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News & Features » August 2019 » “The Night Heron” by Simone Kern

“The Night Heron” by Simone Kern

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 nervous parent watches their child explore the wonders of the park . . .

The Night Heron
by Simone Kern
Two-year-old 

Molly wants to swing, so I pick her up and thread her legs through the vinyl harness. I shove her off, and she wheee’s, yawing to one side. It’s higher than I push her with other parents around. But we have the park to ourselves, for now.

For the first time ever, she lets go of the chains. She’s fine—her weight in the seat, the way the swing’s designed—I’m pretty sure she can’t fall out. She stretches back her head, drinking in the warm morning, exposing the fold of her neck to the sky. It’s the place she’s most ticklish, and she giggles— at the feeling of wind there, I guess. She reaches up and gently touches the skin of her throat. I wonder what she’s thinking.

Death interrupts. “You know that’s the most vulnerable place on her body?” I didn’t hear them approach, but now they have settled their long black form at the nearest picnic table. “You should teach her to keep it covered. Wear a steel gorget like those medieval knights. They had the right idea.”  

 “She’s fine,” I say. “Go away.”

 “She should really be wearing a helmet too. Or at least holding on. Do you want to know how many children died from swingset-related injuries last year?”

I ignore them, pushing Molly higher.

“Way more than you think!” they call, leaning to one side, amused.

I grab the front of the swing, stilling it, and pull Molly into my arms. I head down the hill towards the bayou, hoping Death won’t follow. There’s a greenway path that runs alongside the water, and last time we were here, the wildflowers along the bank came up to her shoulders—bluebonnets and bee balm, Indian paintbrush and tickseed, and dozens of other species I couldn’t name. Death has swept through since then—the heat of summer crisping those first blooms of spring. A series of floods have flattened most of that early growth beneath a crust of chalky bayou silt. The only flowers left are the sunflowers, hundreds of gold crowns reigning over the bayou.

I try to pick one for her, but the stalk is too strong and covered with wiry hairs. While I wrestle with it, Molly leaves the cement greenway path, wading into the tall flowers.

Death zooms up behind us on a bicycle. Their front wheel stops mere centimeters from Molly’s spine. “Didn’t your husband see a cottonmouth along this trail, just last week? Do you know what happens when a two-year-old gets bit by a cottonmouth? Do you know how many minutes you’d have to get to the emergency room, before it’s too late?”

“I’m watching for snakes,” I hiss, but it’s a lie. Now I scan the tall grass—every clump of mud-scummed weeds, until I am sure there are no inhabitants but crickets. “I’m not going to be a helicopter parent,” I say, but I’m already scooping up Molly, deciding it’s better she stay in my arms when we’re this close to the water.

“Speaking of water,” Death says. “If she were to fall in, with the bayou this high? You wouldn’t be able to find her again.”

In defiance, I walk right to the edge of the tall flowers, scanning for snakes, and peer down the bank into the murky water.

“Duck,” Molly says, pointing, and I flinch instinctively.

But when I follow her gaze through the tall grass, I see a circular white-ringed eye, filled with alien intelligence, staring back at me.

Not a duck, a heron. It fluffs the crest of white feathers on its head, then deems us uninteresting, bowing its long neck again to things that skitter among the algae-scummed rocks.

“Oh, it’s beautiful, Molly,” I whisper. “That’s a night heron.”

 “Guess how many years are left before they all go extinct?” Death asks gleefully.

“No,” I say, and because I mean it, Death disappears in a wisp of mist. At least for now.

“Hewon,” Molly repeats.

I hope that teaching her to love the world won’t ruin her for it. 

***

SIMONE KERN is a writer and the stay-at-home-parent of an avid two-year old bird-watcher. They live in Houston, Texas along Braes Bayou, home to all the wildlife mentioned in “The Night Heron.” Simone studied creative writing at Oberlin College and has recently published speculative fiction in Metaphorosis, Wizards in Space Magazine, and Tulip Tree Press. Their nonfiction writing can be found in Out Magazine

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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 to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Aug 8, 2019

Category: Original Fiction, Terrible Twosdays | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,



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