Flash Fiction: Persistent Poison

A mother talks to her children about their father, albeit avoiding the real truth. A MOOC assignment.


“Oh, by the way, your dad wants to see you guys this weekend.”

Isabel looked up from browsing Instagram on her phone, and stared at her mother in disbelief. “What? After what happened last time? No way!”

Mom sighed, and glanced at her daughter briefly before turning her attention back to the road. “I know. But he has every right to see you if he wants to. He promises –“

“He always promises, Mom,” Isabel said bitterly. “He’s never going to get better. Never.”

“What’s wrong with Daddy?” piped up a small voice from the backseat.

“Nothing, Ronnie,” said their mother quickly. “He’s just…sick.”

Isabel made a disparaging noise, but not so her little brother could hear.

“Does he need to go to the doctor? Does he need shots?” Ronnie asked, sounding very worried. It made Isabel’s heart hurt.

Mom had a pained expression on her own face, but she said lightly, “No, sweetie. He’s okay. We talked about this, remember? Daddy’s too sick to…live with us anymore and that’s why you can only see him sometimes.”

“Oh. Yeah.”

Twisting in her seat, Isabel watched Ronnie look pensive and sad for a moment before turning his attention back to his 3DS.

“See?” she hissed at her mother. “This is why I don’t want to go. It’s upsetting.”

“Ronnie doesn’t know anything. He doesn’t understand,” Mom said tightly.

Isabel fought to keep her voice low. “But I do. I don’t wanna deal with it anymore. I’m sick of it.”

“Unfortunately,” Mom said, knuckles now white on the steering wheel, “He has visitation rights. But I’ve asked for your grandparents to be there the whole time.”

“They didn’t notice anything was wrong last time!” Isabel said, practically shouting. “The whole day, nothing! How could they just ignore it?”

Isabel was aware that Ronnie was staring at her, and Mom must’ve noticed in the rearview mirror, for she said, “We’ll talk about this when we get home.”

“No, I want to talk about it now! You called them afterward, after I told you that he had been -” Isabel glanced at Ronnie, “– what he was like. What did they say?”

There was a heavy pause before Mom finally said quietly, “I told you. They didn’t seem to think he was. You have to remember that they haven’t lived with him for the past 16 years, like you have. They don’t know the signs.”

A feeling of disgust and the burning pain of memory surged in Isabel’s chest. Tears pricked her eyes, and she stared fixedly out the window.


This week for MOOC, we had to bring at least three characters (or more) together in a scene where something is wrong: creating a situation that feels confusing, or alarming, or chaotic, or unfamiliar, and having them figure out what to do – and use the dialogue to establish who they are, to show their personalities.

I’m not entirely sure I did this assignment right, as I decided to rely almost entirely on dialogue, sans any expository descriptions. In doing so, I might’ve left it too vague. The image above hopefully helps, but just in case it’s still not clear, the father is an alcoholic. A relatively safe one, because his children are allowed to visit, but clearly, the mother is not happy about it. “The last time” the daughter refers to is that when they last saw their father, he had been drinking, but she was the only one who noticed. The son has no idea about any of this, due to his mother wishing to protect him from the truth.

This situation is based on reality. My own father was, and remains, an alcoholic, with little indication of getting any better. A functioning alcoholic, he never abused or otherwise hurt us, but I no longer visit him, though my siblings do. Unlike Isabel, I usually avoid talking about it as much as I can, though writing this wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I could go into more detail about growing up in these circumstances and how I deal with it now, but I think that would warrant its own blog post. And also be really depressing.

“Wine Flute” by nebarnix is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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