Flash Fiction: A Normal Day For Joy

 

Sometimes listening is better than reading. If you think so, enjoy this audio version.

 

Joy balanced Nate on her left hip, his legs resting at odd angles around her swollen belly as she rushed to her phone, answering it. The dial tone sounded in her ear. She placed Nate, sopping wet on the couch, his tears mixing with the water seeping into the stained cushion, then redialed her husband Connor.

“Hello.”

“Sorry, Nate plugged the tub and turned it on without me knowing. I was mopping up the hall.”

“The carpet?”

“Yeah, I’m gonna grab the fan out of the closet in a minute. What’s up?”

A tapping sound echoed over the phone line, and Joy waited for her husband to answer.

“How’s your day been?”

“Pretty normal. Nate knocked his cereal onto the floor again, ripped up a book I planned on reading, and flooded the house.”

“Yeah.” Joy listened as Connor drew air through his teeth. “Martin invited me to go to the game tonight.”

“Oh! And?”

“I’d like to go. I’ll make it up to you.”

“You will, huh? How?”

“What would you like?”

“A clean house and a flat belly,” she said as she walked down the hall to the linen closet.

“How about a foot rub? The belly thing will sort itself out soon. One more month.”

“A month. Don’t remind me.”

Silence.

“So, what do you think?”

“I think you should decide.”

“Well, I’d really like to go.”

“I got that.” She wrapped the towel she’d gotten from the closet around Nate, whose whimpers increased. “When will you be home?”

“Probably by nine. I love you.”

“Love you, too. Have fun.”

Slumping next to Nate, Joy pulled him onto her disappearing lap. “If Daddy’s going to a football game, we can ignore cooking a real dinner. How about macaroni and cheese?”

Wisps of dried blond hair glided into the air and gently fell back to Nate’s head as he turned around and smiled at her. “Cheese,” he said with a smile.

“Yup, cheese.”

Sliding out from under her son, Joy waddled back to the flooded hall. She laid another towel on the wet carpet and knelt down, applying pressure to it as hard as she could. The idea of stepping on the towels seemed great until her sciatic nerve acted up. Kneeling was better. As the towel absorbed the last bit of puddling from the floor, Joy prepared to stand up. One foot worked its way underneath her, and she used it along with the wall to try and stand.

Sudden tremors took over her body as piercing pain tangled the muscles from her back to her feet. Rolling to her side and then to her back, Joy lay on the damp floor, until the pain subsided. How on earth would she get up now? She scooted her body to the bathroom threshold as the nerve screamed at her again. A twist to the left, and Joy no longer wondered how whales beached themselves. Seconds later, knees bent underneath her supporting her belly as she rested, before placing her hands on the molding of the doorway.

With both hands in place, she lifted herself from the floor, but before she recovered, a startling sound from the kitchen knocked her back down to her knees. Her time now limited by the unknown actions of her misera…terribl…active toddler, she pushed herself through the jolting pain. Each foot moved an inch at a time as she leaned against the wall, shuffling toward the kitchen. The pain slowly receded.

A deep breath led Joy around the corner, her eyes settled on the open fridge and her son’s wet backside. “Nathan, what are you doing?” He turned and stared at her, a wide smile across his face. A glob of deep yellow and clear goop landing on the floor. “No, no, no, no, no, no, not the eggs. Nate, not the eggs!”

Her beach ball-sized belly beat the rest of her to the latest destruction. Egg splattered the shelf, oozed into the drawer, and down to the floor, a dozen cracked eggshells floating lazily down a yellow-splotched river. “Oh, Nate.”

Knowing she should take a picture to laugh at later, she stood frozen, then decided a mental picture was enough. She brushed the hair off her forehead and forgot to smile as Nate reached his arms up to greet her. “This is not good, little man.” He protested as she strapped him into the high chair and washed the egg off him with wipes. The prospect of going near the bathtub…shivers ran down her spine.

“Football game, he had to go to the football game,” she muttered the words under her breath as she studied the mess, determining the best way to deal with it. “Ugh. Nate, buddy, next time go for the bread, or a banana, okay?”

