by P.J. Sambeaux
He had just watched a depressing French movie about an elderly guy forced to provide medical care as best he could for his wife, who had been ravaged by a stroke.
The subject of old people and their care punched a bruise in Dan’s brain. He had one living parent: an alcoholic, dysfunctional mess of a man who seemed to be going through the stages of mummification, though still breathing.
Not only had Dan’s father been a drinker, but he had also been a beater. He had beaten his wife when they were newlyweds. He had beaten her through Dan’s entire childhood. He had beaten her through cancer. Then the Punch Happy Prick had surprised everyone by outliving his wife by thirty years and counting.
He would never die, Dan often thought while cradling himself to sleep, because evil like that does not die.
But according to the next door neighbor, the Punch Happy Prick was now pissing his pants and confusing the mail carrier with a hooker, and this left Dan with a heavy feeling.
Dan’s sadness made way for rage and he angrily pushed himself up from the threadbare couch in his depressing efficiency apartment, stared up at the water-damaged ceiling and then began pacing on the cigarette-burned carpet.
Dan had not been successful in life. He had a miserable job in a cubicle with dingy walls. He had no friends, no girlfriend, no children, no pets, not even a plant. His social life mostly consisted of eating microwaveable meals in front of the TV.
Dan railed at the fact that he was almost forty years old and had little semblance of an adult life.
He felt the Punch Happy Prick was to blame for all of this, which frustrated him and made him angrier. Dan didn’t have a relationship with him, but he didn’t not have a relationship with him either. This ambivalence only served to make Dan feel even worse.
When his mother died, Dan had wanted to have a showdown with the Punch Happy Prick, a real corker where he said all the things he’d never said and just gave it to the shitty old man like he had always had it coming. Tell him how he’d ruined his mother’s life, how sending her to an early grave had probably been the only thing he had ever done that could be described as an act of kindness. Tell him how he had ruined his son’s life. How he had caused Dan to have a mistrust of adults that continued even though he was, himself, an adult. How he had given him a shy bladder and a severely depressed outlook on life – all of which were socially crippling.
Instead, Dan had stuttered a few words out and the Punch Happy Prick had called him a pussy. And that was that.
Dan went to a support group for people who had also grown up with Punch Happy Pricks. They understood him. They supported him. They consoled him.
Yet, although Dan appreciated the understanding, support and consolation, after about twenty meetings he began to feel like endlessly rehashing the past was not actually solving any of his problems. Where will it all end, he asked himself sadly, complimentary doughnut in hand.
Going to the support group did not solve Dan’s problem, but it did get him laid.
Her name was Heloise. Her father had had anger issues all over her family. She was pretty – dark-haired, dark-eyed, small-boned with olive skin. The sex was weird though, and only became increasingly weirder, increasingly centered on naughty schoolgirl outfits, which Dan didn’t appreciate being made to wear.
Two days after Dan watched the depressing French movie, he got a call from the hospital. The Punch Happy Prick had been found wandering the streets at two AM in fifteen degree weather, wearing only boxer shorts, an old robe and one tattered slipper. He had been admitted to their facility with altered mental status and frost-bitten toes on the unslippered foot.
Dan’s first (private) reaction was, How did he not die? Then, Why could he not just have died? Then, Why is this happening to me?
Dan refused to visit him in the hospital, or even to meet with the doctors, but once they had nailed him down as next of kin they called him nonstop: The Punch Happy Prick was getting out of bed and wandering the halls at night. He was combative. They would rather not use restraints. His condition was not going to improve. Decisions would have to be made regarding long-term care.
Dan despaired. He called off work and drank till he puked and then woke up and drank more. This did not improve his outlook.
Then he saw the advertisement for Full Circle Home.
Are you the son or daughter of an aging parent? Was that parent an alcoholic? Drug addict? Physically or mentally abusive? Neglectful? Hoarder? And now you're faced with the possibility of having to care for that parent? At your wit’s end with nowhere to turn?
Full Circle Home has all your answers.
Let’s face it, old people live much, much longer than they used to, than they should – especially the assholes.
Here at Full Circle Home we offer patented – and completely legal – programs specifically tailored to the abusive parent.
Our core purpose and values include:
- Irresponsible stewardship
- Passionate inattention to detail
- Commitment to excellence and innovation in the arts of subtle torment
- Anticipating the needs and expectations of our residents and continuously failing them – we even have a special ‘withholding parent’ program
Our residents live dull, inactive lives with no ties to each other or to the community beyond our campus. We offer a completely purposeless existence, so our residents can spend their days regretting the past or fretting about the future, rather than enjoying the present.
But what you’re really going to like is our memory transference program…
He found himself sitting across from a perfectly turned out man in a three-piece suit with a fantastically reassuring smile. His name was Gerald.
Dan shook his head doubtfully as he shifted in his seat.
“I don’t know if I can put my father in a nursing home. Even though he was an abusive prick, I still feel guilty.”
