Dillon's Dilemma

Submitted for Contest #2 in response to: Write a story about someone who's haunted by their past.... view prompt

           Who is this man?   

           Well, his name is Dillon Pickles.

           He doesn’t know where to turn. Because of what happened with a kid, a river and a decision that hurled Dillon right into the waters of depression…     


The man was sitting on one of his living room sofas. His elbows pushed into his legs, right above the knees. His hands cupped his grieving face.      

           He had been here for a while, stuck rigid in what happened 2 months ago. A time when the boy had unfortunately ended up in a coma that day from having smashed his head on one of Waimea River’s huge rocks below him. Dillon Pickles, Bobby’s swim coach, was below in the river, his hands cupped around his mouth. He commanded Bobby to run in the opposite direction off the boulder and then down the nearby trail leading into the river. However, as hard as Dillon strived to make his voice convincing enough for Bobby to listen, the twelve-year-old kept shaking his head and calling for Dillon to watch him jump off the rock and into the water below. Dillon gave up and swam towards the trail. He didn’t look back. By the time Dillon had reached the shore, a sickening smack told him that the boy would not be continuing his swimming lesson that day, or maybe ever swimming again.      

           Dillon sighed mournfully. I should’ve gone back. I should’ve saved him! I shouldn’t have given up on him! The thoughts swirled around his mind like sharks swimming around their prey. Dillon gave up on Mr. and Mrs. Kitten’s only son. So the thoughts kept up their intimidating whirling as if to remind him what he should’ve done but didn’t do.  

           Dillon studied his own mistake—or was it? Was it Dillon’s fault that Bobby had hit his sun-bleached head on that rock? Or was it Bobby’s fault because he didn’t listen to Dillon?

           Dillon balled himself even tighter. He was a lifeguard—a guarder of life, not someone who sends people into a coma!        

           Dillon let the past haunt him not just because he knew he should’ve convinced Bobby to retreat from the rock and take the little trail going down into Waimea’s waters. As if to add Clear Care to the already burning eyes, Dillon’s friends from Sunset Beach where he now used to lifeguard treated him as though he was someone who didn’t fit into their group anymore. Bobby’s parents, of course, wanted nothing to do with him anymore. They told their relatives and friends not to vacation at Sunset Beach and if they did, not to relax near the beach’s pier. Mr. and Mrs. Kitten refused to even see Dillon, keeping it secret whether Bobby had moved a muscle or a twitch happened. The former lifeguard would never know.  

           Those who did use the telephone—and this communication was done only by telephone—were Dillon’s workaholic parents. Steve and Stevie Pickles never believed their son could have been responsible for children anyway. Besides, Dillon has always had a nonexistent relationship with his parents, so his mother and father’s rigid, cold words towards him regarding the incident at Waimea River didn’t really affect him. Dillon never saw them, and when he did, the phone was their child, not him. So Dillon never believed his parents really wanted a child and so seldom thought about them either.  

           Dillon had hung out with his former lifeguarding and swimming coach buddies instead, treating each other as brothers and sisters. He had a family here, even if they were just friends. Dillon felt at home with his friends and friends’ parents—they treated him like a son. Thus, he never really cared about how he could connect with his parents, as they were addicted to their computers’ Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and had their iPhones glued to their ears even as they dressed and slid into their cars to go to work. It’s not that Dillon had ever tried and failed at receiving parental love—he had his swimming coach life and lifeguarding business that had gotten him up in the morning—

           A thought stabbed him. But Bobby’s in a coma; it’s not like he passed away. Then another thought whispered lethally: Well, Bobby’s in that hospital, but he wouldn’t have been—he could be right here, swimming with you, Dillon, if it hadn’t been for your ignorance! Immediately, Dillon’s shoulders fell guiltily forward, his head burrowing deeper into his hands. The question Why did I turn away? tormented him.

           Something slammed several feet away. Dillon flinched but then went still as a rock again.  


