Too Many Stops

Prompt: Fluff

garden Jenny Beck

Virginia couldn’t deny Cash access to his daughter, no matter what he’d been up to. She was still furious, yes, and couldn’t bear to face him and listen to his apologies and supplications, which would be sincere and heart-felt. And completely irrelevant.

Cash tended to focus on the latest of his transgressions, ignoring the string of mistakes and fuck-ups, some merely annoying, some damaging and humiliating, that led to this place of remorse and repentance. He was late picking up the babysitter— was that a sin worthy of packing up and leaving, taking his beloved daughter away too?

He would promise to be prompt, when that wasn’t the issue at all. And Virginia would have to explain, yet again, that it wasn’t one action it was many— the train they were riding on made too many stops, and so they would never, ever reach their destination.

Meanwhile, Virginia hated listening to herself rattle off the times he’d been late, had behaved like a besotted teenager with other women, forgotten planned events, disregarded legitimate concerns about their home and finances, refused to liaise with his parents and instead allowed them to intrude and interfere. It wasn’t like her to nag and complain; he was turning her into a shrew, and she didn’t like it. She was tired of it. She was tired of him.

So she had the child-minder, Devon, take Virginia’s car and deliver Echo with all her paraphernalia to Cash at the house, and arranged for Devon to pick her up again at the agreed time, six o’clock in the evening.

“There’s no one here,” Devon said.

Virginia held the phone close to her ear. “Say again?”

“There’s no one home, it’s twenty after six, no one’s around,” Devon said. Her voice sounded subdued and calm— if someone was to panic, it wouldn’t be her.

When Cash’s cellphone clicked into the answering service, Virginia called his parents, and when there was no reply, she called the police, who reluctantly told her there was nothing they could do at the moment— they were married, shared a house, he was the father, wasn’t he?

Devon drove Virginia’s BMW X3 the half-mile to Cash’s parents’ house— it was a beautiful, sprawling, white gabled home with an expanse of perfectly manicured lawn in the front, surrounded by azalea and rhododendrons which had been photographed one spring and published in a national home and garden magazine. Devon hadn’t seen the house before. It reminded her of the one she and her old friends had squatted in back in the 90’s.

She walked around most of the perimeter of the house, by the pool, the tennis courts, past the pond and the strange topiary (which Cash had told her gave him nightmares as a child), and what looked like stables, though there were no animals. Twilight was settling upon the estate, and lights, triggered electronically, started turning on automatically inside the house and around the grounds, bathing everything in a golden glow.

If Cash hadn’t brought his baby Echo to his parents, where had he taken her?

Something caught Devon’s eye… something bright and incongruous, a small, fluorescent orange object near the poolhouse. She approached and picked up a plump, fuzzy orange rabbit toy, as soft as the real thing, from the tile.

The door was ajar, and, bunny in hand, Devon pushed it open, and saw Echo’s care bag and toy bag dumped by the entrance to the showers. There was a kind of lounge further in, with a blue sofa, a small fridge, and a flat screen TV. The room was unlit— only the light from the string of bulbs surrounding the pool outside illuminated the room.

Cash was sprawled on the sofa, on his back, with Echo on top of him, her face nestled into his neck, both of them deep in sleep. Cash had his mouth open. A small trickle of vomit dried on Echo’s cheek.

His phone was on a table, vibrating. That would be Virginia.

Devon picked it up.


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Mockingbird

Prompt: Flavor

baby doll

“Look at his tiny toes,” said Mama.

I looked at its toes, they were tiny; it was tiny, smaller than my baby doll, and just as bald. its face was tiny and wrinkled, its eyes were tightly shut as if it was in pain.

When I poked it in the tummy (when Mama wasn’t looking) it didn’t cry. I could wrap my whole hand around its foot or its hand and it would disappear in my fist.

“He is so tiny and beautiful,” said Mama, not to me, but to someone else. Jesus? She held it up against her face, breathing it in.

I wasn’t tiny, not any more, not yet. Mama didn’t notice when I stopped eating. She put my cheese sandwich and fruit salad on the table. She fed it milk from her breast. She put Kentucky Fried Chicken and coleslaw in cardboard tubs on the table. She took it to the changing table and wiped its bum with a soft white cloth. She gave me a dixiecup full of vanilla ice cream and a small wooden paddle to eat with. She rocked it in her arms, walking round and round, singing “Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird”.

When I fell asleep at school, Mama said, “I’m sorry, kitty, baby kept you awake.” I didn’t hear it cry at night. It slept in Mama’s bed.

Gramma came to stay. She held it, saying, “He is so tiny!” And then she saw me watching, and took me out to the front porch, where there was a bench, and we sat down, and she took me into her lap.

“You are thin,” Gramma said. I squirmed. “What’s wrong with your eyes, kitty?” She put her face close to mine. My eyes had fallen inside my head so I could hardly see out.