“No, Dan,” Gerald said gently. “Guilt is for people who had nice parents. Your father was not a nice parent. Your father was an asshole. That’s why you’re here. ”
“I still feel guilty.”
“We have some awesome pills for that. Here take one,” Gerald said, offering Dan a small yellow tablet.
Dan took the pill. Fifteen minutes later he was feeling awesome.
Gerald had just finished explaining the memory transference process.
“So basically,” Dan said, staring at the miniature Zen garden on Gerald’s desk and turning the idea over in his mind, “you erase the entire memory of my childhood from my brain, and give that memory to my father.”
“That is correct,” Gerald replied and smiled. His smile was like a warm ray of sunshine – so kind, so reassuring.
“How is that not against the law?”
“Well, the laws on memory transference are extremely murky. Strictly speaking, if we took your father’s memory out and completely replaced it with yours, then we would have to have his full consent for the procedure. However, what we’re doing is actually taking your memory and tucking it up there with your father’s existing memory. There’s no law against that in this county,” Gerald said, winking and smiling broadly.
“And what do you replace my memory with in my brain?”
“Ah, that’s the most magnificent part,” Gerald said. “You get a lovely childhood, full of the fondest memories possible. Your parents were kind and generous people. They completely prepared you to live the most fulfilling life imaginable. Sadly, they both died on the same day peacefully in their sleep at age 86, but they had lived lovely, fulfilling lives. They were ready.”
“And my father gets my shitty childhood?”
There was a long pause, probably fueled by the awesome pill. A grandfather clock gently chimed the hour. Curtains played in the breeze through the open window. Birds chirped in a nearby tree.
“I’m in,” Dan found himself saying.
When the day came for his father to be transferred to Full Circle Home, Dan felt like dancing. He had never, ever wanted to dance in his whole life, but now he wanted to spring around his living room like the ballet dancers the Punch Happy Prick had always said were fairies. And instead of bringing him down, that memory made him feel even lighter, because very shortly he would not remember his father saying that.
Dan was going to be free – something that was beyond his wildest imagination. It was going to be like seeing Punch Happy Prick die, but without all of the guilt and regret – just all of the wonderful. He wouldn’t even remember the Punch Happy Prick.
Dan cried tears of joy, another first for him. God bless Full Circle Home, he thought, just bless.
He followed the ambulance transporting the Punch Happy Prick up the main drive, past statuary, fountains, and a vast flower garden in full spring bloom.
The ambulance stopped in the circular drive and attendants dressed all in white swooped in and carted his father off so fast that the only trace of him left was a crumpled candy bar wrapper on the pavement and the lingering smell of old people.
A valet materialized beside him and opened his door. He handed over his keys and the two men shared a warm, knowing smile.
As he looked up he noticed a woman in a salmon-colored suit approaching. She smiled and waved. He smiled and waved back. It was so friendly here.
“Hi Dan, if you just want to follow me this way,” she said and they walked into the building at a relaxed pace.
I am free, Dan thought. I am free.
Dan felt… inspired for the first time in his life. He quit his shitty job in the dingy cubicle. He broke things off with Heloise and burned all tokens of weird affection from their relationship. He moved out of his depressing efficiency apartment with the water-stained ceiling and the cigarette-burned carpet.
He started doing the things he had always wanted to do. He went to the Culinary Academy. He traveled abroad. He began painting. He cooked for a living and then painted at night until his art career took off, just like his awesome French girlfriend Vivienne always told him it would.
He and Vivienne kept an apartment in the city and bought a charming home in the country where they entertained their many friends. They had emotionally and physically satisfying sex. They eventually made beautiful babies.
Dan only wished his parents had lived long enough to meet them.
About the Author
P.J. Sambeaux spent a feral childhood running in the foot hills of the Appalachians, where much of her work takes place. Her stories have been featured in such magazines as Alliterati, The Broken City, and Flash Fiction Magazine, and is forthcoming in Apocrypha and Abstractions.
Her first novel, The Youniverse, has been described as "The Real Housewives on bath salts fight to the death, battle royale-style, in an Orwellian future." It will be available on Amazon beginning April 1st, 2015.
World's Shortest Author Interview
You could either be frozen for future revival or immediately reanimated after death. Which do you choose and why? Are you a zombie afterwards? Do you live in the body of a pigeon? Why do you keep calling me Charles?
Hopefully, it would be a frozen for future revival situation, both because zombies are creepy, and because I don't think I could pull off a zombie look. Do I live in the body of a pigeon now or in an imaginary situation? Could you clarify that one? [Answer: I don't think a question like ours deserves clarification - the editors]
I keep calling you Charles because I am notoriously bad at remembering names. I will pretty much admit that up front.
What's your favorite city?
Astro City, Terminal City, Metropolis... pretty much any piece of urban real estate found in a cool graphic novel. Also, the myriad imaginary cities in my head, some of which I may be the princess of.
About the Artist
Our very own D Chang is a designer and game writer from Austin, Texas. His short fiction has appeared in Avast, Ye Airships! and the Cryptopolis science fiction anthology. He does most of the Space Squid cover designs.