At least

by | Aug 16, 2012 | Fiction, Flash fiction | 11 comments

At Least
By Laura McHale Holland

I never meant to leave him like that. I was driving to the mall to exchange some shoes that were too tight, and I just forgot he was there. Then I got sidetracked by all those end-of-summer sales. And then I saw my friend Rosie in the Starbucks line and I stopped to chat. I finally came out loaded up with goodies galore—flip flops, a new swimsuit, v-neck T’s, even some wading pool toys. It wasn’t until I opened the Camry’s door that I remembered he was there, because I saw him. Dead as a doornail in his car seat. Oh, what a shock. I mean, I killed my daughter’s baby.

At first I could barely see or breathe; the gravity of the situation hit me like a head-on collision. I sat in the driver’s seat, sun beating through the windshield, and leaned over the steering wheel. I sat there sweating like a pig and wishing I could just erase the last hour. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t even make a sound. But then I must have gone on automatic pilot or something because all of a sudden I was on the freeway, heading home.

Once I pulled into my driveway, I lifted my grandson out of the car seat and talked to him just like I would have if we were coming home after an ordinary afternoon of errands. Then I put him down in his crib and sang him a lullabye that would always put him right to sleep with the sweetest smile on his face. I tucked his favoite stuffed bunny up by his shoulder just where he liked it, too.

When my daughter comes to pick him up, we’ll walk into the bedroom and find him cold, unresponsive. We’ll both be completely done in. What will I do when she cries out? When she picks up her baby and leans against me, sobbing? Should I say it might be SIDS? I can’t tell her I forgot her baby was in my car. If I do that, then she won’t have her mother’s shoulder to lean on as she goes through this. I have to give her that, at least.

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  1. Eve Trout

    Oh no. I will never understand how a parent/grandparent can forget the child is with them. I’m dumfounded at how casual she is that this happened and is only thinking of herself.

  2. admin

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Eve. It’s terrible that things like this happen, and I imagine most folks who do something like this feel like they can’t live with themselves afterward. I think the character in this story is still in shock. And in her own demented, dishonest way, I think she’s attempting to think of her daughter, too. I’m not quite satisfied with this story and hope to improve it when I come back to it for further editing down the road.

  3. Susan

    Hi Laura,

    There was a story on the evening news tonight about this very subject. There have been over 100 deaths just this summer due to adults “forgetting” their babies in a hot car. The temps inside reach 135 degrees within 10 minutes or so. They had a man “telling his story” about finding his daughter. He forgot to drop her off at day-care, so she was in the car all day. I always wonder what those little hearts and minds are thinking. “Please come get me, daddy.” “Mommy, I’m still here.” A horrible sadness just fills me thinking about it. I’m not sure I can read more. HUGS!

  4. Arletta Dawdy

    Actually, I think this cold-blooded story works well. The shock factor is strong, the writing is tight, the subject is harsh and I don’t believe she’ll get away with it .

  5. admin

    Thanks, Arletta. I appreciate your sharing your perspective on this. I just re-read the story and am appreciating it more than I did this morning. Sometimes I get so close to a story, especially when it’s recently written, that it’s difficult to see beyond the particulars I’ve been fiddling with in the editing process. Know what I mean? I look forward to reading it again in a couple of months.

  6. admin

    100 deaths just this summer? I had no idea it happened so frequently. It’s so, so tragic. I can see why a horrible sadness just fills you when you think about it. … I remember hearing about a dad who did the same thing as what you described. It happened here in the Bay Area a couple years ago. I don’t recall hearing of anything recently, and I don’t know why it came to mind this week. Hang in there. Maybe someone will come up with something to help parents, many of whom are sleep deprived, not do this. Maybe there could be some sort of sensor that would set off an alarm if they lock a car that has a child inside.

  7. Barbara Toboni

    What a tragic story. Works for me, short is your style. Don’t know what else you can do, add details, like someone having seen the baby in the car. Oh and another trajedy, the person having seen the baby alone in the car didn’t do anything either.

  8. admin

    Very interesting idea, Barbara, to have someone see the child in the car and not say anything. I could imagine a few different stories all having something to do with that tragic event but not being connected plot-wise. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  9. wordwranglingwoman

    Laura, I don’t buy her reaction. She’d be horrified, icy terror would bang around inside her. She’d be numb. She’d probably be irrational for a few moments. Sick with guilt and heartbroken all at once….unless she was a sociopath. Don’t cha think? Best P

  10. admin

    Thanks for checking in on this, Patrice. I’m going to let it be for a while and see what I think in a few weeks. Right now, I don’t think the reaction is inconsistent for the character, but I might need to tweak it some to give hints before the end that she’s not normal and tinker some with how she conveys her decision.

  11. admin

    I just did some further work on the story (Sept. 8, 2012). I’m not sure if I took it in the right direction. I’ll have to let it be for a while again and come back to it.

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