My Short Story, 'The Christmas Fawn', Published in NCLA Review!
A short story I wrote for my first semester at University has been published in the Newcastle Centre for Literary Arts Review!
Back in November, I completed a short story for my first creative assignment at Newcastle University. It was my first true short story in such a long time as I wrote quite a few when I was a kid but I would say this one is my first serious short story. By short, I mean it's only 3,197 words (as 3,000 words was the word count limit give or take 10%). I might actually look into developing this short story more in the future by maybe adding to it, or writing more short stories about this boy. Everything is up in the air right now.
Anyway, I submitted the short story for consideration for publication in the NCLA Review and they accepted! It is now featured in the May 2015 edition of their newsletter, which you can read here. The section where I am mentioned will take you to this excerpt of the short story. They can only feature a small part so it's really just a little taster of the story.
'The Christmas Fawn' is an LGBT story about a young boy who has previously come out to his family but longs for acceptance. He sees the beauty in the world outside and despite it being cold there, it's far more frosty where he is with his family. The short story is about accepting who you are whether your family support you or not, and being courageous enough to face the consequences of identity.
If you are interested in reading it, I have included it below. Let me know what you think! I always appreciate feedback.
THE CHRISTMAS FAWN
"I know now why God didn't heal Bobby.
He didn't heal him because there was nothing wrong with him."
- Prayers for Bobby.
SNOW LAMINATED the horizon. I watched as the sky mourned white tears and left my neighbourhood frozen in time. Shards of light reflected from the gleaming glass surfaces of car windows. It created a spectacle of dancing light free from inhibition and judgement over the river of ice that formed a new road. I wished I were a river.
It was my favourite time of year. Snow. Carols. Delicately decorating the house with counterfeit perfection as if hiding something beneath. Everything always looks plain and boring until you put some tinsel on top of it. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple; like the rainbow found its way into the living room and infected the very fabric of the things my family hold dear. At least that’s how my family treat it; like an unwanted infection. If they come too close, they just might catch it.
As I kept an eye on the street outside, I noticed some of the people of the village hurry toward their homes as if they heard my innermost thoughts. If I could, I would unburden myself of my clothes, run outside, scream at the top of my lungs and dance in the snow. How freeing would that feel? I’d have to be courageous. I’d have to stop caring about what the world thinks of me and just let it go.
Sparkling gems continued to fall harshly as I placed my hand on the glass of the living room window. I pressed hard, allowing the cold to seep through my skin, sending shockwaves of shivers around my entire body. It was nice to feel something, to contrast the burning heat from the fire within the house with the calm quiet beauty of the cold outside.
Lines of hostile houses lay confined in their boundaries, separating each family with a fence and an unspoken rule – you are not welcome on my property. Further down the street the edge of a forest is visible, allowing future escape to a more welcoming town beyond the riot of deeply rooted trees. They all looked the same – tall, emotionless and far too daunting to pass. Again, I would need to be courageous to even consider freeing myself to pass through the crowd without getting punched and pounded. They stood proud and obnoxious, ignorant and strong. At that moment, the light that managed to escape the bloated clouds shone on the bare trees as if even God approved.
A happy couple were the first to break the serenity of the scene. Walking hand in hand, they laughed and kissed, unafraid of the frost and welcoming to the clean air. They possessed everything I ever wished for. The longer I spend in this house, the more my dreams and aspirations will freeze. Out there I’ll be free to be me. All I would have to do is open the door and walk out.
“Dinner is ready,” my mother called from the kitchen.
With a half-hearted jump from the marble window ledge, I began my journey to the dining room. I passed the crushed velvet stockings as I questioned every mechanical step towards my family. The lights on the decorated tree flashed and distracted my attention. It might sound strange but in that moment I wanted to be that tree. Beautiful and dazzling, filled with spectacular colour and ornaments that symbolise the most jolly season of the year. It stood just as tall and strong as the trees outside yet it was so different to them. It stood courageous.
Upon entering the dining room, my entire family hung their heads. Avoiding eye contact, I sat at the end of the table, dangling onto my chair like an ugly puppet. The welcome aroma of turkey and stuffing filled the air. A growling snarled from inside of me. It wasn’t my stomach that was hungry, it was my heart.
A thump on the table craved my attention. My father dropped the knife he had been clutching in his hand too tightly. The shells of oysters collected dust on the mantelpiece, shut tight so the pearl inside would never see the light of day. He briefly made eye contact with me before looking down at the empty space on the table where his plate should be. Did he want to say something?
Awkward silence encased our family. My siblings sat next to each other, forever looking at their laps. I started to stare at my lap too. They looked up, so I did. We waited patiently for our mother to enter the room with plates of food. Like clockwork she entered, carrying two plates. She placed them neatly in front of my father and sister and then walked back into the kitchen to fetch two more plates for herself and my brother.
“I only have two hands Oliver, you’re going to have to fetch your own plate,” my mother said coolly. I didn’t argue. I stood and strolled to the kitchen, pretending the blatant disregard of her son didn’t bother me. I expected to see a plate with much less food on it than everybody else, but to my surprise, the plate was just as full as the others. She had even put on extra pigs in blankets, my favourite.
