Chapter 2
by Branden Hart

Chapter 2 of An Audience of Shadows. See Chapter 1 here.

Open the bedroom door.

One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand, four one thousand...

Open the fridge and get out shot glass. One one thousand...

Open the cabinet, get out vodka. One one thousand...

When I hear the tequila bottle break it ruins everything. Who knows what will happen next? My dad might clean it up. He might still be drunk from last night. I don't really know what time it is; I haven't had a working clock in my room since I was ten. But I wake up every morning when he gets out of bed. I hear the creak of his mattress through the apartment's thin walls. That's the longest count: forty-five one thousand. I picture him sitting on the edge of the mattress, head in his hands, wondering whether or not he'd hit me the night before, although, I had to admit, he was probably most concerned with how he'd gotten home and why he hadn't gotten laid, whatever that meant. After this, I hear him thud across to his bathroom. I can actually hear him taking a piss. I used to hold off counting at this point, until I realized that every morning his piss lasted between twelve and fourteen one thousands. Never the full forty-five he always took up on his mattress. Everything else in the bathroom; brushing, a quick shave with a dry razor, was twenty-nine. Still, nothing stood up to the time on the mattress.

That morning, I waited to hear the door shut to the outside. I started counting once the bottle had dropped. By ten one thousands, he had done nothing.

By twenty, I was getting a little worried. What was he doing, just standing there? I hadn't seen my father in over two weeks and had no desire to confront him now.

At fifty one thousands, I got out of bed, left foot first, took three large steps to the door, and opened it. I walked through the doorway one, two, three times, each time setting my right foot only outside in the hall and then turning swiftly on it, only the last time leading out with my left foot and down the hall, five steps, across the doorway three times, and finally into the kitchen, left foot first.

He isn't there.

Wondering how he managed to get away from the kitchen without me hearing the creak of the floorboards horrified me. I should have heard that. Because there was only one place he could go.

He's in his bathtub. I should have been able to count the steps. Had he treaded so lightly on purpose? Did he know my routine as well as I did?

"What," he said, drowning the last bit of liquor in his glass.

I stand, like I always do, ashamed to ask a Question. One of those Questions that I know is stupid, that I know isn't worth anything, but that something inside compels me to ask. My psychologist tells me that if I listen to that something, I'll never be able to live life to its fullest. I tell her that she needs to find a way to shut that something up.

"Dad, if I masturbate while I'm in the shower, and it gets on the shower curtain, do I need to wash the shower curtain? Can people get germs from me that way?"

I stare at him, waiting for his reaction. He might just answer nonchalantly, tell me I was worried about something that wasn't important, and encourage me to use my brain in more productive ways. He might ask me why I thought that was important, and help me figure out why I was concerned about it, and whether that was warranted. But those were fantasies. He would probably go nuts on me. Maybe he would break my nose, I think. Then I could go to the hospital, they would say, "My, this fine young man lives with such a monster. He would do so much better on his own; we should put him up in a nice apartment and see how he does for himself."

Who was I kidding. I would go straight to a psych ward.

"Jesus Christ," he mutters, his face covering his hands.

He says nothing else. Just sits. And I'm standing there, wondering whether he thinks I've asked a stupid question, or whether his amazement is an indication of something I've done wrong. Guilt flows from the wellsprings of my mind. Wellsprings of serotonin and GABA receptors.

He leaves that morning without saying anything to me. In fact, we missed each other, as he left while I was cleaning my toilet. And then I had to clean the gloves I used to clean the toilet, which took the longest, but then when I was done, I had to use the toilet, and the cycle started all over again, until I was late for school, and decided that instead of going to learn about chemical reactions and attending driver's education in the afternoon, I would clean the whole fucking house. Then, my father and I would at least have something to talk about that night.

The kitchen, my room, the living room, and the hallways took about an hour. Disinfecting spray, a quick vacuum, more disinfecting spray, and a final vacuum (with a new bag). His bedroom was messy. It took an hour to do that, then another hour for me to get myself clean, and then clean my bathroom again. The last room was his bathroom.

It's the most disgusting thing I've seen. Ever. Mold grows in every crack and corner. I see some of it pulsating. The bottom of the bathtub, which is visible from where I stand in the doorway, has dirt in it. Dirt from the old man in the bath tub. The dirt of his life.

One thing that happens when I'm in unpleasant environments is panic attacks. And the biggest cause of these attacks is germs. Germs, dust, and dirt. So when I see the bottom of his bathtub, I feel a throbbing pain in my chest. And by the time I register all the mold, my left arm is numb.

When he finds me after he gets home that night, I'm in bed, curled up. There's nothing else I can do.

"Have another attack?" he slurs. Even feet away, the liquor on his breath makes me gag, and I can't answer. After a moment,

"Did you take your pills?"

I don’t even have the mind to remind him that the last time he managed to steal Xanax for me was several months ago. He used to buy it. But now…

Only the black tells me that the door has closed. He leaves the conversation with no goodbye, no wishes of a good-night's sleep. He just leaves.

The next morning, I wake up without knowing what time it is. I listen for his first movements.

Open the bedroom door.

Open the bedroom door.

He never sleeps late.

Open the bedroom door.

Open the bedroom door.

By the time I realize the apartment is empty, the phone is ringing. I pick it up.

"Hello, this is H. Ellison High School, and we just wanted to confirm with your father that you are absent from school today. Can we speak to him?"

"My father's gone," I say as I hang up the phone once, twice, three times, using my left arm first...

- E. Branden Hart



oh honey. this is so good. so painful but so good.

you make me want to write more.


this is really good


Thanks guys. In the original version of this chapter, the guy actually helps his father kill himself. But it didn't fit his character as it gets developed in later chapters.


I was late catching up and had to read both chapters today. This is great and I think a lot of people can relate to the subject. Not to the same degree as you, to be sure, but I can certainly see little bits of myself in here. Thanks man.


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