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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

NOW WRITING...?: The Largest Heart - Prologue and Chapter 1 Excerpt

Over the last year, I'll admit that I had lost focus on a lot of creative endeavors.  While I did have a few exciting announcements and releases, 2015 wasn't the productive year that I had hoped.  However, I did start a few new projects that I hope to bring to fruition in 2016 (and beyond), as well as  few that I'm not so sure will go much further.

One such project is THE LARGEST HEART.  It began as comic book pitch that, unfortunately, failed to gain much traction.  I still loved the story though and in the fall of last year, I began work on transforming the graphic novel into a prose one.  I completed very rough versions of the prologue and chapter one, but then life got in the way and I shelved them.  

As a way of getting myself out there, I want to share the prologue and the first 75% of chapter one with you today.  I want to see what the reaction from my friends and fans is, which may dictate whether or not I press forward with this project in the coming year.  You can hit the jump to begin reading and you can email me your thoughts here.
Background
THE LARGEST HEART is loosely based upon the life of legendary professional wrestler, Andre the Giant.  Though entirely fictional, I did borrow bits and pieces form Andre's life to inspire the events of the story.  The book itself is about more than professional wrestling, however.  It is about a young man's attempts at understanding the father that he barely knew in the aftermath of his passing.  It is incredibly personal to me on a number of levels, which is why I clung to the story even after the graphic novel version was abandoned.  

I cannot emphasize enough that what you are about to read is a ROUGH DRAFT. In fact, I would call it a VERY ROUGH DRAFT.  There are misspellings, grammatical errors, tonal shifts, plot inconsistencies, and other problems that will be fixed before I ever present this to a publisher or even release it formally myself.

Prologue

“Come on, Victor!  Hurry up! We’re gonna miss it!”
Though he could not bring himself to understand exactly why they were in such a hurry, young Victor Taylor pumped the pedals of his bicycle harder hoping to gain enough speed to catch up to his friend.  The crisp autumn air whipped against their faces as the nine-year old boys rushed down the quiet suburban street.  Victor winced with each crack of wind against his skin, but pressed on.  Though it had been two years since Victor and his mother had immigrated to America, he had struggled to make friends.  Dean was the first boy to accept his friendship with such fervor (or any fervor for that matter).  The last thing that Victor wanted was to jeopardize this new relationship and so he gleefully zoomed through the neighborhood on his second-hand Schwinn chasing after his impossibly enthusiastic friend even if he had no idea why they had to get Dean’s house so quickly.
As they pulled into the driveway of the modest suburban home, Dean deftly leapt from his bicycle while it was still in motion, sending it careening on doomed path towards the garage door.  As his compatriot’s bike crashed against the pavement, Victor carefully slowed, dismounted, and set his own down.  By that time, Dean had already bounded into the house with the same reckless abandon that characterized his behavior from the moment they left the park moments earlier.  Once he realized the time, Dean set off for his house with incredible urgency and demanded that Victor follow without explanation.  Victor hoped the reason would present itself once they arrived. 
As Victor entered his friend’s home, he could hear the television set booming, “Welcome back to Weekend Warriors!  We have a great main event this afternoon as Sensual Sonny Sawyer battles the unstoppable mountain of a man, the French juggernaut, the incredible Huge Hugo!” 
Victor stood in the doorway, uncertain of what he was seeing. 
“Sit down!” Dean swung his arms wildly, beckoning Victor to sit next to him on the rust-colored carpet in front of the enormous cabinet television.  Dean’s father and brother were already seated on the sofa. Whatever this was, it was clearly a familial experience.  “Don’t tell me you’ve never watched wrestling before!”
Dean excitedly grabbed at Victor’s arm and yanked him to the carpet. In the few weeks since Victor had moved to the neighborhood, Dean found a special delight in all of the pop culture milestones that were new to him.  Not having cable television put Victor at enough of a cultural disadvantage, but having grown up in rural England made him completely ignorant of all the things boys his age loved.  In their first three attempts at “finding the right place” (his mother’s words), this meant that his peers simply ignored him.  In Dean, however, Victor was fortunate to finally have an ambassador to all the things that had been unaware of prior to their friendship.  This was yet another lesson for Victor, much like the toys and comic books Dean had already shared with him.
