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WHEN FATHERS CRY
by Richard L. Provencher
3/19/2008 / Short Stories
A dad stood arm around his son, looking across Economy Lake, located north of the tiny community of Bass River, Nova Scotia.
The gravel road led far off the asphalt and headed high up into the Cobequid Hills. It was the perfect place for a father and son to spend time together for a weekend. Their island destination was bearded with a scattering of pine trees and from this distance looked like a pile of rocks. The man stretched out his arm and sighted down his thumb, almost making the rock-image disappear. He wished he could, instead of being on this trip.
Coming home after work lately was a pain that began within his spirit. There was an unsettlement that raged out of control. His mind couldn't shake off the helplessness of dealing with a 'pushy' boss, his mounting bills, and somehow blaming his wife. Not her fault, he kept reminding himself. And seeing his son watch from the doorway, bewilderment on his mind added to the pressure. He had to do something.
The baking sun seemed to sap his energy and enthusiasm. But somehow the father had to show his son, this trip could be fun. They hadn't gone on an outing for ages. And Alex loved the outdoors. So here they were. Their rubber dinghy was quickly inflated, then loaded with food. Sleeping bags and water joined the list of necessary items. Extra clothes, tent and flashlight also made the journey.
It took three trips, one-quarter mile each way. Father and son tested unused muscles, proud of what they were able to accomplish together. Finally, everything needed was moved from the mainland. When a few waves lightly splashed over the sides, the father saw his son Alex become fearful. But he managed to settle down as he relived some of the feelings he had been keeping inside.
The boy knew this camping trip was really dad's idea. He said it might cool things off especially after yesterday's shouting match with mom. Alex even heard mom talk about moving out, and taking him with her. It was too hard to talk about at home. Maybe the pain wouldn't be so bad out here in the woods, he thought.
Right now, it was bug-slapping time. It helped steer both father's and son's mind away from their problems. Black flies flew around, then up shirtsleeves until they struck pay dirt. Fresh blood was their prize. "They must be related to vampires," the man said.
Setting up their two-man pup tent went smoothly. The ground was carefully checked for rocks and twigs, then each corner secured with a yellow peg. One aluminum pole on each end raised the tent to a height of about four feet. They made sure the guy lines were properly taut.
Alex and his family didn't do much together anymore. Everyone's energy was being drained with all the fighting and arguing. "Son, we have to get away, just the two of us. I think it's best for mom to have this weekend by herself." Alex knew dad was really worried about his family falling apart.
It didn't help that Alex was already "worry-wart." He studied all the time, having straight "A's" in school. He worried about the family bills. And whether he helped mom enough around the house. It was a horrible thought, his parents maybe "splitting up."
"Still thinking about it, son?" dad asked as he sat down beside him.
Alex tried to smile back. His mushroom haircut fluffed up in the wind. Tired looking blue eyes used to be full of sparkle on his tanned face. The sun's golden rays were hidden in his light brown hair. "Yah...sure," the boy slowly answered, dropping his head. Tears were racing down his cheeks. He swiped at his eyes.
"Since everything's put away let's have a swim," his dad suggested. Faster than gulping back two hot dogs, father and son were in their bathing suits. They shivered through the water as far as their waists, splashing each other every step of the way. Soon it was a free-for-all.
Mud balls and handfuls of grassy weeds were flying through the air. It was now a "muck" war. Gooey balls landed with "splats" creating muddy messes on backs and chests. Alex was the winner because he had better aim from pitching Little League baseball. Then he plopped a handful of mud and weeds on dad's head. "Now you have some hair!" he shouted.
"Nice to finally see you smile," his father said.
Hungry bellies called a truce. After washing off the mud they changed into dry clothes. Thankfully, the wind blew just enough to keep the black flies away. Lunch was hot dogs, juice packs and Trail Mix. Alex made a super fireplace with flat stones. Father and son teamed up to collect firewood, and the fire was soon crackling. After tidying up, fishing rods were checked and life jackets put on. The rubber dinghy moved easily through the water as they paddled quickly to a small bay.
"I wish mom was here to see this," Alex said, looking around at the scenery.
"Yes son," dad answered. "I know she would enjoy it."
The water was inviting and another swim was on the menu since the fish weren't biting. It seemed only a short time before supper was finished and the sun was setting. The night was warm as father and son lay in their sleeping bags. "What are we going to do about mom, dad?" Alex asked.
"Do you think it's too late for your mom and I son?" his father answered. "I mean, I haven't been the best husband lately, or dad," he quickly added.
"Did you like the mud fight?" the boy asked, changing the subject.
"Yes," the man answered, feeling sadness well up within him. He wanted so much for this trip to be a break for both of them. But it didn't seem to be working.
