Every now and then I get an inspiration for something that absolutely writes itself. This is one of those moments. I have always loved the parable of the Progidal Son that Jesus told, as recorded in the book of Luke, chapter 15. It has such powerful implications for us all. I had never paused to think about the other side of the story, though, until just recently, and began to drum inside of my head until I had to try and write down what I was imagining. Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing this story for you all to read, should you choose. Before you read it, please understand that this is not a re-telling of the parable of Jesus. This is fiction based on that story. There is a big difference there. I hope that you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. – JB
He watched in silence, tears streaming down his face. He tried holding his sobs in, but occasionally he would become so despondent that his body would shake, and his wails would pierce the veil of quiet that seemed to now surround his entire household. His servants watched him with great sorrow and pity, yet eventually moved on to do their assigned jobs within the residence. Of course, he paid no attention to any of this. His eyes were firmly fixed on the figure driving away down the ornate driveway. He watched the car grow smaller and smaller until it completely ceased being visible to his eyes. Yet he stood there in the largest window in his house, and watched as if seeing a ghost. A single thought now roared loudly between his ears,
“What if I didn’t do the right thing?”
Heavily he sat down on the floor. He heard that same question resounding like a clanging cymbal in his head, and now his heart. So deep was his troubling that he barely noticed the young man standing in his doorway. He also barely even felt the arms that surrounded him and pulled him into a tight embrace. He felt hugged and vaguely heard a voice muttering something that he could not quite comprehend. He decided that it didn’t matter. He closed his eyes and sobbed angrily, welcoming death, but not finding it.
And so he cried and cried, until the deep, blissful nothingness of sleep overcame him.
This was the end of the first day.
The next morning the old man opened his eyes, then shielded them from the blaring sunlight still coming through his opened bedroom window. As his eyes adjusted, he found himself drawn to the driveway once again. He strained his eyes, as if to see something not found through ordinary sight, but saw nothing. Looking around the room, every picture reminded him of what was now missing. The cause of the great hole in his heart, and sorrow in his life. As he laid back down, he began to replay the scenario of the evening before to try and make some sense of all of it.
Abram, his youngest son, had come to him after a hard day of working around the acreage of land that must be kept up. He was visibly upset. Between the two of his boys, Abram was the most emotional, and the most inquisitive. Donann, the eldest son, had always been responsible and had taken to the hard work, understanding that the land was their birthright. That it had provided everything that they’d had now. But Abram could never reconcile why the servants were never allowed to work the land. He could never understand why all of the family had always worked the land. He felt that it was a fruitless exercise. So when he came to the Old Man making a case to receive his portion of the inheritance now so that he could pursue his future on his own terms, the Old Man had not truly been shocked, but the sting had come anyway. Donann tried to speak for his father, sternly reprimanding Abram for being “selfish and arrogant”, but the Old Man had shushed him, and sent Donann away.
Donann had walked away angrily shaking his head, and blaming the Old Man for the way that he had always coddled Abram. Those accusations now hung in the air over the Old Man and strangled his breathing. Shaking it off, he considered Donann’s point. It was true that he had been so careful with Abram. But Abram had been so sickly as a child, and complications with his delivery had resulted in his mother’s death. From the beginnings of his life, the Old Man had felt like the life of his wife had continued in Abram. He looked so much like her. Even thinking about her now made him raw with pain and loss. Taking a deep breath, he stood up and walked slowly over to the window again. The cleaned glass showed a light reflection of his haggard face, so he asked out loud,
“Is this my fault? Am I the reason why my son is gone?”
He went over every moment in their shared lives where Donann might have drawn his assumption. In each instance, he could see his favoritism. Birthdays where he had spent more money on Abram, getting him the latest, most high-tech toys to play with, while Donann had gotten more practical gifts, like having land deeded over to him for future investments. The Old Man quizzically wondered how he could have been so blind. In trying to care for the son who had suffered early on, he had abandoned the son who was suffering so greatly now. The one who had stayed.
Girding himself, the Old Man took a shower and made himself presentable. Before leaving his room, he glanced out of that same window one last time.
He found Donann in the kitchen having breakfast. Noticing the plate to his right, the Old Man grabbed it and sat down beside his oldest son. At first, they ate without acknowledging one another. Then after awhile, Donann broke the silence.
“Dad”, he said quietly, “he really left, didn’t he?”
The Old Man didn’t answer. He merely pushed his food around his plate, seeing how many configurations of eggs, bacon, grits, and fruit he could make before having to repeat.
“Son”, the Old Man spoke, his voice cracking and gravelly, “I…I..”
He abruptly rose from the table and walked back to his room, leaving Donann at the table at a loss for words. His temper came quickly, and as he thought about this brother leaving his father after having taken his sizeable inheritance before he knew it, he had tossed his plate, with food still on it, against the wall. Next flew his glass, with orange juice still inside. In his rage, he flipped the table, tossing everything onto the floor in a random clatter. As he stood there, surrounded by glass, heaving, eyes wild, body tense, almost vibrating, the tears finally came. Tears for the brother he had lost, and the father as well, it seemed. He sat in his mess sobbing uncontrollably, waving off the staff who came to see what the noise had been about.
The Old Man heard Donann breaking down, but he knew that there was nothing that he could have said to console him. This was not the way that their relationship worked. It was one of silent agreement. Donann knew his role as the oldest, and he fulfilled it with every ounce of energy that he’d had. Abram was the son who needed continued affirmation. Abram…..the son who had left.
The son who was out doing who knows what, who knows where with who knows who. Maybe he was even dead…no…
The Old Man shook away those sentiments quickly and closed his door to avoid hearing Donann anymore. “Didn’t he know”, the Old Man wondered,”that he loved him no less?”
“No”, came the voice in his head, “because you’ve never told him.”
The Old Man climbed back into bed, looked out of the window one last time, and allowed his grief to carry him into sleep.
This was the end of the second day.