The book that MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW hailed as a “cautionary tale of human relationships.”
Excerpt: SILICON SECRETS, a novel by Catherine Burr
Murder was in the air.
Like a foggy day, it would always be there, hanging over his head; a memory that would not evaporate no matter how hard he tried to erase it. Pressing harder on the gas pedal of his new Ferrari, he was headed for a night in the city.
Glancing at the woman by his side, he wondered what his father would think of him now.
“Get the hell out of my house!”
Lucky Lukovich ducked, narrowly avoiding the empty bottle of wine his father threw at him.
“Pop, stop it.”
“You got the devil in you, kid . . . always will.”
“I’m warning you, Pop. Don’t come near me,” pleaded Lucky, who was barely of legal age.
Varic was drunk. Again. Just getting started.
Lucky realized what was in store. He glanced over and saw his father’s weapon of choice. A serpent disguised as a leather belt, waiting to strike, hanging on a nail beneath a creased picture of his dead mother.
Lucky remembered the story Sister Anne had told him about the photo, how it was taken on the day he was born in the Slovenian village they called home.
That was the year of the nun’s jubilee, so in celebration, they decided to open the gates of their private sanctuary. All parishioners of the coastal town were invited for a picnic. Held behind the convent walls. This was the one and only time they unlocked the gate.
Lucky’s mother, Marie, had been excited to be pregnant, and she radiated love that the child within her stirred.
At the picnic, Sister Anne placed her aged hand on Marie’s stomach. She breathed in, closing her eyes, and spoke through her heart. “Proof of God’s presence.”
Over the years, Lucky gazed at that picture hanging on the wall. Longing for her touch, her scent. Love. He wondered what the porcelain-colored flower behind her ear smelled like. What it was called.
In the photo, his mother’s auburn hair fell loosely down her long neck. The color contrasted with the flowing, milky, chiffon dress and the tiny pink rosebuds on her sweater, which was draped over her petite shoulders. Her delicate hands rested on a protruding belly, already proud of the child she would soon give birth to. Marie had gone to the picnic in celebration of the awakening within her heart; an awakening that her pregnancy had brought.
She was smiling, laughing, as she felt the tickling of the baby’s movements inside. The moment caught her off guard because she was unaware the camera had clicked right after she’d put the flower behind her ear. That click would be cherished by the yet unborn son she carried, forever.
Sister Anne told Lucky that after the picture was snapped, his mother went into labor. How the two women left the wild blackberry pie and scent of fried chicken still in the air, then raced in a borrowed car to the sterile midwife’s house where he was born.
Just a few short years after his mother had died, Sister Anne gave the framed photo to the little boy as a gift he would cherish to his own grave. Sister Anne promised to tell him more about his mother when he was older, but a stroke killed the nun before she could have that conversation. Lucky never knew the details about his mother that he longed for. Never knew why she died, only that he’d been held responsible by his father.
Death took her shortly after his birth. He would never know her, only that her eyes spoke to him from the photo that he had said, “I love you” to every day.
For years now, the meaningful photo had hung on the Lukovich’s wall where it still remained, so Lucky could have a connection to the mother he’d never know.
Older and stronger now, Lucky could fight back against his father. Not like when he was a little boy with no control. He still had no mother to protect him, but he could protect himself.
Of course, it wasn’t Lucky’s fault his mother died when he was but an infant. Would his alcoholic father ever let him forget?
“You are the reason . . . she is dead,” he had said repeatedly, like a chant coming from a choir practice gone bad.
During the days, Varic, who had lost an eye in a bar fight and wore a black patch covering the space where his eyeball should have been, worked as a cobbler. He always smelled of shoe polish and glue. Varic fixed shoes for the locals. Repairing the villager’s soles, while dismantling Lucky’s soul.
Lucky spent his days ditching the church run high school while snitching candy bars from the local market.
Father and son spent tense nights in a detached garage, for which they paid a small amount of rent to the owners of the house, who had converted the space into squalid living conditions. Sporadic at best, the electricity had been wired unsafely and illegally. Grease stains were in abundance on the concrete slab floor and air circulation was lacking. A leaky roof covered four walls.
With Varic drinking and getting angrier with each swallow, this dwelling often failed to qualify as a home. But this time, after narrowly being missed by the hurled wine bottle, Lucky retaliated with his clenched fist, causing Varic to soar across the plastic-covered sofa, a church donation. He hit the wall in the process, and the cherished photo crashed to the cement floor. Varic landed in the jagged, shattered glass of the wine bottle, the broken picture frame was beneath his bleeding head.
What had Lucky done? The thought horrified him. With trepidation, he looked down at his motionless father. His haunting eyes stared into space. Blood dripped down his father’s head, his hair clumped together in bloody knots. Lucky trembled as he tugged at the portrait of his beloved mother, now lodged under Varic’s motionless self.
