Per Aspera Ad Astra

Once upon a time, there was the Yurling family. There were three; the father, the mother, and the son. They lived in an apartment building in one of the many so called suburbs of Los Angeles. The apartment they had was on the first floor so that when they opened the front door they would already be outside and not have to climb down any stairs. It was apartment number one-eighteen.

Their lineage and heritage and all that isn’t really known, it’s also irrelevant. All three were born in Los Angeles, each to their respective family. All three were raised there, one was still undergoing the process. They had lived in the apartment building for ten years and didn’t complain about it.

The father was named Sirgus, thirty-three years old. He was a construction worker and looked the part. Aging, his looks seemed to go away with every passing year, but it was clear to see that he was handsome in his earlier days. He had been a construction worker for fourteen years. The work had toughened his body, the food had nourished it, and the family had kept it in one place. He was happy. He was not a man of goals, but instead a man of integrity and principle, and he was good at those two qualities. He liked his work, he felt he was still young enough to afford getting tired, and the pay allowed him and his family life and luxury to a certain extent. His face was one of certitude and a calm that had been there for centuries, perhaps passed down from his father. He drank on occasion and smoked regularly.

The mother was named Delcy, thirty-two years old. She worked at the elementary school her son used to go to. She managed the attendance office and all the tasks that came with it. Aging as well, though still attractive. Her looks had past the full blown youth of college and high school girls and had transitioned completely into those of subtlety and humility. She had worked at the elementary school for five years. Her job didn’t affect her much, it was merely something to earn money by. She was happy. Her marriage was fine and her family was whole, her only wish, perhaps, was to own a house with her husband and son. She felt that was what they were working towards, a better home, not to say the current one was bad; but there was always better. Her face was one of young knowledge, as though she believed she had been the only one who saw a shooting star and only her wish was made upon it. She drank on occasion and didn’t smoke.

The son was named Warren, thirteen years old. He was a middle school student and of course didn’t have a job. He had a normal upbringing, not tarnished with harsh discipline or spoiled with excessive gifts. He listened to his parents and only argued when he felt he would win, though it never turned out that way. He was fairly easy going, in school and at home, he never caused any serious trouble. He enjoyed school for the most part, though he’d yet to place any value on formal education. He sometimes wanted to be a fighter pilot, sometimes a professional athlete, sometimes a movie star. Though in his rebellious years, he was not stubborn enough to deny himself the fact that he loved his parents. He cherished his mother and respected his father. His mother would forever be his certain hope. And his father would be the greatest man he ever knew. His father would be the only person who would ever be able to make him feel like the most stupid and worthless person with the simplest scorn and also make him feel the most proud and victorious with a light laugh. He would one day come to understand all of this. He didn’t drink or smoke.

The weekdays were usual. The father would leave early in the morning, around five, so as to get to work on time. The mother would get up around the same time in order to prepare a lunch for the father. The son would wake up at around seven. The son and the mother would leave at about seven-forty five since both schools were in the same direction. Then the day would roll on separately for the three of them. The father and mother worked and the son went from class to class.

Sirgus worked with drywall. He put up sheets of drywall along the insides of a building and made sure they stayed in place. He did this for eight hours of his day, within these eight hours, he got one ten minute break and a thirty minute lunch. While working, many of the workers passed the time by talking or telling jokes or anything else that would help but not distract from the task at hand. They would make jokes about one another and tell stories about the times they weren’t working. They would also make fun of the foreman, a lot. And that’s how the day went, up and down scaffolding. By the end of the day the workers were tired and some resented working at such a job, maybe due to being at the age where working-sweat made you more tired than proud. They all clocked out and walked to their trucks or cars, they cursed as they put their equipment in their vehicles, they cursed as they got in the car, and they cursed as they drove away; even Sirgus. The cursing would end by the time he got home. He would park the car and go inside to see his family who had been back from their day for at least an hour.

Delcy sat at a counter in the attendance office. During the morning she dealt with students who were absent the day before and had come in with an excuse. Throughout the day she also dealt with students who were leaving school early due to personal matters, illness, or faked illness. The rest of her day was occupied with paperwork passed down to her by school officials. She worked from the time the school opened to the time the school closed, seven hours; it closed at three. Two other people worked in the office. Throughout the day they talked about each other’s lives and how they were doing, they also gossiped about the teachers and school officials. Her breaks correlated with those taken by the students, recess and lunch time. By the end of her day she was glad to be done with work but not necessarily tired. She, and the rest of the people who worked at the school, would walk to their cars to go home. The teachers cursed about the students in their classes, the school officials cursed about students in general, Delcy wouldn’t curse at anything. She got into the car and drove home, the same path she took to get there, except this time she didn’t stop at her son’s school, he walked home after school.

