An Honest Discussion

Steve Watkins


A rising wind was blowing stiffly over the calm sea, rattling the window panes of the upstairs living room. The waves below the deck and down across the beach were the peaceful high-tide breakers of a deepening dusk. The wind was blowing in hard. Clouds had built in the distance, covering the sky in a saturated, oily darkness that the sun had yielded to only a short while before. The flashing television was all that lit the room as he sat contemplating the wine in his glass. He hardly watched a frame.


“Dad?”


A blast of cheers from the television broke the word in two as he looked up at his son. The reflection of a man on a track holding his nation’s flag danced across Will’s father’s glasses, hiding his eyes. He was sitting in a stiff chair, alone. Will’s father turned his head back to the celebration, observing the times that the contestants had run, listed on the screen.


“William,” he said.


Will cringed, but moved around from the back of the sofa to have a seat on the cushions. His father looked into his wine and took a loving sip.


“Dad...” More silence. But there was some safety in silence, Will thought, so he went ahead anyway. “Dad, I’m sorry. I know I can’t excuse myself, I know I messed up. I...shouldn’t have done it. Should’ve told you, should’ve...”


“William.” Will’s father still wasn’t looking at him. On the screen, fresh runners were arranging themselves in the set position. The times they had run during the final qualifying heat were listed, presenting the solid bets for gold, silver, and bronze. Will had fallen silent, feeling empty and embarrassed. Father and son contemplated the screen.


“Do you know what my best 400-time was?” his father asked after a time, very softly.


Will looked up, his father’s glasses flashing the beginning of the race, muting the gunshot. He couldn’t remember exactly. “...47 seconds?”


“45.7,” his father said flatly. “Did you know that I raced against athletes in high school who went on to qualify for the Olympics?” He listed off some names at a quick pace, names seemingly branded into his memory. “I beat them all,” he added. The runners in his glasses were over halfway done with their race.


“Yeah, I knew you were an awesome runner. We went and saw your old medals, remember? When we still lived back in the big house, when me and Tim were little.”


“I beat them,” his father said again, more softly this time.


Will and his father watched the end of the race in silence. Just as the statistics had listed before, the runner who’d been expected to take gold, had. Silver and bronze had been flipped, but still the same two sprinters. Crying, heaving, choking, the rest of the field walked slowly off the track. Friends and trainers cloaked them in flags of many colors, but Will’s father knew that the only hue any of them were seeing was a deep and cloudy red. Like his wine.


Will’s father took a sip from his glass.


With the race ended, Will decided to try again. “Anyway, Dad, I’m really sorry... I was just hoping we could-”


“William,” his father sighed, cutting him off. He looked at his son. “Will. Let’s just talk about this later.” The victorious runner, wrapped in his flag, was reflected in those glasses, kissing the sky. The cheers were deafening.


Crestfallen, Will left slowly.


He sat there a long while after Will had retreated down the steps. Suddenly, restlessly, he turned off the television in a quick, jerking motion. He tossed the remote onto the couch. A glowing darkness descended. Standing from his chair and walking out onto the back deck, Will’s father left the sliding door open. The cold Pacific wind caught him full in the face, freezing his scowl.


Beyond the beach crashed the whitecapped sea. Lightning danced across distant waters. Taking another sip of wine, Will’s father watched as thick creeping clouds steadily doused the light of the moon.

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