Flash Fiction Carnival, Feb. 2008 Topic: Cowardice


by Unfocused Me

Mike ripped open the letter from Becky. He hadn’t heard from her in weeks, though he had sent her three letters in that time. It was two months into their freshman year, Becky at Vassar, Mike at the University of Chicago, and after being together all through high school, they had been sure that distance wouldn’t break them up. He hadn’t gone home for Thanksgiving, so he hadn’t seen her since late September.

Mike read the letter in the courtyard, ignoring the early December cold. Suddenly, he turned and vomited into the bushes. His roommate, hurrying from the dining hall across the yard to their dorm, spotted him.

“Hey, Mike! You okay, man?”

Mike thrust the letter at him. “Tommy,” he croaked. “Read this.”

Tommy took the letter. “Is it your brother?” Mike’s brother was in Vietnam. Mike shook his head. Tommy read. The handwriting was neat and feminine.

Dear Mike,

We always said we’d be honest with each other, and not beat around the bush, so here goes nothing.

I’m pregnant.

Oh, God, I’m so sorry. I think it happened the weekend before you left for Chicago, when I came home from school to send you off. I must have skipped a day with the pill that month.

I haven’t written because I didn’t know what to say. Please don’t hate me. I love you.

Love, Becky

“Oh, shit, man. You sure it’s yours?”

Mike launched himself at Tommy, but Tommy ducked Mike’s flailing fists and grabbed him around the chest. Mike quickly settled down.

“C’mon, man, let’s get you inside. It’s freezing.” Tommy dragged Mike inside and upstairs to their room. He dumped Mike onto his bed, then started rummaging in his closet.

Mike sat up. “It’s over. I’m gonna hafta quit school. First one in my family to go to college, and I didn’t even make it to Christmas.”

“Take it easy, man.”

“I’m gonna hafta get a job at the plant. With my dad.” Mike winced. “I’m gonna get drafted.”

“Take it easy, man.” Tommy emerged with a small box and a lighter. He dumped the box out onto the desk, rolled a joint, lit it and passed it to Mike. Mike took a hit, passed it back. After a while, Mike’s panic subsided.

“You should call her, man. She’s probably scared, too.”

Mike thought that over. “Yeah. I’m gonna call her right now.”

“You wanna wait ‘til you’re not so baked, man?”

“Nah, I’m cool. I can maintain.” Mike pulled the change jar off of his dresser, weaved out of the room and down to the phone booth.

Mike plunked a nickel into the slot, and dialed the number for Becky’s dorm. The operator told him how much more to deposit for the first three minutes; he dropped in the coins, and waited.

A woman answered. Mike concentrated on speaking clearly and quickly. “Becky-Jordan-please-tell-her-it’s-Mike.”

“You’re Mike? Hang on.” He counted the seconds. Then, Becky’s voice, nervous and hopeful: “Mike?”

“Hey, Becky. How are you, baby?” Baby? You dumbass.

She started to cry. “What are we going to do, Mike?”

With that, Mike lost all hope. She was pregnant, the baby was his, his life was over. Still, he tried. “Are you sure?”

She sniffed. “I’m sure. I missed two periods, and went to the clinic. They did the test. What are we going to do?”

His panic flooded back. “What about… you know. Isn’t there something you can do?”

She cried harder. “I can’t, Mike. It’s our baby.”

He hadn’t expected any other response; even though it had been her idea to go on the pill, she was pretty conservative. “Okay, Becky, okay. We’ll, uh, we’ll think of something.”

The operator broke in; their three minutes were up. Mike had exactly enough change for three more.

“Mike, are you still there?”

“I’m out of change, Becky. I’ll try to borrow more and call you back.”

“I love you, Mike.”

The phone cut out. Mike went back to his room.

“Did you talk to her, man?”

“Nah. She wasn’t there. Gimme another hit.”

* * * * * *

Mike didn’t sleep that night, and just before dawn, he found his answer. At eight o’clock that morning, he walked to strip mall north of campus. The office was open, and the recruiter was happy to see him. If he passed the physical — and everybody passed the physical, these days — he could be on the bus to basic training within a week.

Mike couldn’t wait.

(c) 2008. All rights reserved by the author. See more of my work at The Unfocused Life (http://theunfocusedlife.com).


17 responses to “Flash Fiction Carnival, Feb. 2008 Topic: Cowardice

  1. Hmm. Is that cowardice on Mike’s part? Or an acceptance of the inevitability of what was to come?

    That’s a good question…

    Nice piece!

  2. Nice story. Very believable. It bet it is hard to tell a story in the constraints that flash fiction allows.

  3. Excellent story and very believable. I grew up in the 1960s and 70s, so I remember the era and I understand that in those idealized times, a scared young man would feel that enlistment is an escape from the responsibilities of a family.

    Very, very well done. My only critique is that younger readers won’t get why this story represents cowardice. Which makes me want to shake them … but that’s not your fault. LOL At any rate, BRAVO! I truly identified wit this.

  4. Very nicely done! An excellent example of flash, packing so much information about the characters and their situation into a short piece. I disagree with the comment that younger readers won’t understand how it represents cowardice. I think anyone whose had pre-marital sex can understand this one. (I also find it amusing that my own piece is similar in situation, yet showcases the other side of the coin.) Thanks so much for sharing this with us! ~Kat

  5. The fact that your story is flash fiction works in its favor here….a lot can happen to an individual in a short time, and you convey very well that Mike is in panic mode, looking for a way out of one situation while not focusing on the big picture. Good character development in such a short piece.

  6. As one of the ‘younger’ readers, I want to say that I totally got it. Not just because of what Kat pointed out, either. . . and WOW. Very poignant, very real. You have a knack for showing us what’s going on without the need for too many words. I was instantly drawn in, invested, and could relate with this sad (and yet very true) reality. Bravo!

  7. Never had pre-marital sex, but I totally understand it. It’s not as though we haven’t had sex ed.

    Very sad, and unfortunately, very true. Mike is a friggin’ coward, but you do give a certain depth to him.

  8. Thanks for the kind comments, everyone. I’m glad you liked the story and I appreciate your taking the time to read it. I am skipping the Valentine’s Day Flash Fiction Carnival to work on my novel, but I expect to be back with more flash for March.

  9. Nothing seems to be easier than seeing someone whom you can help but not helping.
    I suggest we start giving it a try. Give love to the ones that need it.
    God will appreciate it.

  10. Thanks for a remarkably informative post. ,

  11. You only have to do a very few things right in your life so long as you don’t do too many things wrong

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