Gramma wrapped me up in her arms and I disappeared, just like its tiny foot disappeared in my fist.

Gramma brought me something that moved. It was covered in soft grey fur, striped, with ears too big for its head and a tiny nose and tiny paws. It was warm and purred when I held it to my chest.

“What will you call him?” Gramma asked me.

“Moon,” I said.

“What shall we call the baby?” Mama asked me.

He wrapped a tiny hand around my finger. “Can we call him Joe, same as daddy?”

“We can,” said Mama.

New Word

Prompt: Paper

post it

Cash returned home to find Post-It notes attached to surfaces all over the house.

He was late; he knew it. But what the hell was this? He tossed his car keys on the polished hall table, and saw the first note, stuck to a little wooden box where Virginia deposited all the small bits and bobs she scooped up so they could find them again, like keys, business cards, polysporin, coins, membership cards, stray earrings, thread, beads, Tic Tacs, and all manner of reminders and odd notes.

Echo and I have gone to Annie’s for a few days, it said in Virginia’s small, rounded handwriting. She learned a new word.

She had learned a new word. When Virginia first arrived from the office, after getting the babysitter Devon’s panicked phone call, she’d heard the both hugely wonderful and hugely disappointing news. She didn’t go into the office every day, but she’d had a couple of meetings, and needed to catch up undistracted on some long overdue emails with her agent and financial advisor. Of course Echo, bless her little heart, waited for the moment Virginia was out of the house to blurt out her new word:

“Hi.”

Devon hastened to assure Virginia that was the word, after she’d seen Virginia’s face fall, but they both were well aware that “hi” was one of Echo’s first words ever. It was when Devon passed Echo, squirming and giggling, into her mother’s arms, saying, “There you go, say hi to mommy”, that Echo actually said the word that melted Virginia’s heart. “Mama.”

As Devon packed up her notebooks and textbooks, she said, “I’m really sorry, Virginia, but I have an appointment with my parole officer, and can’t be late for this one.”

After reassuring Devon and confirming that Cash hadn’t phoned or texted, Virginia paid her in bills instead of the usual cheque, adding a little extra for the stress and trouble.

 

Cash wondered what the new word was, and opened the lid of the wooden box to find another yellow note. Who knows how much you owe? it said. Cash saw one of Echo’s teething rings under the note, and when he picked it up it was still damp.

He spotted another Post-It note attached to the lampshade just inside the family room:

Come out of the darkness of your own ego.

There was a note on the flatscreen television:

Blank until turned on— like you.

The notes piled up. Cash kept each one neatly stacked, placing one on top of the other as he found them.

On the sofa:

A place to lie.

There was a longer note stuck to the mantle of the fireplace. It read:

You hate the song ‘Dust in the Wind’. It’s still true. How do you matter?

On the door of the fridge:

Fed up.

And most hurtfully, on the bedside table in the master bedroom:

When secrets don’t matter any more.

Cash sat on the bed and took out his cellphone. He put it back in his pocket again. He set the pile of notes beside him on the duvet. Driving home from the ad agency, he’d forgotten what happened at the meeting, and the dark young woman with the silky hair, and thought only of Echo, and her eyes as blue and clear as marble, the way her hand folded into a fist when she laughed, and the thin, wispy hair that they thought would never grow, and how it smelled like lilacs.

He was late, but he was often late. He should have called, but there were other times he should have called. He wasn’t a complete fool: He knew he was sometimes lax, lazy, spoiled. But he also knew how deeply he loved, how much Echo and Virginia meant to him. Surely they knew?

Annie’s cottage was a good three-hour drive. He wouldn’t text her while she was driving. This would also give him a chance to read the strange notes again, to gather his thoughts, to think of what to say to convince Virginia to bring Echo home again.

In a few minutes, he went to fix himself a sandwich. He’d taken the note down, but as he opened the fridge door he could see what she’d written as clearly and starkly as if it were etched into the surface:

Fed up.


Pink

Prompt: Pink

pink mobile

Cash and Virginia agreed about one thing: they wanted the nursery for Echo to be pink. They liked pink. Virginia liked it in her design and decor projects and Cash— well one of his favourite press photos was of himself a the Doral tournament with all the pros in a group photo, and Cash in a pink golf shirt looking masculine and caring. People magazine online published the pic.

Virginia supported pink ribbon causes, though she had her doubts. Breast cancer “awareness”— what was that? Were there people unaware of breast cancer? Where did the money go? As a professional model she accepted, all the same, stipends to appear and run mini marathons; she promoted the cause, for a fee, on her social media accounts. It all felt strange. How could she push the issues of the pink ribbon without succumbing to trendy and meaningless promotions that did nothing but further the images of the corporations who sponsored them?

