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Bates Motel (2013)
Norma Bates/Alex Romero
Alex Romero, Norma Bates
Additional Tags:
Hurt/Comfort, Angst, Drama, Romance, Love, Sex
Published: 2015-08-21 Chapters: 2/3 Words: 3031

All Men Become Their Fathers



Alex Romero spent his entire life running from his father. But when he discovers a letter from his late mother, and begins seeing the face of a man he killed in cold blood for the woman he loves, he'll be forced to confront both the demons of his past and the desires fueling his increasingly dangerous behavior.

The Past

The Past


“The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”
- William Faulkner


Some lines, once crossed, marked you forever. They consumed whomever you once believed yourself to be, until the awareness of your duality became the filter through which you judged all actions. Fervent morality could be so easily overwhelmed. That was, it occurred to me, the tragedy of age; what some called wisdom was merely the destruction of higher ideals.

I’d once read that, given the right environment, scar tissue expanded. That’s what they call maturity, I thought. We’re all burn victims watching our flesh contract and harden, until nothing but a protective shell remains.

Perhaps that’s what life was: a series of self-mutilations, every choice we made a fresh knife wound. Rack them up, tally them up, and what’s left? Some sort of madman’s diary etched into bodies, translatable only through the lines in one’s face.

I’d killed before. I’d kill again, no doubt about it. Unavoidable in my line of work. And I’d always slept just fine. The noble idea that every human life had merit and worth had never taken root in me. I’d been too privy to the secrets of this town and the brutality men committed when shielded by closed door and unlimited bank accounts. There were no skeletons in my closet, no ghosts wandering through my hallways.

But, no. Couldn’t claim that anymore, could I? I’d recently acquired a visitor, one that peered solemnly around corners, reflected back at me through mirrors.

He’d never been a good man. Late at night, when the alcohol flooded my veins and the world became soft and full of gentle light, I searched the depths of my memory for any flicker of decency that might redeem him. Any single act of kindness or morality, no matter how insignificant. Nothing. Nothing at all.

Unless, of course, I looked at myself.

Hadn’t he been the one to welcome me into the fold? The sheriff’s kid, not wealthy enough to be considered among the elite of White Pine Bay, I’d spent my childhood running around with Keith Summers and his gaggle of miscreants. But adolescence had a way of changing perspective, and by the time I’d hit thirteen I wasn’t much interested in tagging old bridges or throwing rocks through windows long abandoned. Not much interested in staying home, either. Not when the screaming matches shook the walls and my father was passed out, drunk or high or both, still in his goddamned uniform. Loaded gun in the holster. I kept expecting it to slip, drop, fire.

My mother and I weren’t that lucky.

It was Bob Paris who welcomed me into the fold. I’d escaped the rage of my father and sound of my mother’s tears long enough to bike into town, but with no real plan of action. Broke, bored and in no mood to return home, I locked up my bike and wandered through the park. Pleasant to see the families milling about; if happiness was a theme I’d never fully conceptualize, it was at least a welcome form of static. A sort of background noise that allowed me to simultaneously observe and withdraw.

But Bob had drawn me out. “Why’re you sitting alone?” He’d noticed me sitting on a bench near the basketball court, stopped playing long enough to walk over.

“What’s it to you?” I’d asked.

“Nothing, man.” He looked the same at thirteen as he did at forty-five. “But we need another on our team. Wanna play?”

That single invitation turned into permanent residency for nearly a decade. It was an unspoken agreement between us, and an arrangement the other kids in town were expected to accept without protest: from that moment on, wherever Bob Paris went, Alex Romero was granted access. Bob was my backstage pass, my golden key to the kingdom.

He didn’t ask questions. On the rare occasion we dared enter my house, he made no mention of my mother’s blatant misery. Though our fathers crossed paths now and again in the underbelly of the town, he never inquired as to what I’d picked up at the dinner table. And, dutifully, he’d ignored the bruises that now and again appeared on my arms and face. At least until I was old enough and strong enough to put an end to them myself.

Our paths veered away from one another in adulthood. Time and distance turned to indifference and eventual dislike. I became the sheriff; he became the town’s wealthiest criminal. Given the chance, he would’ve killed me. Had he not set Norma in his line of fire, I would’ve been content to arrest him.

Together, we’d carved out our own Shakespearean tragedy.

In the moments I allowed to think about it, to truly think about it, I realized our childhood friendship had been his solitary act of kindness.

And now he peered at me through every open window I crossed in the middle of the night.


I found the letter the same evening I pumped four bullets into his chest.

The two were ultimately unrelated. Nigh comical, actually: I’d merely wanted to find my jacket. Had tossed it into the depths of my closet earlier in the day, and as it’s usual place was thrown over the back of whatever chair was nearest to me at the time, I’d had to spend five minutes rifling through shoes and boxes and clothing I’d long forgotten I owned.

