Here is the first story for 2020’s 12 short stories in 12 months challenge. The prompt was “coalition” and the word count was 1,200. I usually like to make the prompt a central part of the story, but that didn’t happen this month. Everything about this was a struggle this month, so I hope it’s OK. Let me know what you think.
Jim’s alarm started ringing. He grunted. It can’t be morning already. I just got to sleep. He rolled over and tapped the snooze button on his phone. He rolled back and closed his eyes. He could probably hit the snooze button two more times before he absolutely had to get up.
Eighteen minutes later, he realized his math was bad. He really needed to be up. Come on. Just get up. She needs to go to school. He pulled the covers off, hoping that the cold would get him moving. After another minute, he grunted again and sat up. He was tempted to check his phone, but he was running late.
He stood and wobbled a bit. I can’t keep not sleeping. It’s a good thing I don’t have to drive. He walked slowly to the bathroom. After he was finished in there, he walked to his daughter’s room and opened the door.
Gail was already awake. She was always already awake. Jim started to say something, then yawned. “Good, you’re already dressed,” he said. “What do you want for breakfast?” Please say cereal.
That’s not too bad. “Come on. Let’s go downstairs.”
They went to the kitchen. Gail sat at the table. Jim opened two cupboards, took a bowl from one and a packet of oatmeal from the other. He put some water in the bowl, emptied the packet in, then almost banged his head on the cupboard as he turned towards the microwave. He growled as he shut the two cupboards. He put the bowl in the microwave and started it.
“Dad,” Gail said. After a few seconds, she said again, “Dad!”
“Hmm. I’m sorry, what?”
“Are you OK? You’re not talking at all.”
I feel like a giant pile of garbage. “I’m fine. Just a little tired.” He gave a weak smile, then took the bowl out of the microwave and placed it in front of her. He stood next to her chair.
She looked up at him, stood up, got a spoon from the drawer, and sat back down.
“I’m sorry, kiddo,” he said. “Eat up. The bus will be here soon.” He kissed her on the top of the head and wandered to the living room.
Before he had a chance to sit down, he heard, “Dad, did you sign off on my homework?”
He sighed. He couldn’t remember. He went to the den and brought Gail’s backpack to the kitchen. He checked and said, “I signed it last night. You better get going.”
She put her jacket, gloves, and backpack on. Jim put her hat on her head and hugged her. “I love you.”
“Love you, too.”
“Have a good day at school.”
She went out the back door to the bus stop. He closed the door behind her and went back to his bedroom. Just a few more hours. He set the alarm on his phone and got into bed.
I’m going to lose the house.
No, there’s still a month left on the severance. I’ll find something.
No, I won’t. Nobody wants me. I can’t even get an interview.
Even if I did, I’d probably fall asleep in the middle of it. I’m so tired.
So, go to sleep.
How’m I going to tell Gail?
I won’t lose the house.
Except I really might.
The internal dialogue continued for a while, but he must have fallen asleep at some point because he woke with the alarm. He lay there listening to it ring for a minute, hit snooze, pulled the blankets up under his chin and rolled over.
Just get up.
Nine more minutes.
I need to eat something, but I haven’t been hungry in weeks.
Nine more minutes.
After a bunch more “nine more minutes,” Jim realized that Gail would be home from school soon. It wouldn’t do to still be in bed when she got home. It took every bit of energy he had, but he got himself out of bed. A shower wasn’t going to happen, so he put on the jeans and hoodie he had worn the day before and went downstairs.
The cat was on the couch. He picked her up, hugged her, and sat down in her spot. After a moment’s struggle, he let her go and she ran into the other room. “Come on, cat. I could use the company.”
Nobody likes me.
Stop it! Just shut up for a while.
Jim stared at the red light on the bottom of the TV. He slowed his breathing. In through the nose out through the mouth. Focus on that. Nothing else is happening.
He didn’t know how long he was sitting there when he heard the kitchen door. She’s home. Get it together.
“I’m in the living room.”
Gail walked in, looked at him, and laughed.
“Nothing,” she said. “Your hair’s just funny.”
He tried to flatten it. “Come here,” he said.
She sat down next to him and he put his arm around her. “How was school?” he asked.
“Good,” she answered. “We talked about Australia. Did you know the whole country’s on fire?”
“I saw it on the news.”
“A whole bunch of koalas and kangaroos have died.”
“Don’t forget about the people.”
“Well, we’re going to do something about it. We formed the Koalalition to Save Australia.”
“That’s clever. Who’s in this koalalition?”
“The whole third grade. We’re going to put on a show and sell cookies and get a bunch of money we can send to them.”
“That’s great.” Jim gave her a little squeeze.
Gail kept talking with Jim adding an occasional comment.
Why can’t I just do this? It’s more important than any “job” out there. And I’m good at it. Or at least I am when I can sleep and get out of my own head.
“When is the show going to be?” he asked.
“Two weeks. . .”
I love how excited she is. I don’t remember the last time I felt like that.
“Are you hungry? Do you want a snack?”
“OK. What do we have?”
“Apples, bananas, crackers. . .”
“Can I have a bowl of cereal?”
“Sure. Will you still eat your dinner?”
Jim stood up and went to the kitchen.
I can’t believe I didn’t apply anywhere today.
It’s OK. It was just a bad day.
Yeah, the third bad day in a row.
He poured the cereal into a bowl and added milk. “Come eat it in the kitchen. I don’t want you to spill it on the couch.”
Gail walked in and he handed her the cereal.
Tomorrow. Tomorrow has to be a better day. I can do it for her. If she and her third-grade class can save Australia, I can find a job. Five. Five applications tomorrow.
That’s too ambitious.
OK, three. If I fail, I’ll never climb out of that pit. Three applications tomorrow. I will find something in the next month.
Gail finished her cereal. Jim put the bowl in the sink.
“How about you do your homework before dinner?”
“OK,” she said.
“Come here first.” She walked over. He gave her a hug and said, “I love you.”
“Love you, too, Dad.”