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African American Fiction Contemporary

Canceled. Ray stared at the marquee and clenched his fists. He'd run all the way from terminal C to A to catch this flight to Denver, only to find out the weather made it impossible for him to get home before noon tomorrow. He looked at his watch: just past two East Coast time, and the thoughts of relaxing in his warm and comfortable home were slipping away.

He sat at the deserted gate and made a dozen phone calls. Hotels were booked–something about a basketball championship–and he was seriously considering the four hour drive to Atlanta to skip the wait for the next flight. Just go home, a voice in the back of his head said. Not home to Denver, where he'd spent the last ten years of his life, but home here, right outside Charlotte's city limits.

Ray sighed. Home was a tiny house in a poor Black neighborhood. Home was an old man in a recliner, watching TV. Home was a series of memories he wanted to forget.

The ride home felt short, enveloped in an eerie silence. Spring was creeping in with blossoming dogwoods and the distant sounds of children playing. It was the type of sunny day where the clouds would suddenly turn dark and then drench the earth for twenty minutes. When the sun returned, all that would be left were puddles in the road. He stepped out of the car into one of those puddles, facing a brick house on a narrow street surrounded by empty yards. The front garden, long ago adorned with lively hydrangeas and marigolds, now stood stark and bare.

Ray took a deep breath and rang the doorbell, remembering standing on the other side, listening for solicitors, Jehovah’s witnesses, or parole officers to determine whether he would open the door or say, “My dad's not here.”

He could practically hear the recliner creak before steps approached the door. “Who is it?” his dad asked.

“It's me,” he said. The door opened up slightly.

“What you doing here?” His dad never seemed to age, his face frozen in a scowl but absent the wrinkles of a typical 60 year old man.

“I had a layover and my flight got canceled,” he said. He had unconsciously slumped and lowered his voice, harkening back to his years as a teenager. I'm not a child anymore, he told himself, standing up straight. “Can I spend the night?”

His dad eyed him a few more seconds before opening the door fully and walking away. “I'll wash the sheets.”

Ray walked into a house that immediately felt too small. He gazed at the sight of the unchanged couches, the recliner, and the outdated big-screen TV. The familiar sadness was almost palpable in the air. He knew without looking that his childhood room was the same as he'd left it, the same as it’d been since the accident. It was like the house was stuck in time; all the joy had left the day his mom died. He put his bags down and sat on the well worn couch. His dad had returned to his recliner. A basketball game was on.

The silence between them felt natural, normal, and oppressive. I don't miss this place, he thought to himself. He could count on one hand the number of times he’d visited since he left for college.

“Some tournament going on?” he asked. His dad nodded. Ray had never been into sports, though he'd tried them to connect better with his dad. It hadn't worked. He was benched early on and his dad stopped coming to games. Academics were more his forte, and in elementary school his mom had encouraged every endeavor with enthusiasm. His dad didn't bother, looking bored and out of his depth at the middle and high school science fairs.

I'm making good money, he wanted to say. He had gone to college for chemical engineering, despite his dad's complaints about how expensive college was. Ray had known an education was the only way to escape, and he felt proud to have made it through with student loans and working part time. Unfortunately it meant they couldn't talk shop the way he imagined other fathers and sons did.

I don't have a girlfriend, but I do have a house. Like his dad, Ray kept to himself. He didn't want to fall in love just to lose someone.

“So your flight got canceled,” his dad stated without inflection. It was a bare thread, and Ray desperately grabbed at it.

“Yep. Big storm in Denver.”

“Bad weather all the time out there.”

“It snows,” Ray said, already bored. His dad continued watching TV, detached from everything and everyone. 

“It's warming up here,” he said.

“I can see,” Ray said. “Time to plant a garden.” He had his own balcony pots waiting for new seedlings.

His dad made a sound in between a grunt and a meh. “That was your mom's thing.”

Ray let the lie pass, recalling the shared moments in the garden and the laughter that once filled this space. She had loved gardening, and his dad had been out there alongside her, smiling as he pulled weeds and dragged around bags of dirt. So much had changed after the accident, and so little had changed since. He'd grown up and gone away, but this house–and his dad–remained.

You shouldn't have been driving. Unbidden, vivid images of the car crash flooded his mind. His dad, drunk, driving them home from a family gathering. The slide, the oncoming car, the aftermath. Therapy had helped, but the truth forever haunted him: his father had killed his mother.

I miss her. Every time he remembered, he felt like he was being pushed underwater, held down by an unseen hand: the weight of his father's momentary lapse in judgment. 

His dad finally broke the heavy silence. “She would be proud of you,” he said. “You know that.” 

The words washed over him like a spring wind, bringing both relief and a sense of peace. He took a deep breath to hold back the tears. Something new had entered the stale air between them. “I know,” he said. “I know.”

The moment passed as quickly as it had appeared. “Good weather here,” his dad said, and Ray nodded. They were back on the surface.

“Yeah,” he said. “I'm going to go get food.” His dad nodded in acknowledgment. Once his ride arrived, Ray left the house and stepped into the fading sunlight. He took a deep breath, inhaling the fresh evening air and feeling an unfamiliar lightness.

The layover had given him time to remember and the opportunity to let go. The house and its painful memories, once overwhelming, now felt like remnants of a past he had outgrown. Ray climbed in the car, embracing the promise of a new beginning.

January 26, 2024 14:56

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3 comments

HC Edwards
04:36 Feb 01, 2024

I’ wonder…was this your relationship with your father? Because I felt the sting of more than one reference, echoes of moments I’d forgotten…very well done. Keep them coming.

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Crystal Farmer
06:33 Feb 01, 2024

Thank you! The spark of an idea came from my relationship with my father, but thankfully my mom is alive and well.

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Mary Bendickson
00:12 Jan 29, 2024

Such a simple telling tells so much. Welcome to Reedsy. Thanks for liking "Where's the Can Opener' and the follow.

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