By Delvon T. Mattingly
When it poured outside, gloom slowly struck my father like a chisel knocking against his finely tapered temples. I imagined it, every droplet of rain representing another micro-incision chipping away at his unruffled demeanor, it all stemming from a strange and patriarchal sort of bitterness towards me. Drives home from football practice were always unpredictable, but when it rained, I knew nothing good could come of it.
He never watched me train in a raging storm, but for some reason he did that day. Many muted minutes passed during our ride home, old-school rap music concealing the disappointment fuming from his sporadic grumbles. Then, he finally spoke.
“We’ll just have to do some extra work. Maybe today, in the backyard.”
I began to worry.
“Yeah, today.” He confirmed under his breath.
Football practices exhausted me. I treated it as a part-time job, an obligation—yet, football was different. I found happiness and relief in my father not pestering me anymore, simply by agreeing to join the team.
“It’s raining,” I muttered.
“We wouldn’t be having this conversation if you played better,” he sternly replied.
“It’s wet,” I gulped before finishing my excuse, gazing into the murky gray sky and wishing the storm would engulf the remaining light. So practicing at home wouldn’t be an option. “It’s hard to catch the ball—”
“Which is why we’re going to practice. Practice makes perfect. You know this.”
“You want to be successful, right? To make a lot of money, to help your people.”
I complied. The music never ceased, falling flat in my ears under each repeat of my father’s expressions. Not another word was said during that car ride, from either of us.
* * *
My father loathed standing in the eye of a thunderstorm. I found myself staring at an aqueous veil coating his body, the rain turning him into what children might mistake for a monster. His grimace helped, so did his stalwart build.
He idled in one spot, expecting me to accurately throw the ball back to him after each play. If only he were patient, he wouldn’t have suffered such discomfort merely to fulfill a backwards mentality, that if he repeatedly threw the ball to me a few dozen times, I’d somehow exponentially improve. Like I’d miraculously blossom into a colossal sunflower and sweep the somber tempest away. Farming catches to level up.
If I had the ability to perform well at any sport, I would’ve already showed him—the world too—to repel the pressure from him and my peers. Something about physical talent evoked exaltation among members of my family, despite exceeding expectations in other paradigms of the living. I understood it, accepted it even, but all it did was create a personal yearning for something I never cared for, or enjoyed.
After many plays in, my body started to tremble. I felt every raindrop. They pierced me like knives, but nothing compared to the way my father glared at me. Before I realized it I began to sob, and somehow he knew, seeing through the cascade of droplets streaming down my face, shaking his head at my tears.
“Why are you crying?” The football fell from his hand, bouncing once off the clammy grass.
“I … I don’t like this.”
He hesitated for a second. “No, why are you crying?”
“Um…” I never knew how to respond to his repeated questions.
“What have I told you? Nobody cares. Nobody will ever care because you’re a man and because you’re Black. So stop crying.”
“You’re not weak.”
“Then, why are you crying?”
“I’m not.” I tried wiping the wetness from my face, tasting the salt of tears and sweat seeping into the taste pores of my tongue. Bitter. Just like my father.
Delvon T. Mattingly, who also goes by D.T. Mattingly, is an emerging fiction writer and PhD student studying epidemiology at the University of Michigan. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Fiction Pool, Scrutiny Journal, STORGY Magazine, and elsewhere. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with his two cats, Liam and Tsuki. Learn more about his work at http://delvonmattingly.com/. He tweets here: @Delvonmattingly