“Sawyer has his work cut out for him,” said a man in a wide-cut suit that seemed to be more teeth and meticulously coiffed hair than anything else (‘That is Graham Wallace,’ Dean whispered).  “If he wants a shot at the title, he must find a way to win today.”
The screen cut to a man in what appeared to be a very glittery bathrobe slinking down an aisle.  He ran his thumb and forefinger across his moustache and smiled menacingly before entering the ring.  The boisterous crowd made it abundantly clear that they disapproved of him with thunderous boos.  Victor didn’t quite understand why, but he noticed that Dean and his own family didn’t seem to like him either.  Victor opened his mouth to inquire about what made this Sawyer character so undesirable when the demeanor of the audience, both televised and sitting before him, changed dramatically.
“Now approaching the ring, from Paris, France, weighing in at 530 pounds and standing over 7-feet tall,” the ring announcer paused for dramatic affect as the crowd screamed with glee, “HUGE HUGO!”
Victor could not believe what he saw next.
Even translated to a television screen, the enormity of Huge Hugo was undeniable.  He was gigantic in the sense that Victor had imagined Greek and Roman gods to be when he read about them in storybooks.  Had he been wearing more than a tiny black trunks (“It is NOT underwear,” Dean drilled into Victor’s head when they discussed this later), Victor would have sworn that Hugo was not one man, but rather three men stacked on top of another in some elaborate prank.  Despite limited interest in watching the television just moments before, Victor was now completely captivated.  Sonny Sawyer was larger and more imposing than any man Victor had seen in person, but Victor did not understand how he would have any chance in a fight against his monstrous opponent. 
Victor sat quietly, mouth agape, as the match began.
Sawyer attacked first with a futile series of punches to the massive chest of Huge Hugo.  “He is going to need more than that,” observed Gino Scimmia—the broadcast partner of Graham Wallace.  Hugo was unmoved by the flurry of attacks from his opponent.  “What a crushing headbutt!” Scimmia exclaimed as Hugo drove his forehead against Sawyer, knocking him to the ground. “There is no stopping this behemoth!”
Though he had never seen professional wrestling before, Victor sat in silent awe for the entirety of their match.  Amidst the grapples and strikes, questions would form in his brain, but before they could make their way to his lips, these inquiries would be washed away by the next exciting maneuver.  He found himself leaning towards the television, subconsciously wanting to become part of the maddening crowd that watched the battle firsthand.  His muscles jerked involuntarily whenever Hugo would deliver a crushing blow and he found himself holding his breath in anticipation when Sawyer would mount a desperate counterattack against the titan. 
The crowd erupted, both on the television and in Dean’s living room, when Huge Hugo mercifully ended the match by jumping in the air and landing directly on top of the prone Sawyer, who lay helplessly on his back in the middle of the ring.  The ‘Huge Splash’ was the most devastating maneuver in all of professional wrestling and was by far the coolest thing that Victor had ever seen in his entire life.  Dean excitedly exclaimed his delight over the outcome, though Victor was oblivious to his friend’s reaction.  The entirety of his attention was fixated on the screen as Graham Wallace and Gino Scimmia closed out the broadcast with a cordial invitation to tune in the following week for more “bone-crunching excitement.”
Though his young life had been full of uncertainties, Victor was, perhaps for the very first time, acutely aware that he knew exactly two things at that moment.  First of all, he knew that nothing could stop him from returning to Dean’s house the following Saturday for the next installment of Weekend Warriors.  Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, he knew his life would now be defined as the time before he saw Huge Hugo decimate Sensual Sonny Sawyer and everything after.

*             *             *

                Martha Taylor nervously bit her lip as she looked out the small kitchen window, anxiously awaiting her son’s arrival.  She was absentmindedly washing dishes, doing her best to stay occupied while still being able to look out on the driveway.  Any other chore would put her out of eyeshot and that was simply unacceptable.  She was simply killing time until Victor returned.
