I watched my son from the back of the boat. He looked so much older up there, behind a wheel. The others were talking, their few voices mixing with the sloshing of the current against the hull, and I let their words beat riddled rhythms into my ears. The driver, my son, gently nudged the wheel, expertly following the turn. His large hand was splayed, long lines erupting, and hardy veins shoot like roots through fertile dirt. We passed evenly between the flooded green banks. Crickets and assorted birds symphonize, growing the chorus of our voices. I couldn’t bring myself to stand and disrupt it all.
The dusk was kind to us. It softened our features and sparked in our eyes. I felt youthful. Not the headstrong, violent type, but the quiet calm of slumbering adolescence. My eyes blinked slow, and the frayed ends of trees passed overhead. And, thankfully, it was hot. Gone were the aches in between bones, which were usually exasperated by the cold, and I felt loose and heavy. I adjusted my cap, and wiped the sweat from my forehead.
I remember, when he was still a boy, he dropped his ragged hat in the tame water. He began to cry, and his mother begged me to retrieve it. Rolling my eyes, and chuckling along with the rest, I quickly removed my watch and wallet, stripping to my undergarments, and dove in after it. When I found it, I tucked it in the back of my waistband. Where is it? I can’t find it! Oh, don’t cry! Why, here it is! How about that? Now I was slightly tempted to lose my own cap, and see my son complete the cycle. I wondered if he even remembered it.
How strong was he, now? Strong enough to swim to shore, surely. Strong enough to carry me with him. Strong enough, I was sure, to pull the whole boat. I often thought about my death, and had worried when he was little. But now, I knew he didn’t need me anymore. Nothing made me more proud. I thought about my death now, and therefore the future. I would be gone in a few years, I was sure, and he would mourn, of course. But a couple years later, he would no doubt have a son of his own. Him and his wife would buy a home, or perhaps move into mine. Perhaps he would find a job that would make him happy, not that that’s easy. But perhaps he would, and it would be a high paying job too, and he would have a few more kids. And as they grew, he would fall in life as I had. Eventually, he would end up in a similar seat as I was in, and would spend his last days looking back on the precious memories he had with me and his children. I supposed that this boat ride would be one of them.
Of course, I had a lot of regrets, too. I was sure he already did.
One came to mind- a long ride in the dark to the police station. Finding him in a cell, a band-aid on his forehead, was terrifying. He regretted it, I was sure. The whole ride back, I tried to do my job. I got angry, warned against drinking, attacked his friends, and made him cry. My job, but I regretted it.
There was another turn in the river, and he deftly rounded the bend. A low hanging vine swung above us, and somebody reached up to touch it. My son stood straight, his legs slightly apart, his shoulders thrown back, his elbows back. He was lit so dimly that that was all I could see. He seemed content to stay away from the conversation, preferring the low talk of nature. He must’ve gotten it from me, as I was the same. Despite being surrounded by noise, I was in a bubble of silence. I enjoyed it, and secretly hoped it continued for the rest of the night. I knew that I would eventually be dragged into socialising, and dreaded it. Perhaps I could join my son, and we could enjoy the silence together, I thought. That way, I could avoid the others. Still, I didn’t move. I was not overly eager, didn’t want to disturb him. I patiently waited in my seat for the opportune moment.
It would be nice to talk to him, though. It’d been a while. He’d been so busy, with the preparations for the wedding, with his work. His life was becoming a whirlwind- one that I wasn’t a part of. I found myself realizing that I had been lonely. I got on well by myself, but, now that the monotony of my daily life had been broken, I wished that it would never return. And I was getting on in years. I should be making the most of my time. I couldn’t even remember what I been doing during all that time alone. Television, and the occasional book or newspaper. A walk here and there. I had fallen back into the routine of my life as a stubborn loner, back when I’d been trouble for the rest of my family. It was one of my regrets.
Finally, I rose. Are you alright, Dad? My daughter-in-law asked me. I waved her off, clutching my leg where it suddenly flared with pain. My son glanced back, and I waved again, and clambered up the deck towards him. The floor gently rolled beneath my feet, which clopped cleanly on the polished wood. My hand ran over a railing, trailing the arm behind it and pushing up the sleeve. With short steps, I reached his side and gripped his shoulder lovingly.
But, now upclose, I noticed that he stooped and hunched. One hand rested by the fragile wrist over the wheel, and the other was hidden away in his pocket. His neck was wiry and bent, sticking out from his crisp shirt at a sharp angle. Dark shadows grew like mold beneath his tired eyes, and he grimaced with yellowing teeth before saying:
“Not right now, Dad.”
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I loved your story, wonderful writing, super.
This story was an epic journey. I felt so comforted and calm in the beginning and then the ending caught me by surprise. It was incredibly well crafted. I really enjoyed how you captured youth: Not the headstrong, violent type, but the quiet calm of slumbering adolescence. This was an excellent read. Thank you for writing it and congrats on getting short listed.