, holding him close…

Words are magic and writers are wizards.