writing

This Close to Sitting Ducks, Prologue

 

Before Francisco was born, his parents fucked like wild animals. When he came into the world, it was out of wedlock. His father fought in the war right after getting married, leaving behind his young son and wife. The pair lived in a small apartment with no air conditioning. It was above a bus stop that was crowded all hours of the day. The bathroom was through Francisco’s bedroom. His bedroom door folded closed but had no lock. He spent the first few years of his life with little privacy. Guests at the apartment were often caught inspecting his belongings.
It was a smokey little place. Francisco’s mother and her two best friends were never seen without cigarettes. The three of them sat for hours, drinking cheap champagne and beer in the kitchen. Francisco’s first taste of beer was at the age of three. The boy didn’t realize that adults had jobs until he was much older. When discussing him with her friends, his mother affectionately referred to her son as “the little bastard”.
On his fifth birthday, Francisco told his mother that he didn’t remember having a father. She showed him pictures of the man, but that didn’t help.
“See, son. He has the same eyes and square chin as you,” she told him.
In a meeting at the school, Francisco’s teacher told her that a few other boys had been saying the same thing. No one could tell if they were serious, but Francisco’s mother believed her son. When they got home from the meeting, she shut herself in her bedroom for hours and cried.
While the war was going on, the city seemed to be in a perpetual autumn. For most of Francisco’s early childhood, a warm breeze blew between the tall buildings. Sometimes it would rain, but no one remembered seeing any clouds. After the men left, though, the sun didn’t shine as bright, nor as yellow. Everyone who was left behind grew tired of the golden-brown sun. It was the star of a planet on the brink of destruction. The veil of smog that blocked it out sometimes during the day made everyone feel even worse. The small family didn’t live a horrible life while Francisco’s father was off killing whoever it was that deserved to die. When he got back, despite being a bit of an empty shell sometimes, their lives got even better.
The memory of the day the sun came back out followed Francisco into college. He was at a corner store with his father, who’d bought him a chocolate milk. Near the back of the aisle next to the big window at the front of the store, Francisco heard another child say it.
“Look, it’s summer again.”
“Not for all us,” an old man said. “For some of us, it’s going to be winter for the rest of our lives.”
Looking towards the voice down the aisle, the young Francisco saw the man in an old, ratty uniform. The cash register dinged, then Francisco’s memory of that day ended. Occasionally, throughout the rest of his life, Francisco would think about that experience. He would remember two other people who were in the store. It seemed to him like he should have remembered who they were, but he never could.
From then on, it seemed like the big city had no fall, spring, or winter. The small family moved from their cold, little apartment at the center of the city. They bought a good-sized house in the suburbs. Francisco’s mother jumped with joy when she turned down the temperature on the thermostat and it worked.
The new house was far from the women Francisco’s mother used to see every day. She got a job in one of the small grocery stores a few blocks away to pass the time. It pleased his father that she was leaving the house on a regular basis. That is until he caught his teenage son testicles deep in a session of sexual exploration with one of his schoolmates. After that, Ronnie wasn’t allowed over anymore, and Francisco’s mother was no longer allowed to go to work.
The summer maintained a golden warmth until Francisco left home to go to university, long after he forgot about his first lover. When his mother drank a more gin than she could handle, it was summer. After his father smacked him across the face for talking back, summer. Francisco always thought summer seemed to end, not because he left home, but because the next war started. The friends he grew up with were leaving, and they were dying.
It still wasn’t horrible for Francisco, though. In class, he met another young man named Thomas, whom he fell madly in love with. For a while, it seemed like the autumn still followed Thomas around. When they went out to plays or concerts, the wind always blew chilly. That was part of what Francisco loved about him.
One night, in their third semester together, Thomas confided in Francisco that he’d had a rough childhood. His father died because of the same war that Francisco’s returned from. A gas cloud covered the land around Thomas’ father and his best friends, filling their eyes and lungs. None of them fully recovered. Most died within five years of Thomas’ father. He told Francisco that he was jealous his father was still alive. Thomas said Francisco didn’t appreciate his parents enough. The pair got into an argument that resulted in them splitting before mid-term exams. Thomas disappeared mysteriously for the duration of winter break.
In the same fashion as when he left, Thomas returned out of the blue. It was the day before their graduation ceremony, on a dark, damp night. There was slush on the ground from snow that had fallen that morning. A girl’s heels built up a slippery crust of ice on the bottom. She lost her footing and slid down four steps outside the auditorium. Francisco looked in her direction when she let out a screech, and there, at the top of the steps, was Thomas. He wore his graduation gown and a slight, crooked smile. As Francisco walked up the steps towards him, he stood to wait.
“I made a mistake, Francisco. I will never leave again if you take me back,” Thomas said.
A few years later, Thomas and Francisco married. The ceremony took place at a small chapel on the university campus. Neither of them wanted to hold it there, but it was dirt cheap for alumni. The officiant was a lovely older woman who lived in an assisted living complex. Every meeting they had while planning the wedding was at her tiny apartment across town. The couple liked the apartment so much they tracked down another building built by the same company. For the first five years of their marriage, Francisco and Thomas lived in a tiny loft.
After saving as much as they could for those first five years, they started talking about moving out to the countryside. Every Sunday during those years, Francisco would drive Thomas out of the city, into the forest roads. One weekend, while exploring a town they’d never heard of before, they found a plot of land for sale. Francisco laid down in the fallen orange leaves and flung them around. He threw a handful at Thomas, who kicked a small pile at him. They knew this was the place where they wanted to grow old. The rust-covered, tan little car would hold everything they owned. Their savings were enough to build a house and to start their own business. It was fate that they pick up everything and move onto that square of grass.
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