This Could Blow Over.

A short story about fathers and shame.

When you have a kid, don’t look at it for the first two years.” Ernest Hemingway

Two men were standing by the schoolyard fence, waiting for the police to arrive. One was the principal, a tall, pock-marked man named Macey. The other was a stalky man named Eckert.

Ten minutes earlier, Macey had dragged Eckert off a thirteen-year-old boy during the children’s soccer game. Eckert’s own son was sitting on the ground by the goal posts. He wouldn’t look at his father. “Can I at least go talk to Graham?” Eckert was asking Macey.

“You can talk to him later,” Macey said, clapping his hands, telling the boys to line up single file. “Go straight to your classrooms,” he said, opening the door, pushing the metal stop down with his foot. The boys filed down the hall, going to their respective classrooms, then rushing to the windows when the police car arrived. Macey and Eckert could see them crowded around in there.

That morning, Eckert had stopped by to see the boys play soccer. He was worried about Graham. He’d noticed bruises and abrasions on his son’s arms and legs. “Look, lad,” he’d said, “if someone’s playing rough, let me know.”

But then Duncan would come blundering in, driving his elbows into Graham’s back.

Graham finally admitted it was Duncan, a good-sized boy, red hair, freckles. Eckert had no problem picking Duncan out on the soccer field. Each time a boy got the ball, Duncan would lay into him from behind. When Graham got the ball, same thing. Only Graham wasn’t as slow-moving as the other boys. As Eckert could see, Graham was doing a good job trapping the ball and following with cutbacks. But then Duncan would come blundering in, driving his elbows into Graham’s back.

Eckert finally went over and stopped the game.

Duncan was wiping his nose with his sleeve.

“You’re going to hurt somebody, lad,” Eckert said to Duncan.

“Who are you?” Duncan said.

“I’m Graham’s father,” Eckert said.

Graham stood away from the other boys.

“Why can’t you play by the rules?” Eckert asked Duncan.

Duncan didn’t answer. He went to pick up the ball. Eckert put his foot on it.

“Give it,” Duncan said.

“I asked you a question,” Eckert said.

“It’s not your ball,” Duncan said. “Give it.”

Eckert took his foot off the ball and stepped back. “There it is,” he said. “Take it.” Duncan went for the ball, Eckert quickly toed it back. “You’ll have to be faster than that,” Eckert said.

Duncan tried once more, but Eckert was faster. The boys started laughing at Duncan. Then they started shoving him. “Go on, Duncan,” they yelled. “Don’t be a chicken.”

“He’s not even supposed to be here,” Duncan said, wiping his nose again.

The boys kept yelling at Duncan.

“You’re a chickenshit, Duncan,” they yelled.

“Shut up!” Duncan yelled back.

“Come on,” Eckert said, kicking the ball to Duncan. “Yours to win, lad.”

“You’re a chickenshit, Duncan,” the boys yelled.

Eckert stepped back, giving Duncan lots of room. Duncan moved forward with the ball, trying to cut past Eckert on the left. Eckert stepped in, blocked the ball, then ducked around. The boys shouted at Duncan to get the ball. He just stood with his hand on his hip.

“He’s cheating,” Duncan said.

“You’re a chickenshit, Duncan,” the boys yelled.

Eckert kicked the ball to Duncan, then ran backwards as Duncan approached. Just before Duncan got near the goalposts, Eckert suddenly started running at Duncan, hooking the ball, then running down the field. The boys cheered as Eckert kicked the ball through the goalposts.

“That’s one,” Eckert said, retrieving the ball and throwing it down the field to Duncan. Eckert put his hands on his knees. He was already winded.

As Duncan came down the field again, Eckert cut off the angle, catching Duncan on the pass. He turned and side-stepped Duncan, making a quick reverse. He had the ball, but Duncan was coming up from behind, trying to drive his elbows into Eckert’s back. Eckert ducked at the last second. They both went down, legs entangled. Eckert’s foot was under Duncan. He tried getting up, but Duncan was flailing away. The boys were yelling and screaming. Then Eckert felt someone grab his shirt. Looking up, he saw it was Macey.

“That’s enough,” Macey said.

He pulled Eckert to his feet, then reached for Duncan.

“He was cheating,” Duncan said.

He turned to Eckert. “As for you,” he said, “What are you doing here exactly?”

“Go wait in my office,” Macey said to him.

“I didn’t do anything.”

“In my office, now,” Macey said. He turned to Eckert. “As for you,” he said, “What are you doing here exactly?”

“I’m Graham’s father,” Eckert said. “I just came over to see him play.”

“You were doing a sight more than that,” Macey said.

Duncan was still standing there.

“I told you to go wait in my office,” Macey said. “Do as you’re told.”

Duncan went towards the doors. He shoved one of the boys as he went past. Then he shoved another boy. Macey took Eckert over to the school fence.

“I didn’t assault him,” Eckert said.

“It sure looked like it.”

