Monday, February 8, 2010

Your Lucky Day, by E. Flanigan

Janet stamped on the accelerator. She meant to hit the brake, but her foot hit the gas instead.

In that brief second, as the minivan lurched forward instead of stopping, she felt strangely calm. She didn’t think of Christian sleeping in his booster seat in back, didn’t think of anything — just watched the dark world careen by. Then the crunch of metal on metal and Christian’s startled cry.

Even by the glow of the orange street lamps, she could see the side of the other car was crumpled. Luckily, her van was moving so slow the air bag hadn’t even deployed. If you can call that lucky.

Christian was crying in earnest now. She opened her door a crack so the interior light would turn on, and in the dim glow he seemed fully intact. Thank God for small miracles.

She got out and walked back to open the side door of the van. Christian was coughing. She leaned in and put her face close to his. “You OK, buddy?”

Christian turned his head away, eyes wide, mouth agape. His arms were bent awkwardly at the elbows, hands up, fingers splayed. Janet watched the little fingers spread and close, spread and close.

“You’re OK, little man,” she said, and unbuckled him from his seat.

The other car was parked directly in front of the convenience store, but no one emerged from the store to claim it. As she approached, she could see its rear quarter panel was smushed. It was a new Mustang. Shit.

Janet guided Christian back to the van by his shoulder and opened the passenger door to look for her phone, but her purse wasn’t there. Double shit. She wasn’t surprised to find the purse missing. Maybe it was on the kitchen counter. Maybe it was in a store somewhere. It had been that kind of day.

Christian was working himself up—flapping his arms and moaning. The point of this drive had been to keep him sleeping, get a break. Ha. She wished she could put him back in his seat and get out of here, but fleeing the scene wasn’t really an option.

The Mustang’s dark tinted windows had made it appear empty at first. But from this angle, she could make out two figures framed by the lights from the store.

She again took Christian by the shoulder. He was flapping his arms wildly and starting to spin. Janet stepped up to the car and tapped on the window. “Hello?”

The window rolled down an inch, maybe two, and a young man’s eyes peered back at her.

“Hi, I hit your car."

She didn’t know what she expected. Maybe for him to start yelling. Maybe for him to get out of the car. But he just looked at her.

“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah.”

Janet was processing slowly. It was late, she was tired. But she definitely saw a young guy in the passenger seat. And she thought she saw a gun in his lap.

She stood there silently. Her brain was moving at half-speed. The only sound was Christian: “Digga-digga-digga-digga. Digga-digga-digga.”

The guy behind the wheel stared at Christian. Then he looked at her. Nothing.

“I’ll go call the police,” Janet said.

She grabbed Christian's shoulder and started to maneuver him towards the store's automatic doors, but Christian threw himself into a seated position on the ground and began rocking back and forth. He closed his eyes.

Janet tried to lift him by the armpits, but he was in a panic and started thrashing. "Digga-digga-digga. Digga-digga-digga," more loudly now.

"I wouldn't do that," the man said. He opened his car door. He had a gun in his hand. "I wouldn't move."

Janet looked down at Christian on the ground. Shit. Shit. Shit. She didn't know exactly what crime she had interrupted, but she was certainly in the middle of something bigger than herself.

"You need to shut him up," the guy said. "Make him stop doing that."

Christian was rocking and digga-ing and working himself into a lather. "Shh, Christian. Shh." But it was pointless. "He's just scared," she explained. "He gets upset kind of easily."

"I'm gonna need money," the guy said. "To pay for my car."

Janet closed her eyes. "I don't have my purse, though. I mean, it's missing."

Down the street a horn honked, and Christian clamped his hands over his ears and moaned.

The guy watched with wide eyes. "What's wrong with him?"

Janet considered how many times she'd been asked this very question. She thought of the business cards in her purse—her missing purse—that her husband had printed up, ostensibly so she could hand them out at the park and the mall when Christian made a scene.

"He needs his special clothes hanger. He likes to carry it around. He's autistic," she said. "Do you know what that is? Like Rain Man?"

The guy looked blank for a moment, then smiled. "Oh, yeah. I saw that. Can he count stuff?"

"No," Janet said. "No."

They stood in silence for another minute, both watching Christian do his thing. Then the guy looked up at her.

"That's pretty messed up," he said.

"Not really," she said. "He just needs his hanger to calm him down. It's back at home."

The passenger got out of the Mustang, looking annoyed. "Yo, Smitty, the store's at zero. Are we gonna do this shit or what?"

Janet looked at Smitty, who was watching Christian. Everyone waited, but Smitty lingered, spellbound.