                This was their fourth move since emigrating from England; at each previous attempt at making a home, Victor had struggled to make friends.  Though he was never bullied or fully ostracized by his schoolmates, he had not found true companionship.  He would be invited to a birthday party here and there, but he had certainly never been invited to spend an entire Saturday one-on-one with another child.  In Dean had found a fast friend, which had both relieved Martha and made her considerably more anxious.  Victor was the center of her world and his happiness was paramount to her, though their financial struggles and inability to stay in one place for more than a few months had unfortunately trumped all efforts for Victor to create the long-lasting friendships that often defined one’s childhood.  They had each other, but the young single mother knew that would not and should not be enough for her son.  
Now that he was making his first attempt at bonding with one of his peers, Martha felt weighed down by the uncertainty of the situation.  She was plagued by visions of scenarios in which this experiment would prove unsuccessful—What if Victor said the wrong thing?  What if the boys got in a fight?  What if Dean looked down on Victor for his hand-me-downs? Her heart broke a hundred times for her son within moments of his departure.  She finally found a stable job and they had a nice place to live—if Victor could make some friends, this could be their “home.” Being a single mother in a new country had been far more difficult that she could have ever imagined, but everything was finally falling into place.
                She felt her heartbeat quicken as she saw Victor racing down the driveway.  She took a deep breath and said a silent prayer that all went well.
                “Oh, my boy! How was your day today? Tell me all about it,” Martha said as she caught her son in a tight embrace the moment he came through the door.  He wriggled himself free far sooner than she had hoped, not understanding why she had insisted on such a long and powerful hug.
                “Mum!  You won’t believe what I just saw!  Dean showed me the best thing ever on the telly!”  Even though they had been living in the States for a few years, Victor had not lost all of his British shorthand and Martha secretly wished that he never would.
                “Well tell me all about it, little one.  I would love to hear what has excited you so.”
                “It was amazing!” Victor was vibrating with excitement. “Wrestling!  These big strong guys fight other guys and it is so exciting.  Dean said I could come back next Saturday to watch it.  His whole family watches it. You should have seen it!”
                “Wrestling?” she responded shallowly. “Oh.” She suddenly found it difficult to breathe.  This was worse than anything she had imagined.
                Victor was oblivious to any change his mother’s behavior. “I only saw one match, but it was awesome! Sonny Sawyer was this bad guy and he was really big and tough but he wasn’t big enough to win.  Oh no. Not at all. Not against Hugo!”
                The world began collapsing around Martha. 
                “Victor, sweetie. I don’t think you should—“
                “Huuuuuuuge Hugo! He was so gigantic and so strong. I have never seen anything like it, mum!”  Tears began to well in Martha’s eyes as Victor wrestled with an imaginary foe, mimicking Huge Hugo’s maneuvers.  “I wanna watch it all the time”
                Martha wobbled her way to a chair on weak knees and slumped down.  She leaned her elbows on the well-worn Formica of the thrift store dining table and buried her head in hands.  How on Earth can I explain this to him?  I am not ready for this at all and neither is he.  At this point Victor took notice of his mother, though he did understand why she was not sharing in his excitement.
                “What’s wrong, mum? Are you okay?”
                Martha drew in a deep breath and held it as long as she could.  “You cannot watch that anymore, Victor.”  She swore that she could hear his precious little heart shattering into a thousand pieces and did her best to hold back her tears.  “I forbid it.”
                “But…” 
                “I’m sorry, sweetie.”
                “But mum, I love it so much. I wanna watch Huge Hugo wrestle everyone.  He’s my favorite.”
                She had no response.  She opened her mouth, hoping that the right words would come out, but instead all she could offer was tears.  Ever sensitive, Victor reached out to her, fighting back tears of his own as he wrapped his tiny arms around her.
                “I won’t watch it if it makes you sad,” he whimpered into her shoulder.  “But I know you’d like it if you saw it.  You’d love Huge Hugo.  You gotta see him.”