“I was just checking on my son. He’s been coming home with bruises.”

“You’re supposed to leave this sort of thing to me.”

“That’s what I came here to do.”

“Well, you obviously didn’t, Mr. Eckert. Now I have to report this to the police. My secretary’s making the call now.

Ten minutes later, a police car pulled into the school parking lot. Two officers got out. They met Macey and Eckert at the entrance and went inside to the office. Duncan was sitting on a chair by the secretary’s desk. As they went past, Eckert looked back at Duncan. The boy stuck out his tongue.

At home later, Eckert talking to his wife, Tess. They were sitting at the kitchen table. The police were coming over after talking to Duncan’s parents. Eckert wanted Tess to know everything before they arrived. “I wasn’t looking for any trouble,” he kept telling her. “I just wanted Duncan to play fair, that’s all. Shouldn’t a father have the right to expect that?”

“I don’t know,” he said, rubbing his face. “I don’t know anything at this point. Honestly, Tess, I just wanted a word with the lad, that’s all.”

“What did the police say?” Tess asked.

“They said they’d have to talk to Duncan’s parents first.”

“Will they press charges?”

“I don’t know,” he said, rubbing his face. “I don’t know anything at this point. Honestly, Tess, I just wanted a word with the lad, that’s all.”

Tess kept folding and unfolding a dishcloth.

“This on top of everything else,” she said.

Eckert got up from the table. “I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said, going outside to wait for the police. He kept remembering something Macey told him earlier. “I’ve had a few meetings with Duncan’s father,” Macey had said. “Not terribly pleasant, believe me. You’ll have to watch yourself with MacTavish. He likes to get his own way.”

Duncan’s father was a shop steward and high up at Local 86. It was Eckert’s union as well. Everyone knew MacTavish was a blowhard and a bully when the situation demanded it. As Macey said, he wouldn’t take kindly to his son being assaulted. “Accident or not,” Macey said. He had a point. What if the roles were reversed? Eckert thought. What would he do? What would any father do? It didn’t bear thinking about.

A cruiser was coming down the street. It stopped by the curb and an officer got out. He was heavyset, brush cut, short-sleeved uniform shirt. One of his arms had a naval tattoo. He wasn’t one of the officers at the school earlier.

“Evening,” he said. “You Mr. Eckert?”

“Yes.”

“My name’s Hoyle. Can we talk inside?”

“Sure,” Eckert said. “My wife’s making coffee.”

They came in the kitchen, Tess poured the coffee, Hoyle sat down and put his notepad on the table. Eckert kept looking at the naval tattoo. He’d been in the Merchant Marine. His own tattoo was covered by his shirt sleeve.

“Did you talk to Duncan’s parents?” Eckert asked.

“Just the mother,” Hoyle said. “She said she’d have a word with her husband when he got home. I’m basically doing the follow-up here.”

“When will you know?” Eckert said.

“Hard to say,” Hoyle said. “MacTavish spends a lot of time at The Legion.”

“We’re the same union,” Eckert said. “Same legion, too, actually.”

“You know him?”

“Not personally,” Eckert said. “We’ve only been here six months.”

“Graham,” Eckert said. “Come here, please.” He introduced Graham to Hoyle “Show him your arms and legs, lad.”

The back door opened. There were footsteps on the stairs.

“Graham,” Eckert said. “Come here, please.” He introduced Graham to Hoyle “Show him your arms and legs, lad.”

“They’re okay,” Graham said.

“Let him be the judge of that.”

Graham rolled up his sleeves. Hoyle turned Graham’s arms over, looked at both sides, then the legs. “Not much I can do,” Hoyle said. “Soccer’s a contact sport. Duncan probably has bruises, too.”

“Not like this, surely.”

“Take some photos, if you like,” Hoyle said. “Can’t hurt.”

Hoyle closed his notepad and stood up. “I think I’ve got everything I need. I’ll call when I hear something.”

Eckert walked him out of the house.

“Would it help if I apologized to MacTavish?” Eckert said.

“Let’s see what happens first,” Hoyle said. “This might blow over.”

The Legion Hall was over on Kyle Street. Going inside, Eckert found a group of men watching sports on the television. He asked the bartender if MacTavish was around. The bartender motioned to a table in the far corner.

“Ian,” he called over. “Gentleman to see you.”

MacTavish looked up. He was gray-haired, red faced, a cigarette hanging from his lips. He gave Eckert an amused look. “And you are?” he asked.

“Eckert.”

MacTavish turned a page on his newspaper. “Had a scuffle with our Duncan, I hear,” he said. “My wife called me earlier. Bit old for fighting, aren’t you, Eckert?” He squinted through the cigarette smoke. “Wife’s for bringing charges, you know. Not my way. Better to settle things ourselves, don’t you think? Sit down. Where you from?”

“Sheffield. Dronfield, actually.”

“Hear this?” MacTavish said to the other men. “Sheffield. They know how to kick a ball around. Not quite up to our standards, but not bad. Get us a drink, Eckert. Allan knows what I want.”