The journey back to the table felt long and awkward. As soon as I reached my chair, I realised the rest of the family had started to eat. There was no toast or amen; a prayer to bless the food and the household that would eat it. A weird feeling sunk my stomach like the feeling you get when you know you’re going to vomit. Already this Christmas dinner was different. We were all different. There was nothing strange happening here.
I banished the memories of Christmases past as I took my first bite of the pigs in blankets.
“Is that seriously the first thing you’re going to eat on your plate?” My father asked, his priggish nature appearing out of nowhere. I didn’t look up to meet his gaze for I knew he was just picking a fight. A strange sensation crawled beneath my skin. My heart raced a little faster.
“Are there rules for the order we eat food?” I said with the calmest voice I could muster. My father slammed his fist on the table and I sharply looked up. He was now twirling the knife in his hands, the blade drilling a hole in the table. I focused on his octagonal face and I started to cry. There was no love in those eyes.
“Put that down,” my mother scorned, reaching over to my father’s hands so he would drop the knife. Once it clanged on an empty china plate, she grabbed it and placed it far out of my father’s reach. My siblings continued to eat like nothing had transpired. My poor mother tried her best to change the subject. “Looking forward to going back to school after the holidays?”
My brother and sister both nodded.
“I can’t wait to go back and see my friends,” my sister smiled, actually looking up from her plate for the first time. “There’s going to be a party in the first week back to celebrate the New Year. Next year is going to be so much better.”
My brother was always quiet so he didn’t respond. My mother looked to me. I didn’t realise at first. After I swallowed, I decided to answer.
“Yeah, sure. It will be nice to get out the house.”
I looked back at my plate, feeling the burning stare of my father in my skull. Even with my family surrounding me, I felt bitterly alone and enthroned in isolation.
“How?” My father questioned me without a subject. I knew what he was talking about. We all did. “Why are you like this?”
“I just am,” I replied, choking on nothing. “Dad.”
“It makes me sick to my stomach to have a gay son.”
My sister turned her head disapprovingly. “Father!”
My mouth was about to collapse through my throat. My eyes that avoided contact with my father stung. My heart became crippled as if the veins closed shut. My jaw tightened.
“I’m the same person I’ve always been,” I whispered, barely audible to the rest of the people in the room. I knew if I spoke any louder, the dam that was keeping my tears from bursting from my eyes would break. “I can’t tell you how. I can’t tell you why. But I’m glad I am. I’d much rather be me than be someone like you, dad.”
I could see I had hit a nerve when I looked up to witness my father’s reaction. Instead of looking at their laps, my siblings were now looking at me. My mother raised her head. She didn’t look shocked or disappointed.
“What did you just say?” My father stood from his chair, proud and intimidating.
“You heard every word I said.” I stood too. Proud. I might have been smaller in size than my father but I stood strong. My voice was starting to get louder but the emotion I tried to keep hidden was breaking through. I was becoming sick of keeping things hidden. I was starting to crack, overwhelmed with feelings I could finally begin to understand.
“Okay, now we’re just fighting,” my mother tried to calm the situation.
“Ah, the spirit of Christmas,” my sister remarked.
“I don’t hide behind a Bible, dad,” I continued with a flare behind my tears. “You’re obsessed with conformity and the ideal little family.”
“We used to have that,” my father responded. “But you ruined it.”
“No I didn’t,” I cried. “I have always been like this but you’ve been too ignorant to see it. You don’t care about honesty as long as everything remains in its perfect place in your perfect little world. I’m still that young boy you used to be proud of, only now you know I have love in my heart for something you consider wrong. It’s not wrong. It never has been wrong. How can love be wrong?”
“It’s unnatural. It’s against our faith. I’m so disappointed.”
“I’m the one who’s disappointed. Maybe it is unnatural in your intolerant mind but that only proves you have hate in your heart for something you don’t understand or want to understand. I’m not a murderer, dad. I haven’t hurt anybody.”
“What you’re doing right now is hurting your family.”
“Is it? Because all I see is a father who doesn’t love his son anymore because he’s not the way he wants him to be. Am I wrong, dad, to think you don’t love me anymore? That little boy you saved from choking on his cereal when he was five. That little boy who was bullied by a kid down the street so you knocked on his parents’ door and frightened him into leaving me alone? I admired you so much.”
“Then what happened to that boy, huh? He grew up and started having sex with men! My religion doesn’t agree with it.”
“You’re picking religion over your own son?”
“I don’t agree with it,” he lowered his voice and looked away. “I’m not having a gay son.”
I dropped my mouth. My eyes swelled as my jaw shook. He proved to me I was right; the trees were too daunting to pass. I was still too small, too weak. Maybe God did approve.
It was as if he hadn’t listened to my pleas. He chose to ignore the waterfalls streaming down my cheeks. My broken voice had no effect to implore my father’s humanity. At that moment I realised he didn’t have any. It was fruitless to argue.
“Fine, then you can consider yourself a father to only one son. You got your wish, Noah. You don’t have a gay son anymore.”
