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Tommy couldn’t get out of the house quietly if his life depended on it. The guy has cement feet, even worse when he’s had a few. His sister called me a few days ago to ask me to watch him, he was sure to go on a typical Tommy whiskey as medicine trip. The scary thing was, he didn’t. He seemed worryingly sober. We ambushed him at the door when he came back from the toilet. “What are you doing?”
“What does it look like we’re doing you idiot? We’re coming with you.”
“Don’t. Honestly you don’t want to.”
“If I didn’t want to I’d be asleep right now mate. This isn’t up for debate, let’s go. Get in the car.”
I put Tommy in the front so I could keep an eye on him. He sank into himself and stared out the window. I’d gotten so used to him defiantly sticking two fingers up to whatever situation got in front of him, this scared me. Even when I directed him to the 18 year old finely aged bottle I hid in the glove compartment, he just shrugged.
As we got further out into the countryside, factories and farming took over and ethnic diversity became less apparent. This was the old Britain: unchanged since the days of Thatcher in options and opinions. They didn’t like change, or outsiders. You went to school till you didn’t have to anymore. Then you learned a trade, married, reproduced, retired, and died.
We checked in to the hotel. Tommy helped with the bags then disappeared to his own room without a word.
I don’t sleep well in hotels at the best of times; the pillows always feel like tracing paper. Tonight was especially bad. I woke up about 2:30 and I heard something outside. I thought at first it was foxes, they make the weirdest sounds when they're getting busy. I saw Tommy through the blinds, sitting on a bench with his head sunk into his shoulders sobbing into his cigarettes.
The chapel of rest was tense. I could hear the murmurs from the locals. Tommy always said every time he went home he was reminded of why he left. I used to think he was being melodramatic.
The last time I saw this girl I threw her out of our house by her throat. Everybody’s got that ex, and even by those standards Tommy’s was especially horrible. She would surely want to make it about her, same as everything else. So I stopped her in the doorway.
“Turn around and leave now. You don’t belong here.”
“How do you know?”
“Jesus. Not you again. Get out of here you fat cow before I throw you out myself."
From behind me I heard Tommy’s brother. I don’t like him much. Sleazy scumbag, but he got rid of the bitch at least. I nodded to him and went back inside. Tommy was cordial with his brother, and a few of his uncles seemed genuinely happy to see him but that was about it. His mother was so happy to see him you’d swear it was somebody else’s husband in a box in the corner. She gave him an envelope and for a second I thought “Tommy don’t you dare take money from her right now.”
I knew when he flew out of the room that it was something else.
“The bastard wrote me a letter!”
He threw those words back at us from down the road without turning around. The trouble with men is, the time they need people the most is usually the time they go out of their way to be alone.
He was in the same spot again that night. This time we all went out and sat with him.
“Did you read it yet?”
“I can’t. You do it.”
I panicked. Not a great time to panic I realise but come on, when has anyone ever panicked at the right time? He looked up at me like a lost child. It didn’t sound like the right thing, but it was.
“OK, OK man. Give it to me.”
To my most elusive son,
They tell me I don't have long left. And they’re telling me I need to get my affairs in order. You're the writer here not me so this might be a bit all over the place.
I'm sorry I wasn't a good role model, and it didn't help I turned your brother into an arsehole either. He’s my son, and I love him but he’s a prick. Yet you turned out to be a better man then both of us.
I'm sorry I never took more interest in your writing. To tell you the truth I was just afraid every story would have a worthless dad in it. I don't blame you for not visiting more often. Your mother tells me you're living with a group of beautiful girls. That's my boy. Ever since you could walk you've been a ladies man. I remember your first steps; you saw a beautiful blonde and just took off running.
I hope you can forgive me. But you should forgive yourself at least. You don't owe us anything. If you can forgive me then for your sake do it. I hated my old man and look how I turned out. I love you. I'm proud of you even though I have no right to be, you became a good man in spite of me.
Have the best life. Write to your mum when you can.
The old man.
He laughed. He cried too, but he laughed. His head emerged from his shoulders; he wiped his eyes and went to bed.
He didn’t say anything the day of the funeral, we sat in the back. He didn’t even respond during the prayers. We waited outside for him, or at least the girls did. I waited at the door. He shook his brother’s hand, hugged his mum, and joined us in the car.
Without saying anything he took his tie off and reached under the seat. The bottle of scotch I got him emerged in his hands, he took a big mouthful and told us in his own way he was ok.
“I’d like to leave this shithole now, please and thank you.”
I think I’ll invite him for Christmas with my mum this year.