But this voice was like a distant, blurry sound, just there, not expecting him to respond. Dillon’s depression didn’t want him to respond—it loved nothing more than for this man to shield himself from his family, Bobby and his parents and the rest of Hawaii forever.

           “Di—” Again, Mrs. Pickles was just someone there, standing in front of the invisible glass rectangle of isolation in which Dillon sat and lamented. She wasn’t his wife; she was just a presence emanating nothing but unwanted noise.         

           Dillon finally lowered his hands from his face, uncurled himself and then got wearily up. He walked past his wife, slowly sliding his hands in his beige pants’ pockets and trudged up the stairs towards their bedroom. After Dillon pushed the door closed behind him, he crashed onto the mattress. He stretched himself out under the covers and closed his eyes, just wishing his nap would come quickly.        

Dillon lifted himself up groggily, but lay back down. He decided to let the past continue rolling through his head. Since he didn’t coach Bobby as well as lifeguard at his nearby Sunset Beach anymore, he didn’t want to do anything else. Why try? All of Hawaii, it appeared, had set its sun on him. Dillon didn’t even look out at the majestic colors flooding themselves into his plant-surrounded home anymore. He didn’t study the rainbow or sherbet-orange streaks stretching for miles over the gorgeous admiral blue ocean right in front of Oahu’s amazingly attractive Sunset Beach. He already knew that Hawaii was using one less lifeguard.                

           After all, he told himself, comforting himself with more misery, I’ll be better off in this bed. Then I won’t have to face more hatred and fearful looks. My wife can work and I can pay the bills and taxes all right here.

           He smiled grimly, but then the idea turned away, leaving Dillon in depression. He knew he would eventually and completely succumb to this state’s desire to pull him into the lair of Despair. Dillon lay there, allowing it to carry him away. So while it took him further and further into Despair’s home, he closed his eyes …

           “Hon—do you have any dirty clothes? I need them for the laundry.”

           A voice inside Dillon’s head—Despair itself, maybe—told her to shut her mouth. Couldn’t she see him sleeping? Of course, though, he wasn’t sleeping; he was resting, waiting for Death to pick him up and carry him away from Despair’s house permanently.

Apparently, Mrs. Pickles wouldn’t permit this tragedy to happen at all. “Dillon!”

The voice was yelling, only it was really loud. Enough to give someone a headache, it seemed.

           Dillon was now imagining himself being welcomed into Despair’s house, shaking hands with this friend. His only friend.

           Frustrated, Mrs. Pickles almost pounded into their bedroom after climbing the stairs loud enough to attract her husband. He better wake up or take his headphones off or whatever he is doing to prevent himself from hearing me! That husband of mine.

           Mrs. Pickles shook the bed. “Honey, I really need to know.”    

           But Dillon didn’t move. Despair was sitting down and chatting with him on a big, fluffy couch. Nothing mattered anymore. Everyone—except Despair, of course—was against him. So Dillon might as well just fall asleep forever like Bobby had fallen into his coma, never to wake again.

           But Mrs. Pickles still tried to pull the friendship apart. “Honey, I need to know. Please. Please!”

           But Dillon resisted. He turned over, showing his grey shirt tag to the rest of the world and to his wife. He didn’t care anymore, and neither should his wife. So she should stop pestering him!   

           “Okay! I’ll get the clothes for you!” She half-marched over to shared hamper that, she huffed, “my husband gets to throw his dirty clothes in but can’t take them out of!” Mrs. Pickles grabbed the big basket and bustled downstairs, not caring about the banging she caused.  

           Circling her way over to the laundry room, Mrs. Pickles let the hamper collide onto the beige and blue-speckled floor. Reaching in, she heaved up a whole pile of white, black, violet, beige, neon yellow and lifeguard-red clothes. More than willing was an understatement as Mrs. Pickles chucked them in the washer machine’s already open lid a foot away. Everything fell neglectfully in except for the red clothes. Mrs. Pickles studied these, turning them over and over.

