Flash Fiction: Hidden Losses

On one of the saddest days of his life, the son remembers a happier time with his father. A MOOC assignment.

A continuation of this piece.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Luis stumbled out of the bedroom, face twisted horribly in an effort to stop crying. When the beeping machines surrounded his father had suddenly changed to a piercing single-note whine, he had completely lost all semblance of control.

“GO TOWARD THE LIGHT, DADDY!” he had screamed, clutching at the bedclothes. The at-home doctor and her nurses had swarmed in at the noise, and had tried to pull him away. “GOD IS WAITING FOR YOU! GO TO MOM!”

It was Arnie, always bigger and stronger than he, who finally wrestled their father’s limp, cold hand out of Luis’s grip, and bodily moved his brother out of the way. Luis had screeched and fought while the nurses looked on pitifully, but Arnie was impassive and unmovable. It was only when the machines had been switched off, and the sheet pulled over his father’s face that Luis had at last fallen limp and sobbing.

Arnie had left him in a heap on the ground while he went over to the bed. Luis had blearily watched him stare at the empty shell that had been their daddy (had he made it to heaven? Oh please, oh please…), before turning abruptly to talk with the doctor. Luis had known what was coming next; the dark men in suits were all waiting downstairs in the parlor for the news. And then they would take out their wills and contracts and pens and coldly decide what would be done now that the boss was dead. He didn’t want to know.

Luis walked unsteadily down the long, carpeted hallway, a little calmer now. Fiercely trying to keep his mind blank in order to ignore he’s dead, he’s dead, he stared fixedly at the walls. They were covered in portraits and other pictures, of family and world architecture. A number of dusty shelves were strategically placed at intervals along the way, showcasing various trinkets, figurines, and – he noted with surprise – school awards.

Honor roll certificates, Fruit of the Spirit notifications, sport medals – they were all there, lovingly placed and proudly displayed. Most of them bore Arnie’s name. But there was one from Luis. Despite his determination to feel nothing, a small inkling of pride swelled within him, and he picked up the trophy with an only slightly trembling hand. It was small, heavy, and still wonderfully shiny. “First Place Spelling Bee,” it proclaimed above the engraved name. “Sixth Grade District Championships.”

Oh, how ecstatic he had been on that day, Luis remembered. He had studied and studied for weeks, and he had never been more nervous than when he found himself on that big stage with dozens of lights and hundreds of people. But he pulled through, listened to the words, spelled them out carefully, and taken home the trophy. His mother had been beside herself with joy, his father beaming with pride. Arnie had seemed strangely stiff, but he still had given Luis a hearty pat on the back and a “Good job, bro.” It was the happiest day of his life.

And thus, a strangely fitting thing to remember on one of the saddest. Luis’s reminiscent smile faded as he remembered what had happened only moments before, and he clutched the trophy tightly to his chest.

That was how Arnie found him a few minutes later.

“C’mon. I know you don’t want to do this, but we both have to be there to sort out the will business,” he said. He didn’t look as though he had been crying at all, and Luis felt a hot rush of shame. To hide this, he held out the trophy.

“Look what I found! Remember? My first trophy? How happy Dad was…” He gave it a fond smile.

Arnie didn’t even glance at it. “Yeah. C’mon, the quicker we do this, the quicker it’ll be over.”

Thinking about what he now had to do made tears threaten again, and Luis quickly put the trophy back on the shelf and brushed past Arnie down the hallway, wiping his eyes furiously. Hopefully, the talks wouldn’t be in the bedroom; he didn’t think he could stand going near that place ever again. Preoccupied with his thoughts, he barely noticed a loud thunk from behind, almost as if something small and heavy had been knocked off a shelf.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Not much commentary for this one, except that it’s WAY over the 400 word limit. I couldn’t figure out how to cut it down without losing something – why he’s crying, why he left, the object’s history. The latter was part of the assignment: “Look at the setting you wrote last week and begin to expand it into a world with a past. Introduce an object or two into it that your characters must handle, or struggle with, or use, or destroy.”

It actually took me awhile to figure out what exactly that object would be, as I didn’t picture their father being the sentimental type. I had this idea that Arnie is actually from his father’s first marriage to a widow, and thus not biologically his son or Luis’s brother. I thought reminiscing over an object from his birth mother would provide an interesting scene, but I didn’t want to fall into the trope that all adoptees are secretly unhappy or unfulfilled. My own father was adopted, and besides an idle curiosity about his birth parents, he was always happy and content with his family.

So I veered away from that, and focused on the brothers’ personalities that I had developed in the first piece: that Luis is a bit childish and emotional, the sort of person who would still be sentimental about a trophy from elementary school; and Arnie, the eternal grown-up who has to be the adult in this difficult situation, despite the obvious fact that he still harbors schoolboy resentment at his brother for beating him at something.

“Trophies” by stopbits is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
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