Fiction: This Particular Day
By Zary Fekete
He had lived in the house for two years with his wife and two boys. It was the first time they had ever lived in America. Both boys were born overseas where he and his wife worked as teachers, but ironically it was the boys’ need for schooling that brought them back. The patchwork of homeschools and international academies had not been quite enough to prepare the boys for college, and they hoped that was what the Minnesota time would provide.
Their new house perched just below the highest bare hill on the property, and it was almost in the exact center of the state. The neighboring town was Cokato, a native American word which means “half way there”. It was a hilly land of postcard forests and swirling streams, quite different from the urban swarm of Asia where they lived before. From the back windows of the living room and the office they could see the seasons change. Summer was bright green and the humidity seemed to sharpen the blades of grass as though they were viewed through a magnifying glass. Autumn was yellows and browns in the swamp giving way to the greens, oranges, and reds of the higher trees and branches crowning the opposite hills. Compared to the large cities where they lived overseas this felt truly remote to them although they knew civilization was just around the corner: the nearest Walmart was only a five-minute drive away. This was the quietest life they had ever lived. Many mornings began with sightings of deer wandering across the back yard and turkeys ambling in their awkward manner toward the tree-lined hill.
Before moving into the house, they rented a small basement apartment in the neighboring town. An elderly couple from their church volunteered the apartment and charged them next to nothing for rent. The apartment was kindly furnished with the mismatched feeling of several generations of Midwest family lives. None of the walls matched each other and the carpet was badly scarred in front of the fireplace, but this all added to the cozy feel of the place.
After living in the apartment for three months, they built a house on the land inherited from his parents. His parents were also teachers (retired now) with many overseas assignments in their past, but they had long since returned to Minnesota where their families had lived for three generations since the first Swedish ancestors arrived at the turn of the 20th century. The family farm was roughly 40 acres and had been loosely farmed by his grandfather. The house provided the young family with a sense of peace and stability where they were each able to find places for themselves throughout the large, mostly empty new farm house.
That autumn he spent most of his hours seated at a chair in the office. Writing was a relatively new thing for him. Many of the others he met going through rehab also wrote as a way to work their way through their pasts. For him, after the therapeutic results of writing had been gained, the act of putting words on the page surprised him by making him feel more alive. The first few short stories were pleasant paths for him, and he reread his own words with the thought that he was meeting someone new. He fumbled his way into a better understanding of how to submit to various journals, and once the first acceptance letters came in he felt a warm glow in his heart.
His wife spent the autumn prettying up the new house and then eventually sank into weeks of rest. She had carried much of the family tasks during their final years overseas when his addiction sank its claws into him. Much of the research for rehab had been done by her, and she took great pains to convince him the problem wasn’t going away on its own. This was, she said, a kind of ultimatum. They must either return to America as a family or she and the boys were returning on their own. Many mornings as he sat in the office and watched dawn creep over the forested hill he thought his decision to listen to her had been the best he had ever made; not much of a decision really, merely the acquiescence to what was needed to survive. He thought she had earned the right to rest. She lost herself for hours at a time watching Korean dramas and reading Japanese manga. He supposed that, in addition to her way of resting, her media consumption was probably an outlet for her still-alive desire to someday live back overseas again.
Their two boys also settled, in their own ways, into a rhythm of life in the country house which they could not have imagined just months before. The older boy was preparing for college and going through the usual round of applications and essays. The younger one, still in high school, had become a regular at the dance studio in the neighboring town.
As he drove his son back and forth along the country roads, he gained a muscle memory for the turns and hills. He anticipated when to wave to a passing neighbor’s car and when to look to the right or left to see sunrises or sunsets across the fields of corn or along a winding brook. The slower pace of life in the small Minnesota town was fascinating to him. As he drove, he watched farmers pull combines into wet fields and watched wheat and soybeans go through seasons of growth.
