Writing & Photo Contest 2016 Winner — Fiction


The moon cast its pale glow along the ridged surface of the barren field. Its freezing breeze wafted through my body. My brittle bones shuddered.

The arid soil crumbled under the forceful swings of my hoe. The repeated impact made the wooden handle vibrate and sent a sharp shock of stinging pain through my callused hands and into my forearms.

I dropped the tool. It struck the ground and a plume of dehydrated dirt circulated upward toward my face. I panted for air. I drew in a wheezy, crackling breath of dry dirt and exhaled hoarsely. Pa wanted me to break up another line of soil before I headed inside, but I couldn’t do it anymore. The pain, the cold, and my creeping tiredness became too difficult to ignore.

I gripped the cool, shiny metal of the farmhouse door and swung it open. I grabbed onto the screen door handle and pushed it inward. The hinges creaked loudly, and the stopper hissed as the door slowly shut in waves. I stepped inside.

“Bobby, did yuh git it done?” Pa’s slurred voice resonated from over in the living room. I ambled toward it.

Empty cans of Pabst Blue sat crushed around his feet. An empty pack of Marlboro Southern Cut cigarettes laid open on his lap. A weight loss infomercial echoed throughout the deafeningly silent house.

“No. No, not yet. I’m sorry, it got too cold and my hands started to hurt real bad. I just want to go to sleep, Pa.”

His empty, black eyes peered over a copy of the Omaha World Herald. He studied my tattered image with disgust. “Yuh know boy, you really are fuckin’ pathetic ain’t ye?” He threw the newspaper to the ground and stomped his feet on the floor. His giant, furry hands gripped the armrests of the red sofa as he propped himself upward.

He stumbled over toward me. “I mean look at ye, yer weak! You aint a man yer a little bitch!” He shoved me sharply with his index finger. I turned away. “Hey! I’m talkin’ to yuh boy! Why don’t you grow a pair uh fuckin’ nuts?”

A tear streamed down my face and clung at my jaw line. Pa sneered at me and marched up the creaky stairs. He paused about halfway and turned around at me. “Don’t you put your dirty paws in mah damn fridge neitha, pussy boy. You eat when you earn it in these parts, yuh hear?”

“Okay, I’m sorry I ain’t good ’nuff Pa,” I replied. I heard no response. I guessed he didn’t need to share that he agreed.

I lay down and stared up at the waterlogged ceiling of the living room. I wanted to have a better life. I didn’t understand why Pa had to be so mean to me sometimes.

I knew he loved me, I just wished he’d show it more often.

When I dreamed, things were exactly the way I wished they were between him and I. I could see Pa signing off on a deed to our house and land. He’s shaking a realtor’s hand. He turns to me with a cheeky grin and lunges inward for a big, strangulating hug.

There would be no more working. We could relax outside. I wouldn’t feel guilty anymore if I decided to go to school either.

Pa would have enough money to put food on the table, pay property taxes, and replace hole-infested clothing. We wouldn’t have to remain filthy to save on the hydro bill, or shut off all the lights so we could afford to keep them on the next month.

In my dreams, we live happily, together. We traveled. Pa isn’t a drunk, and he isn’t addicted to cigarettes. He pays for me to go to college once I graduate and visits me in the big city, even though he hates city folk.

But even I had the sense to know that dreams were just that, dreams. They weren’t ever meant to happen in reality.

Pa’s footsteps interrupted my thoughts of aspiration. He morosely plodded down the stairs toward the front door and idly opened it halfway. He noticed my glowing, awakened eyes from the living room. Pa trudged over toward the couch.

“Bobby. Look, I’m sorry I yelled at yuh. Yuh know how I git sometimes.”

“Yeah. It’s okay Pa, I forgive yuh!”

Pa smiled. A weighty, wrinkled frown developed on his face shortly thereafter.

He intently stared at me with a red, glossy-eyed expression. He grazed the underside of his hand along my cheek and kissed my forehead.

“I love yuh. Son,” he whispered into my ear. It tickled a little. As he backed away, his prickly face scratched along my skin and gave me goosebumps.

I didn’t understand why he looked so sad. He couldn’t ever share his feelings with anyone. I hadn’t seen him cry before either. I could tell he held it in just now, like always.

“Hey Pa?” I asked.

“Yea Bobby?”

“Whachya doin’ outside?”

“Oh I jus’ needa take care of somethin’. I’ll be back in a jiff.”

Pa shut the door behind him.

The dim, amber garage light flickered on. His shadow emerged in the window. Then, it went pitch black again.

A shotgun blast sounded off. A flock of birds maniacally fluttered away from the old oak tree in the front yard.

Pa must’ve noticed a critter snooping around in our vegetable patch again. He’d be back in a jiff.

Judges’ Comment

The tense relationship between a father and son is well-handled. Readers sympathize with the son but also see that the father is fighting his own demons, making the story richer.

This was an entry in the 2015/16 Writing & Photo Contest.

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