Congratulations to our three Flash Fiction Winners:
K. Alan Leitch
Suggestion: Please enjoy these wonderful stories. If you have a message for an author, send it to me and I will forward it.
Note: The next contest, Scintillating Starts, will open on October 1. In the meantime I’ll be editing my memoir, Never Too Late: A 62-Year-Old Goes From Wannabe to Wife (tentative title), which has been picked up by Koehler Press.
By Kathy Joyce
I offered to watch her. Didn’t know how hard it would be. F*ing simple as that.
Alzheimer’s appears gradually.
Mom started doing weird shit. Put milk in the cupboard, wore her shirt backwards, messed up her checkbook. I stopped by a couple times a week. Brought dinner on Wednesdays, she liked my sea bass with lemon and capers. After I cut the grass Saturdays, we had iced tea. Sometimes, I drank a few beers, watched a game. She loved when I brought a girl.
I owned a house, went to work every day. Didn’t have a wife because I didn’t want one. Preferred fishing, hunting, hanging out at the gun club. Had a drink, sure, but never out of control like the light-ass weight-holes, stumbling in their beers and crying out the door.
She called three times one day, asking how to use the remote she’d had for five years. Shit, here we go. I watched Grandma brush her teeth by rubbing the pasted brush on the bathroom mirror. Then Dad, trying to cut the grass with the snow blower. Went to the nursing home to see him. Once. Cried my goddamn eyes out sitting in the pickup afterwards. Decided I’d treat my turn with the Second Amendment.
I drank whiskey only at the club, but I bought a bottle that night. Filled my glass half full, only had one. Every night, eventually. But still, only one.
I brought dinner to Mom, stir fry with chicken, lots of colorful veggies, over rice. She had two helpings. Ten minutes after we ate, she asked if I was hungry, pointing shaky fingers at the leftovers in the serving dish. “We should have dinner, but it’s a bunch of crap.”
“It’s okay. I gotta go.” A fifth of dessert waited at home.
I had one like usual, then gulped another. It helped.
Bootsie, her childhood friend, called. “Your mom and I went shopping today. We’ve been going to that place for twenty years. She got lost coming home, drove on the wrong side of the road. Take her keys.”
I called my brothers. The married one convinced Mom to come to Michigan “temporarily,” for the winter. She didn’t want to go, too far away, but the grandkids beckoned. I thought she’d never come back.
Guzzled a third drink that night.
The girl at the liquor store invited me over. A cop followed me. I did drunk school instead of getting points, decided to clean up my act. Thirteen days’ sobriety.
The second time cost a grand.
“Jail next,” they said. “Lose your license.”
Rehab blew, especially detox. I hated the meetings, couldn’t stand the higher power shit. Thirty-seven days, I was doing good on my own. Drank ginger beer at the club. No one cared.
Alzheimer’s never ends.
Mom wanted to come home for Easter, see her friends, family. Unspoken: “For the last time.”
She could barely string three sentences together, much less stay alone. My house was wall-to-wall crap. I took vacation, planned four days at her house. My local brother stayed the other four. Michigan brother flew with her, came back to pick her up eight days later. Seemed extravagant, just so Mom could visit home. Nope. His family got eight days off. Platinum wrapped in diamonds. Jesus!
First day, she burned microwave oatmeal. We visited cousins. She didn’t know half of them anymore, kept spilling her lemonade. I sipped a cold beer. Just one.
Second day, she waltzed downstairs without her pants. Wouldn’t go back up. Didn’t understand the problem. Bootsie spent the afternoon. I cut the grass, called my sponsor. First time. For dinner, Mom made raw baked potatoes and leather.
“You didn’t cook this right,” she told me.
I ordered pizza. We watched MacGyver reruns. She locked herself in the bathroom, twice. I ate the pizza, then a jumbo bag of chips. With onion dip.
Third day, she had diarrhea. “The medicine does that sometimes,” she said, like it was nothing.
