I knew it was a mistake the minute it was over, but the sheer unadulterated goodwill that radiated from the people before me was undeniable. The hugs, the tears, the good natured slaps on my back, they were genuinely meant for me. Guests had literally stormed the alter steps in order to be amongst the first to congratulate us. I took my bride’s hand once more and gazed into the captivating blue eyes that echoed the sentiment of the throng.
I’d never experienced such compassion and complete joy before. After so many attempts, after so much calculated grief, could this be my time? A few tears of happiness etched their way down her cheeks. I gently caught one and pressed it to my lips, swearing to keep the memory of the taste forever. I couldn’t even remember walking down the aisle towards the cathedral doors. It was as though a tide of love had literally swept us towards the waiting day. Even the weather was part of the joyous conspiracy and had played its role by allowing the sun to dance magically across the stain-glass windows and bathe the steps of the cathedral with its relentless glare. The vast oak doors were heaved open with the appropriate dramatic flair. Without cue we held our position allowing time for the collected ensemble to gather themselves and form a human corridor along which we would soon pass. Down at street level the carefully chosen and tastefully adorned 1937, pearl white Rolls Royce Phantom pulled deftly up to the curb. White confetti and bright pink streamers were feverishly distributed amongst the giddy guests as though it were lost treasure.
I took a final moment to stop and savour what I had found. If ever there was cause to exalt the true nature of human existence then it was at such a moment as this. Surely all that ailed the world would be overcome if humanity could collectively experience what I had enjoyed over the last ten years. It didn’t matter to me that the majority of the people in attendance were from my new wife’s life. They had taken me into their fold en masse, with no suspicion or hesitation. Her siblings referred to me as brother, her parents as son, her friends called me friend and I was accepted and loved for the person I was.
The cathedral bells sounded with thunderous adulation to herald our descent. We carefully navigated the first of the vast granite steps just as a wave of confetti arched above our heads. Then strangely the confetti held its place in the morning sky. The light breeze lifted and the bells chimed no more. I stared around the unmoving faces of the guests. The world was still. Time had stopped. Letting go of my wife’s now frozen hand I looked pleadingly around at the motionless tapestry before me. I turned back to my wife and shook her shoulders gently and searched her face for any sign of recognition. Her eyes were alive, yet empty. I was concerned that in my panic I might inadvertently hurt her so I withdrew and frantically began to descend the steps, scouring the city that was now held captive. A plume of smoke, a bird caught in flight and an errant child’s balloon all told of the same story. But then the slightest of motions caught my eye. It was the chauffer. He had ceremoniously touched the peak of his patent leather, brimmed cap. I descended the last few steps but he did not move again. Was I mistaken? Only when I closed quizzically to within a few feet did I detect the fetid breath of the man and noticed that while pressed with militaristic precision, the uniform he wore was stained and frayed at the collar and cuffs.
The tall and gaunt figure leaned forward slightly, brining his one hand to his mouth as he did so.
“Hello Achan” whispered my father through narrowed eyes.
“That’s not my name” I replied hoarsely.
He chuckled reproachfully as he began to tug the taut leather gloves from his boney fingers.
“Yes it is. As surely as you are my son that is your name.”
“It took you ten years to find me this time” I said defiantly. It was pitiful and I detested the weakness in my own quivering voice but it was all I could muster.
“Five. Only five” he replied curtly.
“And then you watched?”
He shrugged and sighed deeply before removing the now seemingly ridiculous cap from his balding head. He actually looked at a loss of what to say next. There was nothing to say. My father always had time on his side in all matters. In the end he gave up and walked to the side of the car where he graciously opened the rear door.
He paused and began enthusiastically sniffing the air towards the wedding party. “She’s sweet that one. Pure. Well chosen!”
Again he pointed at me and his tone became so earnest “You can take her with you if you want. That I can allow.”
I knew he meant it.
“Could you just give me more time?”
“I could” he conceded.
And much to my eternal shame, for a fraction of a moment, I actually contemplated it, even loving her as much as I did. I tried to rationalize and justify my cascading thoughts, but alas there could be only one answer.
A deep fatigue washed over me as I took the first painful steps towards the open car door with my father’s withering gaze following me the whole time.
Before sitting I stole my final look towards the front of the cathedral and all that was now my old life. I slumped onto the seemingly immense, hand stitched, leather seat and watched my father walk around the car. He had a spring in his step that I found sickening. Seated behind the wheel he turned the ignition and took a few callous moments to marvel at the sound of the engine. He even glanced over his shoulder at me as if I should sanction his warped pleasure. I looked away, but this time not towards the cathedral.
My father gripped the wheel with both hands and regarded me in the rear view mirror.
“Nothing has changed. Everything is just as it was when you left. I promise you”.
I contemplated throwing open the door and just running blindly into the city, but the sheer futility of my existence trumped any momentary bravery or desperation I was feeling.
The Rolls gently pulled away carefully negotiating the hoards of unmoving pedestrians and cars. We had not travelled far before the road before us began to fracture violently. A few hundred feet more and the road ruptured completely and in doing so revealed the scorched gateway to the underworld home that is my father’s dominion.
As we descended I saw the first and most forlorn of all my father’s subjects, the virtuous pagan’s. The poor souls banded together like sheep. Many wailed when they saw me and a few held out their arms in pleading. I closed my eyes and bowed my head. How could I save them when I could not even save myself?
“Born and raised in Herefordshire, Carl Innes is a former soldier and police officer who now works as a federal correctional officer in Ontario, Canada. A busy family man Carl writes supernatural/horror screen plays and short stories in the dead of night when his personal demons come to visit. Carl lives in hope that he might be successful enough to be able to finish his working life as a writer, and not have to don body armour or a stab proof vest ever again.”
If you enjoyed ‘Another Day’ leave a comment and let Carl know.
Feature image by Madeleine Arnett
Read Carl’s previously published short story ‘The Meal‘ here…
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