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Drama Contemporary Fiction

Jesse waited on the porch, time passing slowly. The moon rose high and unblemished. All through the long hours at school he had watched the sky, the clouds billowing, parting. He had watched the night come as he sat and ate dinner, the conversation of his father and brother passing over him.


“What’s out there, Jesse?” his mother asked, following his gaze. The curtains were open, stars appearing in the purple sky. No clouds.


“It’s an eclipse tonight, remember,” he told her, and she nodded and smiled, already standing to clear the table before heading out to work. His father glanced at him across the table, pausing in his talk of Jay’s upcoming boxing fight, such a look of baffled regard that for a minute Jesse looked away from the sky.


After dinner he read his chapters for English homework, then he went and sat outside to wait. His dad and brother sparred under the carport, shadows moving across the concrete floor. They swung, ducked, occasionally swore or laughed at things Jesse couldn’t see. They didn’t look up to see the moon, they never did.


Jesse lifted the binoculars, keeping the covers on the lenses until they were trained at the sky, then he popped them off and looked at the dizzying expanse of stars. He was careful not to ever aim them at the house down the street, where he had once seen the teenage daughter undressing in her second level bedroom. 


For a long minute he’d been transfixed, stars and planets forgotten as he watched the girl, her bedroom lit up like a world all of its own.  Then he’d felt himself hot and prickly with shame, he yanked the binoculars down and just about fell through the door going back inside.


When he’d first requested the binoculars for his twelfth birthday, he hadn’t understood why Jay laughed through a mouthful of cereal. Their dad had reached around to pat his back, higher up than Jesse would have thought was helpful to a person who was coughing. 


“Don’t choke now,” he had said in a warning tone, but he’d looked mildly amused himself. At who’s expense Jesse wasn’t sure. His father was the most unknown force there was.


The solar system was less a mystery to him than people were. He didn't understand why his brother loved boxing, getting up in that ring knowing he was going to have to hurt another person, be hurt himself. He didn’t understand why the way his dad stared into the night while he smoked on the porch could make him feel lonely right to his bones.  


He put the binoculars down again, checked the time and shifted on the porch, the last warmth of the sun still seeping through the concrete.


His dad and brother split apart again, facing each other, Jay nodding as his dad said something to him. He’d been a boxer too once, their dad.


Maybe there’d been a time, when Jesse was newly born and still unknown, when his dad had hope of him following in his footsteps. Maybe once he imagined both his sons out there sparring with him, getting into the ring, fists punching flesh.


But that hope must have been abandoned long ago. Jesse’s lungs clenched up tight when he tried to run. He flinched when his dad feigned punches and told him to duck. Hurt his hand when he tried to swing it into his dad’s waiting palm.


Earlier that year, his dad had made a last futile attempt at teaching him to fight, after Jesse made the mistake of complaining about a bully in his class.


He’d taken him out to the carport, gave him the gloves to put on, told him to swing a punch. “Right here, Jess, right in the nose.”


Jesse tried, arms flailing, feet slapping the ground, imagining for a moment that smile his dad gave when Jay won a fight aimed at him. But after a few minutes he felt the familiar terror, his throat closing, and he pushed the gloves off and threw them on the ground, grabbed his inhaler from his pocket.


He put it to his mouth and sucked on it, relief flooding down with it. His dad stayed beside him, watching, his gaze concerned and reproachful.


“You’re gonna have to learn to take care of yourself, me and Jay can’t always be there,” he said after a while.


“I know,” Jesse said, even though he couldn’t imagine them ever not being there.


The next day he walked out of school and found his brother there waiting. “Show me who he is,” he said, and Jesse did, a mix of shame and gladness twisting in him. He watched Jay haul the boy up against the fence by his collar, hold a drawn fist ready and hiss threats until the bully was crying and apologising. After Jay was trespassed from the school, and his dad stuck the notice on the fridge as if it were an award. 


He watched his dad switch off the light of the carport, then the spark of his lighter in the darkness. Jay walked over and stopped in front of him, stood swinging his arms and gazing into nothing for a minute.


“What time is it happening?” he asked, nodding toward the sky. Jesse had told him about it the night before. He had been lying on the trampoline watching the sun sink into the horizon when Jay arrived home from the gym. He walked over and boosted himself up beside Jesse, lay down on his stomach and dropped his chin onto his arms. He looked weary, his shirt damp with sweat.


