“Pocket Dogs” by Juliet Johnson
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, Juliet Johnson gets crafty.
The kids and I dash across town to library story time.
The small room is packed with every flavor of sweating human. We jam in the back. Three-year-old Nathan climbs away to sit up front, and then the baby Emma has to sit with him, leaving a wall of people between me and them. I sense disaster. For twenty full seconds, they sit in the front row, inches in front of the librarian dude who happily reads a book about dogs-in-a-pocket to the group. It’s just like The Sound of Music.
Then Emma crawls to the librarian’s foot and lays flat on the floor on her back like a beached starfish. Nathan leaps up and lays on top of her, screeching, trying to smother her with love or just trying to smother her, and this large woman in front of me gives me the “Bad Mother” look.
I squeeze through and drag them off each other. Emma, happy to see me after such a long absence, grabs my purse. When I try to take it from her I can see she’s going to scream her lungs out, so I let her hold it as she tries to wrestle the bubble gum out of it, which she’s not allowed to have. Nathan, when I grab his hand to pull him over so we’re not directly in front of everyone, falls limp like he’s been shot with a tranquilizer dart. My instinct is to drag him from the room, but everyone is staring at us, so I pick up Emma—now strangling herself with the purse and screaming—and crouch down and try to gently drag off the lifeless corpse that is Nathan, and the librarian keeps reading even though no one in the room can see him or hear a word he’s saying, and we edge backward to the wall and sit where we can’t see the book at all.
I don’t know why we try to do the crafts. This week it’s pocket dogs, like the book. Glue a paper dog into a pocket of construction paper. I always do the craft alone while Nathan tries to cut up everything or glue the paper to the table. Emma wanders to the window where she can sit in the sun and take all the paperbacks off the spinny shelf and strew them around on the floor.
Home at nap time, I lay on the bed surrounded by our library stuff, a pair of hiking boots, and a bowl of wet paper towels. I try to remember the last conversation that I had with my husband that had big words in it. I think about Emma’s eyes getting wide when she slaps my chest in the middle of the night to tell me “Waddo”—which is her word for water—and her demanding gesture at the nightstand. I think about Nathan on the way home from the library, his tired white curls on his forehead: “Sleep me, mommy.” And even though I feel dry, sucked dry, cracked, caked in baby, it’s a lush tropical dry, like the green grass in flat hot Palm Springs. There is a stabbing sense of good in loving my babies, in their flailing, fast-paced, intricate lives, in my juggling and exhaustion to keep up with them, every day, every night.
My husband wanders by on his way back to his home office. He looks in at my limp body. “Good day?”
I hold up my construction paper masterpiece. “Pocket dogs.”
JULIET JOHNSON has a book of motherhood essays she is shopping around called Somebody’s Always Hungry. She was a dramaturg for Stone Soup Repertory in Annapolis, Maryland, writing short plays each week for dynamic and funny actors, before becoming a mom of three. In addition to essays, Juliet has published short stories, written screenplays, blogs, one novella, and is currently writing her first novel, Momish. Her children are now fifteen, thirteen, and eight, and were babies when “Pocket Dogs” was written. Based in Los Angeles now, Juliet has a husband buried around here somewhere (not actually buried—currently alive), a stepson, a horse, and some chickens. She would love to get the hell out of Los Angeles. Except the beach is really nice.
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.
—Accepted submissions are typically published 2–4 months after the notification date and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to [email protected]. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Jan 5, 2016
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