“Flask” is a short story from Strays Like Us, a collection of ten standalone stories exploring life as a kid growing up in America.





I KNOW I'M NOT supposed to touch niggers but Mrs. Graham’s fingernails are teal and Mom’s fingernails were teal the day we buried her and I touched them a lot that day. Her hands were real cold and steady. It was nice. Dad said he thought it was nice too.

Dad is waving at me now. He doesn’t like me standing by the dead body. He never has. Mr. Xavier is by Dad and he starts waving at me too. I don’t know Mr. Xavier that well but I like his name because not many words that start with X sound like a Z. He’s nice to me though and when I walk over to them, Mr. Xavier pats my head like I’m a dog and says, Hey Lukewarm. Then he says something to Dad about putting too much of a big word I don’t know how to spell and another big word I don’t know how to spell in Mrs. Graham and laughs. Mrs. Graham does look more swollen than dead bodies usually do. Dad doesn’t say anything but he laughs and pulls his small silver bottle from his suit and takes his 31st sip of the day.

Since Mom died Dad takes more sips. Before she died he would take nine or ten sips and he would be really silly. He’d lift Mom up and twirl her in the living room and he’d tell me knock-knock jokes. Knock knock. Who’s there? Mustache. Mustache who? I mustache you a question, but I’ll shave it for later. That was his favorite. I’d laugh and he’d laugh and Mom would laugh. He let me take a sip once when we were driving home from Grandma and Grandpa’s. I didn’t like it because it burned my throat and it made me dizzy for just a second. I told Dad I didn’t like whatever was inside and I asked him why he did. He said it was because it made him calm when everything was busy. But Dad says Mr. Xavier and him are always busy because people don’t stop dying, which is true. Which might be why he takes at least thirty sips a day now and isn’t very silly anymore.

Dad has been really busy since Mr. Xavier called Dad and told him they were going to start putting those big words I don’t know how to spell into niggers. I thought it would make Dad angry because since Mom died he’s been telling people that niggers took her nerves. But Dad just shook his head, shrugged his shoulders and told Mr. Xavier, We’ll just charge the coons more then.

I don’t know how much Mom cost but the wake was nice and I remember people I didn’t even know telling Dad, I’m so sorry for your loss, and Dad saying back that we’ll miss her more every day, which still confuses me. Am I going to miss her even more than I already do? Does thinking about her hands shaking count as missing her? Am I supposed to be keeping track of how many times I think of her every day? Miss Cawl saw that I wrote those questions on my sheet of paper one day when I was supposed to be writing something else. I was scared about what she might say but she said those were good questions to ask. Then she told me to put the questions away and start on my work. I like Miss Cawl.

Just then dad and Mr. Xavier stand up straighter because Mr. Graham walks to the front of the room and asks everyone to be seated. The room quiets down and sits. Dad takes his 32nd sip. Mr. Graham tries to talk but he doesn’t get very far before he starts crying. They look like really heavy tears. I think his kids are up front because the oldest girl stands by Mr. Graham and says, We all loved my mom in some way or another and while it’s a shame she’s gone we know God has a plan for all of us. I raise my hand so I can ask her what God’s plan is for me and if God has talked to Mom but Dad puts my arm down. He tells me to be quiet and to listen.



###


I’m eating by myself in the lunch room. People usually don’t sit by me and that’s okay. Being alone lets me think of things I wouldn’t think of if I had people talking to me all the time. I keep thinking of the writing assignment Miss Cawl had us do this morning. I can picture the paper. I can remember word-for-word what I wrote.



Lucas Carlson
14 May 1962



Mother’s Day


Mother’s Day is Sunday, but Mom won’t be there, because Mom died 113 days ago. Mom was very nice to me, and was a good mom. When I had a bad day at school, she would tickle my armpits until we both started laughing. I miss that.


She was a good cook. I really liked when she made Hot Dogs, because they would be crunchy and soft at the same time. Dad just gives them to me cold. Sometimes he tries to make things Mom used to make, but they aren’t as good. I tell him it’s good, but he knows it isn’t so he doesn’t eat much anymore.


I miss walking home from school, because Mom would meet me at Doc’s General Store and walk with me the rest of the way and ask me how my day went. Now I go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house most days after school, and it’s not as fun, but I love them because they’re Grandma and Grandpa.


I miss skipping stones with Mom at the creek, because when we would come home Dad would laugh at how wet our pants and shoes were. Dad even came once or twice, and he would skip them the farthest, and he would skip them up the creek instead of across and let the current catch the stone and make it stop. I think he might want to just stop again because he’s always so busy.


Dad doesn’t say he misses Mom, but I know he does because



That’s when time was up so I hurried to put the commas where they were supposed to go. I really do miss skipping stones though. It was usually just me and Mom and she’d say, You’re so good at it Lukie! and it would make me smile. She wasn’t very good at it because of her hands but she’d always tell me how I good I was at using my eyes and to just keep those eyes up. And we would stop for ice cream at LaBelle’s on the way home, even in January. But that was the month she died so I don’t think I’ll get ice cream in January anymore.

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