“A man accepts his weaknesses and then rises above them.”
“Oh, and you do that, Papa?” William asked with a disgruntled laugh.
“Yes, yes, I’m trying very hard. I always have. I’m not a quitter,” John replied.
“Except when you quit on Mother and me and Eliza or when you quit and let me run off or when you quit your respectable job at the feed store to do gardening and write your idiotic little soldier stories. It’s a good thing none of your readers get to see the real man behind them.”
“The feed store?” Weldon asked in confusion. “I volunteered to help out Mr. Adriance after his son died. I never worked there.”
“Well . . .” William faltered, “well . . .”
“Writing those stories puts food on the table and paid for your doctors.”
“And none of that would have been necessary if you hadn’t let yourself become an opium eater! I remember you on parade—it was disgusting to see you struggle in the end. If you’d been any good, you would have kept us together and had plenty of money, and I’d be at West Point,” William said.
“W-Willy, you never had the temperament for West P-Point.”
“You say that now to avoid feeling bad. You avoid everything and hide everything behind all this new happiness—it’s sickening. I’m glad to be away from you. You always played the fool in town—laughing at your falls and being so gentle all of a sudden—it makes you look so horrible. It would have been better if you died in some Indian fight. That I could be proud of! I don’t know how Mother takes it! It’s probably why she wants me home so she can throw you off on to me again!”
“She threw me off on to you because she wanted you to care for me again, but it didn’t work. I tried everything . . .” Weldon said, inching toward the door.
William got on his elbows. The cowlick at the back of his head made his hair stand funny. “So give up, like you always do—it’d be a relief. All you ever do is make me sorry and miserable. Leave me alone, and you can go back to the little safe spot you have on Tenafly Road.”
The older Weldon’s voice shook. “Yes, I’ve finally allowed myself a safe spot and some happiness. I made mistakes—a thousand of them—and I’ve paid for them and continue to pay. I never had family to guide me. I was on my own—and I lied to your mother and you for years because I thought it was the only way of keeping you both.”
“Well, you were wrong. I’m so tired of hearing about your devotion to Mother and me. You constantly brag about you and Mother! Mother was a fool and weak to stay with you! She deserved better like Doctor Crenshaw!” William replied.
“Don’t ever talk with such disrespect about your mother who has devoted her life to you!” Weldon’s cane shook in his hand.
William hacked and spit phlegm to the floor from the side of his bed. “That’s funny! She devotes her sad little life to you and you alone! I come a distant second! If she wasn’t so God-awful pathetic and stupid she would have kept you away!”
Weldon ran over and pulled William from the bed with force. “You ungrateful little bastard! Your mother and I lived with nothing—gladly—to see that you recovered enough to have a life—a good life! And you sit here—drunk—making excuses for not taking responsibility!”
“You and Mother ignored me then suffocated me. You prepared me for nothing! I have nothing! I am nothing! You did everything wrong, and you get to be happy! It’s unfair, and I hate everything about you! I pretended to care for you in Englewood because I was trying to be so damned good. Where was my reward? I’ll never go back there!” William pulled away and wrapped the dirty blankets around himself like a filthy cocoon. “I am who I am, and I won’t hide it or hurt others.”
“But . . . you hurt Thankful.”
“She hurt herself—she was stupid to leave her money.”
“Why do you have her watch?” Weldon asked.
“It’s broken. She didn’t want it anymore. I’m gonna get it fixed. It’s expensive.” He pointed to the maker’s imprint. “Remember the Christmas watch, Papa?”
Weldon said nothing.
“You do remember, don’t you? The watch you promised me? I bragged about it a lot before Christmas to all the soldiers the year I came back with you. I was so excited and proud to be getting a grown up thing . . . you fooled me those first months. You were brilliant then to me. You were better than a god. You were everything. Do you remember what it felt like to pawn it for morphine or opium or whatever it was?” William looked his father over like a specimen in a freak show. “So now you shake and have tremors, but it’s all an act. I don’t feel sorry for you. Maybe you even limp and fall for attention. I don’t trust a single thing you do or say.”
“William, I’m so sorry for everything.”
“Sorry means shit to me, Papa. This is my life now; it’s a relief in a way. There’s no pretending, no optimistic little plans for me to make you and Mother feel less guilty that you were rotten parents. For once I’m doing what I want!”
“What you want? Drinking?”
“I have friends. We do things.”
“What about your drawings?” Weldon asked.
“They’re not that damned good! You want to latch onto something—anything to make me at least a little special, or better than I am. I’m not! Stop this awful pretending.”
“Willy—you are special. Look. If you weren’t then how would someone like Doctor Crenshaw think so highly of you?”
“Papa, sometimes you’re so blind. Doctor Crenshaw loves Mother. He always has.”
Weldon laughed, waving away William’s words.
“Mother has always had a thing for doctors,” William said. “Before you came back east Doctor Crenshaw visited every day. He and Mother spent hours together on the porch talking. Mrs. Crenshaw was always too busy to come.”
“He came to help you, William,” Weldon said.
“Maybe for the first ten minutes,” William said, delighting in the sight of his father unsure and angry. “You remember Doctor Dudley, don’t you, Papa?”
Weldon clenched his cane with white knuckles. William searched his troubled eyes with glee.
“Yes, well I remember him, too. When you left with Crook on a scout, I guess, Dudley kissed Mother, and she didn’t stop him. Eliza and I saw.”
“Stop lying, William! You’re angry.”
“I don’t lie, Papa. You know that. I told you I’m a different man to you! Dudley was madly in love with Mother so that’s why he left. I wished that he hadn’t. He was bound for success.”
“William . . . I . . .”
“Papa, I can’t take the stammering! I can’t! And I can’t stand this game you play with mother . . .”
“There are no games between us, William.”
“Mother sees you like another child, not a real man at all.”
Weldon stood motionless, his breathing labored.
“Your caring is the worst kind, Papa. You suck the blood from people. Now please leave!”
“Y-your mother wants you home . . .”
“You’re well practiced in disappointing her. Don’t worry, she’s used to it.”
The old soldier limped out the door. William listened as his heavy leg hit each rickety step on the weather-beaten staircase.
PREVIOUS EPISODE: WEARY OF RUNNING
Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw, his sister Thankful and William Weldon’s misadventures when you buy the book today!
“The second installment in The Tenafly Road Series definitely did not disappoint. With the introduction of new characters and the return of familiar ones, Weary of Running made for an exciting read. The protagonist, Thankful, is the real highlight of the novel. She consistently makes very poor decisions but in the end, you can understand why she has made every last one of them. The story ranges from love and romance to questions of faith and morality. It does all this without being preachy and explores many angles of different aspects of life. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time.” Amazon Review
“Buck Crenshaw is my favorite dysfunctional lovable character.”
7 responses to “Fiction: The Stairway Down”
Riveting excerpt, Adrienne. I hope it hasn’t spoilt anything for the reading of the first in the series which is on my iPad!
No, not at all. From page one of the first book we know John Weldon has a morphine problem. A lot of the other stuff William says is just to hurt his father and full of half-truths, but you’ll see 😉
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Adrienne, wow! 😃That is a powerful excerpt, emotionally charged and tense throughout and an almost cinematic feel to the scene. The dialogue is superb and drives forward relentlessly. A great read…
So glad you enjoyed it! Yes, I think all my books should be made into movies (or a great miniseries!). 🙂
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Adrienne, this is a riveting and powerful scene. Such anger, such misinformation on both sides, each man exposing his wounds and his venom. Yet this is the way families can be, sadly. Very well written,
Thanks! “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”
That says it all. I wish I could tame my tongue. 🙂
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