Family Fiction posted May 3, 2022

This work has reached the exceptional level
Monroe and his girlfriend shatter a family

Last Days of a Republic Part 2

by estory

At last the bell rang and Caroline quickly stepped forward and opened the door with an actress's smile. "Well Hello, Roe," she said as warmly as she could, "You're looking great. And hello, dear. Welcome to Manchester. Did you have a nice trip?"

The familiar, broad shouldered, tall figure of Monroe IV stepped over the thresh-hold, greeting his mother with an odd, twisted smile. He seemed to have an eye on the person behind him, the girl who had come home with him. Madison leaned over to get a look at her, but she did not get up. The girl who stepped into the room behind Roe had a pretty but pale, nervous face, framed by very short, dyed reddish hair. She was wearing a simple jacket that could have been bought at Target or Kohl's, and she was wearing jeans. It was quite a contrast to her sharply dressed hosts. She looked around at all of them with her shoulders hunched up, clutching her bag. Madison flashed an amused smile.

"Hello mother," Roe said rather coolly. He only nodded at his father, who was rising from his chair to greet him, and his brother, who couldn't seem to make up his mind about them as he sat in his chair. "This is Brooke, the girl I've been telling you about."

"Well it's so nice to meet you at last," Caroline said politely, leaning towards her and extending a hand. "That's such an interesting name. Rather like my Madison. Madison dear, this is Brooke."

"Pleased to meet you, Brooke," Madison said as she rose formidably from her chair, with a slight emphasis on the 'Brooke'.

The girl with the short, red hair did not smile. Her chin seemed to harden, as she looked from mother to daughter. "My mother believes in giving girls substantive, assertive names," she said firmly.

Caroline looked a bit surprised, even taken aback, as she tried to smile at this, glancing at her husband. But Madison's smile broadened. "Good for you!" she said, enthusiastically.

"Well, Madison is named for a president of the United States," Monroe declared light heartedly. He stuck out his hand. "Roe, it is good to have you back. You have to tell me about your business courses and what you've gotten out of them." His son took his hand slowly, but he seemed to not know what to say, and looked back at his girlfriend standing behind him.

At last William stood up and strode over from the sidelines, looking into his brother's familiar face with a quizzical air. "Roe, you haven't forgotten about me, have you? You've got to come to my game tomorrow. You can't miss it. We're playing Nashua. I've been working on my spirals. It's the biggest game of the year."

Roe seemed to sway a bit in the middle of his parents, his siblings and his girlfriend. He looked from his father to his mother to his sister to his brother with a strange look on his face, like he did not know where he was or why he was there. "I have to say I haven't kept up with football lately," he said, flatly.

William stepped back. "Not kept up with football?" he repeated, in a puzzled tone.

Monroe looked at his son as if he had just heard that he had become ill. "Well, that doesn't sound like you at all, Roe. I certainly hope you've kept up with business. I'd like to take down to the office and show you around."

Caroline cut in on him. "And it would be so nice if we all went to church on Sunday. It would be like old times. You know everyone's been asking about you... Brooke dear, of course you can come along too, if you like."

Roe turned to Brooke and they looked at each other. They seemed out of place or out of sorts. "I think we'll pass this time, mother," he told her, in a measured voice.

Caroline's face went blank. Monroe thrust his hands into his pockets. William's mouth dropped open. Only Madison flashed a wry smile.

"Roe, you've never missed church as long as you've been in this house," Caroline said. "You know how much it means to me. And there are so many people there who want to see you."

Roe looked around from face to face, shifting his weight uncomfortably as Brooke stared at him with her hardened face. He reached out and grasped her hand. "Mother, Brooke doesn't go to church."

Caroline could hardly hide her disappointment. There was an awkward silence in which Monroe shook his head and William stared at his brother as though he no longer recognized him. Only Madison straightened up, her eyes flashing.

"If she doesn't want to go...she certainly doesn't have to..." Caroline stammered. "But why don't you go to church, dear?"

Brooke seemed defiant as she turned to Caroline. "I don't believe in God," she said firmly. "My parents are free thinkers."

"Free thinkers?" Monroe repeated, frowning. "What are 'free thinkers,' exactly? I thought people in Pennsylvania were quakers."

"You don't know Pennsylvania as well as you thought you did, dad," Madison put in with a smirk.