                She had no choice.  She knew it was a conversation they would need to have at some point, but she wanted to wait until he was older and would understand the difficult choices she had made and the sacrifices that came with them.  There would be a time when he would understand all of the shame and guilt that she felt in that moment and that would be the ideal time for this conversation to happen.  But she would not have that luxury.  She could lie to him no longer. She knew it would hurt.  She expected him to hate her.  He was too young and immature—she was too young and too immature.  They were not prepared for this, but it was happening to them regardless.
                “It wouldn’t matter, sweetie. I have seen Huge Hugo.”  Victor looked at her in disbelief.  “I know him, sweetie.”
                “But…but…how?”
                You’ll forgive me, someday, she thought to herself.  “Huge Hugo is your father.”

Chapter 1 (Excerpt)

                Huge Hugo was dead.  He was born Hugues Laurent in France.  He traveled the world entertaining millions as a professional wrestler.  He retired to his ranch outside of Odessa, Texas.  He died.  These were the facts that Hugo’s estranged son Victor Taylor knew to be certain as he sat quite impatiently in the lobby of Sherman and Associates Law Firm.  A man beloved across the globe—a household name to many—was dead.  His father was dead. 
Victor had yet to cry.  He justified this with an entirely incorrect self-assessment that he was not an emotional person.  “I’m not one to cry,” he told his best friend Dean, who chose not to argue out of respect for the grieving that Victor would eventually experience.  His father was dead.  He had repeated this fact over and over in his head over the last few days, hoping that it would ultimately elicit a response—any response.  Though their relationship had been strained at best, he did love his father.  When Victor was sixteen, his Boston terrier Sasha broke free from her leash and was killed in the street by a passing car.  Victor was so overcome with grief over her death that he had missed three days of school.   He wept himself to sleep every single night for a week.  She was just a dog, he thought to himself, but this is my father.
                A strong floral scent hung heavily in the air—so strong in fact, that it burned his nostrils whenever he inhaled.  The stench was so prevalent that the air felt weighted by the cloud of imitation lavender and honeysuckle.  Victor made the mistake of breathing through his mouth only to find that the only thing worse than smelling the air freshener was actually tasting it.  He was already annoyed that his appointment was scheduled to begin twenty minutes earlier, but the fact that he was could not escape the flowery cloud that enveloped the lobby.  
He desperately wanted to leave, but a sense of duty to his late father meant seeing this entire situation through to the finish.  He had flown to Odessa three days prior for the small private funeral—“intimate” was the polite way he would describe it to anyone that asked—and this was the final bit of business he had to complete before he could fly home and move on with his life.  He had already checked out of his hotel room and so once this meeting was complete, he could go directly to the airport.  A few papers to be signed and then he would be off.  In a matter of hours he would be home and this chapter of his life would be completed.  He would have smiled at the thought, but he had resolved to hold his breath as long as he could to avoid inhaling.  In that moment, it was the only thing keeping him sane.
He had already perused the tattered magazines that were left out to distract clientele.  There seems to be an unspoken rule about lobbies—the less the people waiting want to be there, the more magazines are necessary.  Nobody wants to visit a lawyer and so, presumably, celebrity gossip and sports analysis from three months prior can soften the situation.  If you can read something trivial, you can distance yourself from the serious business that brought you there in the first place.  The same rule applied to dentist offices and hospitals.  Unfortunately for Victor, the pickings were slim and he had arrived for the appointment early, so the magazines had long since lost the ability to keep his mind off of the reason he had come.  His father was dead.
The only other person in the lobby was a doe-eyed receptionist on the other side of the room.  Her disinterested demeanor was exactly the same as it had been when he checked in with her upon his arrival.  He watched as she quietly stared off into the distance, knowing that she might possibly want to be there less than he did.  Victor considered striking up a conversation with the young woman and even thought of an ice-breaking joke about the lavender nightmare that permeated he air.  Ultimately, however, he decided against it.  She was attractive and they were roughly the same age—would she think he was hitting on her?  She had to have known that his appointment was to settle the affairs or his recently deceased father.  If she thought he had the gall to flirt with her at a time like this—
“Victor?” His train of thought was mercifully broken by the appearance of Page Horowitz.  “Come on back, son.  I am so sorry about the wait.” 
