17 comments

Fiction

John paces nervously up and down the back yard. He keeps looking at his watch and back to the overcast, starless, dull black sky. Are the clouds in the way? Will he be able to see it? Did he understand the message correctly? Is this the night? What time is it now? 10:47.


Max whines and drops his ball at John's feet. Distracted, he tosses the ball toward the bushes, only to have it dropped back on his feet in mere seconds.


"Sorry, boy. It's kind of dark to be tossing balls. I promise we'll go to the park tomorrow." Max whines but settles at his feet and works diligently to destroy yet another tennis ball.


What's that? Oh, just the 10:32 from Chicago. Late, of course.


Again, he thinks about the letter he sent earlier this week. Had it been enough? Was it too late?


Dear Son,

I was wrong. I know I may be too late to admit it, but I was wrong to try and stop you from doing what you love. I was wrong to turn my back on you. I was wrong to expect you to follow me. I am sorry for all the years I've missed.


I am proud of you.


I was proud of you when you built your first model airplane, all by yourself. You could barely read, but you figured it out. And the kitchen table still proudly shows all the scratches, divots and blobs of superglue and paint. Every time the saltshaker wobbles, I smile and think of you.


I was proud of you when you were ten and you decided you had to learn to fly. I was amazed that you talked everybody on our street into hiring you to mow their lawn and shovel their snow. You worked so hard, never complained about the heat or cold. In four years, you earned enough to pay for your lessons.


I was proud of you when you were fourteen and walked with the instructor to that little plane for your first lesson. At the time, your mother wasn't so sure. The whole time you were up in that dinky looking thing, she clung to my arm so tight, I had bruises for weeks. But the look on your face, one of pure ecstasy, when you walked back to us, made me believe that you knew where you were going and that made the bruises unimportant.


I was proud of you later that year, when you asked your math teacher to help you understand the calculations you needed to pass your pilot's exam. And I was grinning from ear to ear when you earned your license at fifteen. You worked so tirelessly after that to get your instructor's license. You never balked at having to bike everywhere, because you would much rather be at that little airfield, than save your money for a car.


I was proud of you when you graduated high school near the top of your class. And son, I know I didn't show, I know I pushed you away instead, but I am proud of you for following your passion. Yes, I was angry, my pride was hurt when you simply told me what you had done. Yes, I would have liked to have known ahead of time that your plans had been to enlist. I would have liked to have had a chance to discuss it. But your mother has pointed out to me, on several occasions, that I was too stubborn, too opinionated to listen to your side and that I really didn't give you a choice but to make that decision on your own.


I have told you about my deployments. I have told you it was not something I'd want my son to go through. I didn't want you to be anywhere near combat, anywhere near the constant vigilance, anxiety, fear and loss that my mates and I had to live through day in and day out. We watched so many die. Watched so many get hurt and mangled and pray for death. Watched so many check out or get lost in drugs and drink. I had other plans for you. Safer plans where you had both feet on the ground, hopefully right next to me, so that I could hold your hand, like I had when you learned to walk. Plans where you would listen to your old man and let him believe he knew what was best.


I was proud of you when you graduated college, even though you had contracted to spend so many years paying back that debt. But I have learned that what I hoped and wished for you have always been my dreams. And I have finally realized that my dreams are not and never have been yours. Not only would it have been unfair and wrong, but obviously impossible to keep you from following your dream,


I am both proud and envious of your passion and the strength, certainty and will to pursue it, despite what it may have cost us.


I am proud of you for being honorable and admire you for helping to keep our country safe. Would I'd rather that you not put yourself in danger, not make yourself a target every time you take off? Of course. But there are no guarantees. Whether you are a fighter pilot or an accountant. Though papercuts are rarely life-threatening.


I apologize for my pigheadedness. According to your mother we have that in common. I accept that you are living the life that you have chosen. I can only hope that you will accept my apology and allow me back in your life.


Your Father.



"What time is it?" Becky has joined him in the back yard.


"10:57" He can barely get the words out. His chest and his throat are tight. His hands are clenched.


Becky leans into him and wraps her arm around his waist. "His text said 2300, didn't it?"


John nods, clasping his wife to him, needing an anchor. He's barely able to control a shiver of anxiety running through him.


"Do you hear that?" Hearing the faint roar of several powerful airplanes, John frantically searches the black sky. Where? The base is to the north, so are they coming from the south? Where? Are they up too high to see?


