Today we are excited to welcome Philip Fracassi to Ink Heist with his story, “Home Again”. We’re huge fans of Philip’s work and we’re honored to publish this story from him as he is one of our favorite short story writers. It’s a bit of a departure from what you may expect from a Fracassi short story, but it carries the same emotional resonance that makes all of his stories a truly special reading experience. “Home Again” is a bit of a quirky and fantastical piece and we fell in love with as soon as we read it. It’s an intimate look into a relationship between a husband and wife, built on their interactions with each other with unusual flourishes that are accepted as the norm. This is a wonderful story from Philip and shows just a small part of the incredible range he is capable of. We hope you enjoy it.
Philip was also kind enough to offer us signed copies of Behold The Void and Shiloh to give away, so check back tomorrow to learn how to enter!
By: Philip Fracassi
©2020 Philip Fracassi
The front door opens and she steps inside.
He’s up in a flash, fists clenched, jaw stiff. Words boil from his lips like lava.
“Where have you been?”
“What do you mean?”
“Just what I’m saying.”
“Where have I been?”
She tilts her head, studies him. She wears the slightest of frowns, as if disappointed. “This conversation is old.”
He points a shaky finger. “You, my dear, are… well… unpredictable, that’s what.”
Red-faced, he yanks a book from a shelf – a leatherbound décor Hemingway – and hurls it across the room. It crashes into a wall, hits the floor, and scurries for cover.
“Answer my goddamn question!”
“You shouldn’t cuss, darling, it doesn’t suit you.”
“You were with another man, weren’t you?”
“Of course I was, don’t be stupid.”
“Hellfire, I knew it! You… you slut!”
“Slut? I told you I was going out with another man. And still you act out like this.”
“Act out? Mother of all heaven!”
He kicks the chair, but it doesn’t move very far – maybe a couple inches. It’s heavy, a leather club chair he thought would make him appear distinguished while reading. He tended to turn invisible when reading, however, which made his quest for a scholarly appearance an uphill battle.
“This is cockers!”
“Cockers, is it?” She laughs, sets down her bag. “Oh my, not cockers…” she says gayly, and heads to the kitchen.
“Just where the hell do you think you’re going? We’re having a discussion here!” he screams, spitting rage, watching her back become distant.
“I’m hungry!” she yells over her shoulder. “Sex does that to a woman!”
He can’t believe his bad judgment. He’d call it bad luck, but the truth is that it’s nothing but his own bad judgment which lies at fault. Fifteen years they’d been together. Fifteen years! And still she treats him like some…emotionally unstable child, while she acts the part of demented nurse, dishing out daily doses of disrespect and pain. And the worst part – the most humiliating part – is that he puts up with it! Continually puts up with her whimsy, her shenanigans, her adulterous ways, her lack of concern for his feelings…why why why?
Why does he do it?
He looks around the room, notices the shelves of remaining books cringe away from his glare, each hoping to be spared his wrath. A wash of shame floods him, but he pushes it down. Dams it with rage. Steeling his will, he follows her into the kitchen. This conversation will happen. By God, it will!
She’s got water boiling and is in the process of pulling packets of pasta from the cupboards. He sees cans of whole tomato on the counter and chopped onion and mashed garlic sitting on a cutting board. Tomato sauce? At a time like this?
“Just what do you think you are doing?” he says, his voice too loud in the small kitchen.
“I’m making spaghetti. Do you want some?”
“No,” he says. “I do not want any damned spaghetti.”
She shrugs and rips open a bag of noodles. She breaks them in half and throws them into the boiling water, sets the timer for eight minutes. The large pot hums a tune as it heats up.
She claps her hands together three times. “Let’s go, I need those peppers!”
The door beneath the sink pushes open and the gnome from the garden rushes in, out of breath. He grips two bell peppers (the green of the vegetable neatly matching his cocked, pointed hat and woolly, button-down coat) in coarse, dirty hands.
“Yes, mam. Peppers, mam.”
He hands the peppers up to her then furtively scowls at the man, green eyes flaring. The man stomps his foot and the gnome hisses, baring sharp teeth before scurrying back through the door under the sink and slamming it shut behind him.
“Listen, spaghetti or not, we are going to have this conversation,” the man says, unimpressed with the flurry of activity she’s made of the kitchen. He also ignores his own hunger, which shoves its way to the forefront as he watches her deftly slice the peppers. She pulls a second pot from a high cupboard and starts making the sauce.
“Fine,” she says, blowing out a breath. “I’m listening.”
“Well, first of all…” he stammers, wondering how to make his case. Isn’t it obvious? Why should he have to explain human nature? Isn’t it obvious? “There’s this business of you coming home so late…”
“It’s not late! It’s barely eight o’clock.”
“Well, that’s pretty darn late… you know… comparatively…”
“Compared to what?”
“Most people, for one. I, for example, finished my workday promptly at five p.m. and was home, sitting in my chair reading an excellent book, by five-thirty.”
“Reading what book? That one you just scared the life out of? All your books are frightened of you now, they’re likely not going to let you read them again.”
A jolt of fear courses through him, but he steadies himself. “That’s just not true,” he says. “Those books adore me. We have wonderful times together.”
“Fine, fine…they adore you. So what were you reading at five-thirty?”