“Tell me something,” he said, looking down at the mesh of the tramp. So, Jesse told him about the upcoming Eclipse, how it would happen, what they would see. Jay didn’t say anything, just listened, a rare stillness in him.


“It’s meant to start at 10.15,” Jesse said now, hoping Jay was going to stay out and watch it with him. But he only jumped up the steps and headed inside.


His dad walked over, the tip of a cigarette glowing and bobbing as he moved. He stopped beside the porch, blew smoke toward the air. “What you doing, Jess?”


“Waiting for the eclipse,” Jesse said.


“It’s getting late, you need to get inside.”


“Can I stay out here to watch dad, please?” He resorted to pleading, like Jay never would have. And his father only shrugged, like he never would have if it was Jay arguing.


“If you want to,” he said. He flicked the cigarette away and Jesse waited for him to go inside after Jay, probably going to watch boxing clips and discuss the faults and merits of the fighters. He should have told his dad the earth was going to box the moon, then he might have been interested.


But instead he sat down on the step beside Jesse. “So, how long then?” he asked. Jesse glanced at him, waiting for the questions to come. What’s an eclipse? How does it happen? He hated having to explain it to him, even though he never minded explaining to Jay.


“He’s taking an interest, Jesse,” his mother rebuked, when he complained to her about the questions his dad asked. How do they know how hot the sun is? How do they really know how far away the stars away? But his dad never had to take an interest when he talked boxing with Jay.


“It’s going to start soon,” Jesse said. “The moon starts turning red.”


“Yeah, I seen it once, when I was a kid.”


“You did? How old were you?” The thought of his young father all those years ago, staring up into the sky, made him feel closer to him. He wondered if that was how it felt for Jay when he boxed with him.


“About eighteen maybe. Didn’t know what the hell I was looking at but my brother was with me, he told me.”


Jesse almost froze, almost forget entirely about what they were waiting for. His dad never spoke of his younger brother, who had died before Jay was born.


“Did he like space?” Jesse asked, trying to imagine his unknown uncle standing beside his father, looking up at the sky.


His dad had a photo of him he kept in his draw, under the tee shirts. Jesse had found it once when he was looking for an old shirt to use for art class, and he pulled it out cautiously, feeling as if it were a forbidden item.


His dad was instantly known to him, the boy beside him a stranger, and yet Jesse had known him too. They both stared unsmiling and hard eyed into the camera. A date scrawled on the back. 15/04/98. His dad would have been sixteen then, although he looked older. Jesse’s heart had thudded as he slid the photo back in place, that buried thing of his dads. 


“Yeah, he did,” his dad said. "He was real smart, like you."


His dad smiled at him and Jesse shifted closer to him. “Did he want you to watch it with him?” He thought of Jay, his futile hope he’d spark his brothers’ interest in watching it with him. 


“Nah, we were just out and happened to see it. Come on, give us a look with those.”

Jesse passed him the binoculars and watched him raise them to his eyes. Sweep the sky with them. 


“Here, dad,” he said, putting a hand on his dads’ arm to slow it. He guided his hands until he was aiming the lenses for the moon. “Tell me when you see it,” he said. The shadow was just beginning to haze the moon. He wanted his dad to see it even more than he wanted to see it himself.


“Yeah,” his dad said, stopping. For a moment he sat in silence. Jesse wondered if he was thinking of his brother. If he remembered being young. 


His dad passed him the binoculars. “Here, you have them,” he said. “You been waiting long enough to see this.”


He stood up and walked away to light another cigarette. Jesse raised his eyes to the sky. He could smell the smoke on the air. He watched as the shadow of the earth covered up the moon.


He thought of his dad watching this with his brother, and all these years later watching it with him. He felt the link between himself and his dad, an eternal bond far beyond whether or not Jesse liked sports. 


It seemed so strange, how things happened that seemed like they must mean something, but were nothing more than the universe doing what it did. 

August 12, 2023 03:56

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20 comments

Lily Finch
20:01 Aug 13, 2023

Cool story of generations and wonderings of a boy about his dead uncle experiencing the same with his dad being the pinnacle. LF6

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Kelsey H
08:05 Aug 17, 2023

Thanks Lily!

