Following is the third of twelve very short stories that I am posting on this blog once a week. The “us” part of “Very short stories r us” is not just the characters in these stories and me. It is also you. I am the author of the story below, sure, but if you read the story, then you are also its author. You complete it, kind of like Renée Zellweger completes Tom Cruise in that movie.
So thank you, truly, for reading, if you choose to. As always, if you like it, please let other potential readers/authors know about it. And/or leave a comment. And/or click on the donate button below to support our overhead, or indeed, our underfoot.
Theo picked up his daughter, Juniper, from her therapist’s office on Friday afternoon, and they set off to the country. He had intended this to be a fishing trip until Juniper had called him in tears on Wednesday night saying that the thought of killing fish with him that weekend was making it hard for her to get through the day. From the passenger seat of the car, as they left the city, she looked at him expectantly, and all he could think of was hearing his thirteen-year-old daughter say, without exaggeration, “hard for me to get through the day.” He wondered what the effect was on Juniper of the arrangement wherein, every other Friday, Janet dropped her at the therapist’s office and Theo picked her up from it, scrupulous not to come in contact with each other. “I’m glad you told me how you feel about fishing,” he said. A teardrop slid from her eyes, and then many teardrops, and then she was sobbing. He reached out and put his right hand on her two little hands, which were grasping each other tightly in her lap. She did not move them, did not slacken one’s grip on the other. He pulled off the highway so that he could hug her and dry her eyes. “No, Dad, it’s okay, just keep driving, I’ll be okay,” she said between sobs. But he had already stopped the car on the grassy shoulder. He envisioned the two of them in the canoe on the quiet lake at dusk, singing, joking, splashing water at each other playfully, reposing in each other’s silence. Was there anything he could do to make that happen? “Let’s just stand up and walk around in the grass for a minute and take in some fresh air before we get back on the highway,” he said. “No, let’s just keep going.” Theo looked toward the thick line of trees at the edge of the narrow strip of grass next to the highway and saw a disheveled, deranged-looking red-haired woman coming toward them. His ex-wife, Janet, also had red hair. This woman seemed to be wearing Janet’s beautiful tan suede coat, which was now limp and covered with grease stains and missing its buttons. The woman moved in a haphazard zigzag toward their car. Her hair was wild, her face smudged, her eyes unfocused. It was Janet. Theo bolted out of the car and went to her. She became frightened, ran back to the trees, and cowered behind one of them. “Let me try,” Juniper said. She eased out of the car and walked slowly toward her mother. She was saying something to the crouched, fearful woman as she approached, but Theo could not hear it over the loud sounds of the cars barreling past on the highway. Juniper extended her hand and held it out to her mother for a long time. Finally Janet took it and walked slowly back to the car, the mother’s hand and the daughter’s clutching each other tightly, much as Juniper’s two hands had clutched each other moments ago. Juniper opened the rear passenger door of the car. Janet slid in, curled up in a ball on the back seat, and closed her eyes tightly. She lay there shivering as Theo started the car. Juniper got in the front seat and he got back onto the highway. Of course none of this with the crazy Janet really happened. What happened was that Juniper refused to get out of the car and Theo resumed driving out to the country.