"Be quiet, Madison," Caroline snapped.

Brooke, her shoulders back and her chin up, stared right back at Monroe. "My parents believe in science," she told him.

"What do your parents do, if I may ask?" Monroe asked her, with a dubious look on his face.

"They're both professors," she answered, matter of factly. "My mom teaches political science at Penn State, and my dad teaches philosophy."

"Philosophy, eh?" Monroe said derisively.

But Madison stepped to Brooke's side and announced, with her face brightened by defiance, "I don't want to go to church either, mother."

Caroline grimaced at her. "Enough of this talk," she said sharply, waving her hand, as if that would sweep away everything that had just happened. "Dinner's ready. Why don't you all go into the dining room and sit down. I'm sure you're ready to have something to eat."

"That sounds great dear," Monroe rejoined quickly, eager to change the subject. He turned his back on Roe and Brooke and took a step towards the dining room.

"I need a good dinner to get ready for my game tomorrow," William said as he followed his father.

But Roe hung back next to his red headed girlfriend, who was whispering something in his ear, a concerned look on her pinched face. Taking a deep breath, he straightened up and faced his mother. "What exactly is for dinner, mother?" he asked her.

"Chicken Cacciatore," she said, as if suddenly unsure of herself. "I made one of your old favorites, just for you."

"Brooke is a vegetarian," Roe stated, still holding his girlfriend's hand. "And she's kind of talked me into it too, actually."

Monroe and William stopped in their tracks and turned to Roe with surprised and disappointed looks. Caroline seemed to gasp for a moment. "Well that is a change for you dear. I wish you had told me. I suppose you could eat the vegetables."

"Sorry mother. It is a new thing for me. But Brooke's been telling me how vegetables are so much healthier for you. And better for the planet too."

"Has she?" Madison put in, snickering.

As Roe passed his father, still standing in the hall with his hands thrust into his pockets, Monroe muttered to him: "I wonder what else has changed with you all of a sudden." He shot a glance at Brooke, who closed her eyes as she passed him.

Roe shrugged it off. "People change, dad. That's what happens when you grow up."

"Is it?" his father countered, frowning.

Caroline, obviously flustered, ushered them into the dining room and directed them around the table. "Roe dear, you and Brooke sit over there. William and Madison can sit opposite you. Madison, help me bring in the things, will you?"

Brooke and Roe said nothing about the fancy porcelein, the flowers, or the impressive silverware as they sat down. William stared at his brother. Brooke looked over his head at the pictures hanging on the wall, as if trying to contemplate her own presence among them.

Monroe leaned back grimly in his chair, his fingers strumming tensely on the table. "So tell me, Roe," he finally asked, "How are you doing in those business classes?"

Brooke looked at Roe, and Roe looked at her as he answered his father: "I'm changing my major, dad."

Monroe stiffened in horror. "Changing your major? Out of business? And into what, may I ask?"

"Political Science," Roe stated firmly.

Caroline, who had just entered the room with the bowls of vegetables, looked surprised and hesitated for a minute before she set them down in front of her son and his girlfriend. Monroe chuckled dismisively. "You must be joking," he said.

"We're both pretty active in politics on campus," Roe said, still looking raptly into Brooke's face. "We're very concerned about it."

Caroline sat down with a questioning look at her husband, and Monroe adopted an amused expression as he looked back at his wife. "Roe's changing his major, dear. He's leaving business and taking up politics. And what sort of politics is it that you're getting involved in?"

"Progressive politics," Roe announced.

Caroline and Monroe looked at each other across the table as though they had suddenly lost control of their ship. William stared at Roe. Only Madison wore a sly smile as she leaned back in her chair and glanced at her brother.

"I actually support progressive politics," she said, sarcastically light hearted.

"That's enough, Madison," Caroline said sharply. "I don't want to hear another word about it, until we've said grace. Now William, will you do the honors today?"

William bowed his head and folded his hands, with a look back and forth between his parents. Instead of folding his hands, Roe reached over and held Brooke's hand. While William recited their traditional family prayer, that had been handed down for generations, and Madison and William bowed to decorum, for whatever reasons, along with their parents, Roe and his girlfriend sat deffiantly in their chairs, staring vacantly and tensely over their bowed heads. When William finished and they all said 'amen,' Caroline frowned and turned to Roe, instead of handing him the bowl of tomatoes, onions and peppers.

