Tonight, the father sat atop a pile of sandbags, and tipped a coconut half to drink from it watery milk. He put the shell down, and with his hand shielding the sun’s glare, he again took up his watch. Through gray mornings, through sun-baked days that slipped into silver twilights, he sat; he watched. Waiting yet when the first stars of night hung onto twilight.
‘And so,’ he thought. ‘Another day without my son.’
The father’s face was etched with the furrows of the many years of which his eyes had given over their color. His face reflected his sad longings, both for his son, and for the hut that he and his boy left behind when they were herded up and drug to this refugee camp called a hamlet, by these round-eyes from across the sea. Mixed up in his thoughts were his forsaken hut and his lost son. One intertwined with the other, and they both wrestled with his creature struggle for survival; his time on earth too lonely and sad to go on, versus an indomitable ure to live.
On the days when despair blackened his thoughts, the father told himself that his hut had long been overtaken by the rapacious growth of the mountain jungles. ‘Yes, and there will be a sapper behind every tree and My-My (American) bombs overhead. My son is lost and so I have no one to go back with me.’
But on the days when his need to live emerged strong, the father’s heart filled with longings that took him back to the abandoned hut. He loved most the hut’s mossy roof studded with wildflowers. When he thought of it, involuntarily, his hands wavered in the air. In his thoughts, his hands were running across the velvety moss of the hut’s roof. On those bright days of wildflowers and his son’s spontaneous laughter clear and true in his mind, the father took despair and processed it into faith. He saw his hut just as it was when he and his boy left it…on a beaten path, and protected by the long shadows of the Sip San Mountain. And the most happy moment in his dreams? Inside the hut, under the roof of moss was his son, no longer lost as he was on the days of his father’s despair; those agonizing days when his father saw quite clearly that he was gone.
But hope and despair were weak compared to the father’s overwhelming emotion…to sit on the riverbank and wait. Wait with his gaze stretched out across the horizon and down the river to time.
Gently, did he call to the boys at the river’s edge: he saw them beating schools of tiny fish into hand-held, bamboo nets, “Have you seen my boy?”
They called back, “In a dugout canoe round a ben of the river.”
“Many days ago.”
‘Yes, that could be my son,’ thought the father but he couldn’t be certain.
Yesterday, a fisherman on a sampan that floated by told the father he had seen a young man being captured by Kurilian pirates, and taken downstream to work the rubber plantations recently overtaken by the Viet Cong.
So many false sightings, so many conflicting stories; the father grew more confused every day. But his fierce, inexplicable, infinite patience kept him on the riverbank.
He was still there at dusk when the fishing boys headed for their village. On the riverbank searching and waiting when drifts of monsoon clouds dusted the moon. And while he was waiting, the father fell asleep to dream into the night. In his dreams, the river churned into a spunky water child that skipped over rocks. It swirled with foamy shoals of fish, then deepened into currents too wild for him to overcome.
Wakened by his own sobbing, the father knew before he could bring himself to say it, either silently or aloud; yes, his son was gone.
Bio: Susan Dale writes regularly for print magazines WestWard Quarterly, Pegasus and Hudson Review. Online she has poems and fiction on Eastown Fiction, Tryst 3, Word Salad, Pens On Fire and Pittsburgh Flash Fiction Gazette to name a few. In 2007, she won the grand prize for poetry from Oneswan.
- Notes From The Flash Fiction Underground (pittsburghflashfictiongazette.com)
- Fiction: Number One Son by Guy Hogan (pittsburghflashfictiongazette.com)