November 15, 2021

“Heather, Ludwig and Nathaniel,” An Excerpt by Derrick R. Lafayette

“Heather, Ludwig and Nathaniel,” An Excerpt by Derrick R. Lafayette

LUDWIG

I was surprised she’d read the first chapter. My tutor usually found small detours in any narrative I put forth. It reminded me of looking at a sheet through a magnifying glass, judging the components that hold it together. Inside my glasses were three strands of hair, dust, and a fingerprint, yet, I blinked away the annoyance and kept going. When I finally finished chapter two, I emailed my document to her. She unearthed a cellphone twice the size of her hand, stuck her face into the screen, and scrolled with her pinky.

“Do you know what a journeyman is?” the tutor asked slyly, leaving a hum of arrogance in the question.

“A nomad?” I responded, unsure.

“Ah, but you do know what failure is?”

“A worker or sports player who is reliable but not outstanding?”

“No, that’s what a journeyman is.”

“A lack of success?”

“Something wrong, Mr. Falcon?” she asked with bass in her voice. “Your mind seems to be jumbled up. The result of overstimulation, video games, social media, girls with short Catholic skirts, and, most importantly, your parents.”

I raised my hand despite being the only person in the garage during my daily tutoring. “Can I speak frankly? Ms. Cumberbatch?”

“When don’t you?” she sarcastically replied.

“What does it take…wait, let me rephrase. What would it take for me to never see you again?”

She took the blow in stride like I knew she would. After rotating her shoulders and cracking her knuckles by flexing her fingers, she leaned towards me. “Bad weather.”

It rained every day for the next three months. I wanted to comment on the strangeness of my luck in the living room of my house, but my father was mesmerized by the television. In the absence of my uncannily brilliant, bread-winning, late-night snacking, silently weeping mother, he relinquished his eyes to flexible women dancing to music in yoga pants.

I questioned the blood that ran between us daily. Especially when I studied his face. He had big, dreamy eyes contrasted by dark circles from a life’s worth of work. There was always gray stubble on his chin no matter if he went to the barber or not. I always teased that he had the body of a man who worked out in his twenties and gave up in his thirties.

When a commercial of hamsters driving a minivan broke his concentration, I opened my mouth to speak. However, it was halted, when my Miniature Pinscher awoke from a deep sleep, launched off the couch, and went into, what I call, a barking tirade.

“Woke up on the wrong side of the milk bone, Sparky?” my dad said, laughing at his own joke.

“His name is Nathaniel, yet you magically seem to always forget that,” I quipped.

“Your mother named him that. That’s a stupid name for a dog. It’s a human name. Nathaniel.”

“But it’s also your name. Do you think…just hypothetically, that maybe Mom is trying to tell you something?”

“Dog’s need dog names. Like Sparky, Lucky, Quirky, etcetera.”

“Do all dog names end in ‘y’?”

“According to the dog rules. Yes. Yes, it does.”

“What about Chief? That’s a dog name.”

“Shut up, Ludwig, the show’s back on.”

I stood up, stepped over the dog, and walked back to my chamber of solitude, which I call my room. “Crazy weather we’re having, huh, Nathaniel?” I said under my breath exiting.

“That kooky woman thinks I’m a dog, huh?” he mumbled to himself. “Well, bark bark, or whatever noise dogs make. And it’s Dad to you! Not Nathaniel!”

I closed the door to my room and stared at the twist lock. Every day I stared at it, knowing I could never use it. It took me years to curate my space. Particular posters in particular places, all related to quantum physics, ancient art, and time travel. My gaming chair was the Workinglab Beta 5000. Three vertical monitors, all twenty-seven inches, attached to my custom-built laptop with over a terabyte of space, extreme processing power, and of course, colorful LEDs to mimic an alien disco.

I had over three thousand friends on social media. My own platform to stream my favorite games that I mastered, and four semi-attractive girls my age who had a crush on me. One, aptly named Angel, had a buzzcut of blonde hair, a tattoo of a tiger near her crotch, and the fiercest eyes I’d ever seen on a human. Yet, I only liked the way she looked, not how she acted. Every man’s dilemma.

Also, I had two best friends who, between them, had enough dirt on me to blackmail and destroy any political ambition I pondered undertaking. Serious dirt, like the time I peed my pants in biology class, or when I accidentally used the wrong thermometer in the wrong place. To this day, I’ve never had a depressive, psychotic, or nervous breakdown. Surprisingly, I felt loved by my parents. Despite it all, I had one major problem. Within the boundaries of my own soul, and the complexity of my instincts, I held the burning desire to escape my world. By escape, I mean…

A message appeared on my laptop from Ace-in-the-scroll: What base is breasts again?

I messaged back: Pretty sure it’s second. If nipples, second and a half. One nipple, second, and one fourth.

Ace-in-the-scroll replied: Can I call you? Don’t want Big Brother to think I’m a pervert.

