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Guilted Exile

Probably my least favourite of the stories I wrote in high school exams. This one was for one of my English final school exams in the infamous 'Module C.' While not particularly creative, it was written to accumulate as many marks as possible and honestly not much else, and it did that job quite well.


The sun sank low, it’s light disappearing with a dying gasp. The man sat, rocking in his chair on the porch, his cigarette barely smouldering atop the glass ashtray as a cicada hymn chorused around him. Out here, in the middle of nowhere, the world seemed quiet and existence uneventful

Here, he could think.

His exile was voluntary - him believing the world was better without him and he better without the world. His life was simple, perhaps lonely, but he didn’t think about it that way.

When he did, it was with a lingering sense that it was deserved. Sure the people he’d hurt had sent letters and voicemails, but he had to stay here, away from people. This was his penance, already four years of unrelenting, day after day isolation taki-

Stop that.

He was fine. Fine. The last light faded as he stared at the book. Such an unassuming thing bound in worn leather. Its title, a simple statement. This Will All Be Gone. He couldn’t remember where he found it. The days tended to blur … one day from the next. He focused on the book to shut out that part of his mind that conjured the faces of his family when he closed his eyes.

“Shane’s got to be nine now” he mumbled, eyes fluttering.

He hadn’t even said goodbye to them; not to Carole in her red dress who smiled at him as he headed out of the house they shared; not to Harry, who embraced him as he stopped by the family home they together had inherited; not to Anne or Oliver who had helped drag Tim to his apartment on those joyous nights they drank too much, and not even to Shane - he’d given his own son nothing more than a cryptic pat, saying “keep your head down,” Thank god they knew he was alive. Imagine if they thought he’d just disappeared one day and never came ba-

They are better off without you. Just sit, read.

“Sit... read” he mumbled as he once more opened the book, and began to read aloud to drown out his own thoughts.

The chorus of cicadas was broken for a moment by a single, wracking sob. The albatross fell from the mariner’s neck, a lonely tear streamed from the man’s left eye. He tried to force it away, tried to reach for a distraction, any distraction. Hands shaking, he clumsily grasped for the book again in a vain attempt to continue reading.

The book slipped, the ashtray clattered to the ground, shattering. The man gasped in pain as an ugly cut opened up his forearm. Clutching the wound, he breathed heavily and brushed the mess from the book’s pages. He was almost at the end.

“Soon, you will have to move on because one day, soon, this all needs to be gone.”


The cicadas were gone in the morning, replaced by the peaceful birdsong of yellow robins that flocked to the feeder he’d built a year ago. The sun’s warming light woke him as Arthur began to walk towards a small, rust-coloured jeep. With a bandaged hand he pushed the moss and nesting birds off the metal machine and climbed in. The long-dormant engine sputtered and coughed before it hummed to life and began driving down the dirt road that led away from this small timber house. Arthur smiled as he thought of home, longing no longer lurking at the edge of his vision, guilt no longer waiting beyond his eyelids.

A forgiven man, returning, drove home that day.

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