Also written for Mark’s website:
“This is yours Christopher.”
“But I don’t want it Papa.”
A two-line argument had everyday inside our heads every day for the last six months before I went. Him sitting there, that expectant look on his face; one part pride, one part outrage. I wanted to scream keep you machines old man but of course I didn’t. I had promised Mama. No, I broke his heart slowly. Joined the navy without him knowing. Told him just a day before I was due to ship out.
I didn’t stay to watch how he took it. He never wrote, but that wasn’t surprising. He wasn’t a man for the hand written letters. He was a punched on page type of man, the control of being able to mass-produce something like a book appealing. Unfortunately he had only one son. All my sisters had married well, and he wouldn’t have grandsons that wanted the place.
Mama wrote, of course. She conversed of Papa’s business as gaily as ever, reporting that he was printing medical texts now, and though she never said it, the question was always there, implied by the concern for my health and length of my service: when Christopher, when? The answer was never forthcoming because the answer never existed. Until today. The answer Mama, is now. Why, I couldn’t say.
I’ll walk in there this morning, older than the last time I walked into the factory floor. I’m a smoker now, which I wasn’t before. I’ve killed people, on orders. I’ve lined my gun up at blurred objects, moving in the distance and fired, then pretended that my actions had no real world consequences. But I heard the cries, timed to well with the report of my rifle.
I’ve known women. Some were rays of light that illuminated my miserable existence, others were rays of light that alleviated it, and I’d never know which until I was with them and it was too late.
But rays of light, all of them
The little boy marched out of here into the world. A man limps back, to look upon that expectant – outraged face once more.
What will he say, this time?