"There! Becky look!"


Five dots approach. As they come closer, they separate into five distinct aircrafts, the wing lights showing clearly that they are in tight formation.


Is that them?


Is Kevin one of them?


How can he tell?


"Oh!" Becky exclaims pointing up. The fourth one dips its wing.


John lifts his hand in a half wave, half salute and wipes his eyes. Holding on tight to each other, they turn and watch the planes disappear over the trees.

John exhales. It feels as if it's the first time in years that his chest, his body relaxes.


"Mother, I think our son is coming home, again."

January 08, 2024 23:53

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17 comments

Kailani B.
23:37 Jan 14, 2024

That ending made me tear up a little. Good job!

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Trudy Jas
00:04 Jan 15, 2024

Thank you and thanks for reading.

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Erika Darling
00:28 Jan 10, 2024

This is such a creative take on the prompt. I’ve spent a good amount of time on Air Force bases with fighter pilots and thought you well captured their passion and commitment (as relayed through John’s pride in his son).

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Trudy Jas
00:44 Jan 10, 2024

Wow, thank you! It's always iffy when you make something up out of whole cloth (top gun notwithstanding). Make me feel better. My brother was an avid soarer. So, I guess I picked up a bit of his love of flying. Thanks again.

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Michał Przywara
21:43 Jan 09, 2024

A neat take on the prompt. I like that what he's looking for is only gradually revealed: first, something in the sky, then his son, then maybe his son on an airplane, then his son is piloting it, then it's a military craft. The relationship and personal history is introduced at a good pace. “taken me a too long to admit it” - seems like “a” is an extra word. The father's realization is a case of “better late than never,” because it's one of those realizations that can take a lifetime to come to grips with. Especially if you add stubbornn...

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Trudy Jas
21:56 Jan 09, 2024

Thanks for the feedback! I'll take a look at that sentence again. I'm glad you thought the pace was on target. I thought about putting time frames in it, But then I thought, why? The parent/child conflict is as old as time. Any other suggestions?

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Michał Przywara
00:12 Jan 10, 2024

Suggestions? Well, there's the word count to be wary of. In a longer piece, it might be nice to see the event that caused the rift between father and son - it sounds like there was one, and a little flashback or memory might do it. There might be some room to up the tension near the end too. Right now, as soon as they spot the planes, the son waves. Maybe it doesn't happen immediately. Maybe there's a moment when the father thinks it's over - the letter didn't land and he's lost his son. Could be hard to do though, given how fast planes ar...

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Trudy Jas
00:22 Jan 10, 2024

Thanks. The word count is over 1K (barely, but over). I toyed with the idea of elaborating on the conflict. I didn't want to give too much away or have dad rehash old news. After all, both father and son know what happened. But I'll look at the end. There, of course is room/time to expand that. (though those fighter jets, go pretty darn fast). :-) But we'll take a little poetic license Thanks for your insight.

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Trudy Jas
00:40 Jan 10, 2024

If you have a chance, look at the bottom, below the letter. Slight update. Thanks.

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Michał Przywara
02:20 Jan 10, 2024

I believe I see it. Just a tiny delay, a smidgeon of doubt, but it's enough to add a bit of space. A heartbeat of unease. I think it works!

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21:07 Jan 09, 2024

Beautiful story! You captured the emotions really well. I enjoyed reading it.

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Trudy Jas
21:44 Jan 09, 2024

Thank you! Posistive comments are always welcome. :-)

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Alexis Araneta
08:38 Jan 09, 2024

Another wonderful submission. I love how subtle the sign was, as if it's only for John. Beautiful !

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Trudy Jas
11:47 Jan 09, 2024

Thank you, Stella. You bet, that little wave was just for dad (and mom, of course) :-) Thanks.

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Marty B
04:55 Jan 09, 2024

I really like your take on the prompt! A father recognizes a sign in his son that he must let go of his own vision for his son's future and let hm make his own decisions. Just like he sees the sign in the sky of his son doing what he loves, and serving his country, just like his Dad. Thanks!

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Trudy Jas
10:56 Jan 09, 2024

Thank you Marty. I'm glad you like it. Thanks for reading my story. Yes, it is often difficult for a parent to accept that their childrenare not a mini-me. Thanks for the kind words.

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