Saturday, July 28, 2012

Flash Fiction Friday: Pathetic

The Flash Fiction Friday Fandango rolls onward this week, with Grant Miller's challenge to begin a 1000 word tale with the sentence "Call Me Maybe", which I'm told is a popular song. This story is called "Pathetic".

"Call me. Maybe? What do you mean 'maybe'? Oh, you'll call me. I know you will. Bye," she said, chuckling and shaking her head softly as she disconnected from the call. Marie had gone into the cabin to prepare for bed, and I walked over to the girl. She was sitting on the top of the picnic table, her long legs folded under her. She looked like an athlete, strong and graceful, with a hooded sweatshirt that had a soccer ball on it above tiny shorts.

"Mr. Laughlin?," she said, when I was far enough into the moonlight to be visible. It was a heartbreakingly clear night, still warm, but with the taste of fall around the edges. The moon was out, and the stars beyond it were sharp and defined.

"It is I," I said. That sounded stupid, I thought. She unfolded herself and stepped down onto the ground. Her legs were remarkable, long, straight, smooth, muscled and flawless. She had impossibly tiny feet in tiny athletic shoes with a sliver of sock visible. Her calves bulged, but just enough. She looked like she was turned out of marble instead of flesh. She probably wouldn't admit it, but she looked like she knew they were her best feature.  

"You're the last ones," she said cheerfully. "That means I'm out of here." We were at a family conference sponsored by a number of churches, and the teens were shanghaied into serving as impromptu babysitters so adults could attend programs at night. They sat and gossiped at the communal picnic area as the children, hopefully, slept. Marie and I had attended a somewhat somnolent program about "Making God Real". I had enough trouble just making breakfast for two kids. God would have to make himself real.   

"Any problems?," I asked, while I fished in my pocket for a bill. They were supposed to be volunteering, but I felt like the kid deserved something for her trouble. She could have done anything, but she was here. That was worth something.

"Evie had a little issue. She came to the door and said something about a bad dream. I went in and sat with her for a minute, and she went right back down. Not a peep out of the baby, though." I tried to imagine this girl, her shadow enormous in the tiny cabin, holding my daughter's tiny hand, comforting her fears. I felt a tiny stab of guilt, as I always did when anyone other than me had to provide her succor.

Typical, I thought. Evie had taken the new sibling hard, and was becoming increasingly emotional. "Thank you," I said. This girl was so tall, it was impossible to imagine her tiny and helpless like Evie.

"Oh, it's no problem at all. Evie's a sweetie pie. I did crafts with her this morning. I like her."

I got out the bill and tried to hand it to her. I saw a bird dash across the moon, like it was ashamed of something.

"Oh no," she said, taking a half step away from me. "I couldn't."

"Please," I said, "I insist. You're so good with her. I appreciate it." I watched her face, her eyes searching for a reason to take it.

She took the bill. "Well thank you, Mr. Laughlin. That's so nice. But I'm happy to do it. I love kids."

"Well, we appreciate it. You could have spent the time with your friends." You and your beautiful friends, I thought, laughing away your youth like you think you'll never turn into one of us, beset with spouses and kids and mortgages and work you hate.

"Most of my friends are doing this. But thank you," she said again. A brief breeze ruffled the edge of her shorts and she shivered.

"What are you going to do now?, " I said. She tucked a stray hair behind a tiny, perfectly formed ear.

"I don't know," she said, brightening. "A bunch of kids are going down to the beach and hang out. I think I'll go see if anybody I know is there." There was a stretch of beach sand along the shore of the lake. I tried to imagine it, all the young bodies, some pairing off, others engaging in ragged singalongs, their voices fading over the still water. Would there be alcohol? Pot? I didn't have anything against either, but I also knew how muddy decisions could be when you used them.

"Well, enjoy yourself," I said. What is it like to be young, I wanted to say. What does it feel like to look like you and have everyone turn their head when you walk over? What is it like to be the center of the world? Tell me, because I don't remember. If I ever knew.

"I will, Mr. Laughlin. Thanks again, and I look forward to seeing Evie again tomorrow morning."
She pulled her sweatshirt down, making her small breasts jut out. She turned and started to walk away. Don't waste these years, I wanted to say to her. Treasure this time, because you won't look like this forever.

"Thanks. G'night, now," I said. I watched her walk, the careful symmetry of her bobbing hips fading into the darkness.

"You're pathetic," Marie said from the screen door behind me. "Come to bed."


  1. I love that last line. I also enjoyed the way you described the night: "it was a heartbreakingly clear night..." very beautiful.
    Great story, very clear.

  2. Man, you're really good at capturing these small moments -- your stories are always so exact.

  3. Nicely done. I liked the simile of the ashamed bird, and the fact that he saw her shorts ruffle in the breeze -obviously watching those legs.
    Comes across just right - I don't see him lusting after her, just appreciating her youthful beauty and trying to recapture his own youth.

  4. This really does portray a very important moment. I don't believe anything predatory was in his motives either, just a monumental realization of reaching yet another milestone in his life. Not that there was anything wrong with it or he was unhappy about it, but there is always that regret that all the other milestones have passed. The girl's are yet to come, and I think he felt like he should warn her, but of what? You've shown us a real life moment and done it extremely well.


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