"Roe dear, you don't say grace anymore either?" she asked him, a note of bitter disappointment in her voice.

Brooke looked at Roe and closed her eyes. Roe cleared his throat nervously and said in a forced voice: "It's a matter of principle with Brooke. And I like to support her in her principles."

Monroe grimaced as he speared chicken pieces from the plate in front of his oldest son. He gave Roe a sharp look and suddenly said: "Principles. I'd like to know more of these principles and progressive politics of yours, and where you got all these new ideas."

"You've changed, Roe," William blurted out, glancing for approval at his father as he said this.

"And what's wrong with change?" Madison declared, helping herself cheerfully to spoonfulls of vegetables before the bowl to Brooke.

Caroline frowned. "I don't see what's wrong with saying grace with your family, as it's always been done. I like to think that this a family that is grateful for it's blessings. I suppose you don't believe in that anymore either, do you, Roe?"

Roe fidgeted under the weight of his father and mother's hard looks. But he grit his teeth and looked right back at them, squeezing Brooke's hand. "No mother, I don't," he answered her firmly.

Caroline looked away from him and began filling her plate with sharp snaps of the serving spoons on her plate. "Well, I think that's sad," she said.

Madison leaned over to Brooke, her eyes flashing. "Are you a supporter of the pro choice movement?" she asked her.

Brooke looked up at her with a relieved smile. "Of course," she declared.

"And the equity movement?"

"It's very important to me," Brooke admitted.

"Only because I've been trying to talk mother into considering supporting it," Madison said, with a triumphant glance at her mother.

"That's enough, Madison," Caroline said, bristling.

"We don't believe in abortion," William said, "Right, dad?"

"You don't understand any of this," Roe cut him off. "You're a man, not a woman. And it's a matter of personal choice by a woman, what she does with her body."

"I'll tell you what I don't understand," Monroe said, his face reddening as he put down his utensils and leaned over at Roe. "I don't understand how you just chucked aside your family's values and your business plans for all these progressive, liberal politics. I'm spending money so that you'll be ready to take over the business someday."

Roe's face got red in turn as he stared back. "There's more important things than business, father. There's social justice and there's the environment, all the things Brooke has been opening my eyes to. There's fighting racism and elitism and making the world a better place for everyone on the planet."

Monroe shook his head, chuckling sarcastically. "And then there's contributing to society through good old fashioned work. There's making clothes. There's supplying basic goods that people need in the open, free market."

"Now Monroe," Caroline interrupted, "I don't like where all this talk is headed."

But Brooke straightened up in her chair next to Roe and blurted out: "We feel very strongly about the exploitation of labor and the expoitation of the environment. Especially for the sake of women and children in third world countries."

Caroline looked for help to her husband, but Monroe, blinking and fidgeting, his knuckles whitening as he balled his hands into fists, leaned back in his chair and glanced back and forth between his oldest son and his girlfriend. "I suppose that comment was directed against my business practices. Well I can assure you, Brooke, that we don't use child labor at any of our facilities. We've actually bettered people's lives in those countries. We pay them double the local rate. They live in apartments now, they send their children to schools. You see, no other system beside capitalism has been as successful in creating higher standards of living in the world. Ask anyone in Europe."

Roe seemed unmoved. He leaned towards his father, his eyes bright. "Can you certify that, dad? Can you certify there's no child labor in any of our operations?"

William looked from his father to his brother. "Are you saying you don't want to be a part of the business?" then he looked back at his father. "Because if you don't, then I'll take his place, dad."

"You're welcome to it," Roe said flatly, turning from them to his girlfriend. "We don't need it."

Monroe's shoulders slumped as he continued to stare at Roe as if there were a chasm opening between them. "You don't know what you're saying, Roe. This has been a lifetime in the making. This is about family, about the success of all of us. You can't just walk out on the whole thing on a whim."

William leaned over to his father, his brightening and eager, as he saw his chance. "I'll take his place, dad. Send me to business school. I won't let you down."

"Well, you're welcome to it, little brother," Roe snapped out bitterly, "If you want to follow in father's footsteps."