Shit everywhere. Literally. I bleached and puked. Her friends came. My hands shook while I served tea on the patio. The ladies looked chilly, but apple blossoms and lilacs trumped the stench inside.
Fourth day, she tripped. Blood everywhere, like the shit. Five hours in emergency, six stitches. Called my sponsor three times. Said the higher power crap.
She called me Jerry. Dad’s name.
The liquor store delivered. Didn’t know how hard it would be. F*ing simple as that.
By day, Kathy Joyce is a facilitator, management consultant, educator. At night, she transforms into mom, wife, writer. America Magazine has published her essays, and she loves writing short fiction, thrillers, mysteries. Her Michigan household consists of two toads, six chickens, one dog, two teenagers, and a very patient husband.
THE COLD AND THE DUTIFUL
By K. Alan Leitch
All of those hours I’ve spent watching telly, and I remember every minute. Seen all the shakeups, and broken promises; all the love, and the hatred. Should make me think of the shakeups in my own life, shouldn’t it? Like when Ridge Forrester on Bold and Beautiful came back to Brooke and R.J., with a new face—the way they tell me my own Dad didn’t. Eighty years later, near to, they still say he wasn’t there for me.
I don’t think of that, though, do I? Not the way they tell it to me. I was there, and Dad did return. Returned with a different voice, he did. Just like Ridge.
I remember my Mum, too, the day that the messenger came and changed her forever. There was no telly, yet, so she didn’t watch it like I do when I get quiet. Mum just watched nothing, and stayed quiet even when I was around. Even when I was complaining.
“Where’s the snow?” I complained, looking at the trails of smoke still drifting from when the ground last shook.
Mum tried to smile. “There’s snow there,” she said, pointing across at Mrs. Butler’s flat. “On the eaves.”
“But it’s Christmas!” I remember that complaint clearly, my new voice still powerful in my ears and demanding an audience. “Daddy promised he’d come back to London to play in the snow with me at Christmas!”
Mum tried to explain, even though she was far too young. “He made another promise, too, Poppet. To England.”
Funny, isn’t it, how they seem older when we remember? She was older than me, so her face stays older. It’s like the way R.J. sees Brooke, even though she looks so young on telly. I still remember Mum like my old Mum, too.
“He kept another promise, Felicity. It took him away.”
“We must have a tree,” I argued. “He’ll want a tree when he returns.”
It might seem cheeky that a little girl would say that to her Mum. Then again, maybe it doesn’t; times have changed, and R.J. says a lot worse to Ridge and Brooke just about every day. I wasn’t trying to be cheeky, though; I just knew that Dad would return. Years before the soaps taught me, I knew that Dads come back to kids with new faces.
So I knew he was there, when my bed shook me awake a few nights later. Sirens were blaring across the crusting rooftops with a sound as pure as fresh snowfall, and I knew that the voices were Dad calling me outside. He was keeping his promise.
It’s like how Ridge came back, all bearded and handsome, to keep R.J. safe. Ridge looked better, and so did my Dad, like there was high definition already. When I got to Mrs. Butler’s place across the lane, I heard Dad. There was no telly, but his new voices broadcast all around me.
“Welcome home, Daddy,” I said.
He answered me from the faces of people running past. He answered me from behind the gasmasks some of them wore, and told me not to follow.
They say that’s not how it happened. My head’s muddled, they say, but I know that one memory is perfect. All those years of jetliners and Google—all that noise that changes how we live but nothing about life—with all those changes, you’d think that some of what’s in my head would change, too. I didn’t hit it that night; not like when Liam had amnesia, and couldn’t remember Quinn. It’s not like that, because I do remember. I don’t remember what they say I should, but I remember Dad coming back.
One of his new voices told me to stay under the eaves.
“She was hysterical, your Mum,” Mrs. Butler used to tell me. “‘Felicity!’ Even before Mr. B. pulled you inside, we could hear your Mum, calling, ‘Felicity!’”