Warren would go from sitting in an assigned seat in one room to sitting in another assigned seat in another room. And while going from seat to seat he learned all sorts of things, the sort of things people only vaguely remember five years after. Algebra, American History, Chemistry, English, Physical Education, and Computer Literacy. Some of it he found interesting, some he didn’t, the rest wasn’t paid attention to. In classes, his time was split into varying fractions of learning, talking to classmates, and day-dreaming about various things. As he would go from class to class he and his friends would joke about one another and make fun of the teachers behind their backs. While in school, when not in class, he was in Nutrition or Lunch time. During these two periods he would gather with a group of friends and talk about all sorts of things, mostly girls and video games. He liked Nutrition and Lunch time. His day lasted from eight to three-fifteen. They were all just really waiting for the last bell of the day to ring. The students would leave once the last bell rang, some would go home on school buses, others on public buses, others were picked up by their parents or someone else, and the rest walked back home. Warren walked back home. Some of his friends also walked home, some in the same direction as Warren. They walked together. And while they walked home they cursed at one another while joking, they cursed at their classes and at some of the teachers, they cursed at other students, at themselves, and sometimes cursed about their parents. The cursing was done by the time Warren got home. He would go inside and say “hello” to his mother and wait for his father to come back from work.

After each other’s day, they would all meet again in the apartment. Dinner would be ready at six and the three would sit at the dinner table and discuss each other’s day.

It sort of went like this:

Delcy: How was your day, Warren?

Warren: It was alright, lots of learning, I guess.

(Sirgus works on his food)

Delcy: Anything interesting?

Warren: Algebra was sort of cool, we learned something called the FOIL method. There wasn’t much else that stood out.

Sirgus: (After swallowing his food) You didn’t get into trouble, did you?

Warren: Nope, least none that I’m aware of. You?

Sirgus: (With a smile) Likewise.

Delcy: How was your day, Gussy?

Sirgus: Alright, same as yesterday and it’ll probably be the same tomorrow. Tiring as hell, but the pay makes up for it.

(Warren works on his food)

Delcy: Is the foreman still giving you a hard time?

Warren: (While still chewing) You got in a fight with the guy?

Sirgus: (With scorn) Don’t talk with your mouth full, least not in front of your parents. And no, he hasn’t bugged me in a while. I know how to do my job, and I’m guessing he knows how to do his. It’s stayed that way.

Delcy: That’s good. Oh, the phone bill came in today.

(Sirgus nods and keeps eating)

Also, parent teacher conferences are coming up, you think you can make it?

Sirgus: (Shakes his head and swallows his food) Last thing I want to do after coming home from work is listen to teachers blab about how Warren’s doing in his classes. His grades are good last I checked, they probably haven’t changed, so I’m fine.

Delcy: Well, I’ll go, it’s important to show we care about his education.

Sirgus: It’s more important that Warren care. Warren, do you care about your education?

Warren: Eh, don’t know if it’s care, but I’m getting it done.

Sirgus: Fine by me.

(They continue eating)

And it would go on like that for a good while till they were done eating. After the meal, the mother would clean the table and wash the dishes, sometimes Warren would be told to do it. The father would read the paper in the living room, if not, he would read a book of poems. The son would work on his homework or do some chores around the home, afterward he would go to his room and talk to his friends via the internet or he’d watch television or play video games.

At some point during the night, around seven or eight, the father would go outside to the front of their apartment and have a cigarette. At the front of their apartment, to the side of the door, there was a small cement area with a rail guard along the edge. A poor excuse for a porch because the bottom floor apartments lacked the poor excuse for a balcony that the others had. There was enough room for a single chair and some potted plants. Sirgus would stand and lean against the rail as he smoked his cigarette. And sometimes Warren would come out and keep him company, neither minded.

Warren would stand next to his father, also leaning against the rail. Sirgus would notice that the smoke was going in his son’s direction and he’d tell him to take the seat so the smoke wouldn’t get to him. Warren didn’t care either way, but didn’t protest his father and took the chair. They would talk.

It sort of went like this:

Warren: Which one are you on?

Sirgus: (After taking a drag) The third one.

Warren: Is that a lot?

Sirgus: For some, for some it’s not enough.

Warren: For you?

Sirgus: (Another drag) Average, I’d say.

Warren: Have you always had three a day?

Sirgus: No, I didn’t smoke when I was young.

Warren: I mean since you started.

Sirgus: Well, when I started I only had one every once in a while, a pack would last me a month.

Warren: Why do you smoke more now?

Sirgus: (Another drag) Partly because I can afford it, partly because I want to, and partly because I’m probably addicted.

Warren: That covers all three.

Sirgus: I suppose so.

Warren: Why do you smoke?

Sirgus: For the same three reasons.

Warren: You think I’ll ever smoke?

Sirgus: (Another drag, more profound this time) Not while you’re living under my roof, and hopefully not after either. It’s a bad habit, and not just for your health.

Warren: What do you mean?

Sirgus: Now-a-days, the girls will run the other way if you take out a cigarette, it isn’t as cool as it used to be. But that’s not all, that’s not the main reason.

Warren: What’s the main reason?

Sirgus: (After a short drag) Because of your mother. She’ll keep you right.

