This series of blog posts - Would you keep reading? - is for novel beginnings. I usually write novels that have been bouncing around in my head for a couple of months (or years). When they haven't just disappeared on their own after that timeframe, usually I write a couple of scenes, just to see if I still find the ideas interesting once I start getting something down on paper. I'm interested to hear from others though; the important question: Would you keep reading?
“I love you,” I tell him, because he looks defeated, and because he might not live through the night, and because it’s true, an achy sort of feeling in my chest that flares every time I look at him, a twinge, a persistent cramp that squeezes tighter in my chest whenever I catch the scent of him, musk, and man, and bootstrap tobacco, or whenever our eyes catch, green on green, or when his voice growls through the dark. So, “I love you,” I tell him again. Just in case he didn’t hear me.
He jerks away from my hand on his shoulder, violently, a gasp of pain he’s caused himself. “For fuck’s sake, Kaytlen, why? Do you know why you love me?” he sneers.
“I didn’t know there had to be a reason,” I murmur back. “I thought you loved family just because they’re family.”
His face twists into a look I’ve seen a thousand times and yet I still can’t make it out. The rest of them are so easy to read: happy, sad, lecherous, bloodthirsty, suicidal, homicidal, broken… Even my father’s face is usually a clear expression, usually harrowed, sometimes disdain, sometimes hopeless. But this one expression he wears, this one painful twisting of his features so like my own… It’s hate, in its purest, white-hot brilliant form, bubbling in a spoon and racing through your veins to a mushroom cloud in your brain. And it’s love, unending, write-about-it-in-books kind of love, heartbroken-beyond-any-repair, crawl-on-the-floor-with-it love. And it’s survival: the way you look at a machete, or food, or water. And about a hundred other things mixed in there too. But no matter how I want to deny it, the heroin expression is the clearest, the dominant force in that stampeded that must be tearing through his soul when he looks like that.
My father loves me, and he has always taken care of me, and he is in many ways my whole world, the only feeling of safety and warmth I have ever known, my one constant -
And he hates me.
“Of course there’s supposed to be a fucking reason, Kaytlen,” he gasps at me, holding in his own intestines behind his bloody hands and the bloody bandages and the bloody stitches we’ve used to try to hold him together long enough to heal, and yet looking at me like my words have hurt him more than a pincher through the gut. “And if you were - ” He bites it back. Something. Something he’s always wanted to say to me, throw in my face, and yet he never does. He swallows it down again, and again, and again, to fuel the white-hot heat of his hate. “You should know that,” he says instead. “You should know that. You should know why.”
It’d be easy for me to say that I love him because he’s kept me alive, because he’s a real-life hero and he’s kept us all alive, maybe longer than anyone else. Or I could say it’s because I have memories of before. Before the world, and all the worlds around it, went to hell, my father taught me how to ride a bicycle, took me out fishing at a special lake nestled deep in the mountains where I was sure no one else on Earth would ever find it, baked me the world’s most lopsided birthday cake, braided my hair into gnarles, tossed me a beer across the fire when I was thirteen and rubbed my back when I threw it back up later. I could say any of those things, but the truth is, I don’t trust them. The memories seem like another world, another life, another girl lived them. And in the dark days that followed, I know my father doesn’t see himself as a hero. I know a man just does whatever he has to do to stay alive. And this man just got bogged down with too many people who recognized that he was really freakin’ good at staying alive, so they followed in his wake like puppies. Puppies, I imagine, he feels for a lot like he feels for me: resents them, feels beholden to them, maybe loves them a little just because they’ve been around so frickin’ long now that it’s hard not to feel a little warm about that kind of familiarity, a face you see every day, one that smiles every time it looks at ’ya.
So I don’t say anything.
Because I don’t think anything I have to say will satisfy him.