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FLASH Fiction Challenge 100 – Day 9

I get up to hand in my ‘Just Say No to Smoking’ poster to Mrs. Kay. My parents have never smoked. They tell me it’s bad for me and that I should never, ever smoke. I’m never going to smoke; it causes cancer. We know that now. I guess the science wasn’t advanced enough to see that in the ’40s or ’50s, but they just didn’t know then. We just landed on the moon, so we at least have good science now. Daddy calls it ‘cutting-edge.’ And it, the science, tells us smoking is bad for you.

Her poster was well thought out. It was rendered in thick, multi-colored markers that were wielded with confidence, a steady hand, and a ruler. The text had been stenciled on and the message was clear: SMOKING KILLS. Her parents had helped of course. They were good about such things. They never did her work for her, that would be cheating or lying, but they had always been ‘hands-on’ with their parenting.

I see the shy boy with the taped glasses and corduroy pants. His eyes are quite weak apparently and he has to wear the thickest glasses I’ve ever seen, ever since the second grade. And he always seems to break one leg of them and then ends up having to fix them by wrapping about a mile of sticky, white packing tape around the hinge. His hair is always greasy. I think his parents must be poor. That’s what Sheila told me. His dad drinks and his mom can be a little hysterical she said. I don’t know about any of that. He is cute though, the little boy with the black, taped glasses. I’ve tried to talk to him a couple of times, but he hardly ever makes eye contact with me.

The teacher announces it’s time to turn in the posters – the boy can’t remember if it was a mandatory assignment or something they were doing voluntarily, something for extra credit. He gets up from his uncomfortable wooden desk, hikes up his pants, and goes to his locker. As he turns he takes in all the kids handing their posters to Mrs. Kay. He shuts his locker and watches the poster-carrying children make their way to the front of the class. His poster is hastily rolled and in a ripped, plastic grocery bag by his side. His face burns hot with shame.

What’s he doing over there? He already got his poster out of his locker, and now he’s just standing there staring at everyone. Why? Is he sick? His face seems to have gone red. Sheila says something to me. I turn to her and answer her. When I turn back to him, he is closing his locker again. He is no longer holding his poster. Did he turn it in while I was talking to Sheila? Did he put it back in his locker? Why on earth would he do that? Then he just sits back down in his seat. He keeps staring at his desk. Then he puts his head down on his folded arms on the desk, like he’s going to take a nap. He’s been different for a while now. I think it started two years ago when a car hit him and broke his leg. He missed almost two months of school. When he came back, he was quieter and had to use crutches to get around.

When the boy saw the posters, he flushed red with shame. Their posters all looked so good! They were all clear and neatly made. The text had been done with stencils! Why hadn’t he thought to use stencils? He doesn’t know the answer, but he suspects it’s because stencils aren’t free, and he’s careful to never ask for money. His father sometimes gave him a $2 a week allowance. He liked to go to the dime store near his grandma’s house and buy Chunky candy bars and the balsa airplane models with the rubber band-powered propellers. Sometimes he got the allowance, sometimes he didn’t. One thing he never did, or only did once … maybe – he can’t be sure, is to ask either of his parents for money. They talked (fought!) about its lack enough for him to realize, even at 11, that there wasn’t money for him. He looks at the posters again. ‘Their parents must have helped,’ he thinks and wonders vacantly why his parents had never bothered to help him.

I wish I could do something for him. He looks like he feels bad. He seems to be shaking a little. I tell Mrs. Allen and she takes one look at him and says something I can’t hear because Sheila is there again and fussing loudly over Kevin and Mike’s posters.

The boy’s face burned with a sensation of a ‘wrongness,’ about his poster. It was done in a 2H pencil, so the contrast wasn’t a bold or varied thing that leaped off the poster board and into the eyes of the viewers. It was a sloppy, disorganized mess. He couldn’t show this! Not with all the rest of those posters! He is embarrassed and ashamed by his poster. His decision is an instinctual, automatic reflex of self-preservation. He opens his locker, shoves the bagged poster deep into his locker. A few tears roll down his face, but he is already wiping them away on the sleeve of his blue flannel shirt as he steps away from his locker and sits down at his desk. Somehow he knows this is one of those ‘big moments,’ one that will stay with him for a very long time no matter how much he wishes he could forget it.


  1. Good description of the experience of the boy in glasses that prompts sympathy. Example of importance of “noticing” suffering of others. I stumbled in second paragraph. Was “her” same as Sheila?


    1. I am a little embarrassed to admit this is another event that actually happened to me. Not all my stories are so biographical, but both this (and the other story you commented upon) felt like big, formative moments in my early years.I still remember how hot my face felt as I burned with shame over the quality of my poster.

      The writing prompt for this story was to record something personal you lived through but written from the perspective of someone else.

      “Her” in the second paragraph refers to the imagined watcher. I don’t believe I even named her. Sheila is someone she interacts with during the event.

      I wrote most of these stories in an hour or two. I’m trying to get fast first. I’m hoping quality will follow once I developed quickness? I have plans to revisit several of these stories again. Give them some polish and attention for perhaps inclusion in a separate print-on-demand publication.


    2. You said you stumbled in the second paragraph. Perhaps that was due to my jerky shifting POV? From that of my imagined watcher to a third person, omniscient?


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