Her thoughts returned to her latest dilemma. If she removed the shelf, she could reach everything else a little easier. Condiments found their way to other shelves, and she mopped up most of the egg from the shelf before removing it and placing it in the sink. Next, the drawer and the floor received a new shine as Joy scrubbed at the egg. Pushing the hair off her forehead again, she carefully gripped the fridge, ready to stand. It moved. Of course, it moved. Why wouldn’t it move? She shuffled her body over to the counter and heaved herself up from the floor, then waited for the rise and fall of her breathing to slow before stepping to the sink to clean the shelf.

Moments later, the shelf sparkled. Joy carried it, sliding one foot an inch across the tile, then the other. Her body jolted into the shelf, which crashed to the floor. Pebbled safety glass covered the kitchen. Groaning, she turned to the broom closet only to hear a loud explosion. Soda, from an unretrieved can, glued the glass to the floor and the food in the freezer to the shelves.

Her phone beeped. A text message.

I forgot my soda in the freezer this morning.

The broom fell to the floor. She pulled Nate out of the high chair. “Let’s go get dinner and play on the toys at McDonald’s.” Smiling at her son, she contemplated the situation out loud. “I think nine-thirty will be an excellent bedtime tonight.”

Before leaving, she texted Connor: You like explosions, right?

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Flash Fiction: Hope

As I considered what to write for this week’s blog post, I decided to write a piece that shows what it is like to deal with anxiety and school avoidance for both parent and child. Having experienced such crises firsthand, the story, though fictional, lives in reality.

Hope

Flash Fiction: Hope

The alarm rang, and I wanted nothing more than to ignore the blasted beeping. How could I face another painful day of watching my child suffer at the hands of the educational system? That’s how I felt, anyway. I rolled out of bed and shuffled to the bathroom where I took my time. Hanna needed as much time in bed as possible before I ripped her from safety and forced her into raging discomfort yet again. I’d stretch the time longer but the ongoing fight required all the time I had left.

Shuffling my bare feet down the cold, hard tile, I opened Hanna’s door. “Come on, baby, time to get ready for school.” The blanket flipped over her head as she clutched it closer. “I know it’s hard, sweetheart, but if you don’t go to school we both get in trouble. Come on, time to get up.”
Grabbing the blanket, I removed it from her body. Her small frame lay too tiny for so much angst and too big for me to dress. I always stopped short as I smothered my own frustrations. “Get dressed Hanna, now.”

Tears streamed down her face, her body shaking uncontrollably. Blue eyes pleaded with me to let her stay home—pleaded for me to protect her from the terrors she faced. “Get dressed and come downstairs. Start with that. Can you do that?”

She nodded. That was more than yesterday. I stepped outside the room and down the stairs to make her lunch, wondering if she would eat at home again. Five minutes later, I called Hanna, reminding her to hurry. The doctor called it anxiety with panic disorder. I’d seen nothing like it. Similar to some teachers, I had assumed she wanted to stay home—or come home. Isn’t that what kids do? Not according to the doctor. “Consequences without pressure require walking a fine line,” he said. “You must balance the two.”

How do you balance consequences without applying pressure?

Teachers complained about Hanna curling into a ball on her chair and crying silently. She occasionally lashed out if they pressured her without recognizing the signs of an oncoming attack. Her bedtime was always questioned. Every one of them showed surprise when I said she went to bed by 8:00 PM. They hadn’t seen anxiety like this either.

“Hanna, come downstairs, now.”

The creak of her bedroom door told me she’d gotten dressed—or not. Standing at the top of the stairs, Hanna’s shoulders dropped, her head hanging lower.

“We have to go, Hanna. Where are your clothes?”

Tears poured down her cheeks, puddling on the hard floor beneath her feet, and she crumpled into a ball. I stepped up the stairs and pulled her into my arms. “What’s hard today?” Hanna shrugged. “Don’t you want to see your friends?”

“I have no friends!” The words sounded angry, but hurt was the real emotion.

“What about Sam? Or Leah? Or Danni?”

She hid her head further between her knees. “They won’t talk to me.”

“Do you talk to them?”

Now her eyes filled with agony. “I try, but they just talk to each other.”

I rubbed her back. What could I say to that? “Baby, I need you to get dressed, okay? If you can make it to school, we can have warm chocolate chip cookies when you get home.” I paused, hoping she would stand. Nothing. “If you need to come home you can call, but you need to try.”

Resigned, Hanna rose and reentered her room. A minute later, she came out dressed in jeans and a striped top. I handed her a breakfast sandwich and her shoes as we rushed out the door.

