In this blog post I decided to do something a little different. For those people who enjoy fiction, this is an excerpt from a collection I’m currently working on. For the moment it has the fancy title “Venetia”.
The context: Venetia’s twin brother Dixon has quit his job, which has caused a rather explosive confrontation with their verbally abusive father. Dixon has a certain idea about how life should go, which is shaped by his exceptionally opinionated girl friend (and almost everyone else in his life). The following is a meeting between the brother and sister written from Venetia’s perspective. Appropriately it has a twin passage in an excerpt entitled “Dixon.”
Please, forgive me. This is an early draft.
Wednesday morning. Again.
The same routine. Make fresh coffee. Shower. Dry the hair. Shuffle around. She started laundry. Ate toast with peanut butter for breakfast. Stood by the sink and sipped coffee, watched the gray clouds break for the sun.
And the longer Venetia went about her business, the stronger the feeling grew.
About mid-morning the knock echoed woodenly through her house. Venetia straightened from the pile of laundry on her bed. She moved into the living room and opened the door.
Dixon stood there puffing gasps of breath into the cold, damp air. He looked as lost and forlorn and miserable as she had ever seen him. His eyes were strained from lack of sleep and alarmingly blue in his sullen face. Even though he stood tall, hands in his pockets, he seemed to have shrunk a foot.
Venetia hung against the open door. She knew it. “Hi,” she said.
“Hey,” Dixon didn’t look her in the eye, just the way he used to after their father’s craziest verbal beatings.
Venetia moved aside, pulled him into the house without a word or a touch.
Dixon meandered past her into the living room. His gaze touched everything and saw nothing. He didn’t take off his jacket or slip out of his shoes. He just sort of loomed there in the room.
“Do you want some coffee?” Venetia asked, stepping past him. “I just made it.”
Dixon nodded. “Yeah,” and shuffled into the kitchen behind her. This time he saw his surroundings. He studied everything but her.
Venetia took down a few mugs. The wind whipped and spun her neighbor’s clothesline, picked up leaves and sent them skittering across the grass. Venetia poured coffee into their mugs. “Is this because you missed me, or… is this something else?” she said, knowing the answer. Venetia never really had to ask Dixon questions; they had known each other since before science officially labeled them human.
Dixon pulled out a chair and sat down. Folding his hands into a little steeple, he gazed at them, not at his sister.
Waiting, Venetia set a mug in front of him and pulled out a chair for herself, slipped into it. She knew what he had come for, but how could she give it to him when she couldn’t even find it for herself?
Suddenly Dixon spoke: “Do you remember your wedding? How proud Dad looked because you were marring Andre? How Mom just sparkled?”
Venetia’s heart skipped up a beat. She tried not to look confused. “Yeah.” The nerves. Too nervous for food. Running to the hair salon. Phone calls about the reception. Losing the laces for the back of her dress– and Andre at the end of the aisle standing tall, smiling as if he could take the whole world in with that grin.
“Did you watch them dance?”
Mom and Dad? Dance? “No,” Venetia said, a private smile. “I was a little preoccupied.” Andre at her elbow. Her whole being electric, charged by his magnetism as if “Mr.” and “Mrs.” were poles pulling them together forever. Smiling. Laughing. Marveling. For his eyes only.
“Well, I did,” Dixon said. “They flirted like kids. They laughed and giggled, and Dad had his hands on Mom’s butt the whole time.”
Venetia and Dixon laughed together, embarrassed. She tried to picture it, let it push out the other memory, transpose those Andre-feelings she had felt, try them on like play outfits against her parents.
“They acted like– like they’d finally done something right, even after everything they’d done wrong. Do you know, that’s the only time I’ve ever seen Dad kiss Mom?”
Venetia’s mind recoiled at that. No, it couldn’t be. But yes, she never really had seen her parents kiss. For the first time in her married life, she was sad how wrapped up in Andre she had been that day. She had seen no one else.