                Victor adjusted his stride as he followed Horowitz.  Victor was not an unnaturally tall person, having taken after his mother in that regard, but still stood several heads taller than Horowitz.  The lawyer’s legs seemed impossibly short to Victor, who was careful not to outpace the man as he scurried down the hallway.  If not for his thick beard, Horowitz may have been mistaken for well-dressed child.  His hair was a mess of dark curls that would not be tamed and stood in stark contrast with his immaculately pressed designer suit.  The lawyer’s diminutive size was highlighted further by the grandeur of his expansive office—from the oversized leather-bound chairs to the massive mahogany desk, everything was impressively large and stood in stark contrast to the small man that commanded it all.
                “Before we get started, I want to offer my deepest condolences.  Your father was good man and I am glad to have known him.  You have my sympathies, Victor.” 
Though he was a bit absurd to behold, Page Horowitz walked and spoke with an air of authority that put Victor at ease.  His father was prone to making poor decisions in his personal relationships, so it seemed entirely likely that he would hire some fly-by-night strip mall lawyer to handle his affairs.  Victor had envisioned his father’s lawyer to be a flashy ambulance chaser that jumped quickly to take advantage of an ailing celebrity. 
“Thank you, Mr. Horowitz.”
“Please, call me Page.”
“Thank you, Page.”  Victor forced a smile.  He wasn’t sure how much his father had told his lawyer about their relationship, but he assumed from the warmth of Horowtiz’s behavior meant that he knew very little about the tensions that kept the two from speaking for the last several years.  “I really appreciate what you have done for my father.  His nurses said that you visited often and that you were good friends.”
Horowitz took genuine delight in those words.  “Hugues might have been my favorite client.”  He butchered the French pronunciation, but Victor understood that using his father’s real name and not his far more famous stage name was meant as a sign of respect.   “Your father never got around well, but I was delighted to visit him at the ranch.  He always said that before he passed he wanted to take me fishing out on the lake, you know.  Did he ever take you there?”
“Once or twice,” Victor lied.  “Back when he was still well.”  He had never visited his father’s ranch nor had he planned on ever doing so.  Even for the funeral proceedings, Victor had insisted that everything be done off-site, despite the insistence of those who knew his father in his final days. Everyone had told him how much his father loved the place, but to Victor it was a vast, cold wasteland where his father secluded himself from the outside world to die.  It was where he put himself out to pasture when the spotlight—much like his health—began to fade and Victor wanted no part of it.
“I’m sorry to see it go, but I understand why you want to sell it, what with you living in Cleveland and all,” Horowitz said as he ruffled through a pile of papers.  “The housing market isn’t what it used to be, so I don’t know how much you’ll get out of it.  Not to mention, the place isn’t what it used to be.  I’m afraid your father couldn’t keep up with the maintenance as much as he would like.”  Victor was not surprised to hear any of this. Hugo has purchased the ranch at the height of his popularity as a professional wrestler, which, unfortunately, was also at the precipice of the steep decline in health that would ultimately lead to his death.  For the first few years of ownership, his father would have been able to hire landscapers and housekeepers and handymen to help him, but with little money saved and even less money incoming, the house would fall into disrepair. 
Horowitz rubbed his beard thoughtfully as he looked over the estimates his office had drawn up after inspecting the state of the house and the state of Hugo’s finances, which were somehow in even worse shape than his home.  “Still, he had a good amount of acreage and since you don’t want to take any of the furnishings, we might be able to break even with your father’s creditors on the sale.  I certainly hope you weren’t counting on there being much left over for you and your family.”
                Thankfully, he had not.
                “I want to assure you that we have done our best to straighten out the financial quagmire that your father built,” Horowitz said solemnly.  Victor could tell that he was being genuine.  “Your father had a bad habit of living extravagantly, even after he retired from wrestling.  Between his medical bills, the remaining mortgage payments on the ranch, funeral arrangements, and some other debts, not to mention a sizeable amount owed in back taxes—yeesh.  What little he had in savings is long gone.”  Horowitz paused for a moment to clean his glasses, though it was likely that his true intention was to let Victor process everything that he was saying.  “There is a matter of some personal affects, however.”
