It has been a while since I've done a flash fiction piece for the blog... So here goes. Keep ahead of the pain, folks. Don't let it control you.
It’s a toothache. Or perhaps the pain is coming from somewhere in my jaw, beneath or between the teeth. Either way it throbs and makes me see shades of orange and red. That whole side of my face feels like it is slowly being inflated, bone pushing against meat pushing against the outer skin, pulling taut until it might snap open and spill onto the floor.
“Daddy, can I have some candy?”
I hear her, but ignore it. I have to because I know if I answer, it will be a snap response, it will be harsh, it will bring tears. I need my medicine before I can speak to her rationally.
“Daddy, can I call my friends? Can Leah spend the night? It’s Friday. You remember on Tuesday when you said we’d talk about it on Friday?”
“Daddy? Remember? You said on Friday we’d talk about the sleepover.”
Shhh. Quiet child. Dear, sweet Christ, be quiet until I find these damn pills and give me twenty minutes so they can start working their magic. No damned ibuprofen. Is there anything else? Nyquil? Maybe even Pepto…that has aspirin in it right? Read the ingredients…
Who the fuck can read lettering this small? I swear, putting microscopic text on a bottle of shit intended to cure headaches is a cruel joke by sadistic bastards. Throbbing. Worse. My temple aches now and my teeth from just under my nose all the way back to my right ear.
“Shut up, will you! Just shut up!”
Silence. It is golden. It is welcome…and there’s my medicine. The cap comes off with some effort and I shake four pills into my hand, then toss them into my mouth and swallow them dry. I hurry to the couch and lie down. My eyes are closed. They have to be. Light is too much. Any movement of my lower jaw makes lightning shoot through my face. I can feel my teeth grinding, the pressure provides some relief. The sound it makes in my head is disturbing. Grinding, creaking like the loose rails on an old wooden rocker.
Perfectly still. I stay still. I breathe, focusing on the sound of my respiration. Steady, synchopated with the heartbeat I can feel in my head. Easing pain. The throbbing slows, calms, and I fall asleep.
While I doze, I am dreaming of our house. I am here alone and my children are coming in from school. One boy, one girl. My wife has another hour at work. She always comes home at 5:15 pm. I am on the couch. Then I am floating. I move from room to room in silence like a ghost.
My son is in his room. He is on his bed with his eyes open, but his head is turned the wrong way. His neck is purple and twisted like a thick braided rope. Our room, the master, is a mess. The bed linens are in piles on the floor, some dragged into the bathroom. The mattress is off the bed, leaning—sagged—against the base. One end table is turned over and the television is broken, sparking. Then the kitchen. I am in the kitchen, looking at my daughter. Her head is bleeding where I threw her against the stove and its surrounding cabinets. She is pale and cold. I can feel that in the dream. My store-brand backache pills litter the counter, next to the overturned bottle. Some are on the floor.
No sleepover tonight, kiddo. Talk to me again on Saturday. Maybe I’ll feel better. Or maybe today was the last chance. I think it was the last chance. I hear the garage door opening. 5:15 pm, right on time, honey.
I can’t possibly explain to her what I’ve done. I will try, but it will have to wait. The throbbing in my jaw has started again…and I have to find my medicine before I can talk to her rationally. I don’t want to snap at her.