Jacob stepped into his parent’s restroom. He needed the moment to breathe. He needed to get away from the family. He turned on the cold water from the faucet. He cupped the flowing water in his hands and splashed the cold water across his face. He turned off the faucet and stared into the sink, feeling the cold water drip from his face.
It was better than screaming.
After several long breaths, Jacob lifted his face and gazed at his mirror’s reflection.
The family said Jacob looked like his now-deceased grandfather, but all Jacob ever saw was an old man, even his old war pictures didn’t look like him. Why were they saying that anyway? Was it to make Jacob feel good? That he looked like the family war hero who survived Germany and Korea, only to die from pancreatic cancer. That was some thank you from the universe, to die in agony in a hospital room without hope of any recovery.
We all have to go sometime.
Jacob did not feel that was the way for the family hero to go, coughing up blood and shitting in a bedpan until his eyes closed on the world. His last memories, his blissful eternity, was the last sights of white walls and sterilized scents. One of his last sounds was the electronic spin of that stupid wheel on that ridiculous game show. A habit that he had followed religiously, even as the host changed from Bob Hope to Drew Carey. That was his end. Not even Hollywood’s sexy nurse myth was there to comfort him on his last moments. At least Jacob could take some comfort that he could go out the same way his grandfather did. He could never live up to his legacy, but he would go out in a similar way, sputtering to death in a hospital bed.
Jacob remembered all the times his grandfather told him that he was waiting for death to take him at any moment on the battlefield. Perhaps it was his dream and nightmare that he had never come home from the wars. Perhaps that would have been better for him, then to spend the rest of his days in shipbuilding, watching game shows, and drinking. And Jacob’s grandfather could drink. No one talked about that today; the days when he was so wasted that the stairs in his house became a greater enemy than any German fighter plane. Then again, his bomber didn’t typically have stairs, just small turrets filled with his flesh and a machine gun. The drinking started then, out with his fellow flyboys after they survived another run over enemy territory.
Jacob took a deep breath. He wasn’t hiding in the restroom to resent the memory of his grandfather. Not at all. They had long talks together, about the war and sometimes about politics. He loved his grandfather, but his grandfather always told Jacob to never see him as a hero.
A hero would have found a way to end that horror without firing a shot.
Jacob knew the complicated man that he loved dearly. He was a decent man who hated injustice. Hell, he found a movement in the fight with Dr. King. His brothers and sisters didn’t see the point of a white man from Vermont getting involved in the south, but he had been forced to stick his nose into Europe and Korea. The civil rights movement was a battle of his choosing. Not too long ago, before the cancer dropped him, Jacob’s grandfather had even been sentenced to jail for a few months after dropping three younger men for harassing and sexually assaulting a lesbian couple. His war record had influenced the judge to reduce the charges to time served and community service, but that didn’t matter to Jacob’s grandfather. It only mattered that he did the right thing.
A knock at the door startled Jacob. “Hey Champ, are you going to keep hiding in there?” It was his father.
Jacob took a deep breath and looked into the mirror. You can handle this, he breathed. Jacob reached for the door. Once more into the breach, he needed a foxhole just to deal with his family. Jacob grabbed the door and opened it.
His father was just outside the door, beaming in a big smile. Jacob had not seen many of his family smiling much today. He was a little surprised and worried. Jacob’s father had rarely smiled even on good days. He was always preoccupied with bills, his supervising job, and the nature of kids who listened to rap music.
Jacob’s father put his arm around his son’s shoulders. Jacob could hear the commotion of the reception coming from the kitchen. A loud cackling woman’s voice dominated the cacophony of mourners. His Aunt Maria was far too drunk.
“Hey, Jake,” he said. His voice was low and full or urgency. “There is something I must show you. I think you are going to like it.”
“Today, Dad? Do you really think I will like something about today?”
Jacob’s dad headed away from the sound of the party. The sound of a glass shattering on the floor and a grief-filled yelling match began.
“Oh, Auntie.” Jacob said and shook his head.
Jacob’s father waited down the hall at the base of the stairs. “Are you coming? I would hate to celebrate this alone.”
“What the hell?” said Jacob with a shrug. He turned to follow his father.