           Then she had an idea.

           Mrs. Pickles dropped the lifeguard-colored clothes as she dashed back upstairs and burst open the bedroom door.

           “Dillon! Dillon! Listen!” Mrs. Pickles shook the bed hard enough for Dillon to moan and turn almost back over. Another noise escaped his lips, at which Mrs. Pickles was looking intently.

           But Dillon returned to showing his shirt tag. Sound didn’t speak as he lay motionless as if in a coma.

           Mrs. Pickles wasn’t going to let this reality continue. She knew Dillon wasn’t just someone to shut out. He was a husband, her husband. So she was going to help him swim through this depression, not drown in it.

           I’m going to do everything I can to get my husband not only another job but also the love and support he needs to rise out of his dejection and become someone others can trust and befriend again!

           Later that day, Mrs. Pickles returned to their bedroom and reported that she made phone calls to several local stores. One of them, she said, wanted Dillon to come and sit down with them and hand them his resume.

           “The interview is in four days. You need to call the department store and say that you will be coming. I’m not doing it for you.”    

           Then Mrs. Pickles walked out of the room and down the stairs and then flipped on the TV. She plopped down on their other sofa, a dark green Loveseat, as the commercials’ actors and actresses portrayed their products—all ones Mrs. Pickles responded with mild interest.    

           “They’re going to talk to me today at two-thirty.”

           Dillon announced this elating news over next morning’s breakfast with a stiff facial expression.

           “That’s great, honey! We’re going to help you get past your past.” Mrs. Pickles sang the last sentence as she joyfully placed a plate of pancakes on the table. “Lathered in honey. They’re your favorite—chocolate chip!”

           Dillon glanced blankly down at them and then pulled the plate towards his own with his fork. He numbly stabbed it and then let it slide off and flop onto his plate. He didn’t look at Mrs. Pickles or thank her proudly; he just almost whispered, “Great. They look yummy” and dissected the breakfast.

           Mrs. Pickles let him be, instead digging into her own pancakes from across him. She leaned over her meal to prevent any chocolate and honey from landing onto her brown sugar-colored pants. For if she had, she’d have to get new pants. These ones were brand-spanking new, the ones that turned into work pants the instant something undesired touches them. To avoid this incident, Mrs. Pickles just consumed her pancakes quietly but inwardly cried out to Dillon to leave his depression and come back to life.   

           Two-thirty eventually arrived. Mrs. Pickles patted Dillon’s resume-holding hand comfortingly as they walked past Target’s checkout aisles towards an office-like room. As he stepped into it, Dillon saw two men in red and white polo shirts at a round table, smiling at him. Dillon subconsciously hoped none of these employees would bring up Bobby’s coma or even say ‘former lifeguard.’ He went to go sit down on the chair waiting opposite the interviewers.

Suddenly, Dillon felt that jolt of pain that occurs when the funny bone hits something hard. But he stifled his cry of pain as he shifted himself and forced a smile. The men stuck their hands out, introducing themselves. Dillon responded with his name only.

           Great, he succumbed, sliding his resume towards the men now glancing eagerly at it. The table was harder when I flopped my resume onto it. Let the slap foreshadow the slap I’m going to get for purposely failing this stupid interview!  

           “I’m going to make some brownies, crunchy and chocolate—the way you like them!”

           Mrs. Pickles’ jubilant smile didn’t fade away as she danced merrily into the kitchen and sang a little tune while quickly but carefully retrieving the ingredients and other things from their homes.   

Soon, the brownies’ smell traveled from the oven to Mrs. Pickles. She pulled its mouth open, rescued the dessert from the furnace-like compartment and filled her nose with the mouth-wateringly tasty sweet. She put them down on the counter and then covered them with cream cheese frosting.  

           “I know this is all five hundred calories,” Mrs. Pickles told Dillon understandingly, placing the brownies on a third mitt in front of him like it was his birthday. “But you’ll love them.

