A Real Boy (flash fiction)

Once in a while an idea for a story jumps into my head and won’t let go until I write it down. This one has been on the back brain burner for a few days. It may become a longer tale at some stage, but for now I am signing off on it as a flash fiction story. It also prompted a writing tip: try writing something which is an inversion of something familiar. I trust you will get it when you read….

A REAL BOY

My father’s expression is kindly, unchangeably so. That frozen smile, those laughter lines scored into the corners of his eyes. He rarely speaks, but whenever he does his voice seems to come from above, behind the curtained vault of heaven.

How he came to make me in the first place is a profound mystery. His hands  are  fingerless, the thumbs not even articulated, but I admire them; they are the hands of a master craftsman. A master craftsman who made me so perfectly in all my imperfection.

I waggle my tiny, chubby fingers in front of my face. Five fingers and a thumb on each hand. They repulse me. Why should I have all this fleshy articulation when I would infinitely prefer to have solid wooden spoons like father? It seems so unfair that he is unarticulate whereas I am so fluent, both in body and in speech. When I speak my lips and my tongue move. That tongue of mine is disgusting in my mouth, a wriggly little worm, fattening itself on the inane words that insist on spilling out of me.

If only I could have the same painted smile as my father. If only my lips could not move. Then perhaps I would not keep asking the same question, over and over, “Why, father? Why did you make me?”

With my back against the wall, I sit quite still, legs outstretched, feet over the edge of the workbench while father tries in vain to tie my boot laces.  The best he can manage is to cup each boot in turn in his spoony hands and lever them onto my repulsive, multi-toed pink feet. Though he’s still smiling — how can he do otherwise? — I feel sorry for him, and decide to let him off the hook.

“Can I do up my own laces, father?” I say.

When he raises his head his expression might be one of either surprise or gratitude. Depending on the angle of his head or how the artificial lighting strikes it.

He steps back, giving me his silent permission. My heart breaks for him.

Drawing my feet up onto the bench one at a time, I lace up the boots. Then I slide off the bench and onto the floor.

Father nods in satisfaction and clumsily pats me on the head.

“Time for school,” he says.

I know this already. My first day.  I nod and fetch my satchel from the hook behind the door. Glancing up briefly I find myself finally understanding why our house does not have a roof. Why none of the houses in town do. It is to allow father, and all of the other residents to move in and out of their homes freely. So that their strings do not catch on anything as they go about their daily business.

After kissing my father’s hard, varnished cheek, then patting the black carved wooden cat sitting on the windowsill, I bid them both goodbye. The cat might try to follow me, I think, but then again he has been on his perch for as long as I have known him, though I have no idea how long that might be. Each day, like my father’s smile, is exactly the same as the one before. There is nothing to mark the passage of time here, except for that single bright star that appears in the dark blue curtain above us once upon an eternity.

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