Flash Fiction: Hump Day

Crisis. That’s the word the woman on the morning news uses.

I’m chewing wet cereal hoops. Ashley’s gotten ready quickly, so I’ve said he can watch some TV before we leave. We turned it on looking for cartoons and got Crisis instead.

‘Daddy,’ Ashley says from next to me, ‘this is not the one I like.’

I think he’s talking about the news, but turn to find him looking down pointedly at the cereal in his bowl.

‘I like the other one,’ he says.

The other one. As if there are only two to choose from. As if the supermarket’s cereal aisle’s something other than an asphyxiating stretch of cartoon mascots, each more adorable than the last.

‘I’m sorry, Ash,’ I say. ‘Daddy will try harder next time.’

He nods, satisfied, and continues to eat the suboptimal cereal. He’s a good kid.

Unseasonable temperatures. That’s the phrase the weatherman used.

I should’ve taken more notice. Ashley’s nursery teacher – Miss Bell I think her name is, or Miss Ball maybe ­– is holding open the door to the class. I can hear the chaotic noise of other people’s children leaking out. Someone’s crying.

Miss Bell or Miss Ball just asked Ashley if he’s brought a cap to school and he’s shaking his head. Course, she’s really asking me.

We’re somehow late. The playground’s empty, meaning all the punctual parents have already come and gone. This is a blessing, really; when Liv used to come with me on the school run, the other parents would happily chat to us, but since Liv started working early shifts, all I usually get is a polite nod. It’s a similar story with Ashley’s teacher.

Liv thinks I should try harder.

‘That’s okay,’ Miss Bell/Ball says, smiling and looking up at me. ‘He can borrow one of the school ones.’

I stand and wave to the back of their heads as they go inside. The glass door shuts behind them and seals in the sound.

The park’s loud, despite the fact it’s the middle of a Wednesday. I guess these unseasonable temperatures have brought people out.

The play park’s full of preschoolers and parents with pushchairs and prams. I spot a few pensioners, sometimes with husbands, wives, dogs, sometimes alone. A group of teenagers passes round what smells like a joint look up defiantly from a picnic bench as I pass. I half-smile to show them there’s no judgment.

I should be somewhere else too, after all. Liv thinks I’m sat behind my desk at work. I really should tell her; I know that. But with each day that passes, it becomes more and more difficult to bring it up. Maybe Liv knows already. Maybe I’ll get home to find my key won’t fit in the front door.

Redundancies. That’s what my boss – or I guess my ex-boss ­– called them, which must make me redundant. That’s not something I’m ready to admit to just yet.

Not today at least, when the sun feels so good on the back of my neck. Tomorrow, maybe. Or at the weekend, when Liv’s better rested.

Today, I’ve brought granary bread to feed the geese. A lot of the benches are taken up already, but I find an empty one between a dustbin and a bright orange lifebuoy on a wooden stand. A slight breeze has teamed up with the sun and now the lake’s surface is glittering.

Soon enough, a group of curious geese swim over, honking as they step out onto the path, bobbing their slender necks. They seem delighted by the granary bread, mashing it up between their beaks, swallowing torn pieces. I see a glimpse of flicking pink tongue as they snatch bread from my open hand.

Crisis. That’s the word the woman on the news used. These geese don’t know what a crisis is. They preen themselves, flap and swim about, gorging themselves on bread. I eye the slice in my hand.

These geese have never considered themselves redundant. I take a mouthful. I try to bite without my teeth, stiffening my lips to act as fleshy molars. The bread’s stale, of course, like construction paper on the roof of my mouth. I retch, initially, but manage to swallow.

The geese are losing interest, now that no more bread seems to be forthcoming. They’re beginning to flop down into the glittering water. They’re beginning to paddle away.

I take another mouthful of stale bread and step forward. A pensioner walks by with a Jack Russell, veering onto the grass to avoid me. I lower myself into the lake. I can’t touch the bottom. The cold water steals my breath. My limbs are tight and unresponsive.

The other geese are becoming distant. If only they’d wait. I just need a moment to adjust.

I can feel the thickness of unchewed bread lodged in my throat. It would be so easy to stop struggling and surrender to my own weight.

Liam Bates is a writer based in Birmingham, who has been previously published by Fly on the Wall Press, Constellate, Shooter Lit Mag, and Ellipsis Art and Literature. His chapbook of poetry 'microwave nouveau' received a special mention in the 2019 Saboteur Awards and is available from your local Amazon. He can be found on most social media