“Look Up”: A Short Story by Brent J. Walker
Brent Walker, from Seattle, Washington, approached me about three months ago about a short story he’d written. I asked him to send it to me. He warned me that it was a little long, but as soon as I started reading it, I was hooked!
By way of introduction, Brent says, “My father, John, was one of four siblings, brothers Doug and Jim and sister Irene. I only met Jim a few times, and it was common knowledge that he was a little off. We mistakenly just assumed that it was due to the trauma he endured in the Vietnam war, when in fact it was HD, as we came to find out later in life.
“Their mother, Gladys (my grandmother), passed before I was old enough to remember her or to know anything about Huntington’s disease. At the time of her death, no one had ever heard of HD. About 20-25 years ago, I started to become familiar with Huntington’s disease and came to the realization that this was the disease that was responsible for the heartache of the Walker family and that my father was at risk.
“There was a huge technological advance in the early 90s, I believe, that allowed people at risk for HD to get tested. My father got tested soon after and was unfortunately positive. This put myself, my little sister, Stacey, and my older brother, Scott, at risk of inheriting the disease, by 50-50 odds. My brother was the first sibling to get tested, about 15 years ago. He tested negative, then proposed to his wife shortly afterwards. They have three kids and are still married to this day. My sister got tested next, about five years ago, right before she, too, was going to get married. Unfortunately, she tested positive.
“For the better part of a decade, I debated whether I should get tested. Having watched my father degrade for years before he eventually passed a few years ago, I was in no hurry to get tested. For me, it was very simple. There were only three reasons to get tested: (1) if I, too, was going to get married, so my future wife would know what she signed up for; (2) if I wanted to have a child; I had already decided that I would only have kids if I was negative; and (3) if there was any feasible hope of a cure on the horizon.
“This past year, I had read lots of information about possible treatment for HD coming up soon. There is more hope out there right now than ever before. So I elected to get tested. On December 13, I found out I was negative. I took my brother with me, and he jumped into my arms after the doctor said I was negative. While relieved, I must admit I was not nearly as excited as I thought I would be. Survivor’s guilt is a real thing.”
I asked Brent what inspired him to write the story. He told me, “I have always been very fond of writing and have written a lot of short stories in the past (I even wrote a screenplay once). but none of them have ever been published. For me it is very simple. I want to help people. I don’t care about money; I never really have.
“Most of my life, I have been haunted by this disease. For twenty years at least I have had the weight of this on my shoulders. For the most part, I did not talk about it much in those 20 years as I didn’t want people to pity me or treat me differently. When I finally decided I was going to go through with it and get tested, I decided to open up more about it to friends and coworkers, and what I found was that my story was not met with pity but that it in fact seemed to inspire people. So perhaps by sharing my story, I could do just that if I wrote about it.
“I would say about 90 percent of ‘Look Up’ is based on my own experience. I go to Vegas with friends every March, have for about seven years, and I take that time to reflect on my life and think about where I am. The idea for this story has been in my brain for years, but I only recently decided to put it on paper and share it.”
You can hear Help 4 HD Live!’s interview with Brent on BlogTalkRadio: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/help4hd/2017/01/18/an-interview-with-brent-walker-author-of-look-up
Brent’s story will be published in three weekly installments. The story includes some adult situations and profanity. This is Part One.
By Brent J. Walker
It reeks in here! Stenches of stale beer and ancient cigarette smoke invade my nostrils as I push the spin button over and over. This has to be something. Give it to me! Damn! Only a 25 cent win? I’m playing max bet at two bucks a spin. I hate that the lights flash, and the music plays for such a small win. It gets me excited for nothing. Doesn’t matter. I’m going to keep spinning this damn robotic and soulless wheel anyways. I plan on losing all my money as slowly as possible, though, so I light up a fresh smoke and take a sip of my beer.
“Cocktails?” a middle-aged blonde waitress wearing a frilly purple dress asks. She has wrinkles on the corners of her mouth, a side effect from the years and years of fake smiles she has had to give over her career in the service industry.
