Flash Fiction 3rd Place: A Few Things You Should Know About My Father by Julia Ruth Smith
My mother jerks open the dark green filing cabinet, which teeth-rattles; from its wide-open mouth she pulls out two white envelopes, our names written carefully in pencil. I won’t ask my brother about his letter; he will never ask about mine. He slips the envelope into a deep tan briefcase and drives to his brand-new flat. I have nowhere to go but back.
We’re eating sticky donuts as we head out to the swamps for a boat ride. It’s his retirement holiday after all, just the two of us.
My father says there are three things I should know about mangroves:
Mangroves act as buffers against storms. He makes a joke about how he should have planted them in the back garden for when my mother had ‘one of her days.’
Mangroves have a great capacity to absorb carbon. He draws quickly on his cigarette even if she’s not there to see him.
Once mangroves are gone, they can’t simply be replaced. Neither of us moves.
We stop for lunch; I think I see an alligator on a nearby bank.
My father says there are three things I should know about alligators:
Some alligators eat their young. ‘Don’t worry, that sandwich was more than enough.’ And wipes crumbs from my cheeks, laughing widely.
Male alligators do not like to share their space with anyone or anything. I remember summer holidays; him striding ahead, binoculars in hand; my mother fit to bursting.
Not only do alligators run, they also climb. He breathes with difficulty; pats my knee, looks heavenwards.
Back at the motel he drinks too much whisky even though he’s not supposed to.
My father says there are three things I should know about love.
You can love someone but still have to let them go. He looks awkward until another drink arrives. I wonder if he’s talking about us.
Love is not the cure for everything. The diagnosis comes as a shock. We spend a hot summer bumping against hospital glass like drunken flies.
Love IS the cure for everything. He kisses me on the forehead then goes wheezing up the stairs to bed.
My father writes three things in his letter to me.
Three things I already know.