                “I thought that was going to be taken care of in the estate sale?”  Victor was rather adamant about not wanting to keep any of his father’s possessions.  He had barely enough room in his apartment for his own things.  “Anything that can’t be sold with the house can be sold to fans.  I think that he would have liked that.” 
                “Absolutely,” Horowitz responded.  “I think that is a great way to give back to those who loved your father.  However, there are some things he specifically wanted you to have.   It isn’t much but he was very clear that these items were to be given to you.”  In Hugo’s will, Victor had been given virtually everything in rather broad strokes.  Some of his father’s friends were to receive a handful of items, mostly memorabilia from his career in the ring, but Victor did not expect that there was anything his father actually wanted him to have.  He had never known his father to be an overly sentimental man. 
“How much exactly?  I wasn’t planning to take anything more back with me.  Extra boxes can be a real pain at the airport.  I’m sure you under—“
“We will have the box mailed to you so that you won’t be inconvenienced.”  Horowitz’s tone shifted abruptly. 
“It’s not that, it’s just that—“ Victor searched for the right words to rephrase his initial statement, but it was unnecessary. He said exactly what he meant and he was well aware of how callous it must have sounded.  He felt ashamed, though he was unsure if that shame was because he had been so cold and unfeeling about his father’s passing or because he had let someone else onto just how detached he was to entire situation.  Even this man, his father’s lawyer, was genuinely grieving over his father’s death and yet Victor was more concerned about the hassle of lugging a single box of his father’s possessions across the country—a box that his father had specifically left for him.  Victor felt guilty, though it may not have been for the reasons that he should.  He desperately wanted to say something that could erase the petty, trite statement that unveiled his true nature.  He wanted to say something that could win back the respect of this diminutive man that sat across from him.  Instead he said nothing.
Quietness fell over the room that was far more choking to Victor than the flowery air that had made it so difficult to breathe in the lobby just minutes earlier. 
Horowitz mercifully broke the silence, “Can I offer you a bit of advice?”
Victor nodded, knowing full-well that any words that came out of his mouth only betray him further.
“I knew your father pretty well, but I don’t know you from Adam.  What I do know, though, is that your father loved you.  I can only imagine how difficult it must have been with a father as famous as yours and I’m sure that the two of you had more than your fair share of issues that you clearly did not resolve before he passed away.”  Horowitz shifted his weight and straightened his back in an absurd-looking attempt to appear larger and more authoritative.  “I can tell that you are hurt and that you are angry.  I’m not saying that these feelings aren’t justified—again, I don’t know anything beyond what little your father told me as he wasted away the last few years in an empty house—but you are doing yourself no favors by gripping onto them so tightly.”
Victor felt the muscles in his face tighten and his throat grow dry.  He bit the inside of his lip.
“You can’t make new memories of you father.  That luxury is gone.”  Horowitz looked down momentarily, searching for the papers that Victor needed to sign—documents that would mean selling the house and all that came with it, forms that would mean erasing his father’s debts, and even a piece of paper that would bestow an unknown box of memories into Victor’s possession.  “You are the only one that can decide how the story of you and your father goes from this point forward and I would strongly urge you to take that responsibility seriously.  You can keep the things he gave to you or you can push them away, but whatever you hang onto in the end is all that you have left.”

*             *             *

                It had been a week since Victor had made the trip from Odessa to Cleveland when the box had finally arrived.  His bereavement leave had ended and he was back at work.  His coworkers had respectfully offered their condolences and many had shared their own memories of his father in hopes that it might cheer Victor up to hear how beloved a man that they had never actually met was to them in their childhoods.  Even the usually stiff Don Andrews, a Vice President in the company that Victor had been certain did not know who he was, dropped by Victor’s desk to share a story about seeing Huge Hugo wrestle the villainous Emir the Slayer in the old Cleveland Arena before it was replaced with the Richfield Coliseum.  He had no idea how he should react to these heartfelt recollections of his father, so he politely thanked his colleagues for sharing and went about his business as best he could.  He understood that by sharing they were trying to put a positive spin on an unfortunate situation—Victor was not one to talk about his personal life and rarely mentioned his father to any of his coworkers so they had no idea that their relationship had been strained.  Instead most thought that he was just being humble, after all, his father was a household name and one of the most recognizable names in all of sports and entertainment.  The entire situation had been frustrating to Victor, who simply wanted to put his father’s death behind him and move on with his life as if nothing had happened at all.  He was thankful that as the week came to a close, the well-wishers tapered off and things around the office returned to a state of normalcy.