Peeking out from under a file box, I’d instantly recognized the scrawl of my mother’s elaborate handwriting. An elegant woman, she made it a point to add a flourish to everything she did; real flowers on birthday cakes, giant hand tied bows on gifts, and beautiful, archaic-looking scrolls in her penmanship. Norma reminded me of her in that way: they shared a love of simple, frequently overlooked comforts.

I hadn’t the time to read the letter. Too many things to be done that night. The DEA battering down the proverbial gates to my city; Norma refusing to speak to me; Bob Paris an ever-present threat to the one thing I wanted most.

I’d set it aside on my desk. Its presence scratched a certain itch in my brain, hooked into my thoughts, but needed to remain in the distance until I’d handled what needed handling. Until a certain body was dumped in the bay, the gun had been wiped and the DEA had been, at least for the moment, suitably distracted.

It would take two months to read that letter.

It sat, untouched but often observed, a silent companion when the whiskey ran dry and the dead roamed my house, until temptation and drunkenness got the better of me, and I ripped open my scar tissue to dig deep into the pink, bloody mass of flesh I called the past.

The Present

The Present


“I cannot tire myself on the feelings of the world. I am leaving after all, though it is no easy task, especially for this old Sibyl of Cumae.
Climes of any kind are trying. Frankly I’m exhausted by all the planning and paperwork.
Donnie will pick me up soon, very soon, but you my dear child, you should stay awhile.
Do that for me.”
- Pelafina Heather Lievre, The Whalestoe Suicide Letter;
from House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski


The coffee, sour on my tongue from the first sip, had grown cold. Oregon State Penitentiary clearly wasn’t overly concerned with the comfort of their inmates, or their visitors. Thirty minutes waiting in Solitary Confinement was enough to feel the airlessness press in, the coffee nothing more than a minor annoyance. They’d offered the use of a private, significantly more comfortable room—a perk only offered to cops, I’d wager—but I’d requested a cell.

I downed the last of coffee and set the cup aside as the door to the cell swung open. I watched the guard—Steven Pinker, a former cop and old buddy of mine—lead the inmate in. Hands and ankles cuffed, the prisoner shuffle never failed to impress upon me the joy of making a solid arrest. Nothing more satisfying than the knowledge that worthlessness, as it was prone to manifesting in the human dregs of society, could be so easily contained.

“You want me to uncuff him?” Steven asked.

“That’ll be fine,” I said. The inmate sat on a cot against the far wall. Steven bent down to first remove the ankle cuffs, followed by the wrist. Once finished, he turned to leave.  "Thanks, Steven. I’ll let you know when I’m done.” He offered me a barely perceptible nod, closed the door behind him. All at once any trace of sound from the outside world, or even the halls of the prison, ceased to be.

“Like a grave in here, isn’t it?” The inmate asked.

I leaned back against the wall, hands in my pockets. “I suppose it is.”

“I’ve never seen the inside of solitary before.”

“I find that difficult to believe, Arturo.”

“Arturo.” The inmate shook his head. “Always Arturo with you. You never call me Dad.”

“I call you Dad all the time,” I said. I let my head fall back against the wall, but kept my eyes trained on him. “Just not to your face.”

“Forty-seven years old and you’re still an obstinate child.”

My father had spent nearly eighteen years in prison, and in that time he had seen me on a grand total for four separate occasions. This marked the fifth.

I’d always tried to find something of myself in my father, something shared in our faces or mannerisms. Not that I had any desire to be like him. Quite the opposite, in fact. The very idea of it repelled me to the point of nausea. But I craved proof. Some seemingly insignificant common trait that would explain his bullshit and bluster, the years he tormented my mother and ruined whatever shred of peace we’d had.

What was the old line? Something about how all destruction was inherently self-destruction; even murder was an act violence upon the self. That’s what I sought: the proof that my father looked at me and saw the worst parts of himself, and the idealized dreams that he’d never realize but were, at the time, open to his young son, and so he unraveled before us all, made us the victims of his greed and his narcissism.

“Do you ever think about her?” I asked. I pushed myself away from the wall, took two steps towards him. My hands were still in my pockets. I clenched them under the denim, making a fist and then releasing, over and over again. I liked the stretch of skin over my knuckles, the way I could feel my own bones and the power they possessed.

“Every day. Always,” he said. Sighed, rolling his eyes towards the ceiling. “Two visits in one year, Alex, after you disappeared for a decade. And both times you come to ask about your mother?” He made a sound more like a cough than a laugh, a vaguely sick rattle in the back of his throat. Reached up, scratched the side of his face. For the first time I noticed the age in his hands, the skin paper-thin, mottled from the sun. “Don’t you remember her?”

“I remember a lot of things.”

“Christ, you always were so dramatic.” My father stood quickly—more quickly than I’d imagined his joints would allow—and squared his shoulders. I tensed immediately, old reactions spawned from old memories brewing in a powerful mass in my chest I hadn’t known I’d still carried with me.

Shorter than me now, I realized. Two inches, maybe three. He had to tilt his chin just so to make eye contact, and no matter how straight his back or commanding his posture, it bothered him. I could read it on his face, in the subtle frown forming at the corners of his mouth.

