“The Junkie Incident” by Robert Burke Warren
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, Robert Burke Warren details an instance of a parent’s worst nightmare.
It was a normal stay-at-home dad day for me. I was chatting with tall, thirty-something Dominique, broad-shouldered in a sundress, big hands like fluttering pigeons. She was paying her daughter’s college tuition by watching a pair of three-year-old twin boys whose parents sold antiques in the West Village. Dominique held my attention and that of a couple of moms—Juliet, a single bartender, and Sage, an erstwhile graphic designer whose husband renovated brownstones. They each had a toddler. As usual, I was the only dad in the park. But caregiver-ship trumped gender. I was, essentially, one of the gals.
The caregiver brand of gossip was especially salty, a potent antidote to the tedium of hyperresponsibility we’d all taken on. We rarely talked about the pressures of parenthood or nannyhood; we just alleviated those pressures via curses, righteous airing of grievances, and loose talk.
Dominique was bubbling over about her employers’ marital problems. She’d walked in on the husband in flagrante delicto with another woman. Her alto voice caressed each detail—him look like a plucked chicken, dis guy, and him cock is like a acorn.
None of us were watching our kids. Had I not allowed Dominique’s tale to seduce me, I might’ve taken more notice of the junkie.
I’d seen the junkie on my way into the park—maybe twenty-five, maybe forty, splayed on a park bench near the playground gate, raw-faced, skinny, Harpo Marx hair, greasy, stonewashed jeans, grimy blue flannel. I even recall her shoes: sewage-colored high tops, unlaced, flapping around festering sores on her ankles.
No one actually saw the moment of abduction. Evan was about twenty feet away from me, toddling alone around the gate, fascinated by a squirrel. He did not cry out when the junkie pounced. When she bolted from the playground and into the park with my son in her arms, Sage, miraculously, looked up at precisely the right moment.
“Grant! Your kid!”
After that, it’s a jump-cut horror film. Like a fairy in a changeling tale, the junkie vanished with Evan. It was the longest three minutes or so of my life. I ran through the park, heart pounding in my ears. The voice in my throat, yelling my son’s name, rose from my gut, an unfamiliar, primal bleat upsetting pigeons and sparrows. I scanned the paths, the grassy areas, even the lower boughs of the trees, as if the junkie had alighted there with Evan. My head whiplashed as I asked strangers if they’d seen my son—dark longish hair, big red T-shirt, blue shoes. Some people shook their heads even before I started talking.
I ran behind the dilapidated bandshell, and there they were. The junkie had placed Evan on a disused pigeon shit–crusted bench. She’d stepped back, frowning at him, itching a boil on her neck, nodding as he pointed at pigeons beating their wings overhead. For an instant, it seemed effortlessly intimate, like I was intruding on a tender moment.
I ran and gathered Evan up. The junkie backed away, waved scabby hands and said, in an indignant bark, “I . . . thought he was mine.” She was annoyed, either at me, or at her last shred of sanity that had whispered put the kid down.
Did Evan really look like a child in her past? Her child, taken from her? Or was this drug-sick delusion? I will never know.
I sank to the bench and inspected Evan’s moist flesh. The junkie’s pissy BO emanated from him, stinging my nostrils. My mind reeled with images of needle pricks or bite marks, but I found only a quarter-sized dollop of some kind of effluvium—snot or drool—in his hair. I beat at it with my trembling hand. Then he started wailing.
The junkie yelled, “Hey! Asshole! Hey!”
Sage, Dominique, and Juliet found and encircled us. I called out, “He’s okay, he’s okay, he’s okay,” like a general yelling stand down! to his troops. The junkie sauntered through them, saying, “I thought he was mine. Looks just like . . . You did not. You’re a liar . . .”
By the time the cops arrived, she had vanished again. The 9th Precinct guys studied my posse and me with a kind of hostile weariness and silent, leaden judgment. They asked if I wanted to fill out some paperwork. I said no, and they thanked me with tired eyes and rumbled off.
I never saw the junkie again.
ROBERT BURKE WARREN is a writer, performer, teacher, musician, and music editor for TheWeeklings. He’s ghost-written for Gregg Allman and his liner notes appear on the award-winning CD Live at Caffe Lena. He’s written for Texas Music, Brooklyn Parent, The Woodstock Times, longform, Salon, vulture.com, Paste, The Rumpus, Dadwagon, The Bitter Southerner, Chronogram, and the Da Capo anthology The Show I ‘ll Never Forget. His songs appear on albums by Rosanne Cash and rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson, and The Roots used his tune “The Elephant In the Room” as John McCain’s entrance theme on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. One upon a time, he performed the lead in the West End musical Buddy: the Buddy Holly Story. Prior to that he traveled the world as a bass player. You can find his songs – as RBW and as Uncle Rock – on cdbaby.com, Spotify, iTunes and rogue internet sites. He blogs at solitudeandgoodcompany.
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: Jan 20, 2015
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