Friday Flash: Father and Son

The old man’s watching me soon as I step through the ‘lock and start shucking my suit. Which isn’t so weird, I guess, but usually he’s got more to say by the time I get in. Poor old bugger; sat in the module all day wired up to his jury-rigged surplus life-support, he’s usually hungry for some jaw of an evening.

“Hey, dad,” I says.

“Hey, boy. Tough day?”

That’s usually my line. So I reply with what’s usually his. “Tough like the ribbon, dad.”

He smiles for a second, then looks kind of thoughtful again. Maybe he got a bad batch of meds this week. Sometimes they make him dopey. It must suck for him — he used to be a real active guy, one of the first cargo handlers up here. Used to be a legend. Still is, to some of us. I push for the culinary unit to fix myself some scoff; my work’s not done for today.

“So,” he says, “what you doing tonight, boy?”

I keep busy with the culinary, my back turned to him. “Same old thing, I guess. Swing over to the Sidereal, have a drink with the guys, check out the girls. What about you?”

“Same old,” he says. “Finish this damn section of my degree, watch some old movies.”

The one thing you could say for the old man’s condition, it gave him a chance to do the one thing he’d always regretted not doing — getting the degree that had kept him from being more than a docker … that had kept him from earning enough to make sure he didn’t end up that damned hospital chair like a man twice his age from down the well.

“Don’t do it, son,” he says suddenly. “Don’t go.”

“How come, dad? I’m always going to the Sidereal on a fifth-day. Thought you liked the peace. Want me to keep you company, is it?”

“Not what I mean, son. Go to the Sidereal, fine. Just don’t go where you’re planning to go.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” I bluff.

“You do,” he says. “No good’ll come of it. Seriously.”

“Dad, I’m just-”

“Listen, son, just because I’m stuck in this chair all day doesn’t mean I’m out of the loop. A lot of the other old guys and me, we keep in touch. We know what you’re planning. Hell, we even understand why you’re doing it. But it’s a mistake. Don’t do it. Don’t attack the cargo station.”

Should’ve guessed he’d catch wind of it somehow. He’s a smart old bugger.

“Don’t you get it, dad?” I ask. “We’re doing it for you, and for the others like you! And for ourselves, and for them that comes after us. We’re doing it so no one has to end up stretched, ever again.”

“What do you think it’ll achieve?” he replies. “That they’ll just cave in when strikes and propaganda have failed to move them? You think they’re not willing to kill you for trying to take over that station? It’s corporate property, son. They can do what they like.”

I look at him, all hunched over, trailing wires; a seven foot tall man you could pick up and thrown across the room like a bundle of twigs, even at the bottom of the well. Fed a cheap diet by the ribbon company, housed in cheap dorms with thin shielding; worked like a dog for thirty years, and now hardly able to move on his own, at an age when Earthers were just settling in to the long afternoons of their lives.

“How can you just accept it, dad? After what they did to you?”

He gives me the same old spiel: how they’d not done anything, and how the choice had been his; that neglect of care was different to deliberate damage; that there was no work down-ribbon when he’d joined up. How there’d been no choice but the one choice. He strokes the battered old textbook he’d got from the UpTown library — he still has a real thing for real things — and looks at me straight.

“It’s economics, son. It doesn’t care for wrong or right. It just works. You attack the docking station, you’ll make things worse, not better. Not just for you, not just for me and your mates and all us dockers, but for everyone on the UpSide.”

“So, what, you’re going to grass on us, is that it?” I says.

He deflates again, crumpling into the chair. “No, son. Never that. I don’t love the corporation any more than you do. But I’m old enough to see that they’re necessary. Without them we’re nothing.”

“We’re already nothing!” I shouts. “They keep us as nothing — and they break us so well that when we’re useless to them we’re not even willing to protest at having been broken.” I push back to the ‘lock, start pulling on my suit.

“Don’t go, son. Please. Don’t do this.”

“I’m sorry, dad, but I got to.” I turn away from him and step into the ‘lock, hoping he didn’t see the tears.

[tags]Friday, flash, short, story, fiction[/tags]

7 thoughts on “Friday Flash: Father and Son”

  1. Interesting. This reads like the opening section of something much longer – there’s a whole heap of backstory in there just begging to be expanded upon. The style is interesting, too. It reminds me of Jack Vance’s “Emphyrio” and John Kessel’s “Stories for Men”.

  2. Curious – I’ve managed to steal the style of three pieces of work I’ve never read! *g*

    More seriously, I do have this problem with flash – in that I struggle to make the story self contained. I can’t seem to think about stories except as fragments of a larger narrative. Whether that’s a limitation or not remains to be seen, I guess.

  3. I think this works as a self-contained piece, myself, as the basic thematic and plot matter is familiar enough that it can be slotted into a recognised and understood narrative. The focus, rather than being on the corporation, the location, or the act which they discuss, is on this small and pathetic (as in pathos, rather than the more common everyday usage) clash of approaches. The fieriness of youth and the weariness of age. It’s a really nice sketch of a moment where these two perspectives meet, tempered by the emotional investment of a father-son bond. There are some really nice turns of phrase, too, especially “a real thing for real things”.

  4. Thanks, Shaun – I nearly axed the “real things” bit (y’know, kill your darlings, and all that), but I decided I’d let it run in the end. Glad I did now! 🙂

  5. Yes, well done. The dialogue gives us the backstory. And the significant event is going to happen after the story is over; but’s it’s the tears at the end that add the subtle, unexpected twist.

  6. Yes, it does work as a self-contained piece, for the reasons several people have pointed out (backstory and future story; complete plot arc in the subject-matter under focus). But this doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be interesting to see a longer piece develop some of these themes, some day.

    Good stuff.

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