Madison chuckled to herself as she sat back in her chair, listening to all this unfold. She looked at her younger brother with a wry smile. "You're still learning how to throw a football, and now you want to run the family business?" she said to him.

"That's enough!" Caroline interrupted, her eyes watering, her hands pounding on the table. "Can't you imagine what it's like for a mother to listen to her own children barking at each other like this? We're supposed to be family. That means we're supposed to support each other. This isn't what I raised you to be like when I took you to church all those years. This isn't what I expected to see when I took care of you when you were sick, or made dinner for you, or cleaned up after you. The least you can do is think of me when you bicker and fight with each other like this."

There was a grim silence as the children eyed each other suspiciously. Monroe wiped his face with his hand, took a deep breath, and leaned back in his chair, looking them over as if appealing to them for support. "You're mother's right," he said, "You're mother's absolutely right."

William looked hopefully at his father. "I'm sorry," he said, folding his hands penitently on the table.

"I'm sorry too," Madison said quickly, with a resigned sigh, half under her breath.

Roe and Brooke looked at each other, squirming uncomfortable in their seats as everyone turned their gaze on them. Roe put his arm around her shoulder, as if protecting her, looking back at his parents and siblings with defiant eyes. Brooke closed her eyes. Then, looking quickly up at Caroline, she said: "I'm sorry to have caused a scene here, Mrs. Grant. Maybe I shouldn't have come here like this."

"It's not your fault,"Roe said, leaning over to her. "You shouldn't have to appologise for your convictions."

William, glancing from his father to Roe, squinted challengingly at him. "You should apologize to your mother, Roe."

Roe turned to him with an angry sneer, his own sharply chiselled face hardening. "I don't take orders from you," he said.

Monroe held up his hand. "You heard your mother, Roe. That's enough, now."

With that, Roe stood up, his face red. "I've had about enough of this myself. I shouldn't have brought you here, Brooke, you're right about that. But I'll tell all of you something else. I shouldn't have come back here either. I don't belong here anymore."

Caroline's eyes glistened. "Roe! What are you doing?" she gasped out.

"I'm leaving," he said, turning his back on them. "Come on, Brooke. We're going."

The red haired girl with the pale, pinched face stood up next to him. She said nothing as they started for the hall, turning away from her boyfriend's family.

"Monroe, do something," Caroline barked at her husband desperately from across the table. 'Say something, will you?"

Monroe, with Madison and William staring at him, stood up at the head of the table. He pointed a damning finger at the back of his oldest son. "Roe, you leave this house like this and I'm cutting you off, do you hear? I won't pay for your tuition or your lodgings. I won't support you. If you don't respect your mother and me...and if you don't want to be a part of our business, if you believe in it anymore, then I won't support you anymore, do you hear?"

Roe turned and said over his shoulder: "I'm perfectly prepared to live without your support. We obviously have different perceptions of success, and what's important in the world. We'll get plenty of support from Brooke's parents, and the Student's council. And we'll have the gratitude of all those people we're fighting for who haven't been able to enjoy the benefits you've had at their expense."

Madison shrugged, smiling to herself, as she watched Roe reach the front door and put his hand on the doorknob.

William said to his father: "Let him go, dad. I'll take his place."

Monroe was trembling now. "You walk out of here, Roe, and I'm telling you, Monday morning I'm calling the bank. I'm going to cut your credit lines."

"Monroe!" Caroline exclaimed, getting up from her chair.

"It's alright," Roe called back, as he opened the door. "I don't need your money. I don't want it anymore. Come on, Brooke."

The door closed. Monroe turned to the window, where he watched Roe walk down the driveway to his car. He thrust his hands in his pockets again, helplessly. Caroline, Madison and William sat watching him, as people on a ship watch the captain lose control of it, in a storm.

This ends my allagorical story about the dissolution of a nation, as seen in this family setting, which I thought would highlight the emotional aspects of it. The mother's love for her children, the father's expectations, the withdrawal of the children from the time honored family values and the conflicts that creates, all pull and tug on the family until it spins into ruin. It's sad, it's scary, it's a story of anger and uncertainty, of lost foundations. In no way is this meant to be a statement on abortion or progressive or conservative politics. Those are the forces pulling these people apart, and I wanted you to see that pulling apart as a tragedy brought about by these uncontrollable things. I await your comments. estory
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