"First Drink" (Flash Fiction)
Reedsyblog.com describes flash fiction as "a medium of brief and enclosed stories. Its average word count ranges anywhere from five to 1,500 words, but the consensus is that the maximum tops out at 2,000 . . . . the emphasis is placed on movement: each sentence must peel back a new layer that wasn’t visible at first."
In September, I took my first shot at flash fiction with this 866-word story called "First Drink." Bottoms up, my dear readers.
When my daughter asked me a few months ago if I’d be willing to host her college grad party at my Hollywood home, I agreed. Otherwise, my ex-wife would host it instead, and mention offhandedly to guests that oh, her father would be here if he hadn’t left the family ten years ago to pursue an acting career. She’s always painted me with ugly, gray-toned strokes to those around her whenever the chance has presented itself, as if to conjure sympathy for herself and distain for me—as if the slow erosion of our marriage was completely my fault.
Needless to say, I’m surprised my wife surrendered the opportunity to host Emma’s grad party, since proving herself as the superior parent is practically her part time job. Maybe she knows her meager house in the suburbs can’t compare to my Hollywood bungalow.
“My daughter knows the despicable kind of man you are,” my ex-wife spat over the phone a couple months ago. “Why do you think she’s hardly come to visit you in the past ten years? She would never ask you to host her party.”
I cleared my throat. How do I break this gently to her? “She did ask me, and I told her I’d gladly do it. Why shouldn’t a father host a party for his daughter?”
“How dare you have the audacity to call yourself her father.”
I hung up on her. If I win Emma, I can at least afford the woman her dignity—but I have my own dignity to maintain, too. My ex-wife’s been on a ten-year winning streak with Emma, so there was no harm in proving that I did, in fact, deserve the title as her father and was capable of planning a fantastic party.
Emma, however, had the expectation that we would plan it together—every last detail—but between final exams and job-searching, I didn’t think it necessary to overburden her.
“But I hardly see you,” she told me on the phone. “I thought it would be a good opportunity to do something together.”
“Trust me, I’m doing you a favor.”
For a while there was silence, and I thought the poor cell reception was breaking us up—separating her from me.
“Emma?” I said at last.
“Did you hear me?”
“Yeah, I heard you,” she answered.
So I planned the party myself, with minimum input from anyone else.
Surveying my backyard on the night of the party, I couldn’t be more proud of my effort. It isn’t dark enough yet for the webbed lights hanging around the palm trees to glow, but it’s hard to miss the CONGRATULATIONS EMMA banner hanging from the posts of my back porch. The thing’s basically Olympic-swimming-pool-sized.
More than anything—even the metallic balloons and the triple layered, vanilla cake decorated with flourishes of silver and gold—I’m proud of the alcohol selection. Everywhere I look is a happy person holding a pink or green or yellow drink, fizzing with bubbles or rimmed with salt or chinking with ice. If the guests aren’t playing board games or dancing to music, they’re swirling around the pool on neon inner tubes like the little umbrellas in their drinks.
I see only one person who appears to be having a miserable time; she looks extremely out of place in her gray-blue dress that drapes over her skinny form like a bedsheet. Her shoulders sag, and the curve in her spine make her look much shorter than she probably is.
I let my gaze wander over to wherever she’s looking, and although I think her eyes have landed on a trio of girls laughing and drinking, there’s a strong chance she’s not looking at anything at all—that her mind has spaced.
Being the good host I am, I circumnavigate the pool and head straight for her. “Hi, I’m Randy. Emma’s dad.”
Now that I’ve approach her, I realize how young she is, despite the gray hair streaking the sides of her head. She can’t be older than forty—certainly too young to be the mother of a college-aged woman.
She shakes my hand. “Hi Randy, I’m Cassandra—pleasure to meet you.”
“You, as well. How do you know my daughter?”
“I’m Cara’s mom. Our daughters are best friends.”
“Yes,” she snips, as if it’s obvious. “They played field hockey together. Cara has Emma over to the house all the time on the weekends. It’s been a real gift knowing your daughter.”
Emma played field hockey?
“Can I get you a drink?” I ask, hoping her squinty-eyed stare will dissolve at my invitation.
Instead of brightening like I expected, my sudden topic change bristles her. She crosses her hands over her chest and shakes her head. “Oh no, no. I haven’t had a drink in my life.”
“Certainly you’re of age,” I tease, grinning at her. What do I have to do to get this woman to smile?
It doesn’t work. Her face is hard as a rock. “I can’t. I made a promise.”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“I promised my dad my first drink.”