                He had been done his best to return his life outside of work to a sense of normalcy as well.  By nature, Victor was perhaps more of a private person at home than he was at work and so he had not developed close relationships with the other tenants of his apartment building.  He was polite and helpful if the need arose; watering plants when his neighbors were away or even helping some of the older tenants haul their clothes to and from the basement laundry.  Aside from the brief cordial chit-chat conversations that would ensue in these situations, Victor rarely divulged much about his personal life to the building’s other occupants.  And yet, somehow, word had gotten around that his father had passed away.   A group of well-wishers on his floor brought a series of casseroles and a small cactus plant and would not leave until he had assured them that he would let each and every person know if there was anything that he needed.  The widowed Mrs. Dumas used the opportunity to remind Victor that her daughter was still very much single and that he would really like her.
                In the majority of these interactions, both at home and at work, Victor stayed quiet.   He expressed gratuity towards his neighbors for their sincere concerns, but did so quietly and solemnly, hoping that they would get the hint that he wanted to be left alone.  After a few days, the stream of visitors ceased and so as long as he did not run into the other tenants in the hallway, he was free from further confrontation about the death of his father.  If there was one consolation, however, it was the fact that his neighbors were unaware of his father’s identity, so unlike with his coworkers, he was spared personal anecdotes about how much Huge Hugo meant to them or questions about what it was like to have such a famous father.
                Victor entered the building, not with his head down as it had been all week, but straight-backed and energetic.  The work week was over and it was unlikely that he would receive any more unwanted attention from his neighbors—once he grabbed his mail and made his way up to his third floor apartment, he was free to enjoy himself for the first since his fathered had died the week before.  In the back of his mind he knew that this was crass, but at the same time he was ready for a respite.  Victor felt a rush of relief build inside of him as he turned the key to the small mail cubby.  He grabbed the letters and was making his way to the elevator when his rising joy came crashing to a halt.
                “Heya Vic!”  It was Chet Something-or-Other, a relatively new tenant that Victor had met once or twice before.  Victor felt guilty for not remember his last name or even what floor he lived on, but at the same time Chat had not remember that Victor did not like to be called ‘Vic’ so it seemed that they were even.  “How are ya, buddy?”
                “Taking it day-by-day,” Victor replied cordially.  He ran through a litany of excuses to end the conversation quickly so that he could escape to the solitude of his apartment.
                “I hear ya,” Chet said with a smile.  “Real sorry about your pops. That’s real rough.”
                Victor nodded, having failed to find the right excuse.  “Yeah I guess.”
                “Well hey, just wanted to let you know you got a package here,” Chet motioned to a small cluttered table that was covered in packages that surrounded a vase filled with dust-covered vinyl foliage.  “Didn’t want you to be miss it, ya know?”
                “Yeah, thanks man.”  Victor’s joy was replaced with guilt.  “I really appreciate it.”   He took the package from the table and exchanged pleasantries before making his way back to the elevator.  There was no reason that he had to be in such a hurry to end the conversation with Chet.  He meant well.  Chet offered his condolences to ‘Vic’ from a place of genuine kindness and Victor’s disdain with his father and his own exhaustion from the circumstances kept him from accepting that.  His bitterness had kept him from having a real relationship with his father; now that Huge Hugo was dead, Victor was letting it prevent him from being friendly with his neighbors.
                Victor spent the entire elevator ride up to his apartment and the subsequent walk down the hallway to his apartment being loathing himself for being so short with Chet.  He wondered if he had been as curt with others over the course of the last week.  He hoped that he hadn’t, but he was still plagued with guilt over his behavior. 
