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The Almost Last Straw

Today's Prompt:

The dusty country road stretches out to the horizon where it meets the setting crimson sun. The only sounds are the humming of the diesel engine and the crackle of gravel being crushed beneath the tires of the pickup truck. The two men otherwise sit in silence. The driver is a heavy set man with a bushy beard obscuring a square jawline. He breaths heavily through his nose as he tightly grips the steering wheel with his large, powerful hands. A younger man sits in the passenger seat. He's pale and scrawny and he holds his legs tightly together as he sits, facing away from the driver. His eyes are unfocused and his gaze is brimming with an overwhelming sadness.

“There's a shirt under your seat,” the older man monotones in a deep, ragged voice. “Put in on.”

The younger man flops down to reach under his seat. He pulls out a red flannel shirt and puts it on over his tank top. He rolls the sleeves down his arms, covering up the track marks on his forearm. He tries to button his shirt but he struggles with his shaky fingers. The older man glances over and sees he's not able to button even one. He grips the steering wheel harder and his heavy breathing grows louder as he clenches his jaw. The young man stops trying and hangs his head.

“Does mom know?” The young boy whimpers. The mere mention of his mother is enough to get his voice wavering and for tears to pool in the corner of his eyes. The boy's father doesn't answer straight away. He relaxes, steadies his breathing, loosens his grip on the wheel.

“No,” he finally says simply. His son nods as tears silently stream down his face. He's picturing tomorrow morning. He's picturing letting her down again. The two men continue to sit in silence for another twenty minutes.

They arrive at a fork in the road and the older man takes a left. The younger man frowns in puzzlement. After a few minutes the gravel trail turns into an asphalt road and the crackle of the gravel is replaced by the rumble of tires going over hundreds of tiny cracks and potholes. The sun has almost finished setting and the vibrant red light that spilled over the road and the surrounding wheat fields is being encroached upon by a violet crepuscular shade.

“Where –”, the boy begins.

“I'm taking you to a hotel. I'm not letting your mother see you like this again.” The older man continues to speak in a flat monotone and this now frightens his son. He had seen his father angry before. He had seen it many, many times. But this was something else. And at the same time, it wasn't.

“How long –”

“There's $5000 in the glovebox. I'll pay the hotel for four nights. Then you're on your own. Never come home again.”

“Wait –“

“This isn't a discussion.”

“You can't do this.”

“I'm doing it.”

“Wait, just – Stop the truck.”

The older man ignores his son.

“Please, stop.”

He doesn't take his eyes off the road.

“Dad.”

On that word the older man slams on the brakes and grabs his son by the collar. He pulls his son's face towards his with his powerful hand. The young man is petrified. He's been beaten by these hands enough to know what they're capable of. He'd gotten used to flinching whenever his father abruptly moved them in his vicinity. From this distance he can feel the heat of his father's fury. He can see his father's desire to harm him in his eyes.

The older man can see how terrified his son is. He's stiff as a board and what little colour was left in his face has completely disappeared. He's reverted to a scared and helpless little boy. He's perfectly pathetic. The older man knows if he leaves him to fend for himself he'll be dead within a month.

He forcefully shoves his son into the passenger door. He bellows an inhuman cry and violently punches the steering wheel. The car horn seems to squeal in pain with every impact. He foams at the mouth as grabs hold of either side of the steering and pulls it as hard as he can, as if he were trying to wrench it off. His son looks on in wide-eyed terror. After a final climactic roar, the old man slumps back in his seat. He sits there, head hung low, like a defeated general.

Then, slowly, he places one of his hands onto the steering wheel. He gently presses down on the accelerator and makes a U-turn. The truck reluctantly accelerates and eventually they are speeding down the asphalt road.

The young man takes a breath to say something –

“Don't you say a fucking word,” the old man growls before his son can get a word out. The young man heeds his words and keeps whatever thought he had to himself.

The sun's final glimmers of light had now completely disappeared. The world would be cast in darkness until its inevitable rise the following day.

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