Fiction Contemporary Drama

The family of three (minus Caleb’s wife, who had booked a solo all-day retreat last minute without telling her husband) rattled through the turnstile after the holiday club rep Carmita as she signalled the direction of the activity pool and facilities.

“Be quick,” she warned, in accented English, and tapped on her Casio as Caleb steered his family towards the changing room, “the swimming has already started.”

The family changing room was completely empty, much to Caleb’s relief. With a huge sigh, he allowed the luggage he’d manoeuvred from their villa and across the resort, to fall down against the mosaic floor.

Today he was chaperoning his son and daughter to the Big Splash Little Splash parent and child swim and was acutely aware that they were uncharacteristically behind schedule. Their lateness was a particularly sore subject for Caleb, because Caleb was a planner. His world ran on clockwork and precision and anything else outside of that gave him migraines. Since becoming a husband, he’d insisted on creating a structured and traditional life. He was raised the same way and had been adamant that if he ever had his own family, he’d pass on his values to them. Two children later, Caleb felt confident that he was doing a stellar job. Ellie and Marcus were the apples of their mother’s eye, but they were also, unlike most preschoolers, well behaved. Caleb never feared taking them on their many family holidays. He knew that the foursome could enjoy exploring the world without worrying that his children would act like brats or even worse, mitigate their plans. Caleb pondered over the irony, as he began the mission of locating his children’s swimming clothes in the mountain of unnecessary Tupperware and toiletries from their family’s luggage, that he’d spent too much time training his children and not enough time training his wife, who was in fact the biggest culprit for plan disruption.

His wife had, in the words of their five-year-old, “made a booboo” by choosing to elope to a retreat on the same day as the childrens’ swim club. Caleb had been frustrated by his wife’s spontaneity. He’d pre-arranged his own plans to go golfing and the couple had even agreed on it the previous night. That morning, Caleb had went as far as showing his wife the infamous itinerary - a printed and laminated collection of spreadsheets detailing the ins and outs of their excursion to Jamaica - to make his point and in honour of what they had agreed, asserted that she cancel the retreat and look after the children. Caleb’s wife had apologised, as usual, in her sweet but silly way but suggested that the activity would be a great opportunity for Caleb to bond with his children. Caleb had been about to remind her of the undying attention he’d invested into raising them, when his wife had interjected that though she would have loved to go swimming, the retreat would insist on charging the couple a hefty cancellation fee.

And so, the sacrificial and loving man that he was, Caleb had removed his golf attire, shuffled into some flip-flops, rounded up his offspring and the supplies Caleb’s wife had haphazardly packed and carted off as quickly as his blossoming dad bod could carry him to the club on the mezzanine floor. Unlike their parents, the children were unfazed by the slight change of plans and were just excited to go swimming. But the growing headache, bubbling inside of Caleb’s head, was threatening to cast a further shadow for him over the day’s unexpected proceedings.

Caleb quietly cursed his wife as he undid zips and tore open containers. Bizarrely the bags were full of crap - toiletries, half-eaten snacks and toys - things unnecessary for a swim excursion. His wife must’ve been in such a flurry that morning, with her own stupid plans, that she’d lost all sense when packing the children’s supplies.

Ellie and Marcus were too busy amusing themselves jumping on and off the benches to notice their father’s bewilderment and the sea of Tupperware and toiletries rapidly spreading around them.

“Hurry Daddy, hurry,” Ellie sang, leaping down into the sea as if it were a sandpit. Saying things in a succession of three was her new favourite thing.

“I’m hurrying, Ellie, I’m hurrying,” Caleb tried to keep his voice level but he was beginning to feel worn out by the whole ordeal already.

“Wanna help your Dad?,” He pleaded with his oldest.

Marcus was five and highly attentive for his age. He gave a quick obedient nod and wandered over, looking inquisitive.

“What are you looking for?”

“Where did Mummy put your swimming trunks and Ellie’s cossy?”

Instantly, Marcus wrinkled his nose and started to laugh. And taking a seat on the spot, he started fumbling with his T-shirt and shorts. When he was done, he jumped up, with arms out like a star. Ta- da; he exclaimed.

Of course.

Caleb sighed, pressing his fingers into the corners of his eyes whilst fighting with the dry afternoon heat seeping into the crevices of his limbs and the clammy room.

Of course, his son was already dressed. Perhaps his wife hadn’t been so absent-minded after all…

“And Ellie’s cossy?” Caleb asked, capturing his daughter before she could take flight again. Ellie wasn’t wearing anything underneath her yellow sundress.

Marcus shrugged, hands upturned. Don’t know.

Wonderful; Caleb thought miserably as he glanced back and forth across the pile, looking for anything resembling a swimming costume. 


His daughter, for her minor three years, had quite a collection of swimsuits, thanks to her mother’s own love for clothes. When Caleb found out his second child would be a girl, he guessed her life would be one of duplicity; a baby girl would be, without doubt, her mother’s muse. Just like her mother, Ellie enjoyed a world of ultra-feminine things; dolls, bows, dresses and fairytales. Despite the cringe nature of facilitating his wife’s desire to raise a mini-me, Caleb agreed wholeheartedly with this approach to parenting.

