I HAVE NEVER WRITTEN FICTION THAT WASN’T A PLAY BEFORE.
This is an idea I’ve had kicking around for a while. I have no idea if it’s good, due to my inability to evaluate my own work and also because I assume most short stories aren’t written somewhat frantically in the course of an evening while eating cheesy eggs from a mug and rewatching Ted Lasso???
Write A Short Story Or Poem About Rain
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Flapping hand flops all over the nightstand, searching for the noise; cat???, badnaughty cat sharpening claws on the lampshade??? Awful child, doing whatever for unknowable child-reasons? Either way: they should’ve known he wouldn’t hesitate with the spray bottle. But no: phone.
His hand managed to pry it from its charging-cradle, knocking his watch off its spindle and toppling a couple of books into the gap between the bed and the stand; those were gonna suck to fish out later, after he yelled at whoever this was to death. Phone too bright to see, but his dumb animal-mind saw a caller-ID too long to be a contact name and swore the eternal vengeance of the sleepy on Scam Likely: Private Eye.
The word went off in his ear like a bomb, and a tide of frost sliced under the paper of his skin, glacing across his entire body.
His wife, who had stirred and waited in half-sleep for clarity on these events, shot upright at the sound of their daughter’s name. Their six-year-old daughter. Their six-year-old daughter, who didn’t have a phone, and couldn’t have been calling from the landline because it wasn’t friggin’ 1987. She exploded from the bed, kicking several goddamn cats in the process, nearly falling headfirst into the dresser, and sprinted toward Dasey’s room, her feet thundering on the stairs. He followed as best he could, navigating their home poorly in the dark, adrenaline-flooded endocrine system and gear-slipped mind struggling to synchronize, his heart a Dragonforce drum the size of a watermelon. It had been perhaps fifteen seconds, from the moment he answered the phone to the second they burst into their daughter’s room, fumbled for the light, and saw that it was empty, rain pattering on the dark window.
“Dasey, where are you?”
“I don’t know?” Her tiny voice sounded more confused than afraid, and he heard chatter in the background that didn’t seem super kidnappy, but??? He turned on the speakerphone; mostly, if he was honest, so his wife would stop punching him and gesturing to the phone.
“Hi, sweet peep, what’s that noise all around you?”
“Oh, I’m in a restaurant? I came in and Mr. T.K. let me use his phone, you can talk to h–“
“NO,” they shouted together. “Dasey, turn on the speakerphone so we can talk to both of you, it’s the button that l–yeah, that one,” he said as the background noise became more prominent but fuzzier, like a moldy orange rolling into the foreground.
“Hello? Peep are you still there?”
“I’m here! And so is he!”
“Hello?” said an older, nasal voice. “Is this Dasey’s parents?” He mispronounced it slightly, as most people did at first like she was named after the flower, instead of with the sharp s the name inherited when her parents combined theirs to create hers.
“Yes hello,” she said, impressively calm all things considered, but wound so tight he could hear the muscles in her jaw creak as he cast about their child’s room for something to write with and on, settling for a Peg + Cat notebook and a broken pencil; he scrawled ‘T.K.’ and the time from the wall-clock on the first page he found that wasn’t covered in threatening letters to the kid in the Pedialite commercial or schematics for something called ‘anti-broccoli’. “Who is this?”
“This is Tim Kretsedemas, owner, T.K.’s Deli; guess your girl got away from you, huh?” He laughed the small laugh of a man that’s lost a child or two at the grocery store in his time, which was worse than if he’d sounded like a creep; that laugh was a sound for when everything was okay, even if it hadn’t been until just that moment, and things were still very much not okay.
“Where are you folks, over at Barrat’s? I don’t mind if she hangs out until you’re done, but you might wanna get her a coat while you’re out, it’s too cold for her to be around in her paj–
“Excuse me Tim–
“T.K.!” she said, definitely weirdly cheerful, probably somewhat reassured by the lack of readily-apparent danger to her child and overcompensating. “We have no idea what’s happening, this call woke us up and our daughter was gone. How did she get there?”
“What?” T.K. asked, clearly thrown. “She just walked in and asked to use my phone to call her parents.”
“I stayed in public and looked for a grownup who couldn’t take me anywhere!” Dasey piped up in the background, her mouth audibly half-full of some deli snackable or other.
“She sure did!” half-shouted an elderly voice in the deep background, to laughter from same. He saw his wife almost collapse with relief and would’ve done likewise if he hadn’t focused all of his energy on noting every piece of information he could think of about this call. Their baby was safe.