Then suddenly he shoved the gun into the waistband of his jeans. "Well, it's your lucky day. 'Cuz we were just leaving."

He and his partner got back in the Mustang, revved the engine, and with that, they were gone.

Janet looked down at Christian, barefoot and rocking, hands over his ears. She crouched down and touched his shoulder.

"Did you hear that Christian? It's your lucky day."

And even though she knew he wouldn't like it, she kissed his cheek.


Erica Orloff said...

I loved this! Loved it . . . loved it.

It pulled me into this mother's universe, and it felt a thousand percent real to me. I felt this mother explaining this child for the milliionth time, as they were all there FROZEN . . . in that moment. And really, capturing a freeze-frame moment? That, to me, is the best of writing.

Anonymous said...

Short and sweet: Loved it!


LurkerMonkey said...

E. Flanigan's on a roll! This mother and her attitude toward her child—not to mention the autistic behavior itself—is dead on.

And yo, Smitty, ya feelz me? Let's do this thing.

Jude Hardin said...

I liked this a lot, and I think you should reconsider your position on publishing, because you can really write. The only thing I might be worried about here is that there are too many coincidences driving the plot. I did appreciate the irony of the cheek kiss at the end, though!

Natasha Fondren said...

There was something perfect about that last line. I can't quite pinpoint it. It just captures the relationship perfectly, which makes for a perfect ending to this slice of life that seems to be about this almost-crime and is really about their relationship and the difficulties of explaining his behavior to the outside world.

I love it. I agree with Jude. I'd love to read a novel written by E. Flanigan!

Merry Monteleone said...

Way to ratchet up the tension! I spent the whole story afraid something was going to happen to Christian, first with the accident and then with the gunman (and I have a weird thing where I have a real problem hearing stories where something bad happens to children), yet I kept reading... which says a lot for your ability to keep me with you.

Loved your use of voice, all around, with the child, and the gunmen, and Janet. The only thing by way of critique I have at all is that the part where she's trying to get Christian out of the seat, I had to read a few times, and then it actually became clear later one once I realized he was autistic. On first reading, I thought he was hurt.

I think it was the 'bent awkwardly' line, I originally thought he'd broken his arms or something and couldn't get a clear picture of what exactly happened, but I figured it out after a few paragraphs.

Melanie Avila said...

WOW. Wow. I LOVE this. I'm heading out the door and decided to read one more post in Google reader before I did and I'm so glad I did.


E. Flanigan said...

Erica, I just got home from work (working with the Christians of the world, coincidentally) and this story was my Valentine to the moms I know who have kids with special needs. I personally know several who do carry business cards, just so they don't have to "explain" for that millionth time ....

E. Flanigan said...

Short and sweet, back atcha: Thanks, PM!

E. Flanigan said...

Lurker, do you think the Smitty line was more homefry than homeboy? I was worried about it sounding like a parody ....

LurkerMonkey said...

No ... I was parodying those guys, but I don't think the line in the story read like a parody. Now if you had spelled anything with a z, then there might have been some serious shizzle in the house, but as it was, I thought it worked.

E. Flanigan said...

Jude, I know what you're saying about the coincidences driving the plot. But the story was intended to have an undercurrent of that, as I was trying to explore "luck" as a theme. (Driven by the big question in my mind: ultimately, was Janet unlucky to have a child with special needs, or was she lucky to have Christian, the child she loves?)

Luck, like beauty, is all in how you look at it.

(And thanks for the vote of confidence about publishing .... I tend to think of myself more as a helping type of person than as a creative type of person. But those labels are self-imposed and arbitrary. So I'll keep pondering it.)

E. Flanigan said...

Natasha, thanks! I don't know if I could tackle a novel, though. My ideas are all short, or medium at best. The longest thing I've ever attempted was a screenplay in college. And that was really bizarre and thematically driven, with only a loose connection between the "real" events. I'm mostly interested in ideas and have trouble forming actual PLOTS. Which I'm told could be a problem, haha.

But if I ever write a novel, you can read it :)

E. Flanigan said...

Lurker, don't you mean there would be shizzle in the izzle?

E. Flanigan said...

Merry, great point about the section with the awkwardly bent arms. I was intentionally trying to leave the reader in the dark as to what specifically was going on with Christian, just like you would feel if you saw him in a store somewhere. But I did NOT intend for the reader to think his arms were broken, and I can see why you would get that from what I wrote. Maybe I could delete the word "awkwardly," or add a sentence that clarifies.

I was at exactly 999 words, so I didn't have a word to spare anywhere. (OK, I had A WORD to spare, but I didn't have two!!) So I cut a few things. That's one I would put back in.

E. Flanigan said...

Melanie, THANK YOU!

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