KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 5: Spring 2016
Flash Fiction: 773 words

Horses’ Heads

by Andrew Stancek

When Ella screeches to a halt in the middle of my driveway, I lean on my shovel. She sticks her head out the window, and says, “He’s done it, for real this time.” I look at the snowflakes landing on her eyelashes, at the butterfly scrunchie holding her ponytail in place, and go back to work. He can wait. She can wait. Nobody needs to be in a hurry. She turns up the volume on her stereo, sings along with The Clash: ice age, meltdown, London drowning. I throw the last three shovelfuls on the pile, walk to her.

“How?” I say.


“You found him?”


Dad has broken up with her four times over the last three years, and in October she said it is done this time, but she continues to check in on him every few days, brings him day-old donuts from the Reduced shelf at Safeway, brews coffee to sober him for an hour or two. When I drop in, he curses me and the rotten luck he’s had all his life, then he sobs, challenges me to a fight and calls me yellow. Later in the hour-long dramatic performance, he hits me up for a twenty or a bottle. Sometimes I give in. I cannot afford to put him in Springhaven, the only place equipped to keep him, and the cheaper places never last long. A harried administrator inevitably calls, telling me he is too much to deal with, does not want to get better, upsets the other patients, fights.

Ella’s skin is splotchy and her mascara is running but her mouth is set in a hard line. The crows, now that I stop moving and making a racket, swoop on top of the garbage bags to resume their treasure hunt. Shooing them off seems pointless. Two black squirrels chase each other up a bare maple; twigs crackle. Next door they are playing “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” over and over. I’m not sure if she wants me to invite her in for a drink. She brushes hair off her forehead, turns off her stereo, continues to sit. But we are both tired. She stayed with Dad longer than anyone. It begins to snow again and the wind picks up. I don’t want to shovel any more.

Last Thursday, after I let myself into his rooming-house room, interrupting his snore, he promised he’d beat the crap out of me, and I handed over a forty-ouncer of Crown Royal. He blessed me. “You’re a good son, Joey. Know how to honor your father.” His shaking hands could not unscrew the top and I poured him a half-tumbler. He dribbled a little on his chin but his hand got firmer as he drank it down. He held the tumbler out for more.

“Sure you don’t want to save it, Dad?” I asked and saw his fist tighten.

“No time. Got no fucking time left.”

I poured another half-glass. This one he savored, drank more slowly. A pigeon landed on his window sill, pecked at the glass twice, peered in, flew off.

“It’s the last time, you know, Joey, the last.”

“What do you mean?”

“I may be a drunk and crazy—but the voices, I still hear the voices. I’ve been called. Won’t see me again.”

Over the years I’d learned to ignore threats, rants, self-pity. I moved to turn off the dripping tap, watched the spider scurrying up the side of the sink. “I’ll be back in two weeks, and Ella is sure to see you before that.”

He looked at me, shrugged. “Fare thee well,” he said, his voice suddenly full, making him sound again like the actor he’d been.

Perhaps I should have listened better, trusted.

Ella squints into the snow as it falls thickly again. “Shame,” she says. “Wish he’d...I’d....”

I long to warm my frozen fingers on her cheek, to let myself burrow into her parka but know I can’t. She’s my age, not Dad’s, and in the periodic cleaning up of his vomit and helping him into bed, our fingers have brushed and I have inhaled her perfume. If she crosses my threshold, I will fall. The Lubecks next door turn on their outdoor decorations and my yard, as well as theirs, suddenly fills with green and red flashes. I smell steak. Some hardy soul down the road is barbequing.

I don’t invite her in, don’t tell her he’s in a better place. She swallows hard, puts the window up. Looking straight ahead, the car rolling, she gives me a wave with her left.

Fare thee well.

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