His daughter should absolutely be a girl’s girl.

He only recognised how problematic their family’s views were when several Gen Z couples moved into their quiet conservative cul-de-sac and at a neighbour’s barbecue, declared that Caleb’s ideals were hugely “old-fashioned” and “regressive”. But Caleb didn’t agree at all. His parenting style was his business and nobody else had any right to encroach on what was best for his children. He had taken an oath to raise his offspring the same way he was raised. And if that offended the general “woke” population of the 21st century, then so be it.


The sound of splashing and pop music from the activity pool suddenly cut through Caleb’s thought train. His daughter squirmed in his grasp, her brightened face starting to cloud. Time was flying and Caleb could sense that his courteous but highly strung kids were starting to get restless.

This is ridiculous; he grimaced, astounded by how a lost garment was causing him so much grief. Feeling defeated, Caleb released his daughter and wondered if he should just call his wife to bring another costume. But that would take too much time and the retreat probably had a mobile-free policy. The only other option was to leave the club altogether; the children were too young to swim without a guardian. If Ellie didn’t have a costume, Marcus couldn’t swim either and Caleb would have to take them back to the villa. The very thought of abandoning another plan made Caleb’s overloaded mind whirl.

He was so wrapped up in solving the logistics that he hadn’t registered his son waving something pretty and fluffy in his face. It was Ellie’s unicorn bag.

Caleb furrowed his brows. He hadn’t recalled seeing the mini rucksack, as loud and brash as it was, amongst the luggage pile.

“Good job buddy,” He rewarded his son with a high five, “Where did you find this?”

“On Ellie’s back” Marcus said simply, watching as his father grapple with the rucksack’s flimsy attachments. The bag was so small and impractical that Caleb could only fit one hand inside the compartment. In haste, he did a quick sweep of the main pocket and felt something like lycra. Bingo.

Now all Caleb had to do was dress his daughter and stash the luggage in several lockers along with his own cargo shorts - he was already bare-chested and wearing his swim trunks too. The ease of being male; he thought.

Ellie came tottering over at the sight of her recovered unicorn bag, oblivious to the memory of her mother strapping it onto her back that morning. 

“Let’s get dressed!” Caleb announced with relief as he untangled the ball of pink and white striped lycra in his hands.

But the costume seemed to fall apart and for a moment, Caleb panicked, thinking he’d been too rough and tore the garment clean in half. But he hadn’t.

It took him a second to piece together what he was looking at, but when he eventually realised what it was, he was dumbfounded.

A bikini.

It was one of those sets that had a top made up of two fabric triangles sewn together with a bow. The bottoms were also triangular and had four flimsy strings to tie up the sides. And that was it.

Caleb imagined there had been a mistake. Surely a mix-up.

Turning the pieces over, Caleb searched for a sign. Or an explanation.

The bikini looked somewhat familiar, as though he’d seen his wife wearing it recently. She had so many types of swimwear, it wouldn’t have surprised Caleb if she’d packed a dozen sets. However, his wife’s choice of swimwear was another sore subject for Caleb. She knew exactly where he stood on the matter and despite their family’s exposure to frequent tropical holidaying, the debate about appropriate apparel still reared its ugly head.


Caleb and his wife had met in their early twenties at a local university. His wife’s father had taken an immediate liking to Caleb and declared his daughter’s new boyfriend to be a “grounded” man, giving Caleb his blessing to be his future son in law one day. Caleb’s wife had always been vocal about her love for her husband. And she would reiterate that she had great respect for her own upbringing and the community they had both grown up in. But, she had also started to raise questions in recent years and much to Caleb’s dismay, showed some leniency over several of the core matters that had kept their union strong. Matters relating to the very same garbage that the Gen Z couples in their neighbourhood had brought with them to infiltrate their community’s perfectly harmonious lifestyles.

The fact was, Caleb’s wife was - in her words - evolving, but not in a way that pleased her husband. They’d agreed on a majority of things, but then there were the details of those things, and that was where the lines of understanding got blurry.

The swimwear debate was one of those details.

Caleb liked seeing his wife in a swimsuit and his wife had once held the same view.

But recently, Caleb’s wife liked seeing herself in “anything she damn well wanted”.

And that was a problem.

Caleb had never liked bikinis. He’d grown up in a household where everyone dressed modestly. Yes, they were conservative but at least the women were safeguarded. He still carried the family’s belief that respectable women didn’t disrespect themselves by parading their bodies for all to see. Even more so as wives or little girls.


And so, as Caleb stared down at the tiny stringed pieces in one hand and his beautiful little girl clutching the other, he realised there was no mistake here. His wife, though his wife, was an adult and could do whatever she wanted. Even if what she wanted was deviated and set a poor example for their family unit. But It was clear now that Caleb’s wife wasn’t just satisfied with crossing the line on her own. Ellie was her mother’s muse, after all.

