Congratulations to Kate MacGuire for winning third place for flash prose in the 2020 WNBA Writing Contest!
You can read “Distraction Display” below.
That was me, cradling my wrist in a bloody sweatshirt.
“How did the injury happen?” The crescent-shaped bite spoke for itself, but we needed something for the record.
The doctor’s eyebrow shot up. Big deal. Me and Sammie could work for NASA with all the eyebrows we have sent to the moon. Sammie kept kicking at the ugly brown vinyl trim that flanked the tiny exam room.
“A Polyphemus moth,” I clarified. No, the moth didn’t bite me, but the girl who found the moth did. What would you expect from a kid who must line up sixty-four Lego bricks, all red, every morning? Stop being such a bitch. But my wrist hurt, and it was late. Sammie’s hand-flapping would send her to the moon if she didn’t eat soon.
The doctor slid a pink plastic basin under my wrist before flooding the wound. The warmth of his touch was foreign, making me hyperaware of his thick hair, the hint of coffee on his breath. I hated myself for checking, but no, there was no wedding ring. I tried to remember when I last showered but that was dumb. One kid gets you swiped left. Kids like Sammy? There’s no app for that. “You’ll need stiches,” the doctor noted. He cradled my wrist as if it were a bird that might panic, worsening its injuries.
Dammit, Sam. Why couldn’t you bite me in January? At least the bill would count against the new deductible. I nodded, taking another bullet. Maybe David would help. Truth is, I’m glad he’s not around. His insistence that I do something to fix Sammie only made things worse. But I’m not afraid to use his guilt to get things done.
“You smell bad.” Sammy pinched her nose shut.
“Sammie.” I’ve already warned the staff to block the exits. The last thing we need is searching the dark for a girl who could play hide-and-seek for days. “Be nice, honey.”
“Why should I be nice just to make other people happy?”
The nurse brought a silver tray, laid out with needles, toothed forceps, and tiny scissors. The doctor uncapped the syringe, his eyes like chocolate left too long in the sun. I wished there were some place Sammie could go, so I could focus for five damn minutes. But Sammie’s fragile world depended on a rigid schedule, working Xbox, and me.
The doctor scooted his stool to block Sammie’s view. “Trust me. I saw this on YouTube,” he joked. I knew what he wanted. The same thing David wanted. Some assurance that they are a bloody hero just for showing up.
“So, Sammie,” he said, as he stung me here and there, a gentle but insistent bee. How old are you? What grade are you in? I braced myself for the meltdown, but the doctor surprised me. “What an excellent distraction display, eh? A moth with eyes on its wings looks ever ready to attack.”
“Eyespots,” Sammie groused.
“Exactly right, eyespots. Not eyes because there is no iris, pupil, or retina. But why Polyphemus moth? I wish I were clever like you. Then maybe I would know.”
Sammie gulped air before launching into a monologue about savage man-eating giants in the Odyssey. She flapped her hands and tripped over words, painting a garbled image of a one-eyed cyclops who didn’t know how large he was. Would he ruin birthday parties, I wondered, crushing feelings with accidental insults? Did the other cyclops mommies feign delight when cornered at the grocery store?
The doctor tied off the knot, then snipped the thread. He washed his hands before heading for the door. “Andrea,” he said, hand on the knob. Not Mrs. Ferrell. Something warm and unstable fluttered in my chest.
“I just wanted to tell you . . .”
Yes, please do that. Tell me something. Tell me you’re not afraid. Tell me you believe in us. Tell me you talked to the teacher, the therapist, the insurance company. Tell me you have an idea or, better, a plan. Tell me dinner is ready and the laundry is done. Tell me what she did right today. Tell me you love our family.
His open mouth snapped shut. All that remained was a tight smile as he pulled the door open, just wide enough to pass. “. . . that I could see the love you have for your child by the way you look at her.”
Aspiring author Kate MacGuire writes medical romance novels. Her short fiction won the Swarthout Award and has been published in The Last Line Journal. “Distraction Display” was inspired by Melissa Tinnesand and her beautiful autistic son, Ian. I dedicate this to her and all who fight battles no one ever sees.
View the list of all of the 2020 WNBA Writing Contest winners.