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It’s a bright clear morning because the sky is smiling, but you don’t feel like smiling. It’s cold again, and the bills are stacked high on your greasy desk, and it’s been a long time since your last cup of coffee. Yesterday you broke the picture of a grinning Francesca, today you burned the pizza, and tomorrow you know you’ll miss the bus. Well, tomorrow you might not be alive to miss the bus.

Rats.

And the mail’s full again. You curse, and then stop. She always giggled when you cursed. When you left you were sure she cursed again and again, in her soft wispery voice and gap-toothed mouth. Cursing, cursing, throwing theories and arguments about, but you were already sure in your mind why you left, and so you did. You hated the pain, and so you left. Pain should be kept to yourself, you think, and anyway she was just a kid and it’s not fair to share pain with a kid.

Pain. Sure. If that’s what you want to call it. Dying doesn’t hurt, you think. At least not this kind. It’s been a few months since you came home from the yearly checkup with a heavier burden to carry around, a few months since you made your decision, a few months since you left. You left for her.

You take out the handful of mail and smudge it with your greasy fingertips. Water, electricity, IRS—rats again. You laugh as you realize you’ve been cursing rats this whole time, not shit as usual. She must have worn you down with her quirked eyebrows and softly disappointed gap-toothed smile.

Rats.

Then you stop. It’s a little yellow envelope, just larger than your palm. It’s wrinkled, like someone spilled water over it and then dried it haphazardly. The name—oh, it’s your name—is written in pink marker in large wobbly letters. Spelled out, paused, and then resumed as if she’d had to look up and ask how to spell your name.

Your hands are shaking. You start to rip through the thin paper and then stop. No, you shouldn’t. Bad memories, and besides, she might beg you to come back, and of course you would, and then it’s back to square one again, right? No, you can’t have that. You push the envelope back into the mail slot and start to walk away. Then you turn and shove it, as if you were hiding something, into your pants pocket, and half-run to the station. Your backpack slides heavily around on your back, but you don’t slow.

You don’t miss the bus, but it’s close. You’re panting by the time you fall into a seat. You check your watch—9:13—and breathe slowly. The watch face is cracked; that was Francesca’s fault. You weren’t mad. Just surprised. She cried, because she thought you were angry. You weren’t and said so, and then she giggled.

You refocus on the papers across the aisle from you. They’re greasy, just like your fingers, and then you shudder. Quietly, like a spasm. Do you remember when she had her fits, her seizures, and you couldn’t do anything because you didn’t know what to do? You prepared all her life for those moments, and then they hit like lightning and you were frozen. Hands shaking.

Stop. No, don’t think about those things. You could have helped her, and didn’t. That’s okay.

Well, not really.

But you stop thinking as a buxom young woman boards, and you welcome a distraction. You look at the back of her head as she sits and try to think of the future. Dates, kissing, roses. Not the past. Hana left and so did romance.

You jerk your eyes back to the ads across from you. Your hands are shaking again and you pull them out of your pockets and stare at them. They’re pale and shiny and tired-looking. As if they had a mind of their own, they crawl down to your pockets again and pull out the letter.

Your name again. You sigh. And shudder. The buxom lady gets off when the bus yanks to a stop and you don’t look up. A baby cries in the back, and an exhausted voice shushes it. You tear across the top of the envelope—remember how she’d always laugh and say you opened envelopes like a bear did?—and squint hard and focus on folding the envelope again and shoving it into your backpack.

On the first fold of the letter, a heart is drawn with a shaky hand in bloodred marker. It’s ugly, and yet you smile. It’s color. The only color you like nowadays is the tomato sauce on pizza. Anything else gets tossed out the window. Color reminds you too much of her honey skin and amber eyes and charcoal hair—rats, stop it!

You unfold it.

Rats.

Dear dad,

I love you sososososososo much

 and I wanted to say it’s my birthday tomorrow please come

love francesca



You sigh and rub your eyes. Damn. You forgot her birthday. What kind of father are you? A lousy one, that’s what, says a voice inside you. And it hurts because the voice sounds like Francesca’s voice.

But—but—you would only hurt her if you came. You left for a reason. You remind yourself of that. The bus creaks to a stop and you get out and look at the sky. It looks like it’s about to weep. It does. It starts crying as you walk, head bowed, down the street.

I love you sososososososo much

Stop thinking, you tell yourself. Just stop it. Rats.

You walked out. It’s over. A stupid letter can’t bring it back. You left for a reason. The loneliness of an impending death was too much for two people. It would have been cruel, downright cruel, to ask your little girl to shoulder half that. Now, you ask the pizza and the greasy papers and the crying sky to shoulder half the loneliness. Half of death. They’re experienced, at least, at seeing loneliness, sky especially.

You look up and think that maybe the sky is crying for you.

It’s not fair—that’s it, that’s the argument angle you were needing. It’s not fair to ask Francesca to watch her dad die. Not fair. Better that Hana tells her later. Better. That’s it.

You enter your office building and ride the elevator up. The elevator smells like a plumber. It smells like the river. Stagnant and green and forgiving. You hold your nose. You exit and go down the stained carpet hallway to your office. You sit down. You read the letter again. Her birthday. Rats. You pin the letter up on the wall and turn your computer on and get ready to die.

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32 comments

Rhondalise Mitza
04:04 Jun 21, 2020

Five stars to you, Zilla, as usual!

