Honorable Mention: Flash 405 June 2016, Judith Freeman’s “Metamorphosis”
“Yes, sir.” I scoot my chair forward, not closer, just forward, and the wooden legs cheep against the floor. Instead of at his hip, I’m sitting just beneath his shoulder. No farther though, I tell myself, keep some distance, from his face, his gaze, his indifference. Against the sterile white sheets, his skin looks gray. I try not to feel anything, no sadness, no anger, no love; yet I feel all three, welled up and perched in my throat. I stare at the worn wallpaper above his head—fat, vertical columns, gold then yellow, then gold. The hush feels clumsy. I think, this cannot be comforting to him? Can it? But if rigid, thick silence is all a dying man wants, well, who am I not to oblige?
“Son.” The word sounds like he put it through a colander, low and strained. And difficult to bare. In response, I simply tighten my cheeks and forehead, and lean in, a little. He raises his bony fingers and spans them out. For me to hold, I presume. But I let them hover. So he drops his hand on the bed and says, “Talk to me.”
I can feel my face slacken. And the blood rush begins, pulsing hard, then harder. Below his knobby knuckle sits a heart monitor, the light is a dull, sickly red. I hope that it starts spinning or flickering—whatever—just fill this big white space. Say something, I command myself. Fuck, say anything. We speak, at the same time:
“I don’t know what to—”
“How are the—” then wait for one another to continue, my chest feels light and my heart skittish, like when you’re about to run a race, and the starter’s gun is up. This is it. I’m going to tell him. I’m going to say, you hurt me, Dad. And by God, he’s going to hear me.
“Please, boy, you go,” he says, then exhales, heavy. His lips are thin and stuck together in the corners. I look between my knees, and study the tile a moment—it’s old but polished, with random black specks, I think they look like ants. I suck in hard through my nostrils, let my mouth bunch to one side, a half smile, and lift my head. His stare is iced over now, and blank.
When I open my mouth, his eyes idle, then, slow as pouring oil, they close.
There’s so much going on in this story, all of it emotional, an anguished little pas de deux. Dialogue used so sparingly (yet daring to start a story with a line of it) is so effective when you get it right, and this story gets it right. Just enough. And at the right moment. The sense of place I always want, to locate me in physical time/space, is here evoked so powerfully, in this quiet hospital room, where what cannot be said never is, and yet gets offered up so clearly anyway.
Chad V. Broughman is a poet and short story author, and teaches English and Creative Writing at the secondary and post-secondary levels. His fiction has appeared in publications such as Burning Word, East Coast Literary Review, River Poets Journal, and Wild Violet and is forthcoming in Carrier Pigeon magazine. As well, his short story, a bicycle for Madeline, recently won the story prize for the 2016 Scythe Prize book. He is a regular contributor to the Café Aphra writer’s blog out of the U.K. and is a candidate for an MFA at Spalding University. He lives in northern Michigan with his forbearing wife and two rambunctious young sons. His website can be found at www.chadvbroughman.com or he can be followed on Twitter: @ChadVBroughman.