Choosing a Path (Flash Fiction)

Not wanting his son to feel judged or looked down upon, Bob let out a long and careful sigh while he pondered the decision.

Brian watched his father. “Well?” he asked.

“You’re sure?” Bob asked. Brian’s face steeled to hide a small layer of shame that tried to show. Bob knew the look well. It was one that was worn whenever a baseball broke a window or his ’72 Impala had been borrowed without permission. A sour smile came over him as he realized how far things had already gone. “You already signed.”

Brian nodded. The childish look faded then. The eyes staring back were suddenly those of a young man beginning down his own path.

Bob rubbed at the gray stubble on his face. He stood, the chair sending a squeak from the kitchen floor, and headed for the fridge. He pulled out two beers and opened them both, handing one to his son. His son hesitated, and it made Bob smile. “Just drink the fuckin’ thing. Come on. You think I don’t know you’ve had beer before? Who cares if you’re not twenty-one.”

Brian took a slow sip. “Do you respect it?” he asked. Again the looked changed, no longer a boy seeking approval but a young man seeking to be understood, and Bob was surprised at the sudden evolution.

“I respect that you’re making such a serious decision on your own,” Bob said.

“But you don’t respect the decision.”

Bob took a long swallow and allowed the words to percolate in his mind. “I don’t respect US foreign policy. I don’t respect how eagerly this government sends off young men to die.” He paused, expecting his son to interject, but no words came. Bob slowly rotated his beer bottle on the kitchen table. “The military isn’t what it used be, Bri. Not by a long shot. Not to say that soldiers aren’t loved and respected around here, thankfully they are, but you’re not serving your country when you sign up for this outfit. The people of the US don’t want these wars, bankers do. Politicians do. They want you to go out there, live or die —it doesn’t matter, to maintain a geopolitical environment that sustains their power.”

Brian took another drink, a long drink. The chance for another interjection came and passed, so Bob waited. The room filled with horrible silence, broken by the occasional rotating beer bottle.

“I don’t believe you,” Brian finally said. “I don’t believe that the things our military does only serve a negative purpose. I think we can still help people, we do still help people. I want to be part of that. I want to stand for something good like Grandpa did.”

Bob nodded, knowing the feeling all too well. He shrugged and raised his beer. Brian obliged him, and the bottles clinked together. “That’s something I can respect,” Bob said.

Outside, they heard a car door close. The childish look flooded Brian’s eyes. “Mom,” he said.

Bob leaned back in his chair and took another drink.

“What do I say?” Brian asked.

Footsteps came up the stairs. Bob could hear plastic bags being ruffled, and he stood to help with the door. He laughed a little. “I don’t know, but you may want to grab a set of earplugs. War is hell, son. And by God, when you tell this woman that you joined the Army, that’s exactly what she’s going to give you.”

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