I tried not to talk too much on the way there, but unlike Hanna, I talk when nervous. “The other day I read about a girl who wanted a hairless cat…”

“I want to be homeschooled.”

I shook my head. “The doctor says attending in a classroom with other students is better for you. Besides, I don’t know how to teach, and you’ve seen me try to write an email. I don’t know a noun from a verb.”

“I want to be homeschooled.”

My heart lurched into my throat. I couldn’t homeschool. I squirmed like a trapped squirrel. “So, if you could have any animal you wanted, what would you choose?”

Silence.

We pulled into the school parking lot late enough that I ignored the loading zone sign. Besides, technically I was unloading my daughter. I hoped. I opened the door for Hanna, who tucked her head into her knees, hiding her face. “We can’t do this Hanna, you need to go in.”
I had fought to get her on campus for months. At first, she attended every day, regardless of long fights in the morning. A couple of weeks ago that number diminished significantly as most days she either checked in late or came home early. Consequences changed nothing. This week, she’d already missed four days. I wanted to bang my head against the steering wheel, drive her home, wrap my arms around her, and tell her she didn’t have to go to school ever again. But I knew better. Life without school meant heartache as an adult. Besides, legally she had to attend.

Sometimes I hated laws, even when they made sense.

“Come on.” I reached my hand around her and undid the seatbelt. She fought me, trying to grab at the buckle. “Please Hanna. If I need to, I’ll stay with you, but you have to go to school.”

She lifted her head and met my eyes with hers—red, hurt, scared. I offered my hand, and she took it. Together we walked into the office where I checked her in. We’d spent twenty minutes in the parking lot. She was late. As she trudged toward her classroom, a tear ran down my cheek.

“I think I need to set an appointment to discuss Hanna’s anxiety,” I said to the receptionist, adding, “She’s seeing a doctor, but it’s taking too long.”

“I can set an appointment for you with Mrs. Langley. She handles the 504 plans and the IEPs for kiddos with needs.”

“I really just need to discuss her absences.”

The receptionist looked at me, a wan smile spreading across her lips. “She may need more, and that’s why we have these documents—to help kiddos like Hanna.” She touched my hand. “Last week when Hanna came up here to calm down during history, she couldn’t speak. I knew she needed you, but when I asked her if she wanted to go home she couldn’t answer me. Kids who want to go home usually speak up. Hanna has anxiety—the real kind—not like what the rest of us get. Keep taking her to the doctor, but let the school help, too.”

“What can the school do?” A scoffing tone escaped with my words.

“More than people let on. They can set her up with books and helps at home for the days she misses, absences can be excused, different environments are available on campus if she needs them. We can take care of her. Mrs. Langley, she’s good at it, and she knows all this stuff.”

My heart slowed. I nodded my head and forced the words thank you from my mouth. She squeezed my hand. “Next Tuesday. 9:00 AM.”

One more nod as I walked out the door, hope slowly easing its way back into my heart. “Thank you,” I whispered.

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Flash Fiction: YouTube Escape

The pace of the car matched the pace of Kara’s racing heart. How did she get into this mess? With another jolting shake of her head, a bobby pin fell to the floor. Now to find it. With arms handcuffed behind her, she twisted her body, and her head curved deeper into the trunk. The phrase ‘needle in a haystack’ entered her mind. Her finger brushed against the edge of the bobby pin, and it slid further away. Dang-it. Willing herself to search more gently, she patted the floor.

Minutes.

Minutes had passed, and Kara had no idea where they were taking her. Not far. Maybe far. The farming community lay only miles away from the city, that’s why smugglers liked it. She knew better than to explore their hideaway, but she couldn’t help herself. There was no question that they’d see the smoke from the fire she’d started. If she were a guy, she’d be dead. Best guess now, she’d be sold.

Her middle finger tightened around the bobby pin. Shallow breaths calmed her shaky hand, ensuring she wouldn’t drop it. Stripping the plastic from the tips with her teeth, she straightened the pin, trying to remember the training she’d received via YouTube. As she worked to place the bobby pin in the latch at the end of the handcuff, the shaking returned, and she fought harder to control her gelatinous fingers. The pain emanating from her head didn’t help.

The bobby pin slid into the opening. Kara pulled. Nothing happened. Don’t hyperventilate. Breathe. She sifted through the muddled thoughts in her mind. Wrong method—that way used a snap barrette. Reaching toward the cuffs with the bobby pin again, she pushed it into the keyhole, the pin telling her when it was on top of the button. She pushed, and the cuff popped open. Kara gasped as she removed the duct tape from her lips.

