This story is by Jane Ruth and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Papa, please come down off that rock, it is close to the edge of the cliff,” said Jeanine,
the 42-year-old daughter of Smiley.
“No, I don’t need you telling me what to do. You sound just like your mother,” said
“Papa, you are 84 years old. The rock could break off, and you could tumble into the
canyon and kill yourself.”
“That would make you and your Mama happy, wouldn’t it?”
“No, it wouldn’t. Now come down, we need to return home. Mama will be worried. We
were only supposed to be gone a half-hour.”
“Not until I gaze into the canyon a few more minutes. I might be dead tomorrow. This
view is my favorite place.”
Jeanine acquiesced to her father and waited patiently.
“Ok, you did it, now let’s go,” said Jeanine, helping her father descend the rocky ledge.
Jeanine and Smiley traveled back to the homestead on a well-worn path amidst thirty
acres of land which had been in the family for generations. Smiley was proud to have a
well-established extended family in the community. He relished the reputation his family
had in the town of Witton.
“I was ready to send the sheriff after you two!” said Sara, Smiley’s seventy-six-year-
old wife-wiping tears with her apron as she descended the steps of the porch.
“Mama, why are you crying?” said Jeanine.” We weren’t gone that long!”
“I received a phone call right after you left for your walk. Jonathan is dead! Abby said
he had a ruptured brain aneurysm- it happened fast. There wasn’t anything anyone could
have done to save him.”
Sara stood trembling; her face ashen- tears spilling onto her dress. Her eyes were red
“No! No!” shouted Smiley,” not my boy Jonathan! Not the pride and joy of my life! Oh,
God, no. Why me? Why did I have to lose my precious son?” The tears cascaded down
Smiley’s face as he paced back and forth in the driveway.
Jeanine stood quietly. Her face drained of color. Ironically, she felt a twinge of glee.
Maybe now she would be appreciated by Papa. She immediately felt guilty, and her face
flushed to crimson. She hoped no one had noticed.
“The funeral is Thursday,” said Sara, twisting her hands.
“I don’t care when the funeral is- I want to go right now, dammit woman!”
“Papa, Abby has to make arrangements. It only takes four hours to drive to
Harrington. We will get there in plenty of time.” said Jeanine trying to soothe her father.
“I want a flight out right now! I am not waiting any longer. I want to see my boy.”
“The way you are carrying on, one would think he was your only child!” said Jeanine.
“He is the only one that counts! ‘said Smiley. “We didn’t have to call the police and put
an alert out for him as we did for you when you were thirteen years old. He did not
embarrass us by refusing to come home with us like you did when they finally found you
over at your friend’s house- drunk,” said Smiley. “I will never forgive you for what you
did to us.”
Sara hurried inside the house and dialed the travel agency for the next flight out to
Smiley continued sobbing and lamenting over his son as he followed Sara into the
“God, take me so I can be with my son. I can’t live without my son!”
Jeanine trailed Smiley and entered the kitchen, which was usually comforting with its
nostalgic rooster and John Deere wallpaper.
“Papa,” said Jeanine, “I outgrew my teen years, I changed. I went to Veterinary
college, and I have a good practice. I married a loving man, and we have two wonderful
children. Jonathan did some pretty scary things behind your back that you never knew
“Jonathan never embarrassed us. You being pregnant at 16 and strolling around
town oblivious to how we felt was too much. Thank God, we had you give the baby up for
adoption-one less daily reminder for me.”
“Are you saying to me that you wish it were me that died instead of Jonathan?” said
Jeanine, trying to absorb her father’s tirade.
“Yes, Jonathan did not deserve to die. I will never forget what you did to our family.”
Smiley slammed his fist on the table as he lashed Jeanine.
Cold numbness enveloped Jeanine’s entire body. With trembling hands, she reached
for a nearby kitchen chair and retreated in silence. Pain clutched her heart, and time
stopped. She could hardly breathe.
Sara had just completed making flight arrangements to Harrington and heard
Smiley’s remarks to Jeanine.
“Smiley, you don’t mean that! Jeanine is our daughter,” said Sara, her eyes blazing as
she confronted Smiley.” She does not deserve to die!”
“She is no daughter of mine! She was a tart when she was a teenager, and no matter of
trying to say, she is a wonderful person now is going to change that. She disgraced our
“All you care about is your ego, Smiley?” glared Sara. “Jeanine apologized and went to
counseling for a year! She embraced new friends, became an honor student, and
received a scholarship to attend the University of Indiana. What more could you hope for
in a daughter?”
“That doesn’t erase the humiliation I endured during her time of rebellion. We never
went through hard times with Jonathan.”
“Jonathan was not a model teenager either, Smiley!” said Sara. “There were times
when I handled the problems before you found out about them.”
“I didn’t hear of his shenanigans in town at the barbershop. People talk, you know.
You will not defame my son, who is dead and can’t defend himself!”
Jeanine began to rouse from her stupor. “I could tell you a few stories, Papa, that
would curl your toes about your saintly son!” said Jeanine. “I prevented him from
committing suicide after breaking up with his first girlfriend, Denise.”
“I don’t want to hear any more lies!” said Smiley.
“Well, maybe you need to hear the truth, Papa!” Jeanine stood up. The bare wooden
floor creaked beneath her as she strode towards him.
“Denise wasn’t worthy of Jonathan. He was way above her caliber. Jonathan told me
she was just someone to take to the Prom.” said Smiley.
“Well, if he didn’t care about her, why was he so upset when he learned she was
pregnant and aborted the baby without his knowledge. He was devastated because he felt
she didn’t want him or his child. He was ready to hang himself from the rafter in the barn
when I walked in and talked him out of it.”
“See, I told you she was no good!”
Smiley escaped to the opposite side of the kitchen, running his hand through his hair.
“I don’t believe any of it! Jonathan would have told me. I am his father.”
He poured a cup of coffee and eased into a chair at the kitchen table.
“Smiley, you can’t hold onto a grudge against your daughter from her teenage years!
She has more than compensated for any untoward behavior in her younger years! We all
make mistakes.” said Sara starting a fresh pot of coffee.
Sara walked away from the counter, faced Smiley, and crossed her arms. “What is she
supposed to do to make amends? She has more than atoned for her behavior years ago as
far as I am concerned. I am proud to have Jeanine as my daughter!”
“It is a matter of honor. Nothing she can do will change my mind,” said Smiley
clamping his lips shut.
Jeanine walked purposely to the other side of the kitchen. With steely determination,
she approached Smiley and locked his eyes.
“Well, Papa, you will get your wish because I will never again step foot in your house. I
will die to you also. It seems obvious with your never-ending anger towards me that you
will not resolve it. Continue to hate the rest of your life and destroy your soul.”
With tears of despair sliding down her cheeks, Jeanine turned to her mother.
“Mama, I love you, thank you for defending me. I will contact you later. I will never
return to this house again.” She hugged Sara, who was crying uncontrollably.
Sobbing, Jeanine turned and stumbled out the door.