Without looking back, I stormed out of the dining room. I thought the rage would consume me but the moment I left the room, I didn’t feel an ounce of it. My mind finally felt unburdened of prejudice against me by my own father. He wasn’t my father anymore. Now he’s just a man who lost his son because he was too hateful to see the good in him. In me.
Something changed within me. I couldn’t quite describe the sensation. Maybe it’s what I was supposed to have felt when I first came out to my family? That bizarre sense of freedom once you reveal who you truly are, only this time I had unburdened myself of the prison of family. Despite feeling free, an anchor of emotion kept me grounded in the house I now despised. I ignored the tint of the tinsel and the twinkling of the tree. I headed straight for the narrow front hallway and up the cold flight of stairs. I had never realised before just how constricted the spaces within the house were. There was hardly room to move, to breathe.
Once I entered my room, I pondered whether to slam my door shut. I looked at it for a long time, wondering if expressing my conflict with the slam of a door would satisfy the defeat I felt. I deliberated and decided not to. I put my head against it and allowed another stream of tears to fall. I was surely going to run out of tears at this rate.
I eventually pulled away from the door and entered my closet. I turned the light on inside before rummaging through the row of clothes to grab the suitcase behind them. I wheeled it out and lay it on the floor. Thankfully empty, the objects in my room started to shine with varying importance. I didn’t know what to take or if I’d ever come back to collect the rest. My eyes scanned the room at all the objects that lay undisturbed. I glanced at the books. I remembered receiving some of them from my parents at a Christmas in the past. I looked at the ornaments. My parents bought them. I looked at the games. My parents bought those too. The movies…
Another wave of emotion stabbed my eyes. My hand lifted and rummaged through my hair. I pulled it and cried out before collapsing on the bed. Nothing to take. Nowhere to go. Nowhere to hide.
The gleam of a locket distracted me from my breakdown. I squinted as I delicately picked it up from the bedside table. It belonged to my mother before she gave it to me a few weeks before. It had been handed down to her from her mother who gave her it when she found the love of her life.
I opened the locket and examined the two small photographs inside. The beauty of a boy I had fallen in love with radiated from the locket. I was astonished to learn that he loved me too, and there is no surprise more magical than the surprise of being loved. The sight of him released warm hope I thought had been vanquished. I dove into the fathoms of my still smouldering heart to find the strength I so desperately needed.
Without acknowledging any other material objects in the room or the suitcase that was to bare the things I didn’t truly own, I rose from the bed with the locket in hand and left the room. I lifted the locket up and let the chain fall around my neck. It wasn’t the first time I ever sported it but it was the first time I didn’t hide it beneath my clothes.
I looked into the open doors of the rooms I passed to see if the people downstairs had finished dinner. There was nobody in sight. They must be finishing their food, but as hungry as I was I couldn’t imagine returning to that hopeless place.
The floor felt slippery beneath my slippers as I slid onto the stairs. Kicking them off, I clutched the banister while I descended, drinking in the peace. Nobody was here to stop me leave. I didn’t feel sad about it. Instead, relief washed over me.
Once I reached the bottom, I hurried to the front door while I kicked off the slippers. Perfect lines of shoes covered the corner. I grabbed mine and slid my feet into them while reaching out for my coat. As I spun around, fitting my arms into the sleeves, I realised my mother was watching from the bottom of the stairs.
She stood without speaking a word. I looked at her for a moment, peering hard into her eyes to see if I could understand what was going through her head. She was unreadable. I opened the front door without taking my eyes off her and then stepped outside, breaking our final connection.
The cold never hit me the way I thought it would. I closed the door behind me and walked down the path to the end of the garden. There was nobody but me in the street at this hour. The orange coloured sky was speckled with spots of red. The delight at such serenity reverberated through my body. For the first time in a long time I could breathe. The air felt clean and healthy as it glided down my throat. The dryness of my eyes was a welcome change. The blood pumped through my heart again, beating only for the promise of love. I opened my mouth and let out a laugh.
Every step I made through the garden took my breath away. I said goodbye to the frozen roses and the neglected gnomes and reached for the gate. I stared at it for a little while, my hand resting on the frame that was cancerous with decay. There was no conflict over leaving. This was the right thing to do. I only stopped to say goodbye to the father I once knew, the father who once loved his son so much he threatened an eight-year-old child to protect me. May that father rest in peace.
Finally escaping the garden of the house, I started to walk down the street. The monsoon of snow was beginning to calm, allowing me to witness the scoured remains of a fractal street.
Feeling hot, I unbuttoned my coat. After realising the outside world wasn’t killing me with the cold, I allowed the coat to slip from my arms and land on the ground. I never looked back. I continued to walk toward the forest ahead, the locket lying comfortably on my chest like a handprint on my heart.
Something caught my attention in the direction of the trees. A deer elegantly walked through the snow on the grass, carefully following her child. I stopped in the hopes I wouldn’t interfere. I was fascinated. The pair walked into the forest with their heads raised. The mother never let the young fawn out of her sight. I felt a twinge of jealousy but the feeling of happiness overwhelmed me.
She was proud of her son.