“You son-of-a-bitch,” Lucky said, wiping the broken chips of glass aside, peeling the picture out, folding it with care, and placing it in his pocket. He would save her and himself. Lucky made an anonymous call to the police, telling them to hurry and get to 64 Rudnick Street, clarifying that it was the garage apartment behind the main house.
And then he ran.
Still wearing the shirt stained with his father’s blood, he crouched in the bushes outside a local pub as the speeding police car approached, then disappeared down the street. After he could no longer see the blinking lights of the cruiser, he kept moving. Past the convent. Past the Iranian market. Past the cemetery where his mother was buried. Someday he would have enough money to buy her a headstone.
He kept running, the airless night void of answers.
If he had killed his father, he’d be thrown in jail. If he hadn’t killed him, his father would see to it that he was held in solitary confinement. Of that, Lucky had no doubt.
Collapsing under a tree, he slept until morning when the swelling of his bruises subsided, but would not be forgotten. These bruises were his life’s story.
Squinting from the morning sun, Lucky brushed his black hair, sticky with sweat, out of his brow. He felt his face. A crust of blood must have dried under his right eye where his father’s fist met his innocent cheek. The blurring of his eyes caused everything to be a cloud-like cover, but when he focused straight ahead, he saw his destiny.
A ship being loaded with supplies was the answer. The cargo terminal was crowded and bustling with activity. He’d be able to slip by unnoticed. He knew how to get on board, because he had watched the activity on the port since he was a child. Since he was old enough to run from his father. Lucky knew the ship would be headed out of the Adriatic, to the open sea, destined for another country. America perhaps.
As he ran toward the ship, he passed some fishermen, and heard their conversation. “Did you hear about one-eyed Lukovich?”
“Cops found him. Took him to the hospital. Heard he was dead.”
Lucky ran faster, away from the one-eyed man he called Pop, whom even the doctors couldn’t save.
Can’t believe it, Lucky thought, as he grappled with the news. How many times, he’d wished him dead. And, now he was. Life sucked right out of him by his own hands. The hands of the son. The son who was never called “son” by his old man. If only he’d heard the words even once, but was that reason to kill him? Did abuse justify murder? His father was evil, but he was the only father he’d ever known, ever had. Now, he had no one. Now he was an orphan.
At the end of the pier past the fishermen and buckets of fish waiting to be sold, his fate awaited in the form of a rusty cargo ship. At first, no one saw him sneak on board. The work crew, however, soon discovered him.
“What are yuh running from, kid?” asked Raphael, one of the seafarers. He knew it wasn’t uncommon for those running from the law or a woman to try and hitch a ride.
“I’m not running from anything,” Lucky lied. “I want to join the crew.”
“Son, it’s not that easy. You can’t just jump on a ship and sail away.”
“Forget the fact that you probably don’t have a passport, the paperwork needed to work on board, your shots, any of that. Are you even old enough?”
“I’m a man.” If killing someone made you a man, then he passed with flying colors.
“Another thing, Son, it’s not fun in the sun at sea. You can expect long days, even longer nights. You’ll go crazy from the tedium, and if sea sickness doesn’t kill yuh, the food surely will.” The seaman laughed and took a flask from his back pocket, opening it and taking a swig.
“I just want to see the world. And I–” Lucky tried to remember the swear words he heard on American television shows. “I don’t give a shit about the food.”
“All you’ll see is nothing but sea and sky. For an eternity, it’ll seem.”
“That would be a break for me.” They had no idea how much.
The seamen recognized a desperate soul when he saw one. They were all desperate souls in their own private ways. Taking Lucky in was an easy decision.
“How’d you get the name Lucky?” Raphael asked on the first night at sea, while pouring booze into Lucky’s mug.
“Bet I can guess,” a drunk voice shouted.
“I used to work at a local market, and I delivered the goods.” Lucky smiled as he had the men believing his lies. The truth was irrelevant, out on the vast ocean they wanted fiction, not reality, and he was happy to oblige. Tall tales were the least he could do to repay them for his escape.
During the restless days at sea, he built up his muscles by working out. With each passing day, his body became stronger, yet the emotional scars remained.
The men took Lucky in as if he were a lost child at the zoo, but provided him with booze, cigarettes, and advice fit for a man. They helped Lucky with his English and taught him American slang. His accent softened by the time they approached U.S. soil.
After its long voyage, the ship pulled into the Port of New York. Lucky hadn’t gotten sick once on the trip, and the food was tolerable. When he saw the view of freedom, he wept. With only the crinkled, stained photo of his mother in his pocket, Lucky was a free man.