"And getting water in the dinghy when you tried to get out?" Alex laughed at that one. He could still see dad's face when his hip got soaked.
"Yes, that too," his father said, poking his son on the shoulder in the dark.
"Do you like being a father taking his son camping?" the boy asked suddenly.
The atmosphere was very tense in the darkness. There was electricity in the air. The man realized words from his answer must be carefully chosen. "Yes I do. Boy, you talk a lot. Aren't you tired?" the man said, fighting for time to think.
"I'm too upset to sleep," the boy answered quietly, as he waited for his dad to answer.
"I promise to try harder, son. When I married your mom, it was such a special time for me. And then you came along, and I was so happy then."
The boy heard the anguish in his dad's voice and moved closer to him, placing an arm across his shoulder. "We both have to try harder, dad. And I promise I will too." It was also sort of an answer to dad's question.
"Hey, look through the doorway," his dad said. The moon was like a flashlight beam pointing right at their tent. It came suddenly, interrupting their conversation. It was almost like an invitation to some kind of party. "Let's check it out," Alex's father whispered, hope in his voice.
And instead of the familiar, "Sure, just when I'm comfortable," whiny voice his dad heard so often at the house, there was a temporary silence. "Okay dad, let's do it," the boy finally answered. Father and son boldly left the warmth of sleeping bags and walked across the cool ground. The shore was only about twenty few feet away.
Now they stood in bare feet under the glare of the moon and it seemed to bathe them in its freshness. It was truly a beacon of white creating a path from lake to shore. And they stood as two special people, while diamond-like sparkles shimmered on the water.
"This is what I call peaceful," the father said. He looked across the lake to the dark silhouettes on the mainland then returned his gaze to the little bay in front of them.
"Is mom going to stay or not?" the boy asked suddenly and rudely. He was tired of this beating around the bush. And having what was supposed to be a fun camping trip, and he turned to his father for some answers. "I'm just a kid, you know," his eyes imploring.
The man fumbled for the proper words. "I really...hope she will, son. In fact I know she will. She still loves us you know." A father and son stood with renewed hope as the big Dipper shone clearly above them.
"Why is it so bright?" Alex asked.
"There are no lights from Truro to compete with in the middle of the woods," his dad answered. "And that's why I really enjoy getting out into the woods. I used to do a lot more when I was your age."
"Maybe we should go out together like this more dad. And mom could come too," he said. As they headed back to their tent the call of a loon pierced the stillness. Its sounds rose and fell almost like a parade across the fullness of the island, and came back as an echo of its existence.
"It sounds sort of lonely and happy at the same time," Alex said. It was exactly the way he felt at this moment. At least that was an improvement, he thought.
Settling back in their tent, dad told him a little about loons. "Usually two baby chicks are born," he said. "And both parents work hard together to protect and teach their young." Dad's voice was soothing as Alex lay in the darkness. He almost missed hearing his dad say softly, "I'm sure she'll be waiting for us to return, son."
Alex fought back tears before falling into a welcome sleep. He dreamed
about that family of loons and how it used to be like that in his own home.
"I love you dad," he said, before he fell asleep.
The "Splash" of early morning waves and other sounds traveled silently to his ears. It was like a dream that went on and on.
Suddenly, Alex sat up. It wasn't a dream. He really did hear loons. And they were very close. He peered through the tent opening. His heart was hammering.
"Dad...oh dad," he whispered, barely able to breathe. Through the mist he actually saw two loons and two baby chicks. It wasn't just a fiction story to help a troubled boy sleep. And they were only a short distance away.
Strange melodies began to circle their tiny island. Alex shook his dad awake. "Listen, listen," he said, full of enthusiasm. Soon, father and son lay silently on their stomachs, watching through the tent opening. And they listened.
The family of loons was a beautiful sight. They swam back and forth alongside the shore, as they brushed lovingly against each other. Their cries rose eerily through the dawn. They seemed to know they had an audience, and they let loose with everything within them.
An accolade of further calls was their parting message. Then they were gone, a family swimming into new adventures. Dawn was showing on the horizon. The boy turned and faced his father. "Dad, that was so cool," he said. His tears came rapidly now, but Alex didn't care. "I'm so worried about our family breaking up," he said loudly.
"We can work together like the loons, son. And I promise to have a good talk with mom when we get home. You'll see how much I can change," his father said.
The awesome hug Alex gave his father meant, "I believe you, dad."
(c) Richard L. Provencher
Richard enjoys writing poems; many of which have been published in Print and Online. He and his wife, Esther are also co-authors of stories and a print novel. They are "born again" Christians and very busy in their church, Abundant Life Victory International, in Bible Hill, Nova Scotia.
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