Cash made several trips to China. He hated being away from baby Echo, but he needed to get serious about his business and the Chinese manufacturers of the prototype and possibly the contract for the mass production of the Dinex (name pending) chair. His dad was doubtful and disdainful, and he wasn’t completely sure where Virginia stood on the launch. But there was a young woman who worked for one of his contact firms, a girl with black hair as slick as a snail’s trail, who wore a pink spaghetti strap dress and looked at Cash the way Virginia had during the weeks of their early courtship.

There was a baby girl named Echo. She lay in her crib, on her back. surrounded by pink and black mobile abstracts, poking her hands and feet in the air as she learned how to move her limbs. She cared nothing about pink, and everything.

A Good Daddy

Prompt: Jiggle

jelly-2

Virginia was out go-karting with Envy, so Cash was left alone with baby Echo, who was sitting contentedly in her high chair, using her fingers to dissect a blob of strawberry Jello. Some of it made its way into her mouth, but most was pushed around the table top, dropped to the kitchen floor, or smeared on her face and bib.

Cash just watched, fascinated. He knew a good daddy might spoon-feed the jiggly Jello, maybe play the “Zoooom, an airplane!” game, which Cash had seen on TV. His father had certainly never played “Zoooom, an airplane” with Cash, and now he desperately wished he had. Was it too late? Maybe he’d wander over to the house when Virginia got back, knock on his father’s office door with a bowl of Jello, and ask his father to please play “Zoooom, an airplane!” with him.

His father would probably dial 911 and have his son discreetly committed. He didn’t like scandal.

There was no point, really, in playing “Zoooom, an airplane!” with Echo. She was really too young yet, this being her first week of solid food. She didn’t know an airplane from a tube of toothpaste. She barely understood that the high chair scenario, wherein delectable goods were placed in front of her, was for eating. It was merely another play opportunity; a chance to explore and experiment. That’s what fascinated Cash.

That, and his very neglectful father. The thing was, how could his father not have loved him? Cash had only to glance at Echo, no matter if she was screaming red-faced, being divested of a dirty diaper, asleep, drooling— and Cash felt his heart swell and then break into a million tiny pieces. The kind of broken heart that felt so good it hurt like hell.

What had his father seen when he saw Cash’s dirty bum or drool? Repulsion? In that case, very similar to what he saw in Cash now, despite his many, many attempts to please his father. How could they not fail, when his father’s utter lack of faith in him could only rub off on Cash? His venture in China seemed a good idea, but his father thought it a joke, though he did not swap a scowl for a smile. It was a tragic joke, a bit like Cash himself.

Echo started earnestly pushing daubs of strawberry Jello up her nose. Cash’s heart broke again, and he reached for the washcloth to gently wipe her hands and face.

Baby Love Not

Prompt: Baby

honest-diapers

Why did I agree to this? I hate kids, and I hate poo. I want to take the kids to the bridge and toss them over, or jump into certain death myself. It’s not my fault. Who would hire me? I have a tattoo of a rat on my neck, where everyone can see it, and a rusted heavy gothic rod pierced through the left side of my nose. I think it’s a beautiful thing, but my mother now pretends she is childless. I overheard her tell my father she would like to have children someday. I will never have kids. I hate them. Especially when they poo into paper. This is NOT worth twenty dollars. Who would hire me?

 


  • From a 100 words challenge

Parent Pair

Prompt: Invitation

chick-and-egg

“I’m not going.”

“Of course you are, it’s all about you.”

“It’s not about me, it’s about the baby,” said Virginia. She combed her hair while seated in front of her vanity mirror in the master bedroom of the coachhouse. She looked like a duchess from an English mini-series. “This is about your parents and their friends, and I refuse to play Madonna when I’m dead tired.”

“You’re hormonal,” said Cash, immediately regretting it.

“And you’re not, Mr Morning Sickness, Tender Nipple Man, Moody Bastard?”

“That was because I love you and Echo,” Cash said.

“They didn’t ask me, they just planned and invited. I had no say or warning. I’m tired Cash. I might even be fucking hormonal. I want to have a glass of Guinness and maybe a nap today. Fall asleep in front of the TV.”

“Babe,” said Cash. “Father and Mummy are just proud of you, of us. They want to celebrate their first grandbaby. Aren’t you proud? Don’t you want to celebrate?”

Virginia rolled her eyes so hard they almost flew out of their sockets. “You take the baby to the party.” Virginia looked at her watch. “She’ll most likely sleep through the whole thing.”

“Me?”

“You, the baby’s father and half of her parent-pair.”

“What if she wakes up?” said Cash.

“Then the world will end,” said Virginia.

“People will bring expensive gifts,” Cash said.

“Fantastic. I’ll write the thank-you notes.”

“I love you,” said Cash.

“Good,” said Virginia.