Saturday, May 19, 2012

Flash Fiction Friday: "Unnecessary"

Our friends at Flash Fiction Friday have a simple task for us this week: 1000 words, as long as three of them are frenetic, cummerbund, and hobbit. This is called "Unnecessary," and it is humbly dedicated to my main man Lance, who, if he does not know whereof this character speaks, soon will.

Daniel knew when he was not necessary. Living in a house with three women and four cats, he developed a keen sense for the parts of life he was needed for, things like grilling burgers on major holidays, opening jars, and killing spiders. The rest of the time, he told his pal Steve at work, he just tried to keep out of sight. It was a matter of survival.

He sat in the living room, halfheartedly looking at a trade publication. The television was playing ESPN silently. He had passed by the girls' rooms upstairs, observing the frenetic beehive of activity at a distance. The bathroom was in constant use, doors slamming, girls in towels leaving one room, entering another, then leaving again and going back to the first one. He followed his usual dictum, grabbing what he needed and abandoning the upstairs to the fairer sex.

He knew this day was coming. Every father with girls did, and it was another one of those knife edge moments you faced, where your instincts and your deep emotions had to be tamped down by your logic and reason. He didn't want tonight to happen, but he knew he couldn't stop it, so like so many things, just take cover and wait for the storm to pass. He trusted them to make the right decisions. The boys? Not so much.

He was pretty sure they would be OK- they had talked about drinking, and drugs, and sex, ad nauseum, with their daughters, for years now, getting their full quota of eyerolling and long sighs. In the end, it was like his colleague Diane had told him years ago, clucking with sympathy at the thought of two teenage daughters, "you tell 'em, and you tell 'em, and you tell 'em- eventually, you just have to hope they listened."

Daniel stared at the condensation forming on the side of his Diet Pepsi. He wanted a beer. Needed a beer, really. But he didn't need to ask if that would be OK. He knew it wouldn't be. It was diet cola until the cummerbund clad boys and begowned girls had assembled, been fluttered around and fussed over, and then bid farewell. Lara would probably go upstairs and cry about her lost youth, and he would switch over to the Royals broadcast, open a beer, eat some chips, and see what new method they had divined for blowing tonight's game.

A door slammed, and he heard the solid sound of high heels on wood. As with any two sisters, Nicole and Justine had their little differences, quirks of personality that made them fully present individuals instead of carbon copies. Nicole was the girliest, wearing a skirt to any event more formal than gardening. Justine was always more reserved, quieter, more observant, spending one summer reading "The Hobbit" over and over while her sister tanned and painted her toenails and performed elaborate weddings between Barbie and Ken.

They were in Nicole's world now, updos and mascara and wardrobe tape in places he didn't want to think about and Daniel imagined Justine would be uncomfortable all night, secretly eager to shed the uncomfortable shoes and return to Jane Eyre and sweatpants as soon as possible. Lara loved every moment of the process, probably quietly reliving her own days as the center of the world before college and real life and age pushed you to the periphery of everything.

Daniel thought about his own prom, Sarah, so angelic and round hipped, who kissed him frantically in the limo on the way home, but demurred when his eager hand found her warm thigh. It was a weird formalized dance- they expected you to try, so you did, knowing they would decline. It was a confirmation of the pseudo adultness of the whole process, a nod to the effort spent making themselves attractive.

He actively, aggressively did not want to think about these boys, callow Duane and suave Robert, who would walk out of here with his daughters' manicured hands on their arms. He didn't know what the rituals were like these days, but he figured they couldn't be far different than his day. Lips would find lips, a perfumed, powdered neck, and then...what? Lara probably knew if they were virgins, but Daniel never asked. If he had to guess, he would say Justine was, and her sister was not, but he really didn't want to know. It was one of those walls, made of something as clear as Saran Wrap but also hard and bulletproof, that came between them now. Was this to be a shining, momentous night for one of them, a night to be recalled long into their own grandmotherhood, with him just a distant memory, buried under a grassy hill?

Daniel shook his head, watching Chris McKendry animatedly describe an auto race, then narrate a Kings team trying to defend the Stanley Cup. It was different now- different teams were winning, different things were important. Everything was different, and nobody asked you what you thought about it. It was prom night, and he was reduced to being a cheerleader, approving of everything and judging nothing. He thought about driving the girls home from the hospital, almost two decades ago, helpless and tiny, weak and soft, and it seemed inconceivable that these strong young women, with long legs and limitless potential and passionate opinions, were even the same species. Someday, he warned them silently as they eased their way downstairs, step by step, elegant, pointed toes exploring each step carefully, you'll have kids of your own, and you'll go back to being helpless again.


  1. i just fell to the floor in a pile of anxiety and am struggling to pick myself up again. and my daughter is only six!

  2. The significance of the 'prom' is a cultural difference for me. Here in the UK, some schools are beginning with this but it's almost a feigned pastiche of what we see in American films.

    My own kids are past this stage (I think my daughter would have died rather than have to make a decision about which of her male classmates was up to scratch for escort duty!)

    The narrator paints a beautiful vignette of this 'rite of passage' - a bitter-sweet tale of loosening the apron strings.

    This was so beautifully written. Well done!

    SueH I refuse to go quietly!

    Twitter - @Librarymaid

  3. You capture the helplessness of late parenthood very well here, the sadness that hardens into "just wait until you have kids"

  4. Very well done, been there, done that with my little girl. Captured the feelings just right.

  5. This was awesome! My son is 16 and going through this very phase of "pseudo-adultness". In fact, I've had to have repeated talks about his girlfriend who I find excessively clingy.

    Told him the other day that he will have children his own one day and will say the same things I do.

  6. What an absolutely magnificent story. All things change and yet all things remain the same. This captures the anxiety of a parent when they feel they're no longer needed. How dare those children grow and mature and try to leave the house and do things on their own? How dare they?

    I have an adult son who is extremely successful, and to this day, I still kid myself into believing I'm needed for ANYTHING. I'm blessed enough to be able to help raise my grandson and granddaughter, so I still have a small purpose. One bright spot in my life though is I do hear him saying my exact words to his children. I guess I did 'good' after all.

    Love this story. Even to a mother, it brings back a lot of memories.

  7. This is so good. Clean, spare, emotional, and true.

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