Bursting in the Air
by Irene Westcott
Highly Commended in the Bare Fiction Prize for Flash Fiction 2016
Dave developed the film years later. After Kat was gone and the house was sold and Benjy was back at that facility in Reno. It was disc-style film. The kind that went with Benjy’s first camera.
The first photos were misfires. A blur of red-white-and-blue bunting. The sunburned tops of a young boy’s feet. Benjy’s delicate fingers on the lens.
Dave had found the film while cleaning out the garage. It was in a shoebox, several strata down, under the tennis racket he’d bought and barely used, and some paperback books on recovery. Developing the film had been an impulse, but once the idea surfaced, it propelled him like a twig in a current.
Now, flipping through the three-by-five prints in the camera store parking lot, Dave felt something flip over in his gut. A kind of sick inevitability. Like seeing one of Kat’s tight-lipped looks and knowing the fuse was lit on another fight.
The next shot had been snapped at night. Dave’s own face filled the frame, blanched by the flash. He looked miserable under a paper top hat in Uncle Sam stripes. Apparently, the photo—like so much else in Dave’s life—had caught him off-guard; his eyebrows were raised in surprise.
When Kat moved out, she took the last of Benjy’s stuff with her. An entire childhood sorted into banker’s boxes and labeled in black marker. “Drawings & Notebooks.” “Boy Scout Badges.” “Rocks & Shells.” Dave had been both sorry and relieved to see it all loaded into the van. Benjy’s belongings had a powerful undertow; they sucked him into a dark, airless place.
Another photo: He and Kat seen from a distance. They were standing, facing each other, Kat’s finger pointed at his chest. Still life of a fight.
Recognition hit Dave hard. He sank down on the concrete parking stop, the memory exploding into clarity.
Fourth of July. A neighbor’s barbecue. Benjy slinking around, shielding himself from conversation with the camera. Dave shaking off his fog now and then to worry about his son. Always so twitchy. Like a rabbit ready to bolt. And Kat, so lovely that night, drawing him away to the side of the house. Telling him she knew about the pills. Knew he’d maxed out his prescription and finagled others. But Benjy was the last straw. Did Dave really not know their son had found his hidden stash?
What this family doesn’t need, she’d said, is another addict.
Dave could still hear the way she’d clipped the word, detonating it in the air between them.
Dave flipped to the next photo. Red and blue streaks of light that stood out like bulging veins against a black sky.
The finale. The moment it all blew apart. Looking at the shower of sparks, arcing toward the heads of his family, he wanted desperately to slip into the scene and pull them to their feet. To lead them swiftly way. To save them all from being singed.
Bursting in the Air was Highly Commended in the Bare Fiction Prize for Flash Fiction 2016, as chosen by David Gaffney.