Scooting toward the trunk door, she searched for the glowing emergency latch. Nothing. Think. Think! Kara rolled to her belly and dug her fingernails into the seam of the carpeting. Where is it? Where is it? Her heart throbbed within her chest, echoing in her ears.

A cable ran under her fingers, and tears cascaded down her cheeks. Please, God. Kara wrapped her hands around the cable and yanked it as hard as she could toward the front of the car. The trunk popped open, and she flung herself toward it, hoping to keep it from getting caught by a gust of wind. Too late.

The trunk flew open, and Kara faced the cold, hard truth. No other cars drove on the road. No immediate rescuer waited outside the trunk. No one would help her.
The car slowed. Kara’s heart rate doubled. ‘Jump. Jump before they stop. Jump.’ Her mind willed her body to move, but her body refused. ‘Jump,’ her mind whispered again.

I can’t.

‘JUMP!’

Kara threw herself from the trunk and forced herself into a roll. She crashed onto the rough pavement, her shoulder and hip crying in agony. Get up! She scrambled to the edge of the road and to her feet.

Run.

Her legs carried her swifter than a roadrunner escaping a coyote. The sound of a bullet, then another, cracked behind her. Run. Zig. Now Zag. Would they follow her? No way to know. Darkness engulfed her, and piercing pain erupted over her body as she stumbled. Cactus. Her motion slowed but never stopped. Ducking around the cholla, she tried to run again.

Needles dug deeper into her skin, but she didn’t dare touch any of the oversized burrs. That would only make it worse. Did Mike call the police yet? Was Mike still alive? Tears streamed down her dirt-coated cheeks as blood spotted her face, and screams burst from her lips. Why did she start that fire? What enticed her to explore that hideaway? Only some kind of stupid would call it an adventure.

Specs of light lit the distant horizon. A road? A house? Kara didn’t know, but she ran faster—screamed louder.

“Help me!”

Nothing.

“Please, help me!”

Silence.

A house. Kara flung her sweat-soaked back against the door, screaming for help. Raising her bloodied hands to the door, she pounded her tender palms against the wood. A coyote howled.

“Someone there?” An older woman’s voice called from beyond the door, colored by a heavy accent.

“P-please help me.”

The door cracked open, and a woman’s heavily wrinkled face shone with concern as she gasped and flung the door wider, leading Kara inside. “Let me get a comb. We’ll get those spines out of you. What’re you doing in the desert at night?”
Kara stumbled into the house. “Escaping … kidnapped.” Her breathing burned her lungs as she blew dust back into the air. “Call the police.”

“Police? Here? You don’t want the police. You want the embassy; this is Mexico.”

“But you’re speaking English.”

“So are you.”

Kara’s shoulders slumped as her head dropped warily toward her swollen hands, only for her to realize they hurt too much to cradle her face. Instead, tears escaped her eyelids freely, eroding the dirt from her cheeks. “Where is it?”

“Not far.”

“Take me now, please.”

“Tomorrow.”

Tremors racked Kara’s body, and she jerked her head back and forth. “Now.”

“Tomorrow will be better.”

“Please, now. I don’t belong here. I want to go home. Please.”

The old woman sighed, “Let’s remove the cactus first.”

Kara nodded, and the old woman eased a comb under each bulbous cactus burr. Blood, from several welts under the burrs, pooled on her skin as the spiny balls lifted from her body one by one.

With the cactus removed and the bleeding stopped, Kara shuffled toward the gate of the Embassy. The old woman had dropped her off and driven away without notice. Guards stood at the gate, their hands sliding toward weapons as they studied her. She stopped. “Please. I’m American. I was kidnapped.”

They peered closer at her. “Name?”

“Kara Matthews.”

“ID?” Their arms stayed at the ready.

She shook her head.

One of the guards disappeared.

Moments later, Kara was ushered into a room and offered a hard plastic chair.

“We need to verify your identity. It shouldn’t take long; someone reported a Kara Matthews missing. How did you get here?”

Stress and agony relaxed as her heart began to slow for the first time in hours. “A YouTube education followed by a prickly situation.”

Never get too close to cholla. It will jump at you before you ever get a chance to touch it.

 

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