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News & Features » April 2016 » “Button, Button” by Jessie Williams Burns

“Button, Button” by Jessie Williams Burns

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, preschool crafts take a turn for Jessie Williams Burns.

Jessie Williams BurnsButton, Button
by Jessie Williams Burns

Assistant preschool maven cupped a hand around her mouth and stage-whispered into the hood of my parka. “There’s something I need to tell you about Henry.”

“Who, me?” I’d never been pulled aside by a teacher before. No bullying, tantrums, or time-outs had ever been reported.

“So . . . you know how much Henry loves the color yellow?”

“Yes.” And he did—buses, taxis, bananas, daffodils, egg bagels. Why go on? He was obsessed.

“Okay, well today we were making necklaces. Stringing beads and buttons on twine and whatnot? You know, wooden ones, plastic ones. We’ve got some shaped like animals—”


“Well, I think he may have . . . We aren’t sure, but there’s a yellow bead missing, a button actually, and I think Henry may have . . . have . . .”

“Have what?” I snapped, because at this point I was getting nervous. “What’d he do?”

Preschool maven jumped a bit. Her blonde bob bounced away from her face and then slid back into its proper position.

“I believe . . . I think he may have put a yellow button, a small one, into his nose.”

“Into his what?”

“His . . . his nose. I swearIdidn’tseehimdoit! If I had, I absolutely would have stopped him. The whole thing happened so fast!”

“Well, did you get it out?” I scanned the room for Henry. The place was teeming with children, all dragging backpacks twice their size, many shrieking for no apparent reason other than that there was no one available to stop them.

“We couldn’t!” And at this, maven looked genuinely undone, as if her peppy license might be at risk of revocation. “The button is really itty-bitty, and we couldn’t reach it! It’s very far up, and we don’t have the right kind of pliers for that. I believe you’ll have to get professional help.”

While I considered whether she meant from a pediatrician or a carpenter, Henry wrapped his arms around the space between my parka and my boots.


“Hey, lovie. How’s it going?”

“Good! Can we get a pretzel on the way home? Marielle had a pretzel in her snack and I had a piece and it was really soft and I want to get one too, okay?”

“We can do that.” I leaned down to look at him, but could detect no change in the shape of his nose or nostrils. “Henry, did you do some bead stringing today?”

“Yes.” Without meeting my gaze, he slid his backpack in a wide arc, following the pattern of a train track woven into the polyester rug beneath us.

“And?” He slid the backpack farther out, over the gray bridge, past the bright red sign that said STOP.

“Aaaaand . . . I made you a necklace!” Elated at the prospect of a diversion, he bent over the outer pocket on his bag, rustled about for a few seconds, and threw his clenched fist toward me. Dangling from his fingers was a patternless strand of mismatched beads, some a weighty neon, others so small and pale they were nearly invisible to the adult eye.

“Wow. It’s beautiful!” I took the necklace and slid it over my head to where it lay heavy against my sweatshirt. “Thank you very much.”

“You’re welcome.”

“I love the textures.”

“Yeah. There’s a wooden one.”

“And the colors.”

“I put a panda on it.”

“I saw that, and there’s some yellow there too. I could have guessed that it was you who made it from all the pretty yellow.”

“Uh hun . . .”

“. . . Henry?”


“Is there a bead in your nose?”

“Ummm . . .”

“Maybe a yellow button sort of a bead?”


“Yes. That is what I said.”

“Maaaaaybeeee . . .”

“And when you say maybe, do you mean yes?”

“Um . . . yes?”

“So, should we go home and get the button out?”


And so we went home and got the button out—not at the doctor’s office, but on the kitchen table with the help of some tiny pliers his woodworking daddy dexterously wielded. There were no tears—only a brief confession that he had so loved the button that he had had to keep it as close to himself as he possibly could.

The yellow persisted throughout his childhood—yellow snow boots, yellow notebooks, yellow bedroom. Why go on? When he left for college, he packed up his clothes into a yellow duffel bag and headed out. And although the necklace has long since been archived to some box in the attic, the button remains right here on my desk, in a spot where I can always see it.


JESSIE WILLIAMS BURNS is a freelance writer living in Philadelphia. She has written for various publications, including The Literary Review, Newsworks, The Toggle, and Camping Magazine; ghostwritten everything from cookbooks to memoirs; edited love letters and Latin papers; and developed dialogue for online games. Her nonfiction work focuses primarily on food, art, and design, and she is currently at work on a collection of short stories and two novels, one of which was written with a partner. Jessie is the mother of three children, who are her life’s primary work and joy.


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: Apr 19, 2016

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