So Chuck Wendig (http://terribleminds.com/) sets a weekley flash fiction challenge – under 1000 words on a certain topic. This week, it’s bad parents. My story is below, all 800 or so words. Please let me know what you think.
She paused for second, mid-sentence and said, “Is Shelley behind you?”
They were in the KIDS section of Hannington’s Department Store. One of the televisions was showing an episode of Looking Laura. Shelley was watching with an intense concentration.
“Look, Daddy,” Shelley said. “It’s Laura.”
“Shelley, keep up,” he called back, doing his best to keep the frustration out of his voice. He ducked around two other shoppers, then a third, trying to catch up with his wife, who had stopped to pick up a pink dress from the rack. She was holding it up to her body, checking its size.
“Do you think this looks nice?”
“We can’t afford it,” he said.
“Remind me, where are you going next weekend?”
“That’s different. I’m the best man.”
“If you were the best man, you could have picked somewhere cheaper than Vegas and I could buy a new dress and wouldn’t have to spend the whole week looking after Shelley.”
“Is looking after our daughter a problem?” he said, knowing exactly how it would make her feel.
Her brow furrowed. “No, it just wouldn’t hurt if I could have some me time.”
They stepped onto the escalator.
“You’ll have your sister there,” he pointed out.
“She’ll want to go out every night. I can’t leave Shelley on her own.”
“Get a sitter.”
“We can’t afford a sitter,” she said, matter-of-factly. “All the money went on Vegas.”
He hated the way she said that. It sounded dirty.
“Daddy, look, look,” Shelley said.
“Shelley, Daddy is talking to Mummy. You have to wait.” He said it without glancing around to her.
“Anyway, she’s only staying another week, I’m sure,” his wife continued, “Just until things blow over. She’ll be gone by time you get back.”
“Sure,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s always just another week. Then after two months of free rent, free food, free TV, she’s still there, bitching about how the sofa’s too bumpy or that we don’t have Comedy Central.”
“Your family. Your sister.”
He thought he heard Shelley say something. “Wait, Shelley,” he said, with no real conviction in his voice. He turned back to his wife. “If you’re so desperate to buy new clothes, why don’t you tell your sister to pay rent?” he said.
She shrugged her shoulders. “If you want her to pay rent, then you only have to ask her.”
“Why should I have to ask her?”
“Because I’m not going to make family pay rent during her time of need.
“Her time of need?” He laughed, a long, hearty guffaw. “The only thing she needs is a chastity belt, tied nice and tight.”
“That’s not funny,” she said.
They were in foods.
“She could always move in with David,” he said. David was her brother.
“David has the dog.”
“What’s wrong with the dog?”
“I don’t know,” she said. They had stopped briefly whilst she absentmindedly looked at different breads. “It doesn’t like her. It growls whenever she comes in. I think it bit her once.”
“I thought it would have liked having another bitch around.”
Her face dropped and her lips fell downward.
“Fuck you,” she said, loud enough that it made him. There were tears in her eyes.
“Come on,” he said and reached out towards her. “It was a damn joke.”
She pushed him away and marched towards the exit. Some shoppers were staring. He called after her. When she didn’t stop, he followed.
The stores PA sprang to life. He didn’t hear it.
“Wait. Come on.”
“No,” she said. She wasn’t looking at him. “I’ve had enough. Leave me alone.”
They stepped out onto the street. The light out here was bright and real, the opposite of the synthetic luminous of the store’s fluorescents.
“Don’t you think I have enough of a hard time because of my sister? Don’t you think that I’ve had enough of the phone calls from Steven, and my mother, and David and everyone else, all trying to call me to see what’s going on with Katie. Why she’s not at home anymore? Why do you have to make it harder, huh? Why can’t you just help me out this one time?”
He put his arms around her and pulled her in. He could smell the store on her.
“I’m sorry,” he said, as genuinely as he could. She sniffed against his shirt. “Look, why don’t we head home? I’ll put dinner on, we can get a film, curl up on the sofa. Sound good?”
“Sure,” she said, her voice muffled against his t-shirt.
“Shelley, you ready to head home?”
He turned, looked down, expecting to see Shelley stood behind him. She wasn’t.
She pulled her head away, wiped away a tear with the back of her hand.
“What do you mean?”
“Shelley. Wasn’t she with you?”
“No,” he said.
“I thought you were keeping an eye on her.”
They headed back into the store. They ran through FOODS, LADIESWEAR, towards KIDS, pushing past people, calling Shelley’s name.