I mentioned last week that I had made it to round three of the Flash Fiction Competition. The round kicked off on Friday with my newest Challenge.
Location: A dermatology Office
Object: A beer Bottle.
I think this was a great challenge. I’ve written a few drama stories before, (there’s this one and this one, two of my favorites), but it’s not something that comes easy. So I hope you like what you see.
Thanks for reading.
An argument between brothers about: feeling empty, saying goodbye, and searching for something more
”Jesus, Tommy. Look, just“-I stared at the boxes crowding the office-“Let’s talk about this, okay?”
“There’s nothing to talk about. I want out.”
I swung the chair away from the desk and plunked it in front of the door. I swung a leg over the top and settled in. “That’s what we need to talk about.”
Tommy rolled his eyes and blew breath out through his nose. “Oh, for fuck’s sake, Dave. Don’t you think we’re both too old for you to play the older brother card?”
“It doesn’t matter how old we are. I am your brother and you’re not going anywhere until you tell me what the hell is going on.”
“I’ve been trying to tell you for a while, man. You don’t listen.”
“Not this crap again.”
Tommy slammed the picture frame he was holding into the box by his side. “See that? Right fucking there! You don’t get it. You don’t even try to get it.”
My lip curled into a snarl. Tommy had a way of doing that. Our father had a temper that could flatten a small town. I could control mine in almost every situation that didn’t deal with Tommy. “Okay.” I heaved breath through my nostrils like a bull in a Lamaze class. “Try to explain it again.”
Tommy’s face went rigid and his eyes flashed. We were on the verge of another epic family fight. I could feel it. Something inside me smiled. This is how we solve things in our family. We fight, we cool down, and then one of us invites the other to a barbecue. It was my turn to host. We’d fight it out and then I’d invite Tommy and Dana over with their kids. Probably Saturday so it didn’t mess with football. I took a mental look at the contents of my freezer. Karen had just gone shopping. I should have plenty of hot dogs for the kids. Maybe I’d do sea bass instead of steak to keep Karen happy. She’d been really getting on me lately about my blood-pressure and-
“I’m not gonna fighting about this one.”
The snarl fell off my face and landed somewhere behind a stack of boxes. Tommy stood in the same place, but the anger was gone. He was relaxed, even smiling. He stooped and dragged a small cooler out from behind the desk. “Let’s try this instead.” He pulled out a beer and used a foot to shove the cooler across the floor to me.
I gaped at him. “You’re drinking?” I said. “In the office?”
He smiled and twisted the cap off the bottle. “It’s Saturday. The office is closed.”
“Tommy, you don’t drink.”
He sighed and settled himself onto the only other chair in the room. “I didn’t drink because Dana is an alcoholic, but that’s not my problem anymore. She left me last week.”
My jaw dropped. Without thinking I reached into the cooler at my feet and pulled a beer from the ice. I drank deep and tried to think of something to say. I swallowed and looked around. The dermatology office Tommy and I shared had been our father’s. We’d kept the same vintage style, the same pictures, some of our patients joked that we’d even kept all the old magazines. When the old man died, we’d updated all the procedures, all the equipment, all the knowledge. Now the office was half full of cardboard boxes and Tommy’s degree and certifications were gone from the walls, leaving nothing but vacant, off-colored squares.
“You don’t have to leave just because she did.” I said. “Take some vacation. Clear your head.”
“That’s not why I’m leaving. I’m leaving because I want to.”
Some of the family rage stirred inside me again. “But why, dammit? Can you tell me that much?”
His hand tightened around his beer. “Because this isn’t my office; it’s dad’s. This isn’t my job; it’s dad’s. Because I’ve had my passport for nine years and I’ve never been out of the city. Because Dana and I hadn’t slept together in almost a year and I couldn’t care less! I’m leaving because I’m not helping people. I’m helping them erase their mistakes.” Tommy’s eyes narrowed into a glower. “For God’s sake, Dave, if I have to remove another butterfly tattoo from some idiot girl’s ass I will. Lose. My. Shit.”
I smiled. Tattoo removals are the cornerstone of our practice. “Twenty-Four butterflies this year alone and counting.”
Tommy huffed a laugh and relaxed into his chair. After a long tug at his bottle he shook his head. “Look, it’s… It’s more than that. Dana was having an affair for almost a year. I knew about it and I didn’t care. My kids hate my guts and I don’t care about that either. This whole place could burn down and I don’t think I’d really notice. I’m numb inside, man. I’m empty. If I don’t do something about it…I’m afraid I’ll end up like dad.”
I looked down at the beer in my hand. Dad had drank himself into a stupor once too often for his overworked liver. We’d fought like hell to get him on the transplant list but somehow his name just kept disappearing. Afterward, we found out that he’d taken himself off the list. He’d just lain there, drinking and waiting to die.
I swirled the beer around in the bottle. “What if you can’t find what you’re looking for?”
“Then at least I go down swinging.”
“Do you have a plan?”
“Syria. There are hundreds of refugee camps that could use a good doctor. I don’t know how to do anything else, so I figure I’ll start there and learn as I go.”
“Those places aren’t safe, Tom.”
“I don’t want to be safe. I’ve been safe for too long.”
I looked in his eyes and felt the family rage snuff out. He was determined. And he was happier than I’d seen him in years. “You’ll write when you can?”