“No Time Like the Past” by Matthew Sharpe
Are you a parent going through the Terrible Twos? Did you live through them and survive? Terrible Twosdays is a place to commiserate over the unending shenanigans of your Darling Children (as the online parenting communities say). Nonfiction stories will be considered, so long as names have been changed to protect the guilty. Inspired by our best-selling gift book for parents, Go the Fuck to Sleep, Terrible Twosdays joins the roster of our other online short fiction series. Unlike Mondays Are Murder and Thursdaze, we’re looking for stories with a light and mischievous feel, all about the day-to-day challenges of parenting. As with our other flash fiction series, stories must not exceed 750 words.
This week, Matthew Sharpe tells a story of a son who goes back to the day of his birth to share some ice cream with his father.
There’s no time like the past, Steven thought as he entered his time machine. He found himself in the maternity ward of a small rural hospital at 8 am on April 16, 1971—the day he was to be born. His father, Larry, now twenty years younger than Steven, was sitting on a vinyl-covered chair in the corner with his head in his hands. The soft spring morning light touched Larry and Steven and the linoleum floor between them. Larry lifted his head and saw the older man he did not know standing across the room. Larry’s eyes were puffy and he looked miserable. “What do you want?” he said.
Steven said, “I want to have a better life than the one I’ve had.”
“Well, stand in line.”
“You’re about to have a child, aren’t you happy?”
“Happy? My wife’s been in excruciating pain for three days, I lost my job two weeks ago for showing up drunk, and now I’m sober, but the only thing worse than being drunk all the time is not being drunk all the time. Who the hell are you, anyway?”
“I’m . . . Roger Lasko.”
“If you want happy, Roger, go to an ice cream parlor. Is your wife having a kid?”
“Then you have no business here. Scram.”
A nurse came out and said something quietly to Larry that Steven couldn’t hear.
“Hours?” Larry said. “Well, can I go in and see her?”
The nurse said something else and walked away.
“Great, my wife is in labor and doesn’t want to see me. She probably thinks I’m drunk.”
“How about you and I go to an ice cream parlor?” Steven said.
Larry looked at him for a long moment and stood up. They walked down the street. This was a small town, and a few people they passed on the sidewalk warily greeted Larry while others averted their eyes. In the ice cream parlor, they got their cones and started eating them.
Steven said, “My treat,” but then he reached into the pockets of his pants from the year 2013 and found nothing. He looked apologetically at his father.
“Oh great,” Larry said. “Well, I don’t have money either.”
The small, balding man who had served them from behind the counter looked on in dismay. He was George Arcla, the owner, whose wife would give birth two months later to a boy who was Steven’s best friend until the age of sixteen, when the two of them had a fight over a girl, which led to Steven blinding George’s son in one eye.
“Ah, heck, Larry, again?” George said. “Just take your ice cream and your friend and go eat outside on the bench, and please don’t come back if you can’t pay.”
Larry threw his ice cream cone angrily in the trash can, turned around, and walked out. Steven followed. The two men stood silently in front of the ice cream parlor.
“You seemed so dejected and I wanted to do something nice for you,” Steven said. “Sorry I screwed it up.”
“It’s not your fault, pops. It goes way deeper than you.”
Steven gave his dad his ice cream cone. The day grew dark and he felt himself disappearing back into his time machine, over which he had less control than he’d have liked.
MATTHEW SHARPE is the author of the novels You Were Wrong, Jamestown, The Sleeping Father, and Nothing Is Terrible. He is publishing more stories of about the same length at Very short stories r us.
Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Terrible Twosdaysflash fiction series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines:
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should focus on the challenges of parenting. Ideally, stories should be about children aged 0 to 5, but any age (up to early teens) is acceptable. Stories may be fiction or nonfiction.
—Include the child’s age at the time of the story next to your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission [email protected] paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Dec 3, 2013
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