Flash fiction prompt day 8! This prompt hit me with a weird “too many choices” kind of writer’s block but after pondering it all day, I eventually decided to go with the concept of something progressing rather than something being routine. Although it’s about a heart becoming (metaphorically) darker by the day, I wanted to write something with a sense of tenderness. I needed to create a silver lining today, so this is it.
I really enjoyed getting into this character’s head because his (fictional) reality is so far removed from my (actual) reality. That’s what I’m loving most about these flash fiction prompts, the experience of thinking and feeling as someone else for a little while every day. In the space of a week, I’ve gone from “I’m not sure how I feel about writing fiction” to “Oh my gods, writing fiction is the best thing ever!”. I can’t wait to see where this journey leads.
People say you look like both of us but I always see more of your mother than myself in you. There’s no denying you have my eyes, pale green and always questioning, but they look so much more striking against the beautiful dark skin you inherited from her. You have her warm smile and her cynical tilt of the eyebrows, her regal angles and gentle hands. I think you’re going to be tall like me but you’re already strong and elegant like her. When you’re angry, you sound just like her and it cuts me to the bone every time. When you’re happy, you sound just like her then too and it cuts even deeper.
Last night at dinner you asked, “Daddy, are you bad?”.
My breath caught in my throat and my stomach sank through the floor as I stuttered, “I … why would . . .”
Your mother came to my rescue and answered, quickly, “No darling, of course Daddy isn’t bad. What made you ask that?”.
“Today at school, Jamie said police were bad. He said his brother told him policemen were . . . he said the naughty words people aren’t supposed to say. I know Daddy is a policeman but I don’t know if he’s the bad kind ‘cause he wears a suit when he goes to work instead of regular policeman clothes. Mummy, I know you’re not bad ‘cause you’re a kind of doctor and doctors are good”.
I tried to keep my voice level. “Sweetie, what did you say to Jamie?”.
“Nothing. I didn’t think I was going to say anything nice so I didn’t say anything at all. That’s right, isn’t it?”.
“Yes darling”, your mother reassured you, “That’s right. And people aren’t good or bad because of their job. Doctors help people and police help people too. Some doctors help people whose bodies are sick or hurt but I’m the kind of doctor who helps people whose minds are sick or hurt, people who are really scared or sad or confused. I help them to feel better and have happier thoughts. The way Daddy helps is different. Sometimes, people do bad things. They might hurt someone or steal something and Daddy finds them and makes sure they don’t hurt anyone else or steal any more things. He helps by keeping everyone safe”.
You asked, “The people who do bad things, why do they do them? Are they bad people?”.
A look passed between your mother and I. I’d managed to gather my thoughts somewhat, so I explained, “There are lots of reasons people do bad things. Sometimes it’s because they’re angry and sometimes it’s because they’re scared. A lot of the time they don’t mean to do bad things but they don’t know how else to be because no-one ever taught them to be kind or because their lives have been so difficult. They don’t know what it’s like to be happy and they hurt all the time, so they hurt other people because they think it’ll make them feel better. But it doesn’t. I don’t think anyone is necessarily a bad person, not all the way bad. Part of my job is to take people out of the situations where they’re doing the bad things so they can get help and feel better and not want to cause any more pain. Do you understand?”.
“I think so. If the people who do the bad things are sad, do doctors like Mummy help them?”.
“Yes, sometimes”, I smiled, “A lot of the time, doctors like Mummy work with the police. That’s how Mummy and I met each other. We were helping people together”.
Your eyes lit up, Jamie-from-school’s comments about bad policemen instantly forgotten. “Tell me about how you and Mummy met!”.
It was your mother’s turn to smile. “You know this story, darling”.
“But I want to hear it again!”.
And you did, because I’ve never been able to say no to you.
It’s not that I didn’t tell you the truth about why people do bad things, but there’s so much more to it and I don’t know how to explain it in a way that would make sense to you. I don’t want to taint your view of the world because the world will do that by itself soon enough. Even now, at forty-three years old, I lie awake at night trying to wrap my mind around why people do the things they do and I get lost in it, like I’m walking through a maze filled with mirrors. I don’t expect you to understand although maybe you’d do a better job of it than me because I’m pretty sure you’re smarter than I am already.
Another part of the truth is sometimes I think maybe I am bad, or I can be. Sometimes I have to make choices where neither option feels like a good thing to do and I tell myself that it’s all leading to what’s right in the end, even when it doesn’t feel like it. Sometimes other people make mistakes and I have to fix them. Sometimes I make mistakes too and people get hurt.
A lot of the things I have to do, I’m not allowed to talk about, even to your mother. The thing with secrets is they get really heavy after a while and you carry them all by yourself because it’s better that no-one else has to feel their weight. They sit in your heart like black stones and they get bigger and bigger until your heart itself starts to turn darker every day.
The most important thing is to always try to keep a little bit of your heart light and untouched by secrets, and sometimes the best way to do that is to give that little bit to someone else to look after. I gave mine to you. Keep hold of my heart in your gentle hands, sweetie. Keep smiling your warm smile. Keep me good.
About the photo
I was struggling to think of what to shoot for this story when I ran into this one in my archives. Literally a hand gently holding a bright, shining heart. Kind of perfect already.