The care label on the bikini read 3-4 years old. The bikini in Caleb’s hand did not belong to his wayward wife. As painful as it was to watch his wife practise her newfound beliefs unapologetically in his face, nothing could compare to the feelings of betrayal and disgust within Caleb, over the idea that his daughter was being recruited to follow in her mother’s footsteps. He’d be dead before he allowed his three-year-old to take part in this movement and wear such a disrespectful garment. Caleb had made a promise to raise his children in the right way, and whether his wife stood with him or not, he was going to achieve it. He could not allow anyone, not even his spouse, to disrupt his greatest plan. Caleb's father had been his greatest inspiration and Caleb hoped his children, especially his daughter, would say the same about him.

“Don’t cry, Daddy, don’t cry”

Ellie stroked the centre of Caleb’s open palm. The touch of her little fingers felt like a balm to his heated skin.

Caleb flung the little bikini aside, wishing he could set it alight, and allowed his little girl to collapse onto his sweaty chest. She cuddled his neck, stretching to encapsulate him with her soft dumpling arms. Caleb held her close and glanced instinctively, through angry tears, at his son, who was now dozing open-mouthed on a bench. Caleb wasn’t sure if it was the midday heat or the length of time his poor children had been waiting for him to get a grip, but the sight of his son resting gave him some peace.

A whistle blew in the distance and Caleb ran his hand over his damp face.

He was emotionally drained.

His head felt heavy with dehydration and burdened with the prospect of facing his wife with even more questions than greetings.

Ellie didn’t seem to mind when Caleb stooped down to her height, after he repacked their luggage, and told her they weren’t going swimming after all. The plans that day were irrevocably wrecked and could not be salvaged. Because as much as the planner in Caleb would have insisted on finding a solution to execute his task to chaperone, his duty as a father and a protector far eclipsed every other role and desire.

Carmita checked her Casio when she collided with the family in the club reception.

“You still have plenty of time,” Carmita pressed gently when Caleb announced they were leaving. The club rep seemed frantic that her guests were so dissatisfied they hadn’t even left the changing room for almost forty minutes. 

It’s been a long day; Caleb assured the rep and gestured to his sleeping son propped over his shoulder. Carmita raised her eyebrows suspiciously. Caleb was sure she had noticed his red eyes and was trying to understand what exactly had taken place in the changing room.

As a gesture of goodwill, Carmita issued the family a free pass for another day. Caleb allowed Ellie, who was still awake and chattering away about eating lunch, to hold onto the pass, whilst he balanced his boy and the bags. Outside of the facility, Caleb made a quick detour to the industrial waste park and finally disposed of his wife’s rebellion.

At the door to the villa, Caleb repositioned Marcus on his shoulder and fumbled with the keys in his pocket. His daughter requested two cheese sandwiches for lunch and gasped with delight when Caleb said she could have three. Anything he could do to make up for the failure of the day. As the two waltzed into the family room, they found Caleb’s wife sitting at the table, surrounded by pretty sandwiches, fruit platters and alarmingly, a large bottle of champagne on the rocks.

Caleb approached with caution after laying Marcus gently on a chair.

Wow, Ellie leapt towards her mother and Caleb’s wife scooped her up with lots of kisses; is this for me?

“For us” Caleb’s wife laughed. She was noticeably bare-faced but her deep skin was glowing. Caleb also noticed she sounded rested. The retreat must have worked wonders. The tension between them from that morning almost felt non-existent. When the adults finally acknowledged each other, she squinted at his red eyes.

“You’re back early,” he said quickly.

“So are you,” she said, cupping Ellie’s cheeks.

Caleb took a long breath.

“We need to talk,” he kept his voice firm but level in front of his smiling daughter.

His wife seemed to not follow.

It can wait; she decided and reached for the champagne; I want to make a toast.

It wasn’t their anniversary or birthdays.

Caleb thought about sleeping deeply. Perhaps a siesta would give him enough strength to say what he needed to say to his wife. He couldn’t allow what was happening between them to go unchecked. The bikini incident signalled that it was time to readdress their union and set their core values straight. For the sake of their children initially. They could work on building back mutual love and respect later.

Caleb’s wife smiled and handed him a filled glass. Without thinking, Caleb took a sip, overwhelmed by thirst. It was unmistakably sparkling water. 

“Charlie, things are going to change"

Caleb’s prewarning produced a genuine giggle from his wife. She handed her daughter a cheese sandwich and held up her own glass.

“Absolutely,” she agreed, touching the rim to Caleb, “They really are.”

Caleb blinked hard at her lips as she announced that she was pregnant.

He really needed to lie down. And hit restart on the whole day. He couldn’t even look at his wife, he couldn’t bear anymore.

“My God,” he laughed bitterly, turning towards the bedroom to get away from her, “I hope it’s not a girl”.

February 12, 2022 00:27

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14:38 Feb 17, 2022

Kelita, this is a well-written story. The scenario was interesting in perspectives and the emotions that come with two opposing views, and what each generation keeps or discards from the last. It has a good pace and provokes the need for an intriguing conversation.


Kelita Sim
20:43 Feb 17, 2022

Thanks so much for your kind words - glad you enjoyed, Yes for sure a topic that really can and does divide people


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