“I found something the other day,” I said.

“And that’s why you’re here?”

“Yes. And no.”

“Alex,” my father began, brows knit in clear annoyance. “I have all the time in the world in this shithole, and I still don’t want to waste it listening to you hedge around whatever it is you came here to say.”

“May 17, 1993.”

“What?” I watched confusion war with a flicker of recognition on his face. He knew the date, but couldn’t figure out why. “What’re you talking about?”

“She wrote me a note the day she killed herself.” I kept clenching my fists in my pockets, faster and faster as time went on. “I’d never read it. I’d kept it all these years and forgotten about it.” The skin on my face was tight, drawn over the bone. It made me want to flex my jaw, but instead I just shook my head. “Can you believe that? I actually forgot about it.”

My father’s face blanched. Still straight-backed, still composed, the old Romero blood demanding he remain unmoved, just as it had done with me through every gun draw, street chase and encounter with anything or anyone deemed even remotely untrustworthy. But he was unsettled underneath. I could smell it on him, the way predators could scent timidity and read it as opportunity.

“I must’ve found it shortly after she died,” I continued. So much of that time was a blur, a space of two years I had tried to bury in alcohol and sex and dangerous stunts that could’ve very well ended horrifically. ‘God protects drunks and fools,’ my mother once told me. In those days I’d been both. “Set it aside somewhere, maybe.” I shook my head again, trying to pick up some trace of memory. “Figured I’d read it later.”

“Or maybe you just didn’t want to read it, Alex.” He took a step towards me, the distance between us nothing more than two feet. “You decided the day she died that I was to blame. We can’t have anything contradict that, can we?”

“Don’t you want to know what it says?”

He lost a beat. Hesitated long enough to signal his discomfort. Were I another sort of man, I would’ve smiled.

“I wouldn’t even call it a letter,” I said. “Just a note, really.” I pulled the paper from my pocket. Already soft, too tender around the edges. I’d read it over and over the night before, folding and unfolding, as if some new angle or parsing of the text would reveal hidden meaning I’d not yet deciphered.

“’Alex,” I began. “No matter how this letter finds you—’”

“Alex, you don’t need to do this—”

“’—please don’t hate him.’”

I watched his eyes widen. Just for a moment, before his natural tendency to maintain composure got the better of him. He flexed his hands, shifted slight on his feet. Opened his mouth to say something; took a slow, even breath; closed it.

My lungs ached like they weren’t getting enough oxygen. But I was breathing steadily, calmly, almost a meditation that kept my feet rooted to the floor and my free hand balled into his a fist so tight I heard my knuckles crack.

“Alex, I—”

“The last thing she ever did was beg for your pardon.” I wondered, briefly, if she’d written it before or after she swallowed an entire bottle of Vicodin. Before cardiac arrest slowed her blood and paralyzed her lungs. Before I’d found her, skin tinged blue and cold to the touch, on the hideous brown floral couch my father had insisted we keep twenty years past its prime.

“She stopped me from killing you once.”

“What?” Surprised by the sudden change in subject, my father blinked in rapid succession. Angled his face back to better study mine. “What’re you talking about?”

“I was fifteen, maybe sixteen. You were passed out on the couch. Empty bottle of Jim Beam on the coffee table. And your goddamn gun still in the holster.” They’d fought the previous night. Loud, chaotic, my mother’s crying echoing through the halls. I never did make out the words, never knew what started it. Somewhere, in-between the sounds of raised voices and glasses thrown against the wall, I’d fallen asleep. When I woke up a few hours later, I felt the weight of her next to me. What had been a warm, soothing presence in my childhood now tear-streaked in and curled next to me. A woman who had to flee in desperation to the safety of her son’s bedroom in order to sleep.

I’d decided in that moment to kill him. Couldn’t see another option; he’d kill her, I knew that much, though he’d never raised a hand to her. I saw it looming on the horizon long before I was equipped with the capability to verbalize my fears. He’d end her, unless I ended him.

“I was going to shoot you with your own gun,” I said, and this time I allowed myself to smile. “Seemed fitting.”

“And yet here I am,” he said. He was still. Calm. I almost admired him for it.

“She saw me. Came in right when I had the damn thing pointed at the top of your skull, begged me to put it down. And then,” I broke off, felt the heat of tears behind my eyes. Clenched my jaw, fought them down until my throat burned with the effort. My heart was pounding; my knuckles ached. “—and then she leaves, and asks me to forgive you.”

It hit him then. It bloomed across his face like a poisonous flower spanning its petals in the sun. My father, the corrupt Sheriff, the terror of my youth, the bold and steady force that kept this town straight and the underbelly a rotting cesspool of theft and death, shrank back from me like a deer scenting wolves on the wind.

“Alex, why are we in solitary?” he asked. Eyes wide, mouth parted. Afraid.

“I told you I’d kill you if you didn’t take her name off that ledger.”

“You paid them, didn’t you? Is that what this is?” He took several rapid steps away from me until the backs of his knees hit the cot.

“You never fucking did.”

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