Eckert got the drinks.

“When did you come over?” MacTavish said, closing the newspaper.

“Six months now.”

“Haven’t seen you around.”

“We’re still getting settled.”

“How are you handling the layoff?”

Two weeks ago, two of the lines at the plant had been shut down. Eckert had been put on temporary leave along with thirty other men. All you could do was wait for things to improve. You couldn’t go looking for other work.

“Scraping by,” Eckert said to MacTavish

“Shouldn’t have to, in my opinion. That’s what unions are for, wouldn’t you agree? You’ll be back soon. So what do we do about this Duncan business?”

“I wanted to apologize.”

“Apologize?” he squinted. “Don’t hear that very often. Not where Duncan’s concerned. Too big to spank, too young to throw out. Sounds like you found another way. Cheers,” he said, raising his glass. “Wish I’d thought of it myself.”

“Duncan claims you were cheating. Told his mother that.”

“I just wanted him to play fair.”

“That’s what you call it?”

“We fell.”

“Duncan claims you were cheating. Told his mother that.”

“I wasn’t cheating.”

“Have to be careful with kids these days, Eckert,” MacTavish smiled. “One wrong move and you’re a child molester. Don’t want that, do we?”

Eckert stood stand up.

“Relax, Eckert,” MacTavish said. “Your apology is accepted. I’ll talk to my wife tonight. That’s if you promise not to go beating up our Duncan again.”

“I didn’t beat up your son.”

“I believe you,” MacTavish said, raising his drink. “Some wouldn’t, though. People tend to have their own ideas. Especially where boys are concerned.”

Eckert clenched his fists.

“Settle down, Eckert. We’re just two father’s talking. Let’s have another.”

“I have to get home.”

“Suit yourself,” MacTavish shrugged. “Tell your missus you’ve apologized. No point getting the women upset.”

He winked, put out his cigarette, then lit another one.

“Off you go then. Stay away from schoolyards from now on. Can’t keep turning a blind eye to this sort of thing, can we? Makes us look bad.”

Eckert left The Legion Hall. A few men were coming inside. One man held the door. “Going in or coming out?” he asked Eckert. Eckert walked past him.

They were eating dinner, the three of them. Graham asked to be excused. “Go on then,” Eckert said. He put down his knife and fork and rubbed his face. The doorbell rang. “What now?” Eckert said, getting up. Tess started gathering up the dishes. “I’ll do those,” he said. “Let me see who it is first.”

Eckert went and opened the front door. A man was standing there with his windbreaker zipped up to the neck. He was the same one holding the door for Eckert earlier at The Legion.

“Evening,” the man said.

“Evening,” Eckert replied.

“We sort of met this afternoon,” the man said. “Name’s Kelly. My boy’s at school with your son. He says he’s been over here a few times. That’s how I got your address.”

“What’s your son’s name?”

“Malcolm.”

“He’s been over. Nice kid.”

“Thought I should drop by. We had a similar experience with Duncan last year.”

Kelly put his hands in his windbreaker. He looked down at his Hush Puppies.

“Thought I should drop by and explain a few things—that’s if you’re interested. We had a similar experience with Duncan last year.”

“What did you do?”

“Talked to MacTavish. Couldn’t push it too far.”

“I know what you mean.”

“So what’s the story? Is he going to press charges?”

“He says he won’t.”

“MacTavish usually keeps his word,” Kelly said. “He doesn’t mind letting you sweat a bit, though. Anyway, I thought I’d mention it. Come by the hall Thursday. MacTavish usually has meetings then. I’ll introduce you around. They’re a good bunch outside of him.”

“Thanks,” Eckert said.

Coming upstairs later, Eckert heard Tess talking to Graham in his room. They went quiet as he passed by. He used the washroom, brushed his teeth, got into bed. Tess came in and undressed. Eckert looked at the clock. He watched the luminous numbers flipping as Tess got in next to him.

“He says he doesn’t want to be ashamed of you.”

“Is he okay?” he asked.

“No,” she said softly.

“Everything will get back to normal.”

“He says he doesn’t want to be ashamed of you.”

“I know,” Eckert said.

“I thought we were starting over,” she said.

“Once I get back to work, all of this will mend itself.”

Tess didn’t say anything.

He rolled over. It was just after ten. The numbers on the clock kept flipping. He knew he wouldn’t sleep. Could anything be worse than a son’s shame? Not in a million years, he thought. He wondered if he’d ever feel useful again. Right now, he wasn’t sure. He kept looking at the clock, each number flipping, a tiny click. At the top of the hour, he still couldn’t sleep.

Robert Cormack is a satirist, novelist, and blogger. His first novel “You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)” is available online and at most major bookstores. Check out Skyhorse Press or Simon and Schuster for more details.

I did a poor imitation of Don Draper for 40 years before writing my first novel. I'm currently in the final stages of a children's book. Lucky me.

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