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Looking for Jake

by Rizona 

Posted: 27 June 2003
Word Count: 2084
Summary: This is the first short story I have written and I would really appreciate peoples' comments. The theme of the story is bigotry.

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Looking for Jake

The yellow glow of the torch flicked against the scattering of boxes in the cramped attic. Long shadows danced in the dusty air and outside the small window a harvest moon hung ominously above the calm of the ocean. Tears ran down Jake’s face as he moved the torch around, trying to put the small pieces of light together into a meaningful whole. He had not been inside this attic since he was a child and like everything in childhood, things are always smaller than you remember. He remembered how big it seemed up here, this secret room, this emptiness slowly filled with family junk, with memories put away into the darkness.

The past has a trick - when you run it runs with you. Even on the other side of the world. It’s omnipresent: a dark shadowy stalker. Jake didn’t know that then, he thought of Australia, the space where he could re-write himself free from the definitions of history. He imagined a new life where everything seemed new, including himself.

Jake is what is known as an Official Missing Person. His disappearance had been given some local news coverage and consequently had produced a number of sightings, all of which ultimately led nowhere. He was seen buying a stamp in a newsagent in Whitby, boarding a train at Paddington. Nothing solid. In the photograph used in the magazines and local papers Jake grinned out beneath a mop of blonde hair, his dark eyes squinting at the sun. The mystery of his disappearance gave the image pathos, am image of normality now rendered sad by circumstance, by a future that cruelly lay in wait. Jake was oblivious to his 15 minutes of fame. He was too far away from the fall-out to know what was going on.

His mother still expected him to walk through the door when he was strolling through Arrivals at Sydney airport. The deep blue spring sky of the new dawn welcomed him. It promised to swallow him up without trace. This thought comforted him as he made his way to the taxi terminal feeling the warm sun touch his face.

Jake’s mother sat at the kitchen table waiting for the sound of the key in the lock. She didn’t stop waiting for this. It was always there on some level, this gnawing sense of expectations unfulfilled. On that first night after the realisation that Jake had gone the rain had lashed down in menacing whispers outside the window and it seemed to her that her comfortable world had finally fallen apart.

“G’day!” grinned the tanned taxi driver, as he got out of the car to help Jake with his backpack. “Good flight?” he enquired pleasantly, as he closed the boot with a thud. “Not too bad” answered Jake getting into the passenger seat. “So, where can I take ya?” The cab driver started the meter and pulled out. “Do you know a hostel in the city you could take me to?” The taxi driver nodded yes and with a smile said “No worries”.

Jake’s father stared out to sea as the cold autumn wind whipped at his ears. The fishing vessel rocked about on the rough seas as he kept his vision on the flat horizon, his eyes cold and distant, the same grey colour as an overcast sky reflected in an ocean. The boy had cried when he had told him to leave. The tears had made him angry and he had lashed out with his fists, knocking Jake to the floor. He had left him there, trickles of blood coming through the gaps of his fingers covering his face. This image floated into the mind of Jake’s father, the final image. He shook his head slightly, successfully clearing the vision before taking control of the wheel and turning back for shore.

As they drove towards the imposing Coca-Cola sign in the Sydney suburb of Kings Cross, Jake tried to take it all in. People were still coming out of the bars and clubs, buying fast food. The place was alive with activity at eight o’clock in the morning. Jake checked into his wonderfully grotty hostel, showered and headed across the street to a café by a fountain to grab a coffee. He looked on as two drag queens tried to cross the busy road. People in their business clothes stared bemused at them with their beehives, striped tights and platform shoes. This was another world. People in green spandex frog costumes handed out flyers and waved at children and people that gawped from the passing buses. Jake smiled bathing in the glow of a new beginning.

The light had gone off inside Jake’s mother. Her overwhelming feeling was of numbness. The mystery had in effect destroyed her. Her husband put his barriers up to the world, convincing himself he never had a son. He insisted that all family pictures were removed, and when his wife resisted, he grabbed her violently by her arms and shook her, telling her “He’s gone, Susan. Gone”. He dropped her so she slumped onto the floor, sobbing back and forth, as she heard the sound of glass shattering as the photo frames on the mantelpiece clattered to the floor. The door slammed shut behind him, leaving her alone with the silence and the mess.

Jake was 17 when he had gone on a school trip to Paris. His father had been against it but his mother said that she thought it would do him good. In his adolescence she noticed with concern that Jake had become increasingly withdrawn from life. He spent his free time alone in his room listening to music or taking the family dog for walks along the beach. She hoped he was just bored of the small fishing village in which they lived, which she could understand. She hoped that University would bring him out of his shell the following year. It was on this trip to Paris that Jake had met Nicholas and to his surprise realised that he had fallen in love with him.

Jake discovered in Australia a world that had an entirely different understanding of normality. He found that the distance and the change of location were awakening in him a sense of perspective that he had never experienced before. In his optimistic moments he felt here he could become who he was without restraint and without guilt. The cut above his eye was beginning to heal but his heart sank whenever he was questioned about it. He thought he could read in the other people there a motivation for being there – a desire to escape. And so he fit in with these people who rarely discussed their families or their old lives. Complete as they were in the moment, who cared about your story or your reasons?