“Again,” she squealed, waving her mitted hands. “Congratulations on acing that interview!”

           “Thanks.” Dillon hurled his dry reply at Mrs. Pickles, who ignored the hurt. He looked at the brownies and then took the casserole dish like he did his pancakes that morning. Chewing them, as Dillon looked humorlessly up at her, made Mrs. Pickles raise her eyebrows high.   

           “So?” she asked impatiently, putting her mitts on her hips.

           “They’re good. They’re really good.” Dillon flickered his eyes back down to the brownie, continuing his chewing. “I like it.”  

           “Okay.” Mrs. Pickles ended the unfortunate response with a troubled sigh, wishing Dillon didn’t let his past keep him in the dark. She had strived to encourage him right after Bobby went into his coma that he wasn’t responsible. Bobby’s arrogance and selfishness hurled him off that stupid boulder, she had retorted after he had blamed himself for the first time.

           “But I should’ve cared about him, no matter what!”

Dillon’s detrimental words had urged him further down the pitch dark road of self-hatred. These two sentences were the locomotive and tender he had been using to travel away from healing. Nothing would open him up. No one cared if he did, because they’d just shut him down again. Dillon was the accident-maker for the rest of his life. Even interviewers Joe and Kalvin should’ve known that instead of telling him he wowed them today and was going to work with them as one of Target’s cashiers.        


           “I’m not going to need any counseling or therapy. Just leave me.”

           Dillon told Mrs. Pickles sternly as he sat heavily down on a living room chair directly across from the kitchen. Today had been his first day behind one of Target’s checkout belts.    

           Mrs. Pickles spun fiercely around and glared at Dillon from the counter. “Oh yes, you are! I arranged an appointment and every meeting after that until December 26th for you to go—”

           Dillon’s eyes flashed open and then hardened with hatred, but he never said anything. Mrs. Pickles continued.

           “—to Mr. Mason’s house. It’s thirty-four minutes away on Mala St. in Wahiawa. It’ll help you get past the self-blame.”

           Mrs. Pickles then turned away and said that she was going over to her friend’s house down the street. The couple lived right on Paumalu Place, right in front of Sunset Beach Support Park. As Mrs. Pickles got ready, she assured him.

“I don’t want to look out the window, watching you get all emotional without me there. So I decided a more discrete place would work. No one would be there to make fun of you, because everyone would have their own issues they would not want anyone else using to judge them. So Wahiawa is a great place to see Dr. Mason,” Mrs. Pickles ended emphatically.              

           “What’s the difference—Mr. or Dr.? I don’t want to see him.” Dillon ground the last two words out, wishing that would make all traces of his living nightmare and this future therapy disappear instantly so he could wake up to his wife making breakfast in the kitchen, telling her gleefully about driving to Waimea River to train Bobby again.  

           “Well, you don’t have to absolutely go as if your life absolutely depends on it. I just thought I was helping.” Mrs. Pickles walked to the kitchen door and stopped, looking sadly back at Dillon. “I thought I was helping you. If you don’t want to go, please let Dr. Mason know.”

           Then she opened the door quickly and stepped down onto the grass, calling goodbye to Dillon just before it slammed behind her.     

           Dillon heaved himself out of the over-stuffed chair, letting thoughts race across his mind. The chocolate chip pancakes, the interview, Joe and Kalvin’s annoyingly bright voices announcing that he had won them over and the email about his title as cashier.

           Bagging, he grumbled to himself, jerking a chair out from the table and slumping onto it. Bagging’s for high schoolers. It’s been forty-two years since the teen years!   

           Dillon marched out of the house with keys in hand after stomping over to the little basket on the pretty grey and black speckled counter under the coconut palm tree-shaped clock. He slammed the garage door, slid into Mrs. Pickles’ and his dark blue Kia Rio and backed out very, very slowly as the door behind him went up.                      

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