                He struggled to balance the package in his arms as he unlocked the door to his apartment.   Upon entry, he carelessly dropped the box on the small dining table that separated his kitchenette from the living area.  Settling onto the couch, he kicked off his shoes and reached pressed play on the small answering machine that sat on an end table beside the sofa.
                “He-llooo,” his mother’s sing-song voice crackled through the speaker.  “It’s your mum, checking in.  Give me a ring when you get home.  Love you, sweetie!”  He made a mental note to call her later.  Possibly.
                “Dude, it’s Dean.  I haven’t heard from you since before you left for the funeral.  Everything alirght?  Give me—“  The answering machine beeped as Victor skipped to the next message.
                “Mr. Taylor, this is Page Horowitz in Odessa.  I wanted to confirm that you received the package.  It should have arrived by now.  Can you please give our offices a call to confirm?”
                The box—Victor had not bothered to look it over on the way to his apartment.  He knew exactly what it was the moment it was brought to his attention.  He was curious about its contents, but was still determined to spend as little time as possible thinking about or dealing with anything related to his father for at least a day.  But he was curious.
                Victor picked up the cordless telephone handset from its docking station and dialed his mother’s number.  Chatting with her seemed the lesser of two evils at this point.
                “Hello?”
                “Hey mum, it’s Victor.”
                “Sweetie!  How are you?  How was work?”
                “It was fine.  Just another other day, I suppose.”
                Martha could tell from his tone that he was not being entirely truthful, but was weary to press any further.  “Settling back in after week away?”  She was careful not to get too specific, as she had expected it would be a trigger for him.
                “I am,” Victor paused, contemplating how much he wanted to open up to her.  “Everyone has been pretty great to me around the office and somehow everyone in the building knows that I was gone for a funeral.  I’m a little tired of being center of attention, though.”
                “You never did like everyone making a fuss over you.”  It was true.  Victor preferred anonymity but often found the spotlight thrust upon him.  When they first moved to the United States, Victor was not only the new kid but was the new kid with the funny accent.  Given that they relocated several times in the first few years, he found himself in this position over and over again.  Once he learned that Huge Hugo was his father, he went from interesting to foreigner to celebrated superstar overnight and struggle found himself fighting off attention for years.  Over the past week, he relived years’ worth of discomfort. 
                 “No, I suppose not.”  Victor’s tone was cold and off-putting, even to his mother.
                “Victor, I’d like you to promise me something.”
                “I can make no guarantees, but shoot.”  Victor had a sense of what she was going to say, but was too weary to avoid whatever she would say next.
                “I know that you did not have the greatest relationship with your father,” Martha began confidently.  “I’m willing to accept blame for that.”
                “Mum, don’t say—“
                “Let me finish,” she replied, cutting him off.  “I wanted you all to myself.  I was young and selfish and, honestly, stupid.”  Victor could hear the strength in her voice begin to give way.  “I kept you from him and kept him from you, but that was the wrong choice.  I have always regretted it, but no more than I do now.” 
                “Don’t say that.  It was my choice not to talk to him these last few years.  Mine, not yours.”
                “It was, but you wouldn’t have made that choice if I hadn’t made such a mess of everything,” Martha was clearly crying though she did her best to hide that from her son.  “For Christ’s sake, he didn’t even know you existed until you were half-grown.  What was I expecting would happen?  But he tried.  He tried a hell of a lot harder than you ever knew.”
                Victor laughed uncomfortably, “How could he try?  He was on the road most of the year and probably had half a dozen kids he didn’t know about.  I’m just the one he got stuck with.”  Victor felt the anger build in him—the same self-righteous anger that filled the void where he felt his father should have been.  “I don’t think he ever really cared and I’m not going to pretend that he did just because the bastard is dead now.”
                Victor clenched his teeth as he waited for his mother’s response.  He could not believe that she was defending him now.  She is only saying that because he’s dead, he thought to himself.  She knows that I’m right.  He felt his shoulders tighten as he held back the rage that was welling inside.
                “You’re wrong.”
                “Mum, there is no way—“
                “Will you get off your damn high horse for just a moment and listen to me, Victor?”
                Victor was stunned into silence.

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