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Mary Bendickson
05:04 Aug 13, 2023

A bond is a bond.

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Kelsey H
08:05 Aug 17, 2023

Thanks Mary.

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AnneMarie Miles
13:20 Sep 01, 2023

What a beautiful and profound ending line... and such a poignant approach to this prompt. I like how the theme followed through in its own way with every character. Boxing a bit foreign for Jesse, and astronomical science foreign to Jay and the dad. The grief of his dad's brother also functioned as a point for Jesse to grapple, a way for him to better understand his dad. The simplicity of this story makes it all the more powerful. I really enjoyed this, Kelsey. Great piece.

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Kelsey H
22:12 Sep 02, 2023

Thanks for your comment, AnneMarie. I liked the idea of a father and son who are very different but love one another trying to connect.

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Michał Przywara
20:41 Aug 15, 2023

That last line is a great summary for this. We're always looking for patterns, for meaning in things, because that's just the way our brains are wired, aren't they? And this is especially true when it comes to connections with others, and loneliness. We desire connection with others, but when those others behave differently than what we expected - like a boxer's son inexplicably not interested in boxing - it's jarring. It takes work to forge those connections. All in all, a sweet moment between father and son. Jesse is learning a lot abo...

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Kelsey H
08:09 Aug 17, 2023

Thanks for your comment, Michal. I think that's probably true about looking for meaning, I know I always feel like things must 'mean something' even when it's just totally random. Funnily enough I did actually write a bit of this from the fathers point of view, I am still interested in writing the other side so might at some point!

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Aeris Walker
18:24 Aug 15, 2023

You have such a way of capturing the nuances of family relationships--how kids and parents misunderstand each other, how so much is said through the most subtle body language, and how there is this natural rivalry between siblings that exists even if no one talks about it. Your writing has such a calm gentleness to it, that it pulls you right into hard topics without feeling too abrasive or forced. Favorite lines: "The solar system was less a mystery to him than people were. He didn't understand why his brother loved boxing, getting up in ...

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Kelsey H
08:21 Aug 17, 2023

Thank Aeris, I always find parent/child or sibling relationship interesting to write. I'm glad you like the title, I was stuck on what to call it and reading through for inspiration that was what jumped out at me!

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Sophia Gavasheli
20:03 Aug 14, 2023

"It seemed so strange, how things happened that seemed like they must mean something, but were nothing more than the universe doing what it did." - Woah! Loved that line.

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Kelsey H
08:09 Aug 17, 2023

Thanks for your comment.

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Ellen Neuborne
16:52 Aug 14, 2023

Nice portrait of a father/son moment.

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Kelsey H
08:09 Aug 17, 2023

Thanks for your comment.

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J. D. Lair
21:28 Aug 13, 2023

This line packed a punch—pun fully intended: “He should have told his dad the earth was going to box the moon, then he might have been interested.” Felt that one deep. Great story Kelsey!

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Kelsey H
08:10 Aug 17, 2023

Thanks J.D!

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Daniel R. Hayes
15:59 Jun 21, 2024

Hi Kelsey! This was incredible! I loved the father - son dynamic and thought you structured this really well! It was easy to read and understand. I think it's very relatable. I also really liked how you ended it by finding the meaning in things or wondering if it was just the universe doing its thing. Great job!! :)

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Alexis Araneta
10:19 Jun 21, 2024

Kelsey ! This was absolutely heartwarming. I know what it feels like to feel like you're the oddball in the family; I've had to learn to enjoy things on my own. I'm happy Jesse was able to find a link to his dad, though. Beautiful use of imagery, smooth flow. Amazing work !

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Amanda Lieser
16:36 Sep 08, 2023

Hi Kelsey, Oh this piece was breathtaking! It was a fantastic examination of masculinity, family relationships, and the moment we understand our parents are human, too. I thought you did an amazing job of tackling the complex character of the father through the eyes of his child. Your use of the eclipse really anchored us in the moment as well. It was a great take on the prompt.

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Kelsey H
08:32 Sep 11, 2023

Thank you, I always love writing father-son relationships, probably because it is something I can never understand first hand.

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