A Short story I composed in a group project for CRWR 209, Introduction to Fiction. Requirements for the story were that it had to include a snake, fireworks, a tavern, and the phrase “Call your mom.”
The door slams and mom bursts into tears. Dad’s gone for two weeks, timer starts now. I’m in my room with headphones in, music turned up loud, and even though I can’t hear anything I could tell you exactly what they said.
Dad started the job in 2015, the year I finished middle school. He leaves two weeks at a time eight times a year and things get a little bit worse every time he goes. There are times when we’ll stand on the driveway and wave him goodbye, there are times where he’ll leave the house and everything will go quiet, but mostly it’s like this— shouting, door slamming, sobs— a prelude to fourteen days of battle between me and her, the woman that replaces my mom when he walks out the door.
I can hear her coming up the stairs. She bangs on my door, tries to open it. I watch the knob wiggle and pull a headphone out. “Katie.” I Don’t answer. “Katie! Come downstairs and do your homework,” she shouts, louder than she has to. My homework is done, this isn’t about my homework, but I come down.
I’m at the dining room table waiting for whatever is supposed to happen and she’s in the kitchen, washing dishes that are already clean. It’s not long before I hear a coffee cup smash on the tile. Now she’s screaming. “Why do we keep you around if you’re not going to help? This house seems to operate around you and your fucking headphones.” By the time she came around the corner I had already left.
Oak leaves blow across the football field. I forgot my sweater. I do two laps, then sprint until my breath rasps and my cheeks are flushed. Once finished I crawl under the bleachers to get away from the wind. From a crack between the seats I can see a group of tenth grade guys walking across the field, lighting fireworks. I watch their bottle rockets zip across the sky and I think that this is the most excited I’ve felt since the last time dad came home. They shoot one my direction and it explodes just before it hits the bleachers. The noise spooks something in the grass. A snake. I shrink as it slithers up the hill and onto the path. Just then somebody comes by on a bike and crushes it dead. The bike keeps going and I stay there a while, looking at the lifeless snake.
When I get back it’s dark outside and mom is lying on the couch, an empty bottle of wine beside her. I walk past and she mutters something but doesn’t open her eyes.
The next day I wait until she leaves before going down to eat. I spend the day at school wondering what dad is doing and when the bell rings I head out to the track for practice. We stretch, run warm-up laps and split into heats. When I approach the line my coach is watching. She’s holding a starting pistol in one hand and a stopwatch in the other. She raises the gun in the air, still watching. The gun fires and I take off. I finish the sprint before most of the girls are halfway down the track.
When practice is over I put on my sweats and climb up to the top of the bleachers. Soon the track is empty.
When I look behind me I can see the snake, still laid out on the path. I turn back, put my headphones in and try to forget it’s there. Half an hour later I hear the zip and crack of bottle rockets again. I look up to see the tenth graders and catch one of them, the tall one, looking my way. I wave at him and they come over.
“Is that all you guys do?” I ask when they approach.
“Nah, sometimes we smoke pot,” they laugh. I keep my eyes on the tall one.
“I’ve seen you before,” he says then. “You’re on the track team. Pretty good, too.”
“Thanks. Skylar, right?”
He nods. “This is Colin, that’s Brad.” The other two wave but say nothing.
“I’m Katie. Hey,” I gesture to the fireworks in their hands. “Can I have some of those? They look like fun.”
Skylar looks me up and down. “Sure,” he says, “be careful.”
“I will,” I promise. He reaches into his bag, pulls out a fresh box and hands it to me with a lighter.
“You’ll probably need one of these.”
He lights one to show me how they work, then they walk off. When I can’t see them anymore I get up to go home.
The lights are out and I have to use my key to get in. After making some ramen I go up to my room and pull out the fireworks to examine them. “Flying Poppers, x 12, with report”. I open it up and take out one of the thin red sticks. In the middle of the stick is a little capsule with a bit of green thread that pokes out the top before diving into the wrapping. Opening the window I hold it at arm’s length, lighting the green thread like Skylar showed me. The thread has almost burned under the paper when I realize I’m holding it the wrong way. I try to throw it out the window but it’s too late and the capsule shoots straight up my sleeve, lodges into my armpit and explodes. I let out a scream as hot pain shoots through my shoulder. When my shirt comes off I see two patches of raw flesh and begin to cry. I grab my phone to call 911, remember that fireworks are illegal where we live, and decide to call dad instead. When he answers he sounds tired but when I tell him what happened his voice becomes sharp. “Go into our bathroom and open the bottom drawer,” he explains, “ take out the gauze and the Polysporin. Get in the shower, run cool water over it for five minutes, dry off and bandage it up as best you can. Then call your mom.” I begin to interject but he’s already apologizing, saying it’s three in the morning where he is, that he loves me, but that he has to be up in three hours. I tell him I love him too and hang up.
My phone clock says it’s 9:30 and most of the pain is gone. The first time I try her it goes to voicemail, so I try again. When she finally answers I can’t hear her, there are loud voices and what sounds like a sports broadcast. “I hurt myself,” I say against the din. Then I hang up. Ten minutes later A car pulls up and the front door is unlocked. When she comes into my room she stumbles, then looks at me with her bloodshot eyes. “Show me your arm,” she says. I do. “Take those off.”
I start to unwrap the bandages and she leaves without looking at the wounds. Looking around I realize the lighter and bottle rockets are still on the bed and I hide them just as she comes back. She’s holding the Polysporin and gauze and she sits down beside me. Her breath stinks of alcohol but she wraps the bandage skillfully. When she secures it with a safety pin I flinch, but she doesn’t poke me. She doesn’t ask what happened either, and before she leaves she gives me an ibuprofen and tells me to remind her in three days that the bandage needs changing. She shuts the door and I’m left there, alone.