When Dad isn’t reading, he’s talking, and there’s no stopping him when he’s in a good mood. Mum is on a work trip, and Dad hasn’t noticed I haven’t brushed my hair. He’s buttering bread, chatting on about the Ancient Greeks—a special moment they called Kairos. He says it’s when someone does something especially well at exactly the right moment.
I’m putting on my school shoes and Dad says there’s no time to call Mum. He’s winding the car key off his bundle, putting it into an envelope, stuffing it into his back pocket. He’ll be going to the place that gives out the pink tickets. There’s a woman behind the iron bars there, she has a banknote counting machine—it rattles as fast as Dad’s heart. Dad tells me to take my scooter, it means he’s on for walking fast.
The pavement bulges around the trees and I have to ride around the dog poo. Dad’s on the phone to some fella—maybe about a job—he’s laughing, he’s saying, “Cheers, I appreciate it, thanks a million.” He turns to me, he tells me to hop onto his back like a jockey, he holds my scooter against his body, we gallop into the wind.
At school, my friend Mary is waiting and Dad’s still spouting on about, ‘the going’, and ‘an outsider’ and the odds of it all. He’s saying, everything about this day is radically particular. He’s tapping his temple. He makes me repeat. Ra-di-ca-lly par-ti-cu-lar, I say. I throw my arms around his neck. He kisses me quickly. He says we’ll eat crispy pork at the Green Jade. He gently pushes me away, and I know, I know, it means he’s in a rush.
I find a book about the Ancient Greeks in the library. If people were worrying about going into an underworld or dealing with a three headed dog, it’s why they liked things radically particular. I want to tell that to Dad, but when I get home, he isn’t on the sofa reading the racing news, and Mum’s still away earning the bread and the butter, and the doorbell rings. Mary’s mother is calling my name. I see her hand holding the letter-flap open in the door. I see her mouth saying I’m to go with her for my tea. It means Dad’s called her from the pub. I don’t roll my eyes. Mary’s mother doesn’t roll her eyes either.
I close the gate and Mary’s mother says, “Come on pet,” so I have to go. But I see the oak leaves have piled orange and yellow where our car should be. I should have pulled that envelope from Dad’s pocket and let it fall onto the pavement like an accident.
When Mum gets back, I’ve smoothed my hair, but she doesn’t notice, because she drops to her knees on the sitting-room rug, cries there in her work-skirt, gets rug-fluff stuck to her nude satin-touch tights.
I put my arm around Mum’s shoulders, tell her I know what ‘the going’ means now; I’m better prepared. I’ll be more like her, I say– radically particular. I make her repeat it.
Marissa might have been a tortoise in a former life. Her stories won the Bath Flash Fiction Award and Bath Short Story Award, made an appearance on exciting short and long lists for CRAFT Flash, Cambridge Flash, Fish Flash, Mogford Short Story, Wigleaf top 50 and BIFFY 50. They’re nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions and Best Micro Fiction. @hoffmannwriter whispers thanks from 1000m.a.s.l. when people visit www.marissahoffmann.com.