On this particular day he is sitting in the office and rereading a piece he wrote the week before. The rereading process is equally as therapeutic as the writing of it, more so, in some ways. The first words on the screen appear as a wrinkle in his mind and the rewriting is a kind of smoothing which puts them in a more proper order. The first snow of the fall has lightly dusted the fir trees on the slope of the hill and the entire slough has a soft covering of grey white which will eventually become an entire sheet of snow if the snowfall continues.
From where he sits in the office he is able to map the path of the day. He is usually the first one awake, usually by 5AM. He has a routine of making coffee and feeding the cat which is a kind of therapy of its own. The petting of the cat acts as a kind of self-soothing for him as well as he imagines his muscles relaxing and his mind unfurling as he pictures the twists and turns in whatever piece he is working on. After the business with the cat, he chooses one of the records from his classical collection to play on the turntable in the office. The record player was a gift from his wife for his birthday last year. Even though he could probably and more easily play anything off of an app on his phone, there is another kind of therapy involved in the choosing of the record and the holding of the spindle above the spinning black disk and in the crackle of the old recording before the office softly fills with violins or piano or German lieder lyrics by Schubert or Mahler.
This morning he sees a doe and a fawn on the slope of the outside hill. The pattern of the music flowing around him in the office gives each step and movement the animals take a kind of pre-arranged dance, as if the animals knew to appear at that particular moment when the melody touched on that particular note. He has noticed aspects of his life have taken on this pre-ordained quality. He will often read something in the Bible or from a book of poetry in the mornings hours while the house is still asleep, and the old texts will speak to him about something that happened both yesterday and long ago.
How quiet everything is this morning! The house makes a settling creak and the refrigerator hums to itself in the kitchen, but the quality of the falling snow lays an entire layer of silence over the dawning day. Thoughts come easily in the morning silence. The whole day unfurls in his mind. It is unbearably pleasant and almost too much to contain.
His father is due to arrive with a few tools this morning to help him restore some of the faux brick decoration which has fallen apart on the wall above the stairs leading to the downstairs level. The house was planned and designed by his wife, but the major parts of the actual building was done by his father. His father is a jack-of-all-trades and grew up in an era when it was entirely common for men (especially men in the countryside) to know how to work on a car or fix things around the house. He never inherited this skill his father has, although, he realizes he also never had the same kinds of opportunities to do so. His parents moved the family (he and his two younger sisters) overseas in the early 1980s when they were still very young, and while the experience of growing up overseas provided him with a chance to learn some things (like a foreign language and a way of interacting with non-Americans which cannot be taught) it did not provide him with the chance to learn the same practical labor skills his father has. Because of this, whenever something happens in the house requiring labor, he always calls his father and usually feels a twinge of guilt, as though this were something he should know how to do for himself.
His father might offer to do the work by himself, but he often asks for help. It is, he suspects, his father’s way of trying to foster a relationship between the two of them. His father often offers thoughts and suggestions about what he has learned over the years.
Shortly after they moved back to America, he looked for ways for his sons to connect with his father, their grandfather, but he no longer pushes them into those moments. Those interactions were not so different from when he was a young boy himself and when his father would call him outside to help with an oil change on the car or to fix a push mower. Those moments felt like planned life lessons which didn’t have much spontaneity in them, and he did not want his sons to feel any more awkwardness toward their grandfather than they already felt. He did not want his sons to feel unnecessarily drawn into any life decisions modeled after anything their grandfather did, because he knew his decision to move overseas and teach was directly modeled on his parents’ decision and in his desire to follow them.
What if he had done something else? Should he have? But, if he had chosen differently, he would not have these thoughts now. And so often thoughts become words on the page. So, wasn’t it somehow necessary for things to go this way? It is entirely possible for there to have been an earlier, other life, but there is no knowing now whether that life could have been reflected on as it is now, on this morning, with music, with deer on the grass outside, with frost on the distant trees.
It is hard not to smile. He is a pilgrim. A puritan. Pure of thought and focused. He speaks to his thoughts: Know thyself.
Zary Fekete grew up in Hungary and has a novelette (In the Beginning) out from ELJ Publications and a debut novella being published in early 2024 with DarkWinter Lit Press. He enjoys books, podcasts, and many many many films. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @ZaryFekete