They say I would’ve seen it all from her flat. I would’ve seen Mum down in our cellar, pounding on those glass bricks with Johnny and Margaret. I would’ve seen a whole wall of my house collapse around them. But a poppet’s mind thinks about life, so I can’t remember the shakeup.
What I remember is the life that came after; the hours of telly that keep it all feeling normal. I’ve watched two faces for Ridge, so why would my Dad just have one? Before telly, even, I was already watching, while playful snowflakes shook down from the eaves.
After some career experimentation, K. Alan Leitch was inspired to write by his study of literature at Oxford. His stories appear in several journals, and one of his unpublished adventure novels has received two awards; sample it, and his YA fiction, on his blog at www.KAlanAuthor.tk . Tweet him @KAlanAuthor
By Laura Fischer
Brian rarely read the newspaper, but that morning he needed something to keep him from having to talk to his wife, Sharon, while he drank his morning coffee. They never sat at the table together, especially not for Sunday breakfast. Brian resented her presence.
“Church?” he asked, hoping to spur her to leave.
“Not today,” she said. She took a sip of coffee and reached for the comics.
Brian picked the local news section because it was closest to his coffee cup. “Fun City Auctions Rides,” the headline read. The children’s amusement park had fallen into disrepair and was closing for lack of funds. The city hoped to recoup some of its losses by selling off the miniature preschooler rides. Brian made a note of the time and place. He didn’t mention it to Sharon.
Few people attended the auction the next day. No one but Brian bid on the carousel. “You can pull the horses and benches off, and then the thing comes in sections,” said the city worker who showed it to Brian after he had handed over his check. “You’ll need a good size truck.” Brian arranged to pick up the carousel the following weekend.
He took the week off work and spent the time cleaning out the garage, which had once seemed too big and now, he worried, might be too small. He rented a dumpster and tossed almost everything except Petey’s bike and sports equipment. Sharon asked once what he was doing, but he didn’t answer and she didn’t ask again.
On Saturday, he rented a truck and enlisted his friend Keith to help. It was a big truck, but the pieces were oddly shaped and it took some engineering skill to get the pieces of the carousel into the truck.
“Look,” said Keith after they’d loaded the truck, “I think I know what you’re doing. Is Sharon on board with this?”
Brian shrugged. “We haven’t talked about it.”
“You mean you told her and she didn’t say anything?”
“I mean I haven’t told her.”
“Oh, man,” said Keith. “You’d better keep the rental truck for a while. You might need it.”
Sharon was out when they arrived. Hard as it had been to load the carousel, it was twice as hard to unload it. They laid the pieces in the driveway. “You and I can’t put this thing together on our own,” said Keith. “Let me get some guys over here.” He pulled out his cell phone. Brian stood in the driveway and ran his hand over the battered wooden horses while they waited.
Sharon arrived home hours later, after help had come and gone and the carousel was set up in the garage. She had to park in the street because the truck blocked the driveway. Brian wondered where she’d been. He had no idea where she spent her time these days and hadn’t cared until today. He sat in the closed garage, hunched over the neck of a wooden horse, and listened as Sharon opened the front door. “Brian?” she called. He didn’t answer. She appeared in the doorway from the laundry room to the garage. “Brian, what’s that truck—what’s that?” She stared at the carousel, wildly out of place in her garage. “What did you do?”
“They were selling off all the rides.” She didn’t respond. “I couldn’t let them destroy it.”
He found her later in Petey’s room. Everything was exactly the same as it had been for the past two years. She sat on the bed, holding a picture of Petey, that last day on the carousel. Brian sat beside her. For the first time in months, he took her hand, and for the first time in months, she didn’t pull away.
Laura Fischer has recently returned to fiction writing, after veering off course to write press releases and newsletter articles for her singing group. She has always believed in the spirit of horses, wooden or otherwise.