Daniel opened the envelope with languid enthusiasm, slowly running the tip of his chapped thumb up under the lip of the seal. It tore away with little protest as he yanked the letter free, the empty envelope falling without a sound onto the hardwood floor.
He carefully unfolded the paper in his hands as he gazed outside, watching clusters of bulky snowflakes tumble carelessly into large window panes frosted at the corners.
There was no need to look down. No need to read a single word. Rejection letters are always typed on a single piece of paper and signed with a lifeless, electronic signature.
The envelope felt too light in his hand before he even shuffled back inside his home, before he kicked his snow-covered boots loose next to the burning hearth, before he poured that first glass of Gentleman Jack into a tumbler with the words, Happy Birthday, Dad! etched into the glass with an ostentatious calligraphy he always found gaudy and distasteful.
A pair of round, obsidian eyes blinked in anticipation as Daniel walked back toward the fireplace, scratching behind the dog’s ears and tangling his fingers in the copious yellow fur. He threw the unread letter into the fire, the ink of the letterhead burning quickly in a flash of green before vanishing into thin gossamers of black smoke.
“No sympathy for the damned,” Daniel said gravely. Dusty tilted his head in response, his purple tongue hanging to one side. “Shall we try for ten, today?” The mutt answered with a wide yawn before slumping his narrow head back between his front paws, his curled-up body warmed by yellow flames dancing atop orange coals.
The whiskey charred Daniel’s throat and thawed his chest as he plucked out a single, blank sheet of paper from a tall pile stacked neatly at the edge of a large, oak desk. The contorted faces of fervent gargoyles were carved into each corner of the bureau by the steady hands of a carpenter long dead, the antique handed down through three generations in Daniel’s family to the eldest son.
The head of the pen scrapped loudly into the thick parchment as Daniel wrote line after line, the words for each paragraph burned into the back of his skull, seared into place through tedious repetition.
He did, however, change the word renounced to disowned in the third letter, the word remorse to contrition in the sixth letter, and accidentally misspelled suicide in the tenth letter, rewriting the entire proposal with the help of a fourth tumbler of whiskey cut with lukewarm tap water.
He addressed and stamped ten envelopes, double checking the addresses, using a ruler to ensure each line was straight and plumb, and sealing them with an angle-tipped moistener.
The strident ring of the telephone shot Dusty to his paws, and Daniel jerked his arm, knocking over the glass and watching helplessly as it rolled off the desk and crashed to the floor.
We are interested in publishing your memoir, the lady said over the phone as Daniel attentively picked up the pieces of the tumbler, cradling the shards of glass in his left hand.
Would you be willing to do a reading at a local nonprofit that helps homeless, gay youth? she asked just as he accidently sliced open his palm, long streams of crimson snaking their way down his fingers.
Do you have additional pictures of your late son? she asked as he tried to piece together the glass, watching globules of blood fall and explode on the hardwood floor, spattering onto the empty, torn envelope.
Daniel answered yes to both questions, replied he could meet on Monday morning at 9am, then hung up the phone, violently flinging the broken pieces of the tumbler against the wall. Dusty bolted in the corner of the living room amid falling glass, keeping his head down and watching guardedly as Daniel took a long pull of whiskey directly out of the bottle.
Daniel walked passed his boots and passed the dog and stumbled through the snow into the garage, returning with a large, cardboard box labeled Dillon, written in the same calligraphy that was on the tumbler. He set the box on the oak desk, positioning it flush with the edge before opening the flaps and looking inside.
The dog pawed cautiously out from his corner, staring at Daniel as Daniel stared into the opened box. He squeezed his injured hand closed, then open, ignoring the sharp pain as he moved the box onto the floor, pushing it flush against the wall. He gently ran his chapped thumb along the edge of the desk.
Daniel walked passed his boots and passed the dog and stumbled through the snow and into the garage, returning with an axe, the wooden handle stained with a red palm print. He swung the axe into the middle of the oak desk, and the tower of blank papers plummeting to the floor. Dusty jumped back into his corner with a yelp.
On the third swing of the axe, the desk snapped in half with a deafening crack, blasting splintered oak in all directions. The mutt buried his head under his front paws as the axe continued to eagerly cleave away at the antique desk, leaving deep gashes in the floorboards.
The sun, hidden behind clouds of white, was soon swallowed up by an unseen horizon, leaving Daniel in near total darkness as he slowly tossed broken pieces of the antique desk into hungry flames. He hunched over next to an empty whiskey bottle laying on its side next to the axe, now embedded in the floor with the handle shooting up at an angle.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered to himself, holding a picture of his son to his chest.
Daniel felt a wet nose push up against his elbow, and he looked down as Dusty nudged his narrow head up under Daniel’s arm, licking the wound on his palm. Daniel scratched behind the ears of the mutt as he gazed into the flickering fire, staring into the gnarled face of a gargoyle which stared back with eyes burning red and smoke pouring out of its mouth.