KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 2: Winter 2015
Flash Fiction: 990 words

An Inauspicious Start

by Dan Leach

I came from nowhere and no one, not even Mama, saw me coming. My birth was outrageous, a thing you might read about in the paper before turning to a stranger and saying, “Did you hear about this?” Mama was in the Piggly Wiggly when it happened. The beverage aisle, if you really need to know. She was studying beers when a pain shot through her gut and sent her scrambling for the ladies room. “Razor blades on fire,” was how she recalled the feeling. She flopped down and pushed, expecting some version of the barbeque sandwich she had eaten for lunch to plunk down into the water. Instead, she looked between her legs and saw me.

Four pounds six ounces, I crashed into the porcelain face-down and, lucky for me, Mama scooped me right out with her hand and wrapped me in the bottom end of her Skynyrd t-shirt, the one that Ronnie signed when she saw them play Mobile in ’75, the one she still wears, stained though it is with the evidence of my arrival.

Now whenever Mama tells the story, she skips from the restroom straight over to the hospital. She tells it like she stood up off the toilet, clicked her heels three times, and woke up in the E.R. Oftentimes, though, I’ve wondered about the in-between, about what those other customers must have thought to see a woman the size of Mama come stumbling out of that restroom, pants all sloshed and tangled around her ankles, holding me in the bloody hammock of her shirt. How, I wonder, do you begin to describe a thing like that?

But Mama don’t think along those lines.

Once they got us all fixed up, a nurse asked about my father.

“He’s on the way,” Mama lied and said nothing else about that until a different nurse, one who’d been working at the hospital much longer than the first, asked if Mama had any family she’d like them to call.

So they called Peepaw and when, after an hour, he still hadn’t come, they phoned him again. It took a third call to get him to the hospital, but at least he remembered to bring flowers for Mama. This was back when Peepaw’s Alzheimer’s had just set in. What with all the grief he caught for letting the trivial stuff slip, he must have been glad to learn that I wasn’t another thing he had forgotten. I’ll wager it was nice, for once, to see everyone just as confused as he was.

Peepaw stayed in the chair beside Mama’s bed and held her hand when she was awake and read a Louis L’Amour book when she was asleep. He got breakfast from the hospital’s cafeteria and when Mama woke up, he handed her a Styrofoam tray and told her I was still in the toaster. She slapped his hand and told him not to call it that, though incubator wasn’t in her vocabulary either.

“That’s my son you’re talking about,” Mama said in her very first defense of me.

“Remind me his name again,” Peepaw said, forgetting that he hadn’t forgotten.

“I don’t know it yet,” she said, shrugging her shoulders while using a hunk of biscuit to sop up gravy.

“What do you mean you don’t know? How can you not know?”

“I haven’t had time to think about it,” Mama said.

“Oh,” Peepaw said and asked if she wanted the rest of her grits.

The hospital released us a week later. Peepaw pulled up right up to the sliding glass doors, his dinged up Silverado grumbling like an empty stomach. I was swaddled in white, swollen eyes blinking against the pale light of the morning. It was cold outside and Mama was holding me like I was made of glass, whispering the names of everything in my ear.

Peepaw leaned over and swung open the passenger door. Mama approached the truck, looked inside, and said, “Where’s the seat?”

“What seat?” Peepaw said, eying her like she was crazy.

“The seat, Daddy,” Mama said, slamming her free hand against her thigh. “For the baby.”

“I don’t know nothing about no seat,” Peepaw said and spat out the window as if that decided the matter.

Mama sighed. Peepaw said, “Hop in. It ain’t far.”

But she didn’t move. A couple walked out of those sliding doors, pushing a stroller and smiling like people on a commercial for toothpaste. Mama meant to do this the right way.

“Daddy,” she said, something like urgency creeping into her voice. “We can’t go nowhere without that seat.”

“We’re just going up the road,” Peepaw said.

“No, he needs a seat.”

“Hop in.”

“No,” she said, after the couple had passed. “It’s a law.”

“The seat’s a law?” Peepaw said, lighting up a Marlboro.

“Daddy, put that out,” Mama said, stepping back from the truck and shielding my face with her hand.

“Oh,” Peepaw said and flicked the cigarette out of the window.

“So you gonna go get it?” she said because Peepaw wasn’t saying anything, just drumming the steering wheel and staring out onto the highway.

“Get what?” he said, raising his eyebrow all offended.

Peepaw returned an hour later, one tall-boy between his legs and two more resting inside my car-seat. Driving away from the hospital, he turned on the radio. It was tuned to a classic rock station. “Free Bird” was playing and the solo had just begun.

“I’ve got it,” Mama said and kissed me on top of the fabric hat the hospital had given me.

“You got what?”

“His name is Ronnie,” my mama said, staring down into my sleeping face.

“After a song?” Peepaw said, all traditional and secretly hoping I’d take his name.

“After a sign,” Mama said and, smiling, rocked back and forth as Peepaw kept tearing down that gravel road and my namesake made the dashboard tremble with all his howling about freedom.

Dan Leach
Issue 2, Winter 2015

was born in Greer, South Carolina, graduated from Clemson University in 2008, and taught in Charleston until 2014 when he relocated to Nebraska. His short fiction has appeared in The New Madrid Review, Deep South Magazine, Drunk Monkeys, Two Bridges Review, Drafthorse, and elsewhere. He is currently at work on his first novel.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

A Good Christian Man, 1474-word short story in Drunk Monkeys (3 October 2014)

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