This story is by Page Craw and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Ricky could hardly remember when he’d stopped smiling at his dad, and he suspected Glenn didn’t even notice. Both father and son were skyscraper tall, but genetics notwithstanding, they had little in common, except for the house they shared with a mediator who fulfilled the dual role of mother/wife. However, her interactions to smooth their differences weren’t often effective, so within the household was the constant pitting of athletic prowess with nerdiness, jock versus scholar.
After basketball practice, Ricky and Jack took the gymnasium steps two at a time arriving at street level.
“Hey, there’s your dad,” Jack said.
“For real? Damn! What’s he doing here?”
Ricky’s gaze surfed the crowd to spot his father’s beckoning gesture. He approached with a frown. “Dad? I told you Jack’s taking me home—we’ve got stuff to do.”
Glenn waved hello to Jack before turning to Ricky. “Not today, son. Buckle up! We’re taking a ride to iron some things out.”
Showing his displeasure, Ricky gave Jack a thumbs-down which his friend acknowledged with a shrug.
Glenn’s red truck pulled away from the curb, heading east from the sunset into the Texas prairie with Ricky riding shotgun.
Ricky reached for the knob to turn on the radio, only to have his dad remove his hand in midair. Ricky’s temper flared—I’ll be happy when I have my license. He won’t hold me captive as he does now. Ricky clenched his jaw and stared straight ahead.
“Let’s get to the bottom of this problem—the problem of your constant need for distractions. The school called today and told your mother you are close to flunking out. Of course, she became distraught. How do you expect to get into college without finishing your junior year?”
“I had a couple of bad test scores, but I’m not failing. They’re just trying to scare me.”
“You should be scared. We’ve been too easy on you—we didn’t follow up on our ultimatums. You’d take us seriously for about a week, and then you’d revert to your old habits.” Glenn looked at Ricky, who turned away to stare out the window as they passed a stand of pinyon pines.
“You know we want only the best for you, but you’re driving us crazy. We’ve considered pulling you from the basketball team until your grades improve.”
Ricky’s head whirled around, and he slammed his hand on the dashboard. “You wouldn’t do that!”
Almost in sync with his outburst, a lightning strike followed by a boom increased the tension within the cab. Rain splatted from grey-purple clouds against the truck’s body.
“But you have to learn responsible work habits—it’s the only way to get ahead.”
“What about luck? You told me you had some lucky breaks in your time.”
“My parents expected more from me because we didn’t have the benefits of wealth, and every member had to pull their own weight. Habits are built over the long run, and I got a break when people saw I was a hard worker.”
They entered a rural area at the town limits. Ricky saw his father’s jaw tighten, as he’d seen it before. He rolled his eyes, tired of another worn-over reference to his father’s challenging youth. Probably not the best time to argue with him, but his strict upbringing has handicapped me. Did he ever have fun? Doesn’t seem right.
Ricky concentrated on the miles of dusty terrain in front of them, needing a good soak. The landscape seemed interminable, just like the monotony of existence he experienced. Everything was the same. Unceasing boredom. The sky darkened while he pondered his condition.
“Kid, your mother and I are tired of the second chances. That’s why we can’t let you persist in going your own way. You don’t show appreciation for your advantages. I didn’t want to start a fight the moment you got in the truck, but you don’t even have your bookbag. How can you study without your books?”
“Okay, guilty as charged. I should have brought my books home, but the subjects aren’t interesting. Stupid, actually.”
“Hubris! Do you know that word?”
“So you don’t know it all?”
“The more you use language, the more words you’ll know. ‘Hubris’ is Greek and means excessive pride. It is better to be ignorant and seek the facts than insistent on them when your limited basis of knowledge doesn’t prove anything. You won’t be accused of hubris if you constantly seek and are humble as you learn.”
Ricky nodded. “I should like learning just for knowing, but I can’t see the value of what they make us study.”
“Not all subjects are fun, but every speck of comprehension will move you forward.”
“Dad, I love basketball, maybe more than anything. I’ll do better, I promise, but you can’t take that away from me.”
Glenn remained silent, his knuckles white from gripping the steering wheel.
It rained harder, and lightning streaked in spider veins across the sky. The thunder reverberated through the floorboards. Ricky looked everywhere, deep in the sobering concern of a life without basketball. When he knows it’s the one thing I love and am good at. Basketball is my world. What promise can I make he’ll believe? Then he comprehended—I’ve brought this on myself. I haven’t followed through on my promises.
Ricky caught sight of something in the rearview mirror. A flash of memory, a telecast. After a second, he said, “Dad, did you hear the weather report today?”
Ricky turned around to look out the rear window. “Stuff is flying everywhere!”
The noise from the wind in the background exceeded the sound of the V-8 engine. Ricky yelled, “Dad! Do you see this?”
“Hold on!” Glenn accelerated, hoping to outdistance what was fast approaching from behind and destroying everything in its path. The darkness deepened, and metal sheets, tree limbs, and everything imaginable whirled in the air. Ricky covered his ears as a scream enveloped the cab, blasting its fury in a roaring howl and a ferocious whine.
Ricky tugged hard at his seat belt. If they survived, he’d never forget the determination on his father’s face. He swiveled his head and was stunned by the destruction around him. What if they didn’t get out of this alive? Visions of his mother weeping and his Irish Setter, gray from age, waiting at the door seized him. He gripped the armrest and uttered a quick prayer from childhood.
Branches and uprooted shrubs attacked the windows and the truck’s body, dinging and smacking the surfaces. How long before the glass cracks? And how much more popping can my ears take?
A blast of air overturned the truck, spinning it in a dizzying circle on the roadbed. The cab slid across the road, with both the occupants angled within and Ricky’s head jammed against his father’s side. Ricky tried not to bite his tongue from the abruptness of the truck’s movements. The spinning seemed to increase. How much longer can this continue?
Just as Ricky thought he might pass out, another blast lifted the truck, miraculously landing it on all four wheels. Glenn’s hands never left their grip on the steering wheel as if someone had glued them. Both passengers reverted to their upright positions, and Ricky’s shout of “Holy shit!” exceeded the volume of the storm’s gale.
Glenn punched the accelerator, and the truck surged down the road, heading in the right direction for home.
When enough time passed for Glenn to catch his breath, he sa.id, “What are the odds? After this, to be on the road again is evidence for another chance being offered us. My job is to keep my family safe and happy. I won’t deny the obvious; we’ve been blessed, Ricky.”
Ricky remained quiet as they retraced their route, mile after mile, stunned by the destruction they passed. When Glenn stopped multiple times, Ricky jumped out to move the blockage from the road. Even so, he didn’t say a word.
“Are you okay, son?” Glenn reached over and patted Ricky’s knee.
Ricky looked at his father directly, a slight grin tugging at his mouth. Then, he took a deep breath. “Is it too late to start over, Dad? I’ve only been interested in what suited me, and I didn’t care about your and Mom’s concerns. I thought I had forever to work out my future—but we almost met the end, and I could only think, for real? I want to make it right, and for the first time, I realize time isn’t a given. It’s a gift.”
Glenn smiled. “I think we have enough time to fix what’s broken—maybe starting with the truck!”