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My Brave Boys 

Short Fiction by Travis Flatt

My wife presents the calendar to the doctor.

I observe the doctor study it, hope that it will do, that I won’t disappoint him again.

It was the boy’s idea, the calendar. If it fails to please, there’ll be no ice cream.  

The calendar's hand-drawn on blue construction paper by maroon crayon. Several lines bow where the ruler swelled with scotch tape. The boy snapped it, tantruming. I duly confiscated his art supplies to teach a lesson about anger-management. He’s seven. His mother assured me this was appropriate and will be appreciated later. Life’s difficult with the wife allowing the boy to make these decisions.   

Will the doctor be disappointed in me like the boy is? Has my lack of discipline undermined the doctor’s doctoring? In his office, I indicate, finger trembling, how I vomited most afternoons. He hushes me. Insists he must concentrate on processing the calendar.  

It’s arguing with the boy that sickens me. Stay-at-home fathering dissatisfies the gut. Ironic. My father called me “delicate.” But the boy’s saddle shoes are, he says, “too squeasy.” Similar squabbles. I’d tell the doctor, but his shushes are severe.

I must remember his technique.

 I should ask for instruction. 

“What’s this mean?”  the doctor says, jabbing a yellow nail at the cartoon faces drawn on certain Sundays. 

The code was another of the boy’s contributions. 

My wife, emboldened by my squirming, champions: “That’s our code. It means a week was bad–” 

The doctor ignores her, crumples the calendar and bounces it off my nose, denounces this as illegitimate medicine, how we’re undermining science. He cannot use this research at the Big Conference, will have to call a mulligan, will become a Laughing Stock. For a moment, I fear he’ll force me to pluck up the calendar and eat it like my first love did in grade school, though that was a love letter. Heavy on Shelly, I admit. It tasted of orange Starbursts. I clearly remember. Love now tastes to me like artificial tangerine.

He quakes. My eyes cannot quit the balled calender on the grungy floor. Do they use a cleaning service? I remember my first love’s red hair. My wife is merely brunette.  

“Are you administering the treatment?” he shouts at my wife. 

It’s unmanly to allow this. I could demand satisfaction, but I require the doctor, cannot shoot him through the heart or head, only wound him. We keep the pistols in the trunk. The parking garage sits several blocks away. I’m exhausted from vomiting. And the apportioned electrocution. “Yes. Every morning,” my wife says, referring to my electroshock treatments. 

In truth, the boy flips the switch. 

The doctor doesn’t believe her. She presents him the bite-down branch with my teeth marks. They stand nose to nose. I’m loudly flatulent from nerves.

We all laugh. 

I wish the boy could have enjoyed that. 

“Take two of these”--he pokes me in the eyes with V-ed fingers–”and call me Shirley.”

 

Again, we laugh.

My wife drives us home. I wear twin eye patches-–temporary, we hope. My upper face mumbles pink tears; my lower face mumbles curses. I shouldn’t blame the boy. It’s difficult, burdened at seven with such responsibility. 

“It’s too difficult,” I say.

“You’re doing better,” she says, “both of you.”

“I want ice cream,” I say. We drive on. I add, “we can get the boy some, too.”

I believe she smiles. “Good. You’re my brave boys.”

Travis Flatt (he/him) is an epileptic teacher and actor living in Tennessee. His stories appear in JMWW, HAD, Maudlin House, Flash Frog (Best Short Fictions nom 2024), and other places. He enjoys theater, fluffy dogs, and theatrically fluffy dogs. 

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