“That’s my girl,” she said, shooting him a look that said see, I told you she wasn’t too young for Dateline. He glanced at the framed, autographed poster of Keith Morrison she’d begged for on her fifth birthday, and he couldn’t help but cede the point. He tipped Keith a knowing wink, and at that moment he would’ve sworn before Moses, Mohammad, and the Man Jesus that Keith winked back.
He steeled himself, looking at his wife and nodding to her; it had to be done.
“Honey, how did you get there? Did someone steal you from our house? Did anyone hurt you, in any way?”
“No, I was dreaming, and then my dream stopped being a dream and I was outside and it was cold, so I looked around and saw some people going into Mr. T.K.’s restaurant so I did too, and he made me a breakfast sandwich and said I could eat it after we called you.” Once again her mouth was obviously half-full and this explanation was filled with chomping, so evidently T.K. was as successful at setting boundaries as any parent. This time they did collapse, into each other, if only for a moment. She was safe, and she hadn’t been hurt, or worse. The rest would just be sorting out details.
“Looks like maybe little miss didn’t wanna go to school today, huh?” T.K. laughed again.
“Don’t care! She never has to go to school again!”
(Dasey, background: “Wait, what?!“)
“Okay, T.K., where are you? We’re gonna come and get her, and then have five heart attacks, each, all at the same time.”
“Oh I’m just on the corner of Ballard and 15th, across the post office, you can’t miss it.”
“Bal–okay we’re gonna look that up–” She gestured at him to write and gave a small start, followed by a tiny moue and head-bob of approval as she noticed he’d basically transcribed the entire conversation.
He zooped to get his computer from the family room to look it up as she stayed and asked Dasey over and over if she was okay, as if afraid that she would disappear if her voice went unheard for a moment. Fortunately, she was her father’s daughter, so there was never much danger of that; the air behind T.K. was filled with the sound of her attempting to explain her Battle Kitty fanfiction to an unseen audience. He hoped they were taking notes; it got pretty complex once the Bluey and Columbo crossovers started.
“Hey T.K., the only post office near us is on Norwood, can we have the address, please?” She took the phone off speaker to better hear, and he saw she was beginning to shake not with energy but with exhaustion, spent cortisol souring in her veins. It was a good thing they were going to a deli; they were going to crash hard as soon as their dumb animal meat-suits confirmed Offspring Safety in person, and they would need one hundred of breakfast.
The air in the room changed.
He looked up from his computer, waiting for the address.
The rain persisted, the storm that had come down the coast from Washington the night before only allowing the sunrise to lay the gentlest lambent silver on the sky.
“I’m…sorry,” she said, in a voice and a posture that he had never seen in their two decades together.
She turned to look at him like a woman who thinks, suddenly, that she might be having a nightmare.
“Could you…repeat that zip code?
Dasey, as was her custom, had not shut the living hell up for one second since they’d walked into T.K.’s, the warm air and scents of soup and hot pastrami washing over them; the sun was beginning to lay down its head, and they’d stopped serving breakfast many, many hours ago. If she’d noticed that her parents seemed oddly quiet as the taxi took them back to Albany International Airport, she gave no sign; she had enough to say for all three of them, about her new friends she’d met at the deli, who were admittedly mostly elderly but all of whom had agreed to start DuoLingo accounts and friend her so they could learn Esperanto together.
Above her head, the two of them were having a very different conversation with silent, frightened eyes. They were thinking the same thing, and their shared anxiety grew as they failed to find a way that it made sense. Even nonstop flights–like the one that had brought them here–took at least five hours from PDX, and that was without security and the attendant rigmarole at both ends, and he had checked on Dasey shortly after 2am when he got up to pee, as was his custom, less than three hours before his phone had rung. They’d been over it–in the car, in the airport, for the entire hellish flight–so many times they knew the pieces of the equation by heart, like prayers for mercy, but no matter how they looked at it, the math didn’t add up.
She was safe, she was whole and happy and now had a taste for lox, as they had seen when they demanded she facetime them, the late-morning stormlight shining in the deli’s windows.
Their child was back with them, where she belonged, but they couldn’t go back to the same life, the same world, because it wasn’t there anymore; they were going somewhere new, somewhere they didn’t understand the rules. But they were going together. Into whatever came next.
He reached out for her hand and found it, and then they felt Dasey’s plop down gently on top; they looked down, and saw her looking back up, back and forth between them. Smiling. Safe. Together. In the undiscovered country that lay ahead.
All three hands held tight.
Rain began to whisper on the glass behind their heads.