Life revolved around the quaint little church situated atop a hill overlooking the village and facing out to sea. The religious community extended their support to Jake’s father and mother. They kept Jake in their prayers, the polite and well-mannered young man from a good family. Jake’s father would bow his head in shame at the mention of the name of his son, but the congregation took it for a kind of stoic sadness and they pitied him.

In his dreams Jake would be transported back to the tiny English fishing village. He would be with his mother and they would be walking down to meet his father. Walking towards the ocean they would see the boat out at sea, coming towards them and they would sit and wait for him. He would turn to his mother and she would be crying and he would try and comfort her but she couldn’t hear him, or couldn’t touch her. In this dream he would be nothing more than a ghost, and he would wake up terrified.

It was the time of year when summer distinctly gives way to autumn and the light becomes golden and distant as the sun moves higher in the sky. The morning post had been left on the table. Jake’s father made himself a cup of tea and buttered some bread and rifled through the pile. A letter was there for Jake, unusual as it had the postmark ‘Paris’, and looked to be a handwritten letter of a personal nature. Curious, Jake’s father flipped it over and could see the senders name and address on the back. He noticed that the flap was not stuck down properly on one side, and with a light flick to it with his index finger, the flap lifted effortlessly. He paused for a second, confirming the silence and emptiness of the house, before plucking out the letter inside.

Jake had found it easy to make friends. Soon he was living in a shared house in Pott’s Point and doing cash-in-hand work in one of the bars on Oxford Street. He was part of the scene. His new friends could sense that he was guarded about his past, about his experiences, but he confided in his closer friends about his father, about his life. Whoever he had now become he acknowledged the necessity, for better or worse, of everything that had gone before.

In the attic, Jake shone the torch on to a tattered cardboard box which had his name written on the side in marker pen. He pulled the box down and opened it. Inside he found the photos of his history, memories of his youth. As a toddler he sat on his mother’s knee beside a birthday cake with 3 glowing candles. Slightly older and he is standing with his father, holding up his first catch. His father looks down at him, smiling and proud. He goes through the photos and picks out his favourites and puts them in a pile to the side. He sees it differently now, his childhood.

A car pulled up on the gravel outside his house and Jake instantly turned off the torch. His head against the floor he felt the house give a slight shudder as the front door closed. His heart pounding he froze against the floor, eyes wide.

“Your mother is a religious woman, she will want to forget you ever existed”. His father spat these words at him like vitriol as he confronted Jake about the letter on that day when the season changed back then, all those years ago. He assumed his mother would be told and that she would reject him, but she was never told. In all those years she never knew the truth.

Jake awoke in the room full of memories when the beam of light shining through the small attic window touched his face. He looked around, slowly remembering where he was. He moved to the window, looking out at the vast expanse of ocean in the faint morning light. He noticed that the car was gone from the drive. He sat down and head in hands, gathered his thoughts for a moment.

The door to his parents’ bedroom was closed and he twisted the handle quietly. Hearing the heaviness of his breath he paused for a moment to gather himself. He pushed and the door swung silently open. Seeing his mother there asleep he took a sharp intake of breath, she looked so old now, but peaceful. The light shone through the powder blue curtains and her brown hair cascaded on the pillow and the bedclothes. Trying to be as quiet as possible he walked over and bent down beside her. She sighed deeply in her sleep the way she always had. He kissed her lightly on the forehead and removed the letter from the back pocket of his jeans and placed it against the glass of water on her bedside table. Tears welled in his eyes as he looked at her again finally, as he turned to leave, closing the door silently behind him.

His mother dreamt that her son had returned and that he had kissed her while she slept. When she awoke she put her hand to the spot that in her dream he had kissed. In the moments between sleep and wakefulness she had opened her eyes to see the letter, scrawled on the front of the envelope was simply the word ‘Mum’. She moved quickly to the window and looked down toward the ocean, looking for him. Looking for Jake. But then she understood it was no use. He was gone.

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Comments by other Members

Anna Reynolds at 12:45 on 14 August 2003  Report this post
Rizona, this is a really great read. I'm impressed that it's your first short story. The simplicity of the story itself works well, and the intercutting of the past and present, Australia and the village gives it a nice clean structure with some tension. The characters are well drawn, especially Jake and his mother. I did wonder if the father might benefit from a little more fleshing out; the more complex a character the better, in a story that is driven partly by the moral life of the father. And I think there are places where you could economize a little- that's always the case with any writing I think- and perhaps just trim down some of the description. But overall, it's a lovely read- I whizzed through it and felt great pathos for Jake and his mother. Fab.

Ioannou at 14:31 on 01 September 2003  Report this post
So terribly sad. But brilliant. Your characters work for me. Like the way it all slots slowly into place and ends tragically. Love, Maria.

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