(And on it went)

Sometimes they would talk about sports, or Warren would ask his father about what he does at work. Sometimes they didn’t talk at all and the father just stood while the son sat. And sometimes Sirgus would let Warren play with his lighter, a lighter that he’d bought long ago with his very first pack of cigarettes. The lighter had an overabundance of sentimental value for Sirgus, reserved for another story. Sirgus would look at the sky getting darker with each drag he took, and his son would look at the ember tip of the cigarette as it crept towards his father’s hand.

Then the weekday night would end, and eventually the five day work or school week.

The weekends would be more relaxed, neither would be the same, really. They would all go out sometimes. Sometimes Warren would go out and play some sport or video game with his friends. Sometimes the father and mother would go out to dinner on their own. Sometimes all three would go to some event or a fair if the weather and time aligned. Sometimes this or sometimes that, never the same, really.

One day Sirgus died while at work. The scaffolding he was on gave way and he fell a long ways down. His head, as well as the rest of him, hit the cement floor. There was blood, there was screaming, there was some crying, there was guilt, there were sirens, they were too late.

It happened a little before three, he almost made it to the end of his shift, then he would’ve gone home cursing, had dinner, had a cigarette in the company of his son and started over the following day.

His family was notified an hour afterwards, by the hospital which couldn’t do anything but declare him dead. Delcy burst into tears and dropped the phone as her hands went to cover her face. Warren was in his room when his mother got the news, he stepped out and saw his mother crying and the phone on the floor. His mind froze with confusion.

He’d never really seen his mother cry, and if he had, he couldn’t remember at the time. His mother told him they had to go, he didn’t ask a thing, maybe he didn’t know what to ask, maybe he didn’t want any answers. He just said, “But Dad’s not home yet.” They got in the car and drove to the hospital. They got there. There were a few of the workers there, too. The doctor told them what had happened. The mother, who had been crying since she left her home, began to cry with more sorrow, she hugged the son. He was cold, still frozen. He now knew what had happened but perhaps it hadn’t hit him, or it had hit him too hard. His mind felt small and walled in by things he didn’t understand or things he didn’t want to understand, it’s always hard to tell. The rest seemed to have happened so fast. As if the scene in the house and the scene in the hospital had gone in slow motion and everything after was a peripheral blur. Papers were signed, a funeral was had, tears throughout, still none from the boy, but he was talking in sentences now. He was still a bit frozen, the walls in his mind were gone, but it still felt small, a worse feeling, if anything.

A few days passed, his mother would still cry, everyday, first when she woke, sporadically through the day, then one last time before she slept. The boy was feeling sadder every day, perhaps coming to terms with it all. Still not a tear though, he was even sadder about that. His father wouldn’t have wanted him to cry, but the boy wanted to, he felt he had to. He missed his father, from his scorn to his laugh. One day he opened the closet where his mother had put all of the father’s things. Shirts, boots, jeans, books, shoe boxes filled with all sorts of things. The top shirt’s breast pocket bulged out in the form of a rectangle. He knew what it was, but gazed at it as though he’d never seen it before. The mother passed by and saw him looking into the closet, she broke into tears and went into her bedroom. The boy reached in and pulled out the soft box, it was red with what looked like some type of royal insignia in the middle. “PALL MALL” read across the top of the box, it was a soft-pack. It had a few left. He reached into the shirt pocket again and pulled out the lighter, it was small and made of shiny metal. A paisley pattern was engraved on both sides, it looked majestic and old. The time was a bit past seven, it was dark and getting darker.

He stepped outside, he could still hear his mother crying in her room, the door didn’t make a sound. He stood and leaned against the rail, he looked up, there was very little light left in the sky. He took out a cigarette and placed it between his lips then put the pack in his front jean pockets. His thumb flicked the lid off the lighter and struck down the metal wheel. Fire in the first try, beginner’s luck maybe. He held up the flame to the cigarette and the tip turned red. He’d seen his father do it hundreds of times. He closed the lighter as he inhaled. He pocketed the lighter and exhaled with a short and almost silent cough. He noticed the smoke rising up from the cigarette and into the sky. He looked to his right, where he used to stand before he was told to sit by his father. He took another drag, more profound this time, exhaled without coughing. He felt that in doing this, part of his father’s essence was coming to him. As though in this act, and this act alone, his father was with him. Simply with him, not to give any guidance or anything like that, just with him. His mind got a bit dizzy, he inhaled again and released it out into the night as the remaining daylight drifted away. The night bled out from the ember tip. By the time he finished the cigarette, night had arrived, his father’s smoke had pushed the daylight away and dragged the night over the city. He put out the cigarette on the rail and threw it somewhere, like his father used to do.

He took a seat. He didn’t feel frozen anymore, his mind wasn’t as small. His eyes felt watery and he thought it was the smoke from the cigarette that got in his eyes. His cheeks felt wet. He lifted his hand and wiped it off with his index finger. He looked at it and it shone with the salted liquid of whatever it was that just happened. He sat there a little longer, with slow tears rolling down his face. He looked up at the sky to see if any stars were out there, but he couldn’t find any. He thought he should go inside, not because it was late or dark, but because of his mother.

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