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Rated: 13+ · Fiction · LGBTQ+ · #2095007
flash fiction submission
The Fare

I am slumped against a taxi’s inexplicably damp back seat as the mustard colored sedan hurtles past shimmering bays and over wide bridges. All too soon the car brakes by a curb in front of my parents’ home in a cul-de-sac in Panama City Beach, Florida.

“That’s it, the house with the green shutters,” I say to the back of the taxi driver’s neck. He needs a good hairstylist and a dermatologist to check that appalling mole. It looks like a kidney bean with a smiley face. My mouth quivers. I often suffer from inappropriate mirth in situations that may result in hand-wringing, tears, or Xanax.

My former literary agent insisted my anxious tendencies were common among “great authors.”

Connie routinely stroked my ego back in the exhilarating months after my break-out novel hit the bestseller list and was made into a pretty good flick starring Donnie Wahlberg.

I was surrounded by “my people” and famous friends. I killed it in interviews and book signings. Strangers bought me drinks and hit on me. Several admirers even stuck around after my publisher failed to recognize the genius of my second novel. My celebrity status hit the skids. Bourbon replaced beer.

Connie quickly washed her claws of me.

I avoided the parents because, hindered by my happy childhood, I cannot lie to them.

I made new friends- Jack and Jim, on the rocks. Eventually, I ended up there with them.

Joe and Celia’s Boy Wonder, washed up. Even boorish celebrity chasers unfriended and de-followed me.

I was tiring of dissipation, lost, and hungover one afternoon when I met a screenwriter at a coffee house. Sam got me off the booze, and had the temerity to fall in love with me.

The driver’s eyes are squinting at me from the rear view mirror.

"This it?”

“Yeah. But, I need a minute.”

He shrugs. “Whatever.”

The engine idles as I study Mom and Dad’s pastel rancher with the be-palmed yard. This isn’t my childhood home. It’s theirs. Five years ago they sold the Baltimore tavern they had run since I was small enough to nap behind the bar in an empty beer box.
The folks built their retirement dream home in their idea of paradise– a gated senior community in Florida. Just how many brews and bar burgers it took to finance this upscale lifestyle and my bachelor’s degree, I can’t comprehend.

At first, my parents’ emails gushed with the breathless quality of excited children frolicking in a newfound playground.

I had mailed autographed copies of The Great American Novel to this house. They bragged excessively, passing my books like baby photos around the brunch table.

A booming voice snaps me back. “Hey Bud. You must be in a world of trouble with these people.” The Neck’s bratwurst-sized fingers slide around, scratch the mole.

“Nah. But they won’t want to hear what I’ve got to say. You have family?”

He waves a meaty hand. “My folks are long gone.”

“Sorry.” The plastic fruit on the front door wreath shake as my father yanks the door open. I long for Sam, with his quiet strength.

The Neck laughs. “They’re around. And guests of the Florida penal system.” I tip him too much and emerge from my upholstered womb squinting into the orange sun.

I enter the house, wincing at Dad’s slumped shoulders. Mom’s eyes are puffy, runny mascara bird-tracking across fine lines. They look as if they’ve been sentenced to death.

If ever there was a time I needed to choose perfect words, the time is now. I begin the speech Sam and I rehearsed.

Mom listens intently. Dad stands apart, downcast eyes, papers balled in his fist.

Mom says she appreciates my honesty. “We feel like failures,” she whispers.

Dad stares at a speck on the fridge, scratches it with his thumbnail. “You’re positive this is what you want, son?” A tear snails down his cheek.

For once I forget my own angst. "You both know I’m sober now. My new agent got me an advance on my new book. Sam sold his screenplay.”

They stare. I blurt, “We bought a big place, plenty of room, huge yard. You’re family. We want to move you in as soon as possible. And, we love you.”

No one speaks as my father’s fingers relax. The notice of foreclosure he recently found in the mailbox of his green-shuttered home in paradise flutters to the to the tile floor like a fading moth.

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