Sad Contemporary Drama

Trigger Warnings include: Explicit mention of sexual violence, mental health issues, substance abuse (alcoholism), and neglect.

I Don’t Know What to Tell You

             When Evan was younger, dinner had been a grand family occasion. He had learned early that you always washed up before eating, you always helped set the table, and you never took a bite until everyone was seated and ready to eat. There had only been three of them, so that rule wasn’t a particularly trying test of patience. Back then, dinner sounded like a family talking. It sounded like the TV turning off for the first time in probably a few hours.

           Evan sat down with his plate, and his dad was already eating. That was fine. He had gotten older, and his ears had gotten better, and maybe dinner had always sounded like forks scraping ceramic and nothing else, after all. The table seated six, but there were only two chairs that were ever used, and they always stayed pulled out. Neither of them bothered to push them back in after a while. One was the chair closest to the kitchen, where Evan’s dad sat, and the other was the chair furthest from that one, closest to the set of stairs that led to Evan’s room.

           Evan picked up his fork, and his dad stood, making the short trek to the fridge. Evan did not have to look to know what he had taken from it. The can cracked and fizzled on his way back to the table, and Evan spoke as his dad raised the can to his lips.

           “So, dad,” he said. His voice sounded dusty, but not quite rusted, like he had set it aside for just a while.

           “Mhm?” his dad said in the back of his throat, and there was the rust. He held the can against his lips still, but did not take a drink yet.

           “My, uh. Coach Davis got arrested,” Evan said, moving spaghetti around on his plate. His dad’s eyebrows raised just a bit, and he lowered the can slightly.

           “Oh, did he?” he asked. His voice was still a horrible, browning thing, but it was yellowed around the edges with slight curiosity. Evan nodded.

           “Yeah,” he said, half-heartedly lifting his fork, “he, uh. Raped a student.” He put the forked in his mouth and chewed slowly. His dad’s eyebrows raised again, and he made a surprised noise in the back of his throat before lifting the can back to his mouth and taking a few sips. He moved to put the can back on the table and let it hover just above it, like putting it down meant he wouldn’t be able to pick it back up.

           “I knew that man for years,” he said. It sounded like something that might have been followed with some sentiment about how you could never be too sure about a person, but Evan supposed that part must have gotten stuck somewhere on the way out, because instead of saying anything else, his dad took another sip.

           Evan swallowed the bite of food in his mouth, and he really did not want the rest of it, so he waited the few minutes it took for his dad to finish up and retreat to the living room before throwing the rest of his plate away. He went upstairs, took a shower, and went to bed, and when his alarm went off in the morning, he stayed there.

           “Evan,” his dad said from outside the door. He knocked, waited a second or two, and opened the door. It was 11:00 in the morning, a few days later, and Evan hadn’t gotten up for school.

           “It’s 11:00,” he said, gesturing toward Evan’s alarm clock. “You’re late for school, y’know.” Evan looked at the clock, then back at his dad. He shrugged a shoulder and pulled the covers up around himself a little tighter.

           “I’m not feeling too hot today,” he said. He had said it before when he didn’t feel like going to school, and it had never gotten him anything but a shrug back. His dad hesitated with his hand on the doorknob.

           “You sick or something?” he asked. “School called, and they said you haven’t been in all week.” Evan shrugged from under the blanket.

           “Didn’t think you’d notice,” he said. His dad took his hand off the doorknob, letting it drift to not-quite-shut behind him.

           “Why wouldn’t I notice?” he asked. His voice was still a rusted machine, and there didn’t seem to be anything real under his tone. Evan bit down a scoff.

           “Well, you didn’t,” he said carefully. “They called you and told you.” His dad thought for a moment, and it reminded Evan of the way a child looks when they can’t quite think of the reason they must be right.

           “You could have told me instead, you know,” he said, “if you weren’t feeling good.” He was beginning to sound defensive, but not the sharp sort of defensive that Evan used to get from his baseball buddies. It was a dull, dry defensiveness, and it grated Evan’s ears like sandpaper. Like forks on ceramic.