“The only time,” Dixon said, shaking his head, bewildered. “I’ve seen him almost hit her. I’ve seen him swear at her. I’ve seen him disrespect her to his friends–” each phrase nailed itself to Venetia’s mind with a memory– “but that’s the only time I ever saw him kiss her. On the dance floor. At your wedding. Like a couple of teenagers.”
Venetia sighed. She remembered… Mom laughing like she had never laughed. Carefree the whole day. Not even bothered by the interruptions, the bubbles, the wrinkles in the plan. Venetia took a sip of coffee, waited for it; she waited for what Dixon had come here to say all along. That truth rattling his lid, whining to escape just so that he could hear himself say it.
“Have you ever wanted–even once–to ask them: ‘Why are you never happy?'”
Venetia wrapped her mug in a death grip. But happiness isn’t that easy! she wanted to cry. Even when you follow the formula and all the rules, you only do it to realize there is no formula and no real rules for happiness. Reluctantly, Venetia nodded. “Sometimes,” she said.
“I tried to walk the line!” Dixon cried. There is was. Peeking out just now. The words. The truth that maybe even Dixon didn’t know yet. “I did everything I thought he wanted. I did everything Mom wanted, and nothing worked. And when I met Mackayla I did something that would make me happy. And for a while it made me extra happy because it was like sticking the middle finger at both of them.”
Venetia chuckled, shocked that he spoke her truth, too–put into words things she had only ever felt and could never articulate.
Dixon looked around, eyes strained, bloodshot, and red. “But you know something? When Aunt Claire died, I started thinking about Aric. How he’s missing the one person who believed in him, and the only person he’s got left is his dad–who’s a dick.”
Venetia straightened, automatic reflex, disgusted. “Don’t say that word.”
“But it’s true.” Dixon turned his defiance away toward the table and gulped down some of his coffee. When he finally looked up and met Venetia’s gaze, she saw that he was broken wide open underneath. All those old wounds were oozing, torn open by the claws of reality, mauled over again by life’s vicious cycle. “What would happen to me if you guys were all gone, and the only person I had left was dad?… I thought of that after Aunt Claire. So you know what I did? I didn’t want to hear Dad gripe anymore so I gave in. I took the Shipton job. And I hated it. It didn’t make him happy. It didn’t make Mom happy. It didn’t make me happy. And it certainly didn’t make Mackayla happy.”
Venetia shook her head. That was Dixon, wanting what everyone else wanted. Happy only when everyone else was happy. “Dixon, you’ll never be able to make everyone else happy. That’s unhealthy.” But, in a way, isn’t that what she did with Andre? Shield him from the truth. Bear all the pain and disappointment by herself because it was more important for him to be happy than for their relationship to be true.
“Well, I don’t know what else to do!” Dixon lifted his hands up and cried Venetia’s words just like twins do. “People say they want this. People say they want that. But when I do ‘this,’ when I do ‘that’, it’s like they’ve changed their mind!”
Venetia’s hands trembled, and she tried to hold on to her coffee mug. I know. I know, she wanted to say. But what do I tell you? I don’t want anything from you, Dixon. I just want you to be you. The one who’s been with me always.
“What do you want, Dixon?” she asked.
Dixon deflated in front of her, shrunk down to the little boy sitting at the kitchen table, scared, waiting for the door to burst open. When they were younger–even into their teens–whenever they went out to eat, Dixon always whispered to Venetia; “What are you gonna have?” And when the waitress asked him what he wanted, he always ordered the same as Venetia. Teachers called him indecisive, but Venetia knew that wasn’t true.
It spilled out of him now, flowing fast: “I wanna get married. I wanna have kids. I wanna live in a little mismatched house like this that creaks and groans when I walk on the floors. I want to make my wife happy. I want to wake up in the morning and say: ‘I love you… You’re beautiful.'”
Venetia knew the question that needed to come next, but she was scared to ask. It would break their understanding. “Does Mackayla want that?”