This story is by Alex Holub and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Not now Tim, I have to get this report finished for tomorrow’s meeting.”
“But Dad, it’s serious.”
“Then talk to your mother.”
“I can’t. Mom’s out with her friends.”
“Then it will have to wait. Now, please, leave me alone so I can finish and get some sleep.”
“But Dad, you never have time to talk anymore. All you do is work and play golf. Remember when you used to make time for us to be together? Like the time you took me fishing and showed me how to bait a hook.”
“That was then, Tim, you were younger, and I had a different job. I’ll tell you what. I’ll make time tomorrow night for the two of us to sit down, man to man, and talk. Okay?”
Tim sighs, “I guess.” He turns to leave, followed by Rusty, his ever-present long-haired dachshund puppy.
“Close the door on your way out, will you? I don’t want your sister in here.”
Tim pulls the door closed, goes to his room, and removes an envelope taped to the underside of the bottom drawer of his dresser. He pulls out a tightly rolled cigarette, retapes the envelope, and replaces the drawer. He walks down the stairs and into the living room.
Cindi, his 10-year-old sister, is curled up on the sofa watching Outlander.
“Aren’t you a little young to be watching a series like that?”
“Mom doesn’t mind.”
“Mom probably doesn’t know or care,” Tim mutters as he continues through the living room. He stops in the kitchen, grabs the book of matches lying on the counter next to a cigarette pack and a half-empty vodka bottle. He walks onto the dark patio and sits by the pool. Rusty curls up on his lap. “Things aren’t going to change, are they, Rusty?”
Rusty emits a low woof and snuggles closer.
Tim takes the joint from his shirt pocket, strikes a match, and inhales the sweet-tasting smoke before leaning back and staring at the moon’s reflection on the calm dark water.
The dashboard clock reads 1:40 a.m. when Sherry, Tim’s mother, stumbles out of her car and staggers up the walk. She reeks of alcohol, cigarettes, and sex. Once an attractive woman, Sherry’s lifestyle (too much alcohol, too many men, and too little sleep) has begun taking its toll. She fumbles with her key (dropping it twice before opening the door) and trips over the threshold. She grabs the door to keep from falling, closes it gently, and flops down on the couch. She’s too wiped to make it upstairs to the bedroom.
The following morning traffic is bumper to bumper when Mr. Travers pulls onto the freeway. He feels comfortable about today’s meeting, but last night’s episode with Tim is troubling him. Maybe I should have made time to talk. Hell, it wouldn’t have taken that long. I wonder what Tim wante…?‘ Mr. Travers hits the brakes and swerves to the left as the Honda he’s following comes to a screeching stop. Damn! I better keep my mind on driving, or I won’t be talking to anyone.
Sherry awakens to clattering dishes. She sits up, being careful not to make any sudden moves and rummages through her purse. She pulls out a crushed pack of cigarettes and a gold lighter. “Where the hell, did I get this?” she mutters staring at the initials JGF engraved in the shiny metal. She lights a cigarette and drops the lighter back into her purse. Sherry tells herself she’ll deal with it later when her head’s not sounding like a bass drum. She blows out a plume of acrid smoke, slowly rises, and makes her way to the kitchen—Cindi’s standing over the stove.
“Want some pancakes, mom?”
“Oh, please.” Sherry goes to the sink, pops four aspirin, and forces down a glass of water before sitting down at the table.
“Where’s your brother?”
“He and dad left early. Dad said something about having a big meeting.”
“You want me to drive you to school?”
“You don’t have to bother. Pam’s mother said she’d take me.”
Sherry pushes up from the table and walks slowly toward the stairs. “I’m going to take a bath. Be sure to lock the door on your way out.”
“I will, and mom, I need to talk to you about Tim.”
Sherry waves Cindi off. “We’ll talk about it when you get home from school.”
“I said when you get home.”
Sherry sets her phone on the sink, turns on the tub water, and sprinkles in lilac and orange blossom bath salts. She removes her clothes and stares into the mirror. There are some telltale wrinkles and slight sagging, but not bad for a 35-year-old with a 14-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter. Sherry’s stepping into the water when her phone rings. She picks it up but doesn’t recognize the number.
“Hi babe, it’s Jack.”
“We met last night at the Rendezvous Room. Remember?”
Memories of last night come flooding back. The nightclub Sandy wanted to try.
“I believe you have my lighter. I’d like it back. When can I get it?”
“How about I meet you this afternoon, about four?”
“The Rendezvous Room.”
Sherry’s sitting at the kitchen table, smoking a cigarette, drinking vodka, and tapping her foot, when Cindi walks in from school.
“Going somewhere, mom?”
“Yes, I have to meet someone.”
“But you said we’d talk about Timmy when I got home. It’s important.”
“I know it is, honey, but I’m sure it can wait until your father gets home.”
“You’re always going out.”
“I know, baby, but after tonight things will be different.”
Cindi’s heard it all before and knows nothing’s going to change. She grabs her backpack and heads to her room.
“There are TV dinners in the freezer,” Sherry calls out before pulling the front door closed.
Cindi’s taking a TV dinner out of the freezer when Tim walks in. Rusty is waiting by the door, head up and tail wagging. Tim reaches down, runs his hand along the dog’s dark red back, and looks at his sister.
“She had to meet someone.”
“Didn’t you tell her I needed to talk?”
“Yes, she said talk to your father when he gets home.”
Tim shakes his head and slowly climbs the stairs to his room. Rusty is close behind.
Cindi opens the microwave. “Do you want a TV dinner?”
“No, I’m not hungry.”
Mr. Travers arrives home at 7:35 p.m., walks into the kitchen, and pours a scotch over rocks. He carries it into his office and shuts the door.
“Dad?” Tim calls from his room. “Is that you?” When he doesn’t receive an answer, he walks down the stairs and opens the office door.
“Not now, Tim. I’ve had a rough day. I need to make changes to my proposal so Mr. Tompkins can review them before the board meeting tomorrow afternoon. Didn’t you talk to your mother?”
“She’s not here.”
“Where is she?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, why don’t you talk to her when she gets home.”
“Great idea Dad, thanks.” Tim closes the door, goes to his room, and pulls out the drawer with the joints. He shoves the envelope into his pocket and heads downstairs with Rusty at his heels.
Cindi’s sitting in her usual place on the couch. “Going somewhere?”
“Out!” Tim said without elaborating. He takes his bike from the garage, tells Rusty to stay, and pedals into the night.
A police car stops in front of Sherry’s house as she pulls into the driveway. It’s a little after 11 p.m. She makes herself look presentable as possible and meets the two officers heading toward the front door.
“May I help you?”
The taller officer aims his flashlight in Sherry’s direction. “Do you live here?”
“Yes, with my husband Jim and two children.”
“Would you please get your husband?”
“Why? Has something happened?”
“Please, ma’am, your husband.”
The officers wait on the porch while Sherry gets Jim.
“I hope this is important,” Mr. Travers said. “I have an important meeting tomorrow, and I’d like to get some sleep.”
“Is your son named Timothy Travers?”
“Y-yes,” Sherry said. “Has he done something wrong?”
“When was the last time you saw him?”
Mr. Travers said, “Last night, why?”
“And you, ma’am?”
“Yesterday. No, I meant the day before yesterday. I go out a lot.”
“Maybe you should have stayed home more,” the cop said. “Timothy was hit by a train earlier this evening. Witnesses say he stopped his bike in the middle of the tracks.”
Rusty is lying on the porch, head on his front paws, staring into the darkness—waiting.