           “What would you have done?” Evan asked. It came out more sharply than he had intended, but it was nice to hear that he was still capable of that sort of sharpness. His dad took a step toward him.

           “I could’ve done something, Evan. Medicine, doctors, make you soup or something,” he said. “What do you think I would have done? Told you ‘Tough luck’?” Evan sat up in bed, bringing the covers down over his knees and drawing them up.

           “Maybe, yeah,” he said. “I told you last week that Coach raped a kid, and you barely blinked.” His dad threw his hands out.

           “What was I gonna do about that? Those things happen. There are terrible people. They do terrible things. It happens all the time,” he said.

           “Yeah, maybe in the news,” Evan said. “Maybe on those dumb crime shows. They don’t happen right fucking next to you.” He was getting louder, but he could not shake the dust from his voice. He gripped the blankets at the sides of his legs.

           “Well, what, Evan, did you know the damn kid? Huh?” his dad asked, voice as loud as a monument and crumbling just the same.

           “Dad,” Evan said, turning toward him. He was trembling, his eyes full of frozen tears he knew would never spill. His father looked back at him, jaw set and eyebrows pulled together. Then, the frustration fell away from his face, realization dawning where it had been. His mouth opened just enough for him to draw a short, disbelieving breath, and his eyes took on a new shape.

           He looked at him this way until Evan could no longer stand it, turning away to stare into the gap between the door and its frame. He wrapped his arms around himself and felt his skin burning beneath his clothes from where he had scrubbed it, skin that had been grabbed and pushed and pressed. He felt words behind his teeth that were unspeakable, were not real words at all.

           “You didn’t notice that,” he said, cold and concrete. “So I thought you might not notice if I didn’t go. That’s all.” His dad stood in the room, feeling out of place in it.

           “Evan,” he said, “if you had told me…” His took a step forward, and Evan leaned the other way.

           “You were on your third drink when I brought it up,” he said. “I wasn’t gonna tell you then.” His dad thought he sounded grey and lifeless, and he did not know if it was more bearable than the idea of him sounding grief-stricken and broken. He made a sound in the back of his throat that was too hurt to be exasperation.

           “You could have told me when I was sober, son,” he said.

           “When the fuck is that?” Evan asked sharply. The grey snapped away, sharpening to silver, and his dad could feel the cut of it all the way down. “When the fuck are you sober, dad? When the fuck am I supposed to tell you fucking anything?” His nails were digging into his arms, planting little grooves there. “Was I supposed to tell you when it happened? Because that was almost two damn months ago, and you were drunk when I got home. Shocker.” His dad had taken several small steps forward and was leaning on the edge of the bed. He looked a little faint. He looked like he wanted a drink.

           “Evan,” he said, clinging to the name like it was some beloved thing he had tucked away for a while and forgotten.

           “What?” Evan whispered, sharp and wet. He was still staring into the gap of the door, and tears were still sitting on the edges of his eyes. His dad willed them to fall, willed anything about his face to move or change.

           “What do we do now?” It was a pathetic thing to say, and he had known it even before he said it, but he couldn’t have stopped it one way or the other. Evan’s jaw shifted the slightest bit.

           “Nothing,” he said. “I took care of it. Two months ago. Without you.” The ends of his nails were lost in his skin, and his dad thought he might have been drawing blood. He stood there, leaning against the mattress, clinging to dust and waste.

           “Dad?” Evan said. His dad looked up hopefully, grasping.

           “Yeah?” His hand floated out like Evan might ask to be caught, to be held and comforted and cared for.

           “Go get yourself a drink.” 

December 14, 2023 22:41

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AnneMarie Miles
13:58 Dec 19, 2023

The reveal of the son's trauma is delivered so gradually that it really builds the tension well. It also gives us a great idea of just how distant this father and son are, and how the fathers alcoholism plays a defining role in their relationship. It's a sad story indeed but I found the writing really wonderful. Thanks for sharing and welcome to Reedsy!


D'Spencer Luyao
14:19 Dec 19, 2023

Thank you so much! It was a fun challenge to try to show that kind of relationship in so few words. Really liking Reedsy so far!!


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