“Surrounded” by Brian Lance
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, Brian Lance works hard—or tries to.
Get this. He tosses a highlighter at me. It rockets across my MacBook, leaving a neon orange streak on the screen.
“I’m goddamn working,” Dan says. “Dada working too?”
I sigh and, using my hoodie’s cuff, smear the highlighter ink off page two, draft one of my dissertation—a treatise on war literature that none of you will ever read.
“Yeah, bud, Dada’s working too. Please don’t say goddamn.”
My wife’s working. Dan and I are cooped in a three-by-three nook filled with a black glass-top Ikea desk, a squeaky swivel chair (my seat), a storage cube ottoman (his perch), and my intrigues: Dad’s Marine Corps Mameluke; several volumes of his journals, including one documenting the Iwo Jima landing; and a Delmonte jar filled with the tar-black sands of Iwo Jima, much to the contrary of that John Wayne movie Dad used to watch regardless of having been there and knowing the sand was not, in fact, white.
I call this nook my micro office. My wife calls it the closet formerly known as our only walk-in.
Dan yanks a yellow legal pad from under a copy of All Quiet on the Western Front and scrawls thick waxy lines with one of the revolutionary highlighters my wife bought to feed her addiction to office supplies. Dan loves those dayglow crayons, always biting them, getting the wax stuck between his front teeth. I keep meaning to check the manufacturer’s website for toxicity warnings. But I also have to write more than two pages and one draft if I ever want to finish my eight-year odyssey known as school and justify the sacrifice of my distance vision.
My notes on Remarque are now entangled in orange spirals.
“This is big circle,” he says as he loops a series of thematic bullet points. “Dada make circle too?”
I try to sneak in a few more words. I should start measuring this thing by sentences instead of pages.
“Dada not goddamn working. I’m working. Dada make circle too!”
“All right,” I say. “Dada will draw a circle.”
I reach for the highlighter, hoping my circle will tide him over for at least a paragraph.
“No,” he says. “Make circle my hand.”
Jesus, what is this? Is my toddler son channeling R. Lee Ermey as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from Full Metal Jacket? No way. Surely I shelved that movie before he was born, maybe around the time I realized drill instructors weren’t really like that.
I wrap my fingers around the clammy fist gripping the highlighter. We circle the line saying something about how Remarque’s prose contradicts—blah, blah, blah. I turn to the keyboard and type the word furthermore.
“Dada not goddamn working,” he says.
I pinch the bridge of my nose.
“Bud, Dada can’t work if you keep interrupting him. And please stop saying goddamn.”
He lays the highlighter on the pad, stares at it for second, and wheels around, pointing his pink and orange index finger at me.
“No! You inner-upping, Dada. You no say stop to me.”
He closes my MacBook. I grit my teeth. I wish for a second that he really was Gunnery Sergeant Hartman and I still a captain. I wish my wife and I could afford another day of childcare, eight more hours to help me past page two. I bury my face in my hands.
“Oh,” he says. “Where’s Dada?” He weasels his highlighted fingers between my hands and peels one of them away. “Here’s Dada!”
“Fine,” I say. “You win. Let’s take the dog for a walk until Mommy comes home.”
I step out of the micro office and stretch my back. I nudge the dog, who’s sprawled on our bed. He studies me with one half-open eye, pissed that I woke him before he could get his full twenty hours of sleep.
“No!” Dan stabs the legal pad with the highlighter, making a several checkmarks on my bullet points. “I don’t like walking. I am working. Dada working too?”
BRIAN LANCE is pursuing his MFA at Western Connecticut State University, where he’s an editor for Poor Yorick Journal and writing his second novel, Four Fires. He’s the father of a two-year-old son, who seems to excel at maintaining the upper hand. He served nine years in the Navy and earned a bachelor’s in magazine journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. He wrote “Surrounded” during one of many espresso-fueled nights at the 2014 Yale Writers Conference. His work has appeared in Oblong Magazine, and is forthcoming from Carbon Culture Review. Follow him on Twitter @btlance and @pyjournal.
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: Sep 2, 2014