“Well, that’s just the point, isn’t it? How am I supposed to relax and read something when all I can do is stare at the clock wondering where my dearest is? Wondering what… person you’re sharing yourself with. How do you expect me to concentrate on fiction when you’ve filled my mind with swirling chaos?”
“I told you where I was, you ninny.”
“Ninny?” he yells, eyes wide with indignation. “Now listen here…”
She hands him the cutting board, covered with chopped vegetables and heaps of seasoning, then turns to stir the warming sauce. He stands quietly, proud in his ability to pause.
“Thank you,” she says, taking the cutting board back and tossing the whole of its contents into the humming pot. “Mmm, smells good, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, yes… but the sauce isn’t the point right now, is it? I’m trying to tell you something.”
She spins toward him so suddenly that he takes a step back. Her full attention rests on his face for the first time since she’d walked through the door. Her blue-gold eyes create gravity as they meet with his, drawing him into her. His will trapped, he floats untethered into her star. His rage subsides because she is so beautiful after all…
The light of the room dims. A soft spotlight from above creates a luminescent circle that surrounds them. The smells and sounds of the kitchen grow distant and he knows they’ve left that world completely, are floating free of reality, momentarily released from the world of pain, from retribution, from the banality of being human.
She stands at the edge of the circle in half-shadow, her face obscured. The darkness around grows denser, more foreboding. In a rush of panic, he wonders if she’ll leave him out here, alone, in the dark…
But then his resolution stirs, and pride stiffens his spine. He refuses to be intimidated. There is a point to be made here, and he’ll be dolly-dip-darned if he’s not going to have his say. He glares into the shadowy void of her face, twists up his courage and clears his throat.
“I’m listening,” she says quietly.
“Okay, well, thank you for that. I’m trying to say that… well… I suppose I’m trying to say that I’m hurt – again – and that I’m upset. Very upset.”
She steps into the light; her eyes glow brightly. She smiles.
“I wasn’t brought here to hurt you,” she says quietly, putting a cool hand on his cheek. “That’s not what I’m here for. Truthfully? I’m not here for you at all. You know that, right?”
His eyes soften, study the dark. “Yes, I suppose I realize that…”
“Then why do you keep making that my position?”
He starts to protest, but she stops him, holding up one pale finger.
“Why do you put me into a vase and expect me to act like a dying flower? Don’t you know better than that? Don’t you know better than that by now?”
“But,” he starts, confused. “But you are a flower.”
“Not anymore,” she whispers, taking his hand and kissing it.
“Yes, well, I blame fate for that,” he mumbles, feeling the heat in his face.
“Why blame anything?” She kisses each finger. “Aren’t you happier now than you’ve ever been?”
He thinks about that and supposes that yes, in most ways it was true. But still…
“Okay, yes I guess,” he says finally.
“Well then. Enough said.”
The kitchen lights come blazing back and they’re halo of indecision is blown apart, the heavy darkness lifted, pushed into tight corners, where it sleeps. Without another word she turns feverishly back toward the stove, stirring with renewed passion.
“This will be ready in a few minutes, why don’t you go sit down and relax. I’ll bring it out for us.”
The man, knowing the story is over for now, turns and skulks quietly back to the living room. He walks to the chair and mumbles an apology for kicking it, which it somewhat grumpily accepts. He lays a hand on it, strokes the leather gently. The chair puffs up, eager, and he sits, sinks into the cushions as the chair purrs. He rests his hands on the leather arms, his eyes glazed and bewildered. He drifts into a bemused despair.
Something brushes insistently against his shoe. The man looks down, sees the Hemingway has come back from hiding.
“Hello, old fellow. Sorry about that tossing nonsense.”
He picks up the book and sets it open on his lap, where it lies gratefully, flipping its pages open to the story he’d been reading, shivering with anticipation.
Sensuous smells of the meal come from the kitchen. The man knows she’ll be out soon, and they’ll have a nice dinner together before talking about things that have gone on in the strange world around them. The violence. The hate. The miracles. They will talk reassuringly to each other, as best friends do. Then, after she has a brandy and him a cigar, they will retire. Lie down in comfortable warmth, in a tightly-knit togetherness.
“Honey?” he says, directing his voice toward the kitchen.
“Yes?” comes the far-off reply.
He looks imploringly at the open kitchen door. A tall houseplant shuffles over to the doorway and plops itself down to add some color. The doorframe straightens itself hastily in an attempt to look its best.
Philip Fracassi is the author of the award-winning story collection, Behold the Void, which won “Best Collection of the Year” from both This Is Horror and Strange Aeons Magazine. Behold the Void has also been translated into several languages.
His short stories have been published in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Best Horror of the Year, Nightmare Magazine, Dark Discoveries, Cemetery Dance, Lovecraft eZine, and Strange Aeons.
Philip’s work has been favorably reviewed in The New York Times, LOCUS Magazine, Rue Morgue and many other magazines, blogs and review sites. The New York Times called his work “terrifically scary.”
As a screenwriter, his feature films have been distributed by Disney Entertainment and Lifetime Television, with several projects in various stages of development.
For more information on his books and screenplays, visit his website at www.pfracassi.com. You can also follow him on Facebook, Instagram (pfracassi) and Twitter (@philipfracassi).
He lives in Los Angeles, California.