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Len Mooring
23:54 Jun 27, 2020

Well done. The expression of love can take many forms.

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Batool Hussain
14:55 Jun 20, 2020

Wonderful! Second person point of view is a difficult topic to write stories on but as usual, you nailed it! Bravo:)

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Zilla Babbitt
00:14 Jun 21, 2020

Thank you so much!

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Batool Hussain
10:31 Jun 21, 2020

You're welcome! Mind checking my recent story out? Thanks.

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Zilla Babbitt
12:30 Jun 21, 2020

Sure! It'll take me a bit, I've got several stories plus critique circle to read, but I'll do it this week ;)

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Batool Hussain
13:09 Jun 21, 2020

Sure! No problem:)

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Neha Dubhashi
21:02 Jun 22, 2020

Hey! I've binge-read a few of your stories and was wondering whether you have any published novels/anthologies/etc. you could share with the Reedsy community. It'd be so cool to see a longer version of what you've given us through these short stories.

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Zilla Babbitt
23:57 Jun 22, 2020

Well, in a word, no. I've sent out stories, (waiting for replies) and am writing a book, but right now I'm still getting better, learning, adapting, reading books... Though I am trying to put out roots.

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Neha Dubhashi
19:48 Jun 23, 2020

No worries! I can't wait to see the finished novel, and I hope you get some replies soon. :)

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Sophia Rose
10:41 Jun 21, 2020

Lovely story as usual. If it isn't any bother I would really appreciate if you could read any of my stories and give feedback. Thanks a lot and great story.

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Zilla Babbitt
12:29 Jun 21, 2020

Okay I'll see what I can do. Might take me a little while, but I'll get around to it :).

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Sophia Rose
22:11 Jun 21, 2020

Sure, i'm in no hurry. And thanks for the feedback

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Eric Deitch
00:33 Jul 02, 2020

Great story. Your verbal imagery is quite stunning, yet heart breaking.

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22:18 Jun 29, 2020

Wow, the second-person POV in this story was super natural and nothing about it felt off at all! Fantastic!

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Steve Uppendahl
20:28 Jun 28, 2020

Very well done. To me, it feels like a first-person story more than a second (which is a compliment). This kind of character and overall mood/tone/subject matter could easily be one of those 4-6 episode series on Netflix. Great job!

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Zilla Babbitt
02:11 Jun 29, 2020

Thank you very much!

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Amber Shepherd
12:50 Jun 28, 2020

This story is awesome! I particularly loved how well I felt I got to know Francesca just from snippets of his memory. I also loved the voice and mannerisms of the main character, he felt so real.

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Zilla Babbitt
02:11 Jun 29, 2020

Thank you!

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Maggie Deese
18:40 Jun 27, 2020

Hi, Zilla! Wonderful story, as usual! I read in one of the comments that you have sent a few stories out for publication. Where have you sent them to? Also, how is your novel coming? Have a great day!

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Zilla Babbitt
19:10 Jun 27, 2020

Thank you so much, Maggie! I've sent them to the magazines on Reedsy's list, the ones with online submissions and no fee. I've submitted a few poems, too, but poetry isn't my strong suit. My novel's chugging along... just past the 24,000 word mark. It's a continuation of "Kiss of the Snake," my story that won.

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Maggie Deese
20:39 Jun 27, 2020

That's very cool! I might have to check those out. Poetry is not my strong suit either, but its always good to try. I hope you get replies soon on your submissions! You truly deserve it! And that is great! I am planning out my novel now, based on my story "The Mystical Tree", that I plan to write in November. I'm supporting you all the way; you are accomplishing something amazing by working on that novel! I'll be praying for you and any stress you may have while writing this book. Best of luck to you, Zilla! :)

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Zilla Babbitt
02:12 Jun 29, 2020

That's awesome! I'd recommend reading On Writing by Stephen King during or before you write, it really helps. Thank you for your encouragement and your prayers!

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Maggie Deese
02:34 Jun 29, 2020

Okay, I will check that out! Lately, I've been going through Gail Carson Levine's writing books. And you are so welcome!

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Amal Salisu
16:44 Jun 25, 2020

beautiful!

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Evan Shan
00:40 Jun 23, 2020

Thank you for writing this. this is amazing:]

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Zilla Babbitt
02:12 Jun 29, 2020

Aw, thank you!

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Dobby's Sock
15:56 Jun 22, 2020

Well, it has a very somber tone to it. I like the repetition that gives some strength to the character and the inner conflict between the cuss words does that as well.

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Zilla Babbitt
23:57 Jun 22, 2020

Thank you!

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14:10 Jun 22, 2020

He is going to die, don't know why. Perhaps, cancer? Anyway, I love the story. I like the little descriptions and the new curse word: rats! You sprinkled it throughout the story and it was lovely. I can already picture Francesca when she finds out the truth, devastating. The last paragraph is probably my favorite as I like the way you present him to us. Great story.

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Zilla Babbitt
23:58 Jun 22, 2020

Thanks! Well, in my mind, I was sort of thinking cancer, but tragically it's not painless. Maybe some auto-immune disease or brain malfunction. I'm not that scientifically adept. Thanks again!

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Ranya Navarez
23:07 Jun 21, 2020

Aww, that's so heartfelt! It makes my heart break for him. Well-done. Zilla!

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