The two walked up the stairs and into the small room that used to be Jacob’s sister’s room. She was a successful doctor in California, she wouldn’t be coming back. His father knew it and had turned the room into storage for family heirlooms and other things a pack rat would never throw out.
Jacob’s father opened the door and the two men began to maneuver throw the piles of photos taken before the digital age, framed pictures of prom dates and graduations of several family members all from the generations older than Jacob. A few old, wooden rocking chairs and a massive desk-sized sewing machine. There were several boxes near the far wall where stacks of old vinyl records were precariously stacked. A Led Zeppelin album cover was visible. His grandfather would have once called that devil music. Jacob giggled.
His father bypassed all of this and moved an old cuckoo clock to gain access to the closest. Jacob whistled, his father had collected so much family memorabilia that they had managed to even fill a closet.
His father reached into the closet and gently removed a jacket. Jacob’s eyes widened. It wasn’t just any old jacket from Happy Days or some other old show, but a flight jacket, a World War II flight jacket. It was his grandfather’s bomber jacket!
Gently, but purposefully, Jacob’s father handed it to the young man. Jacob grabbed the hangar and wrapped his free arm around the jacket as if it was a fragile treasure.
“I thought this was lost.” Jacob said, engrossed by the bomber jacket.
“It never was,” his father said. “I just didn’t want any of the family thinking it would be a good addition to some museum, if the price was right.”
Jacob looked up at his father with a raised eyebrow. Then he thought about the fight over the will even before granddad had died. “Fair enough.”
His father pointed at the jacket. “That’s yours now. Your grandfather wanted you to have it after he died.”
Jacob’s eyes widened further.
His father leaned in and whispered. “Just don’t tell the family about it.”
Jacob nodded slowly, still transfixed on the bomber jacket. He rubbed his fingers gently along its leather body.
“He was about your age when he joined the army for the war, so it is probably just your size. Try it on and I will be right back.”
His father maneuvered through the clutter and out the door. He closed it quietly and left Jacob to his gift. Jacob could hear his father whistling down the hall. His father’s actions were strange; it was as if some great relief had been lifted from his father.
Jacob pressed his hand over the jacket. Granddad wanting me to have this? I guess all of our long talks and walks led to this event. Jacob couldn’t help but smile and feel a tinge of excitement. He flipped the jacket to look at the back. A brunette pinup girl was drawn in the center of the jacket. She was wearing a thin and short red dress and sat suggestively on a rock with flames licking the sky behind her. “Devil’s Angel” was stenciled above her, the name of his grandfather’s bomber in WWII.
Jacob held the jacket before him. “Thanks, granddad. I will treasure this.”
Jacob felt a rush of joy and enthusiasm to try it on. It was a perfect snug fit as if it was tailor-made for him. “Maybe I really am more like my granddad.”
He moved to a large mirror laying against the wall near the vinyl records. Jacob smiled, pleased with its fit and look. A piece of family history was his.
He reached into the pockets and posed with a wry smile. “Perhaps it would help to pick up chicks. Well, probably not with the pinup girl on the back.”
His right hand felt a note within the jacket pocket. Curious he pulled it out. The piece of paper was simple college-ruled notebook paper, folded about four times. He opened it to find a note.
“This jacket is cursed. It’s probably some family curse caused by some stupid shit some ancestor did. I don’t know, I don’t care. Just know that this curse is designed to destroy, not just kill you, but break you until you crave death. You cannot run from it or hide from it. It will consume you. There will be no escape.
Jacob felt his cheeks run cold and is enthusiasm plummeted. It was in Jacob’s handwriting!
Calm down, man, breathe. This is ridiculous, a joke. Surely, his father could fake my own handwriting. What a type for a joke, you bastard! At granddad’s funeral. I’ll be damn if you getting away with this.
Jacob didn’t care who knew that the jacket was given to him. He was going back into the kitchen to call his father out. This was not the time for his father to practice at being a practical joker.
Jacob took off the jacket and reached his hand for the door with angry purpose. His hand gripped the doorknob as a gunshot rang out through the house.
He heard his mother and Aunt Maria scream.
© 2016 C.J. Staryk. All Rights Reserved.