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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Era (02/03/11)

TITLE: Straw Men
By Michael Throne
02/10/11


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I walk up with my ball and glove.

“Desmond, would you like to play catch?”

He glances up from his game. “No, thanks.”

I stand wondering if there’s something else I can say. Desmond, my grandson, is only twelve and he’s already almost obese.

“Maybe I can play with you later, Dad.” My son, Randy, is a good man. “After I get home from work.” He means well.

“That would be great.”

Some of my best memories are of playing baseball with my friends, then, later, teaching my son to do the same.

I look at Desmond and wonder what to do.


Randy’s late coming home; it seems he’s always working nowadays.

“Got to work to pay the bills,” he says, and he’s right.

“It’s hard to keep up.”

In truth, though, our own house wasn’t as big; our cars as nice.

It was a different time, somehow.

Desmond shows me how to play a game on the Wii while we wait.


Denise, Randy’s lady-friend, comes over after dinner. “Sorry I’m late. I had to drop the kids off with my ex.”

“No problem,” Randy says. “You remember my dad?”

“Sure. It’s good to see you.”

“You, too.”

“Denise just got a promotion. She’s our new Sales Manager.”

“Congratulations,” I say.

“Thank you. Your wife Helen worked outside the home, didn’t she?”

“Yes, when the kids got older.” I wish I’d thought to thank my wife more often for the sacrifices she’d made when they were young.

“What a luxury, being able to stay home with your kids.”

“No,” I say, perhaps unkindly. “It’s a choice.” I pause, debating whether to continue. “Everything in life’s a choice.”

“Not everything,” Randy says, correcting me.

“I do have to pay the rent,” laughs Denise.

“Maybe so,” I reply, backpedaling. “But most things are.”


Saturday morning, we do yard work. Randy pulls weeds while I trim the hedges.

“Do you see much of Marge and the girls?”

“Not a lot, now that she’s remarried.”

“You must miss them, the girls I mean.”

“Sure,” he shrugs. “But better this than constantly shuffling them back and forth.”

“I suppose so.” I glance at Desmond through the window. He’s watching cartoons. “Do you think Desmond’s handling it alright?”

“Desmond’s fine.”

“Good.” I wonder if he has any friends.

“I’m taking the girls out for lunch tomorrow after church,” I say. “Would you like to join us?”

“We’d love to.”


At dinner I ask, “What time’s church tomorrow?”

“I don’t know, Dad,” replies Randy. “We don’t go much anymore.”

“I’m not really a ‘church’ person,” offers Denise.

“But…but how is Desmond going to learn values?” I’m shocked and it shows. “How will he learn about God?”

Denise glances up.

“I’m teaching him,” Randy says sharply.

“Of course. Of course you are.” I take a sip of water.

“Times have changed,” Denise offers gently. “I’m sure it must be hard to adjust.”

No, times haven’t changed so much. There were divorces in my era. There were people who didn’t go to church. It wasn’t the norm, but it happened.

“Church was fine for you and mom,” Randy says. “That was your choice. Desmond will make his own choices when he gets older.”

I look at my son in wonder. When did he become a reed in the wind?

“Desmond will be fine,” Randy says, taking a bite of potatoes.

I glance at Desmond, wanting to respond. But I’ve already said enough for one meal, perhaps for one visit. I bite my tongue.


We weren’t perfect, folks from my era. We had our faults.

But what we did mattered, and we knew it.


Sunday afternoon, Denise leaves to pick up her kids while Randy and I take Desmond and the girls out for lunch. It feels like old times, almost.

Afterward, Randy finds his old mitt and ball.

“Play some catch, Dad?”

“Sure.” I’d never pass up the opportunity to play catch with my son. “Would Desmond like to join us?”

Randy glances toward his room. “Nah, Desmond doesn’t play much outdoors.”

We throw the ball back and forth, back and forth. I try to stay positive.

“Desmond’s a fine boy,” I say, and I mean it.

“Thanks,” Randy says, tossing me the ball.

“Do you think he’s happy?” I ask.

“I don’t know.” Randy shrugs.

“I hope so,” he says.

I gaze at the big, beautiful house, uncertain. Desmond’s sitting, watching us through the window.

“Me, too,” I say, tossing the ball to his dad. “Me, too.”


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This article has been read 434 times
Member Comments
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Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 02/13/11
Oh this story pulls at my heart. I want to wrap my arms around Desmond and reassure him. Fantastic writing!
Laury Hubrich 02/15/11
So sad. I feel for Desmond. Great title.
Jim McWhinnie 02/15/11
Extended dialog is a challenge for any writer. You wrote capably.

Writing in present tense, I find to be also difficult to pull off. You did.
Henry Clemmons02/17/11
Wow. I loved this story. Great job. It was so, so smooth, but deep. I enjoyed it. Congrats on EC. Well deserved
Margaret Kearley 02/18/11
Have only just read this - it's amazing! It broke my heart though with its sadness and the realisation that this is how it often is. Really well written and well deserving of being placed.
Abigail G02/18/11
I really feel for the MC who is struggling with the choices his son has made. Poignant...contrasting the MC's era of traditional values to modern-day, "loose" society. Nice work.