“I’ll take another beer,” I reply. She jots it down on a small pad of paper. My current beer is nearly full, but they are free when you are gambling, and it’s just about the only way you can feel like you are winning in this Godforsaken city. Besides, I’m stoned out of my mind, and I have cotton mouth like a bastard.
I take a huge swig of my current beer, and just like that, the cold, refreshing amber colored beverage is halfway gone. Like my money is going to be if I keep playing this game. This city . . . it’s a paradox. I look outside, and I see a homeless man asking for change. Some poor bastard that probably moved out here to pursue the American dream of fame and fortune before getting seduced by the slots and the card games, and blowing his entire life savings.
I look straight ahead, and I see a couple of young girls weaving around drunkenly with blank-eyed stares, mumbling nonsense conversations to each other that neither will remember in the morning. I just hope they make it to their rooms safely; the wrong guy sees them, and he might just take advantage of their inebriated states and convince one of them to come back to his room. Predators abound in the “City of Sin.”
I look to my left, and I see a man in a suit looking for lonely dudes he can convince to go to his strip club. Free ride there, free ride back, and no cover charge is usually the pitch. What they don’t always tell you is that it’s a three-drink minimum once you get in, and drinks go for about twenty bucks a pop. Not to mention those strippers are very persuasive. Before you know it, you just dropped a hundred bucks on drinks and lap dances and left wondering how the hell that just happened.
They swindle you in this city any way they can. They don’t just want a week or two of your wages; they want your whole damn bank account. But look up, and damn! These casinos are some of the most impressive manmade structures on the entire planet. Never mind that the cost of the chandeliers on the ceiling of the casino I am currently at might cost more money than I’ll make my entire life. Beauty is beauty, and boy is there beauty in this town despite its obvious ugliness and degradation. It’s interesting how one’s mood can be immediately changed when you look up, especially when you are outside. Seriously! Try it some time. When you are sad or angry, and you look up at the sun or the moon, the clouds or the stars, those feelings often go away. You realize how beautiful and gigantic the world truly is. The human race is nothing but a small part of it, which makes your petty problems completely insignificant.
I wonder how long it will take me to get that drink. They aren’t in any hurry; that’s for sure. Why would they be? The longer they take, the more money you will spend on the slots. It must be nice. I worked at a restaurant for a while. Speedy service was important. Longer it took to get the guest his beer, the smaller the tip you might get once the check was dropped, and tips were your livelihood. It sure as hell wasn’t the minimum wage. It must be nice to be able to take your sweet time and know that you will most likely still get a buck tip. It’s the least people can do for a free beer. To be fair, I don’t know for sure how long she’s been. Weed is funny like that sometimes, and I’ve had my fair share of it the last couple months. It’s a stress reducer for me, and boy, have I been stressed. Ten minutes can feel like an hour, and an hour like ten minutes. Doesn’t matter. I still have half a beer and plenty of smokes. Speaking of, let’s light up another.
Cigarettes! Fucking cigarettes, devil sticks. Can’t believe I picked up the habit in my thirties. Who the hell does that? What can I say? It was a rough year. It started when I got my heart broken by a woman named Megan that I had fantasized about being with for five or so years, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t finally succeed and get her in my bed and hold on to her for some time after. Happiest summer I’d had in a decade. Of course, it didn’t last; it never does with me and women. Shortly after Megan broke my heart, my father passed of a rare genetic disorder. More on that later. I swear I’m cursed when it comes women. I’m pretty sure I had a great, great, great grandpa once who pissed off a gypsy or something. I can picture it now.
“Because of you what you did, your great, great, great grandchild will never find love,” the gypsy will have said, and of course that happens to be me. Either that, or I was a terrible person in my former life, and God is smiting me for it in the current one. I used to think there was something wrong with me. Why else do I continuously fail with women? But I’ve realized something over the years. It’s not my fault. Not at all. I failed with Megan because her ex cheated on her constantly with several different women for the entire decade they were together. Hard to trust anyone again after that. Which is unfortunate, because I am as trustworthy as they come.
To be continued next Wednesday, January 25, 2017.