“Only the Lonely” by Deborah Batterman
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, a little baggie filled with white tablets becomes the tipping point in Deborah Batterman’s tongue-in-cheek tale of a lonely mother and her teenage son.
Saturday night, six o’clock on the nose. Emma turns on the radio—her favorite show, her favorite station, always a Frank Sinatra number at the top of the playlist. She relishes the element of surprise, the musical finesse it takes to segue from torch songs to golden oldies that render her a teenager sunning on the beach. Nobody used sunblock back then. Sunburn let you know summer had arrived. Noxzema got you through the pain.
She sings along as she preps her dinner. Salmon (Wild Alaskan) to be broiled, broccoli (organic) simply steamed. Sips a little red wine to warm her heart.
The dining table is strewn with newspapers and magazines that keep her company. A headline about lonely Americans jumps out at her. She shakes her head, a gesture reflexive in its expression, meant for someone else to see. Someone who would read the exasperation on her face, lighten things up with a snide comment about the wasteful expenditure of time and money on studies aimed at proving what is simply common sense. Together they would parse lines from the study, recap conclusions, share a laugh: Typical adults have, on average, two people they can talk to about serious matters. If they’re married, one of those two people is probably the spouse. Nearly a quarter have no close confidants at all. She has no spouse—cigarettes killed him—but she does have a teenage son, and he has very little to say.
She finishes dinner and goes into his room, a shrine to basketball heroes and heavy-metal rock bands. Something on his dresser—a plastic bag filled with small white tablets—catches her eye. Her heartbeat quickens. She knows he smokes a little weed, tries to pretend it’s no big deal—she did it when she was young. But today’s pot is stronger, and he is only fifteen. She fingers the baggie—No-no-no, that’s not my Timmy wasted on Ecstasy or bouncing off the walls on amphetamines, which is only one step away from becoming a crackhead. Her hand starts shaking, and she sits on his bed to steady herself. Rubs her temples. Should I look deeper, see what he’s hiding in his drawers, in his closet? She remembers thinking how implausible she found it, that those Columbine kids could keep so much hidden from their parents. She sighs. This has to be a cry for help, a Freudian slip. Why else leave the evidence out in plain sight?
Emma pours another glass of wine, enough to make her drowsy. Awakes with a start at two a.m. when she hears the front door open. She shuffles out of the bedroom.
“Where did you go tonight?”
“No place special.”
“What did you do?”
He takes off his baseball cap and jacket—much too lightweight for a winter night—and tosses them on the couch. She tries to determine if his eyes are glassy as she follows him into the kitchen.
“Hungry?” she asks. His shirt, checkered and creased, billows over his baggy pants. He is pure gesture, a mime spinning in a trail of sound: the creaking of the pantry door, where he pulls a loaf of bread from the shelf. The noisy clanking of knives digging into jars of peanut butter and jelly. The silence of milk being poured into a glass. Finally, he throws a few words her way—“You got blueberries?”—before heading into his room, sandwich in one hand and glass of milk in the other. She knows what is coming next, a special request of his. “Can I have blueberry pancakes for breakfast?”
By the time her no-place-special, do-nothing son wakes up, breakfast has become lunch. She whips up the pancakes and joins him at the table, for the pure joy of watching him eat. It is only when he is down to the last pancake that she speaks up.
“I found something . . . in your room.”
He raises his eyebrows; his face takes on a scowl. Strands of silky brown hair fall across his forehead. “That’s my personal space. You have no business poking around.”
She wants to say, I’m your mother, I have all the business in the world poking around. Instead she just shows him the bag of white tablets. Asks what they are.
His scowl softens, almost a smile now. Can he sue her for invasion of privacy?
“Open the bag,” he says. “Take a whiff. They’re Dentyne mints.”
DEBORAH BATTERMAN is the author of Shoes Hair Nails (short stories) and Because my name is mother (essays). A native New Yorker, she is a Pushcart nominee and took third place in the Women’s National Book Association 2012 Short Fiction Contest. Her work has appeared in anthologies as well as various print and online journals, most recently Every Mother Has a Story, Vol. 2 (Shebooks/Good Housekeeping) and Open to Interpretation: Fading Light (Taylor & O’Neill). She has completed two novels, one YA and one in the women’s fiction realm, and maintains a blog, which has evolved into a collaboration with her daughter. She can’t say she invented the word, but a ‘diablog’ it is.
Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Terrible Twosdays flash 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: Jun 9, 2015
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