This is the June installment of the Fiction in Five contest hosted by The Center for Writing Excellence. The challenge is to choose one prompt and incorporate 6 specific words into a 700-1000 word short story in 5 days. For your benefit, I have added the required prompt and words at the end of the story.
“The Sunshine Room”
By Camas Baugh
“Knee High by the Fourth of July,” Mama sang, “Papa in the dirt and Mama makin’ pie…”
The memory of his mama’s lilting voice overwhelmed him. How long had it been since he’d heard her sing? Vince sat down at thekitchen table where, as a boy, he would sit and push brightly colored crayons against white butcher paper. He loved the sound of his mama’s song drifting lazily on the warm, buttery scent of her famous sugar cookies. Even when she wasn’t baking, she somehow smelled like warm vanilla.
Vince rested his hands on the tabletop, running his thumb over the marbled, corn-yellow laminate. He marveled at how little the kitchen had changed over the years. The yellow plaid wallpaper matched the table and the Formica counters; Mama always called it her “sunshine room,” which seemed appropriate considering her naturally sunny disposition. It was in moments like this that Vince missed his mama most.
A gruff voice came from behind him. “Didn’t expect to see you sittin’ there.”
Vince’s shoulders immediately tensed. He looked up from the table and gazed out the window over the porcelain kitchen sink. The wind had picked up just enough to add texture to the surface of the lake. He noticed a small boy fishing out on the end of the dock, his tiny, licorice-red baseball hat just a speck in the distance. Vince had never learned to fish.
Without shifting his gaze, he sighed. “Hi, Dad.”
“Hrmph. Ain’t that just like you to just show up like you own the place. Never did have any respect.”
Vince watched silently as his dad shuffled across the linoleum, an oversized, black-and-white chess board. It was the one piece of the kitchen that didn’t fit. Vince remembered the fight that had ensued over the flooring, the fight his mama had eventually lost. As his dad opened the cupboard door to get a water glass, Vince noticed how much he had aged.
His dad struggled with the top of a small, plastic bottle. “Damn doctor has me on this aspirin for my heart or some nonsense.” He paused, swallowing the small pill. “Where were you this time? In some backwards, jungle village saving the less fortunate? You always did think you were better than everyone.”
Vince ran his tanned hand through his thick, salt-and-pepper hair. “I was in Ecuador, dad. I sent you a postcard.” He noticed a few age spots of his own when he rested his hand back on the table.
“Dad.” Vince hesitated. “Dad, we need to talk.”
“We got nothin’ to talk about.” He turned and looked angrily at Vince. “I didn’t get no damn postcard and I wouldn’t care if I had. You showed me what mattered to you the day you walked outta here.”
Vince winced. He and his dad had never seen eye-to-eye. Vince was closer to his mama, and his dad resented him for it. Instead of being a football star, he was in the school choir; instead of joining the military, he joined the Peace Corps. His dad had never hesitated to express his disappointment, so as much as it pained Vince to be away from his mama, he knew it was the best decision for everyone.
Only after getting a panicked phone call from his sister begging for help did he finally return home.
“Loraina called. She told me what’s been going on. I think we need to make some decisions.”
Vince’s dad turned away and rested his hands on the edge of the counter. He looked down and then back up through the window. His aged eyes could barely make out the red speck of the boy’s hat at the end of the dock.
Through gritted teeth he said, “Ain’t nothin’ goin’ on, son. Nothin’ of your concern anyway.”
Vince looked down at the table. He felt defeated. He had tried to tell his sister that he shouldn’t be the one to deal with this situation, but she’d insisted.
“I’m sorry I’m not the son you wanted. I know I never will be. And I know I’ve been gone a long time, but I figured it would be best.”
“Best for who? For you? You broke your mama’s heart when you left. I don’t know if I can forgive you for that.”
“Forgive me?” Vince clenched his hands and raised his voice. “You practically chased me out of here, dad! You hated me! It was the fighting that broke mama’s heart, not me!”
His dad’s shoulders slumped. He didn’t turn around. “I never said . . .” His voice cracked. “I didn’t . . . I don’t hate you. I just never understood you. I never understood your choices.”
Slowly he turned to face his son. Vince was stunned to see his dad’s eyes were moist. He’d never thought his dad was capable of tears.
“Dad, I . . . ”
His dad cut him off. “I didn’t mean for it to be this way, Vince. I wanted to be a better dad. I just didn’t know how.”
“It’s okay,” Vince quietly said, looking down at the table. “It’s okay. But we need to talk about what’s going on.” Vince looked back up at his dad. “You can’t stay here anymore. The house,” he said looking around, “everything. You need someone to help you with . . .”
The scent of his mother’s vanilla lotion stopped him mid-sentence. Vince looked up at his dad who was looking past him.
A soft, familiar voice came from behind Vince. “Anthony, aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend? You can be so rude sometimes.”
Vince’s mom walked gracefully into the kitchen and turned to face him. “Please forgive my husband’s rudeness. I’m Louise. Can I get you some cookies?”