On the night my dead son showed up at the front door I was about to watch a movie. His face was grey and there were dozens of holes in his skin the size of bottle caps. The least I could do was let him inside, given everything that had transpired between us while he was alive.
My dead son took a seat in the living room. He stank to high heaven. I made some comment about it being stuffy and opened a window. “You’ll be thirsty,” I mumbled, and went into the kitchen to fetch him something, nervous about leaving him alone but glad to be removed from the smell. I tried to remember what sorts of things he liked to drink. At a loss, I boiled the kettle.
He was standing next to the mahogany liquor cabinet when I returned, peering in through the smudged glass. I wondered if he could see his reflection, and if so, what he thought about it. Steam rose from the mug in my hand.
“Got rid of it all as soon as…” I started, trailing off. His neck was covered in purple bruises, blooming around his throat. “I’ve been doing better.”
I placed the mug on the table in the centre of the room and sat down in the armchair opposite the television. My dead son lay on the sofa.
“I wish you hadn’t worn that,” I said, gesturing towards his hoodie. It was the same black hoodie he was wearing when I found him hanging in the garden, his body twisting in the breeze like a bloated piñata. “Maybe you don’t have a choice.” Then, realising: “It’s what I deserve, I suppose.”
An uncomfortable silence descended. “How have you been?” I asked.
“I’m here to kill you,” he said, matter-of-factly. His voice was rougher than before, as though his larynx was lined with sandpaper.
His arm cracked as it rose, and when his finger unfurled it was pointed at the empty liquor cabinet.
“I was in a bad place. I never should have taken it out on you.”
The holes in his flesh gaped like parched mouths.
“There is no other way,” he said.
“If I had known what you would do…”
“There is no other way,” he repeated.
Silence resumed. I noticed he was staring at the television screen, frozen mid-picture, and I was struck by a ridiculous thought: that my dead son had come back to watch a movie. When he was alive, movies were the one thing we bonded over. After his mother left us they became a necessary distraction. Every Friday night he would select a DVD from the rack, pop it into the player and then join me on the sofa. We didn’t say much on these nights – the movies did most of the talking. Usually I could tell what kind of a week he’d had at school based on whatever he picked. As much as I loved this ritual, it wasn’t enough to buoy me during the six remaining nights of the week. But no matter how bad my drinking got, I never laid a finger on him during movie night.
Without saying anything, I lifted the DVD remote and pressed play. Within seconds we were back in that familiar bubble, sharing the only thing we ever really learned how to share. It was a movie we had watched together a few times before. Time passed in a haze.
I paused the movie about halfway through.
“Will it hurt?” I asked. My dead son said nothing. A couple minutes later we went back to watching the movie. Near the end, I paused the movie again. He glanced at me as if to say: what gives?
“I know it’s too late,” I said. “I know that whatever I say now is meaningless. But I’m sorry. I wish you could know how sorry I am.”
I looked into his eyes for the first time since he arrived. They were cloudy. They had the same look tea gets when you add a drop of milk. I saw him through the rot then, my son; that fearless young man who sat on my knee when he was a boy and asked why some movies have colour and some do not.
The remainder of the movie withered away, and when it was over we went out into the garden and he took from me what I could never give back.
BRIAN WILSON is a writer from Northern Ireland. He recently won the STORGY Shallow Creek short story competition. He likes to tweet from @bwilson4815