The Fifty-Year Apology (Flash Fiction)

This story comes from a prompt to use a beach setting and include a letter. I’m not sure what made me think of the Vietnam war, perhaps it has something to do with our current news. War is difficult. Soldiers and people have many hard decisions to make, and I’m immensely grateful that I’ve never had to make those choices and decisions. So many emotions surround war. Including, regret and grief. Those are two of the emotions that are driving my protagonist today. This story is not an accurate reflection of all veterans, but I hope it is a representation of some.

“You don’t have to go, Dad.”

“I do, Michelle.”

She huffs, irritated once again with me. I ignore her glare and kiss her cheek.

“I’ll see you in a few days.”

I hear her begin to say something else, but I hurry to board the plane. No matter how much Michelle protests, I’m doing this.

The flight is long yet somehow too short. Before I know it, we’ve landed and the pilot is welcoming us to Vietnam. The woman in front of me chatters away about the places she wants to see.

When she asks me what I’m here for, all I say is, “business.” She tells me that she hopes I get to see Halong Bay while I have the chance.

“This is a once in a lifetime!” she beams at me.

In a way, she’s right. All I can think about is the letter in my breast pocket.

I pay a driver to take me to the address that is branded into my brain.

Two weeks ago, I found Bao Tran online. Until then, I hadn’t known his name. But his face, although fifty years younger, was one I’d lived with.

“Here we are,” my driver says, and I tip him before getting out.

Bao Tran lives on the beach, and I take off my shoes before walking across the hot sand.

The travel agent who booked my flight said something about taking off my shoes before entering someone’s home, but this is to remind me that it’s not like last time.

I see him before I even reach his home. Bao Tran, now fifty years older, is standing further down on the beach. The ocean is lapping at his toes, and if I wasn’t so nervous, I would think it was a playful scene.

Bao is facing me, his face set in a grim expression, arms crossed over his chest. He doesn’t say a word as I reach him.

“I’m Scott,” I say.

The sand is starting to chafe my feet, making me more uncomfortable than I already am.

I reach into my breast pocket and pull out the letter. Bao continues to watch me, his face still stony. I clutch the letter but don’t hand it to him.

“I wrote everything down, but now I think I have to just say it, man to man,” my voice is hoarse.

The memory I’ve been suppressing flashes before my eyes.

Bao, only a small boy, standing a few feet away from me, his face streaked with tears. Flashes of grenades and gunfire the only sound to my ringing ears.

“I’m sorry,” I begin, but no more will come out. I try, but the words are tangled in my heart, refusing to come to my mouth.

Without a word, Bao steps forward and pulls me into a hug. I grip him back, trying to stay dignified.

Softly, in careful English, he says, “I forgive you, Scott.”

There’s more to say, but we have time.

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