Flash Fiction Challenge: Bad Parent

Ah, what will Chuck Wendig have us write this week, I wondered as I opened the email.

Bad parents? That’s our topic? Someone get Chuck a drink or take him out for cotton candy or something, stat. I think he’s fallen into a bit of writer depression, and I don’t want to write about puppy kicking next week.

I kid. I kid because I love.

I tried to put some kind of funny twist on this and failed ever so miserably. So be warned: this is depressing as hell. But maybe that’s the point.

Bad Parent

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I watch my four-year-old son chase a Monarch butterfly across the yard. He jumps and tries to catch it. I laugh and finish drying the plastic bowl I removed from the dishwasher.

When I finish cleaning the kitchen, I grab my coffee cup and iPad and sit on the back porch to read the morning news. The headline that flashes at me when I open the newspaper app nearly makes me drop my cup.

Toddler dies of heat stroke after father leaves him in a hot car.

I shudder. When will these people learn? I try not to imagine the suffering the child endured as the temperature climbed, unable to do anything to save himself.

I sigh as my seven-year-old son leaves the house and walks across the yard to dig in the dirt, his favorite pastime. How much would I find in his pockets before the next load of laundry? I’d be lucky if I didn’t find a worm in there.

I finish my coffee and re-enter the house. I sit at my desk to check my email as my eleven-year-old walks behind me and opens the fridge.

“No soda this early,” I say.

He grumbles and leaves the room.

I close the laptop, grab the laundry basket at the top of the stairs, and walk towards the laundry room, thinking about the poor boy left in a hot car.

The story said it was an accident. The father simply forgot the child was there, forgot to drop him off at daycare. He went to work without a care in the world and only noticed the boy when the daycare lady said he never dropped the child off that morning.

Some were petitioning to have the charges against the father dropped. “He’s suffered enough already,” they said.

I shake my head. There could be no greater suffering than losing a child. Anything the DA added would pale in comparison.

I sniff the clothes as I pull them from the dryer. Time to change detergents. My current, biodegradable selection wasn’t cutting through my thirteen-year-old’s body odor. And he asks why the girls don’t want to talk to him.

I carry the clothes to my bedroom and dump them on the bed. I glance at the nightstand on my wife’s side of the bed – she didn’t put on her necklace. Odd, I think. She always wears it. It holds a ruby, the birthstone for the month of July.

I finish folding the clothes and carry them to the various rooms to put them away. My sixteen-year-old would want his grubby Captain America shirt. It makes him cool among his other nerdy friends, I guess.

Why didn’t anyone see that poor boy, locked in the car, helpless and dying? Why didn’t anyone break a window and pull him out? I’d heard of people doing that to save dogs. Wasn’t a child more precious?

I return to the kitchen to write a grocery list. My nineteen-year-old would be visiting from college this weekend, and he eats more than his share at every visit. I need to stock up on cheesy popcorn, his favorite. I smile as I anticipate his visit. Maybe he’ll tell me more about that girlfriend of his.

“All right, Moran, let’s go. You’re late for roll call.”

The gruff voice makes me open my eyes, pulling me from my daydream. I look at the guard through the bars. “You could just let me get in trouble.”

“You’re not a bad guy. Now let’s go.”

I rise from my bed and walk towards the door. The guard opens it and escorts me to the line, where I follow the other cons to the dining hall, as I’ve done every morning for the past three years.

I was sentenced to eight years for reckless manslaughter and child abuse resulting in death. With good behavior, my lawyer thinks I could get out in five.

You’re not a bad guy, the guard said. He often says that. I wonder if he means it.

I’d let my son die in my hot car, after all. He was only a year old, and he was my only child. He would have been two the month following his death, on July sixteenth.

Maybe I’m not a bad guy, I think. Just a bad parent.

I slug through the day as I always do: I work my prison job, eat my prison food, do my prison exercise. And at the end of it, I do the same thing I always do: I ask my son for forgiveness.

I like to pretend he can hear me.

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