My message to him: Fine, but all fourteen-year-olds are perverts by nature. I’d be worried if you weren’t.

My favorite anime theme blared from my phone. I picked it up after the second ring, waiting for the melody to drop.

“Dude,” Ace’s answer any time he calls.

“Ace, how goes it?”

“On the side of the vending machine next to the abandoned arcade, I became a man.”

“One-fourth a man.”

“I wouldn’t expect a child to understand.”

“Technically, I’m an adolescent. Did you see the Ghost of Danesbury near the creek? I haven’t since…that time.”

“No, but I looked. You logging in? I got like fifty kids waiting for me on the server. One of them keeps screaming about Wuhan.”

“It’ll blow over by tomorrow. But yea, give me a minute.”

“A minute as in, let me check the NSFW subreddits? Or an actual sixty seconds?”

“I’m checking train schedules for March. I think the K and F line will work for the first part.”

“Sorry to burst your fanatical bubble. But I bet Pete, not the weird Pete, the regular Pete, twenty bucks that you won’t do it. Because I know you. I know the real you. The Nathaniel junior you. The ‘cried when big Sheila stepped on your toes’ you. Three hours tops.”

“I’m serious, Ace. February 29th. Don’t come looking if you don’t believe me.”

“Please. Spare me the theatrics. Look, we’ve all thought about it. But no one actually does it.”

“Except me. I’m the anomaly. I’m actually going to run away. For good.”

“The real anomaly is that I played Brothers in Arms for two hours without being called a racial slur.”

“That too, they always seem to know we’re black over the microphone.”

**

NATHANIEL

The day brings nothing new, and the night sweeps me into a drunk chasm that I’ve memorized every corner of. I’m comfortable in the darkness. I’m fully aware that I’m virtuoso at playing the fool. Life is more comfortable that way. The less they think you know, the less they’ll ask of you. Nobody knows me but me.

I sat on my chair, my favorite chair, where my buttocks have created a distinct groove. As I stared at the mindless screen while the plot grew and grew in my head, I couldn’t wait to write it down. Until the dog broke my concentration by barking his head off. Say something stupid, I thought to myself. Keep playing that role.

“Woke up on the wrong side of the milk bone, Sparky?” I blurted out, fully aware that my genius son will make a rebuttal immediately.

He droned on about names, I responded with more nonsense. He hit me with the fact that my name matches the dog. My wife’s sick joke at making me feel bad. I complain every chance I get. However, deep down, I don’t care at all. This is when she calls me. When she knows I’m thinking about her. She’s telepathic but always downplays it, calling it women’s intuition.

“Took you that long to answer the phone?” my wife said, in a tone that implied I missed something. “I could’ve been dead by now.”

“It was five rings. What is it? I’m about to go to my study,” I said back.

“Can you defrost the steak, check on Ludwig, make sure the thermostat is working, because every morning it says ninety, but it feels like seventy-seven? Also, Rebecca is coming over next Thursday. We got the Wilsons on Saturday. And there’s that other problem…”

“Want me to write all this down?”

“You need to with that ‘I smoked too much in college to remember anything I say’ brain of yours. Either that or you just don’t listen. In fact, I know you don’t listen. I know, right now, there’s a pile of garbage sitting by the door.”

I stretched my neck to see. Right again, dear, you’ve won the day.

“If you did just one of the things I asked of you, within a few days, I wouldn’t have to remind you like this. Your mind just wanders to a place where I don’t exist. And I don’t like it, Nate. I don’t. If you think hard enough, you’ll see how this is all connected. You’ll see why we have this new problem now,” my wife explained quickly.

She always talked fast when she was mad because the issues had built up, like a dam with a small hole that creates a crater. Right after, if memory serves, she’d go back to her usual self.

“So…I had that dream again. About the Ghost of Danesbury. She’s been talking to me. We were the same age. It could’ve been me,” she confessed.

“Except, you know how to swim.”

“She was killed, everyone knows that. You’re the only one—”

“It’s a fairytale that’s used to scare children. I know you still believe all that shit, but none of it is real. It’s nice to think about, but you’re obsessed.”

“Bye, Nathaniel.”

“What?”

The phone hung up angrily. I could feel it in the click. With a shrug of my shoulders, I moseyed on towards my sanctuary that’s really my study. My computer was old with a big CRT monitor that’s probably giving me radiation poisoning every night. I heard the loud fans while it was booting, kicking out the dust I never cleaned.

There was a jitter in my fingertips when I finally opened the word document. I stared at my gorgeous words. All edited, placed in the proper margins. I scrolled to the top to reread my working title: Enigma Space Corp.

I quickly picked up the phone to call my brother. There were questions I needed to ask, plot points I needed to orate. He picked up in three seconds.

“Younger One, how art thou?” I said.

“You on chapter three yet? I’m on nine. Catch up.”

“Family keeps me busy.”

He laughed in such a sinister way, I felt a little embarrassed at using that excuse.

“I’m going to be on five before the night’s out.”

