Dad started. His head jerked, eyes fluttered. The slamming screen door is one of the few sounds that can wake him anymore.
“Jer,” he wheezed as loudly as he could muster, “I thought I told....” He broke off into that little wheeze/cough that he does when he's out of breath and the oxygen tube can't keep up. He was going to yell about telling one of us to fix the blashing screen door (Dad doesn't cuss; he hates it. But he likes the feeling he gets from inserting an expletive into one of his tirades, so he makes up words; his recent favorite is blashing).
Dad's orange velour recliner and the end of the couch are visible from the end of the hallway; Dad raised his head. Frog stepped into view, cigarette clenched between his lips. Dad's never said as much, but Frog is the only son that he's afraid of.
With good reason.
One time, Frog got mad at Joey because Joey smarted off about some store clerk's harelip when they were buying ice. Not that Frog is an overly sensitive being; he just enjoys punishing others.
Frog apologized to the clerk, yanked Joey through the front door, hauled back and swung the 30 pound bag of ice at Joey's head. Joey fell to the sidewalk, only half-conscious. Frog kicked him over and over, yelling at him to “Get up!” Dad had to go down and beg the store manager not to call the cops; he promised to get Frog into an anger management class.
He never did.
Dad fumbled at the little wood handle on the side of the recliner, trying to pull the seat up. Frog lifted his foot and pinned Dad's fingers to the handle with the side of his brown leather cowboy boot.
Dad didn't move.
Frog bent down. “Where's the money,” he whispered, barely audible.
Dad just wheezed. His face showed no emotion, didn't even register that he saw Frog.
The money was in an old green ammo box that Dad said he brought back with him from Vietnam. It was up in the attic through that little drywall hatch in the closet ceiling. Dad didn't volunteer the information, and Frog didn't know anyone else was in the house.
“Where is it. You better tell me now, old man.” He moved to the side of the chair, and used the heel of his boot against Dad's fingers. Dad winced, but otherwise didn't move.
Frog laughed mercilessly. “You think I care, old man?” he asked. “Remember that extension cord you used to beat us with? I'd just as soon hurt you as find your money,” he growled. “But I'll give you this one chance. Where. Is. The. Money?”
Dad didn't speak; just stared up at the ceiling.
Frog laughed again. He moved back to the front of the old, grimy chair, took the cigarette out of his mouth, and bent over and stuck the hot end against Dad's neck.
Dad didn't flinch. His eyes flicked over toward me, then back to Frog.
Frog didn't say another word. When the cigarette was out, he threw it on the rug. He yanked the oxygen tube out of Dad's nose, and threw it on the floor.
It made a light hissing sound.
He climbed up onto the chair, and knelt hard on Dad's chest, his right knee directly over the barely healed scar from the last lung surgery.
Dad's face started to turn red, then blue. Frog just stared at Dad. Dad looked him in the eye as he struggled fruitlessly to catch a breath.
A tear escaped from the corner of his eye, and made it's way toward his ear.
It only took a minute or so. He never caught another breath after Frog pulled out that oxygen tube.
He sat up there on Dad's chest for a few minutes after Dad was gone, just looking down at him. Then he shook his head, climbed off and rummaged around in Dad's pockets. He came out with a half-full pack of Marlboro's. He opened the pack, nodded, closed it and stuck it into his back pocket, and pushed through the screen door.
He'd forgotten the money.
I finally got up, walked to the kitchen phone, dialed 911 and sat the phone down on the counter. The guy on the other end kept asking inane questions. They went unanswered. I turned and looked at Dad.
This exercise is called "The Reluctant I". I'm supposed to write a first-person story, of 600 words, in which the narrator only uses a first-person pronoun (like I or me) twice. Further, you, the reader, should know, almost immediately, how the narrator fits into the story (that is, you should grasp his relationship to the characters and the plot immediately with him telling HIS story). Have I succeeded? And what of the story? Does it grab you, the reader, and pull you in? Is the writing high quality?