This is for a show and tell piece for a writing course provided by Brian Henry. The assignment was to find something from home and write a short story about it that we would then read to the class to be critiqued. The toy belongs to my son – everything else is complete fiction. Enjoy.
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He raised the toy motorcycle up, bringing it to within six inches of his nose to inspect the fine details. It still fascinated him and he could sit with it for long stretches of time. Except for the Suzuki® logo on the tank and the badging on the fairing, it was completely black. It’s rubber tires spun, it’s handlebars and forks rotated and it included a spring mechanism that simulated the rear shock. The mirrors and kickstand had gone missing but it remained otherwise pristine. Not that he had ever played with it; it was meant for looking at only.
It had been a gift on his eighteenth birthday and had come wrapped in a small box with shiny green paper and a golden ribbon. His friends and family had been seated around the long table at the restaurant where they had always gathered for special occasions. He could still remember pulling back the paper and discovering it in the box, peeking through the form-fitted clear plastic.
He had been puzzled, unclear about receiving a toy from his father for this milestone birthday. Was his father mocking him? He had raised it for all to see and met his father’s scrutiny with a practiced smile and the requisite words of thanks. A hazy image of the faces around the table remained in his mind, all etched with expressions that mirrored his own bewilderment. Why would a young man who could now vote, buy his own cigarettes and shoot people on behalf of his country, receive this toy? It was the face of his uncle that had remained most clear to him. There was recognition mingled with fear and pleading.
His father had then stood and motioned for the group to follow him out of the restaurant. The real gift was parked on the patio, which his father had paid to have vacated for the event. It was the toy, writ large, dark and sleek with lines that spoke of speed and maneuverability. It terrified him.
He circled the bike, taking it in, as his father looked on. A helmet perched on a mirror and a leather jacket, complete with a wide assortment of buttons and zippers, was draped over the seat. The friends and family gathered around him were a blur in his memory, undefined background filler on a canvas. Not so his father and uncle. Their images remained clearly defined in his recollection of the event. His father’s face all arrogance and presumption, his uncle’s fear and resignation.
It had taken him a long time to begin to understand what he had seen in their expressions. In the years since there had been opportunities, both verbal and unspoken, to discern and reflect upon their meaning. His one regret was that he hadn’t been more assertive, hadn’t stood up for himself, hadn’t trusted the message in his uncle’s countenance.
The truth was that his father was an egomaniacal tyrant whose own self-image was dependent on controlling those around him. The effect was that his father remained rigid, unyielding, and unwavering in his expectations. Anything less than complete success was unacceptable and accompanied by shame. He knew now that his uncle had suffered quietly his entire life with that, never challenging his older brother. That night had been his uncle’s muted attempt to aid his nephew.
He had been anxious, terrified actually, but also conditioned to please his father, to achieve, to be fearless. The only response he had ever known was obedience; accomplish the task his father had set and the man’s gaze would soon turn to something else. And so on this night, after a short pause, he had slid into the jacket and mounted the bike to the delighted whoops of the guests. As he secured the helmet his uncle met him with a fixed stare. He saw a look in the man’s eyes that he himself felt but didn’t betray with his outer demeanor. It was sadness, fear, defeat and inevitability. But more than any of that, his uncle’s expression bared the man’s weakness. He lowered the darkened visor and the motorcycle screamed to life.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The memory complete, his thoughts returned to the present moment, the motorcycle still in his hand. He wheeled his chair around the sofa and replaced the toy on the table.