“Well, don’t rush it. Remember the code.”

I took a big sigh. “Sci-fi fanfiction is felt not rushed. Explored not finite. Created not written. Allow space to come to you,” I said with pure confidence, knowing it as a psalm on the lips of a priest.

“So what’s up? Stuck on a plot point.”

“…yea. I have the captain finally reaching the caves, but I don’t know whether to kill him or have him discover paintings on the wall.”

“It’s pretty clear, Older One.”

“Paintings.”

“Of course. They can be ancient aliens, with early prototypes of pyramids that they gave to the Egyptians. It all fits. Except by now, they’ve advanced to floating labyrinths that hover over the enslaved ones who hate the oligarchy and will one day rise to conquer them all.”

“When I say I love you…just know on Mom’s dead soul that I don’t mean it,” I laughed, picking up my handle of vodka that rests below my desk.

“If you were any more dead to me, I’d have to cross the river of Styx just to kill you again,” he jested back.

“Ok, I got it. Let me go. Send me your update.”

“Already did, Older One. Later.”

The next hour passed me by. The mixture of vodka swigs and manic creativity stole time from my brain. As soon as I typed ‘Chapter four,’ I heard the front door open. My antagonist returned. She had a salt-and-pepper fro, with brown skin and sharp eyes that could snip a man’s ego from below the waist. Along with dimples, but it’s been so long since she smiled at me, I forgot what they looked like.

**

HEATHER

I came to admire the Texas-style rustic home that dominated the corner a few blocks from my house. I imagined the wooden beams that hovered above the marble countertops in the kitchen. The all-black Harley-Davidson Iron 883 motorcycle immaculately cleaned, resting in one garage, while the other housed minivans and old furniture. The vintage living room where two children, a boy, and a girl, would rest easy near a fireplace reading different books, both of equal creative stature.

In the upstairs master bedroom, the wife would emerge from a mist of shower steam, ravishing, fresh, wrapped in a towel. She’d bend over and shake her hair wildly, then throw it back in a ferocious stance. The husband would loosen his tie, kick off his hard bottom shoes, and without any time to fully take off his pants, sweep her to the bed, slamming her on her back.

She’d fight in a serious way that transitioned into casual, enraging his passion to the point where once his pants descended below his knees, he entered a paradise worth dying in. She would contemplate her heart bursting beneath him, with her eyes rolled back, having to sink her teeth into the towel she just threw off, dangling on the edge of the bed. The mattress would rock with such intensity that the undisciplined husband moaned and screamed. The children would hear their parents intertwined in the supernova of…

A horn blared behind me in traffic. I’d been staring at the house so long that I missed the entire duration of a green light.

“Hey! Move out the goddamn way!” someone yelled from the rolled-down window of his car.

“Sorry,” I whispered, before running the red light.

Daydreaming was my bad habit—next to the imaginary friend, that I named Rose when I was six years old, who only stopped speaking to me last week. I still see her, sitting in an ethereal wicker chair in the basement, telling me the future with words that manifest from wisps of smoke that escape a Tibetan sound bowl she plays.

Finally, I made it to my boring modern home, which lacked all personality. Something from an IKEA catalog that even impoverished people would look over. Every day I sit in my driveway for an extra ten minutes, contemplating my situation. Pondering what life on the road would be. A pariah, a deadbeat mom, sailing the seven seas, telling tales of ennui. Instead, I called my husband and ran through all the essential tasks of the day.

“Took you that long to answer the phone? I could’ve been dead by now,” I said dramatically, looking for him to give me a reply that could lead to something greater.

After his standard words of blah, blah, blah, I revved the engine back on, observed myself in the rearview mirror. I saw the hollowness of my smile that used to win over a room. A face that swelled after thirty-five, and the dead eyes of a woman strangled by routine, murdered by monotony. I whispered the Prayer to The Orishas, carefully backed out of my driveway, and went to Speakeasy, the nearby bar where a middle-aged woman could get a few winks and free shots.

To say it was bad luck would be an understatement. Every man in the bar reeked of weirdness. I could see the stink lines of perversion emanating off their skin. But I’d wasted twenty minutes getting there, so a drink was mandatory.

“Never seen someone like you in here before,” the bartender said.

He had a dead eye but was wearing glasses and his gut towered over his belt.

“A Mojito, please,” I replied daintily.

“Anything for you,” he winked.

When the mint leaves touched my lips, and I tasted the rum, I reverted to what I always do. I thought about my child. After two sips, I thought about my husband. By the third, I pushed the drink away, got back in the car, and drove home.

***

The Witness

Derrick R. Lafayette is The Fictional Café’s 2021-2022 Writer-in-Residence. He’s written four novels and over a dozen short stories, published in print and online. When he’s not working as an IT Engineer or studying chess gambits on the astral plane, he’s reading or writing profusely. You can find more of his work on Amazon.

Heather, Ludwig and Nathaniel
#coming of age#derrick r. lafayette#marriage#novella

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