22 comments

Contemporary Inspirational Sad

This story contains themes or mentions of mental health issues.

“Dad, are we there yet?” Emily’s voice is soft and sweet as she asks the same question again. I don’t mind, though. 

“Not yet, sweetie.” Through the rear-view mirror, I can see her resign herself and shift uncomfortably. It seems like just yesterday when I held her in my arms, an innocent baby. A lot can change in eight years. 

The past few months haven't been easy on any of us, but as her father, I’ve tried my best to shelter her from the worst of it. It was all so sudden that I didn’t even have time to process it. My head hurts as I try to put the scattered pieces together.

#

Brrrrrring…Brrrrrring……Brrrrrring…Brrrrrring…

My vision is blurry as I rub at them in an attempt to see clearly. A material covers my entire body; it’s soft and comfortable against my skin, but the phone doesn’t stop ringing. So, I wrestle with it—kicking and throwing my hands—and the blanket retreats to the other side of the bed.

Each footstep toward the receiver is labored and begrudged. 

The landline shakes slightly with each ring. Cold metal meets the side of my head. “Hello?” My voice comes out a lot groggier than intended.

Mr. John Wilson?” The voice on the other end of the line is deep and authoritative.

“Yes,” I reply, my stomach dropping as I swallow with great effort.

I’m calling from the General Hospital. There’s been an accident on Lindon Ave. Your wife, Alice, is in critical condition.”

A high-pitched frequency yells in my ears as the voice on the other side sounds muffled. My body feels decades older in a mere moment. The hand holding the phone falters, and I hear a faint clang on the ground beneath me.

What happened next is still a blur in my mind. Meetings with doctors and the crying faces of loved ones were all too much. After she passed, I knew Emily and I had to have a fresh start.

#

“Dad! Look out!”

Two bright white beams of light are approaching fast. I jerk the wheel toward the right, and the tires skid on the gravel. The car shakes violently. Then, rubber hits smooth asphalt, and the vehicle straightens out.

Air escapes my lungs in a sharp outburst. In the backseat, I can see Emily white-knuckling the ‘oh shit handles,’ as Alice used to call them. The memory of her laughing as she joked about those handles is unbearably painful to think about now.

“Sorry…” I hesitate, and my eyes search for something to focus on. “I think the wheel is acting up again. I’ll take a look at it when we stop for gas. We need to stop soon anyway.”

The red line of the gas gauge was beginning to look threatening, so it wasn’t a total lie. Still, my chest tightens, and the headache from earlier returns with a vengeance.

“You should get a new car, Dad.” She calls out from the backseat. “I miss Mom’s old car…” Her voice trails off, cracking slightly at the mention of Alice.

My grip tightens around the steering wheel as I avoid looking at the rear-view mirror. A father needs to be strong for his family, even if it means putting aside his own feelings. I dig my left foot deep into my boot, drilling it into the floorboard.

“Tell you what, when we get to our new home, we can both go to the dealership and look into getting a brand-new car.” My voice sounds foreign.

“Can it be the same one Mom had?”

My heart aches. The road ahead of us starts to blur as it begins to look like I’m at the bottom of a pool. As discreetly as possible, I bring a sleeve up to my eyes and wipe away the beginnings of a tear.

“Of course, sweetie.”

Silence fills the cabin, accompanied by the rhythmic sound of the tires.

#

A sign that says Dal’s Gas shines in the distance. Once we get closer, we can see the station. Four pumps, illuminated by ancient-looking lights, stand ready to be used.

The car pulls off the road, bobbing up and down as we drive over the uneven pavement.

Above the car, a bright fluorescent light says pump number two. With a click, my seatbelt slides off of me. It takes everything I have not to break down in front of Emily.

“Do you want anything inside?” I say, my voice letting my emotion through despite my best efforts.

“Maybe… some pretzels? You know, the ones I like. Love you, Dad.” Her voice is quiet, but there are hints of her old self. That was the hardest part of all this—losing that fun-loving, sweet girl.

“Yeah, I think I can manage that. I love you too, kiddo.”

Her cheeks are flush, her lower lip quivers and her eyes glisten with unshed tears. I offer her a smile, as genuine as possible in my current state. A smile tugs at her lips but doesn’t come all the way through. She stays in the car, windows cracked. 

Before long, I find myself in a single-stall bathroom. In the mirror is a man I barely recognize. Heavy bags shadow his eyes, his hair is unruly, and the clothes he wears are ragged. 

Eventually, the tears, which I had been holding back, billow out like a flood. The gates have been opened. Soon, the man in the mirror is a mess, with no signs of stopping. 

Bang!

I hit my head against the wall in an attempt to calm down. It doesn’t help. There’s no point in fighting the emotions anymore. So, I weep uncontrollably.

Suddenly, dizziness overtakes me. I hold the walls for support, but my arms are weak. The tears fall like raindrops. My legs give out, and I drop to the ground.

#

“Hey, they didn’t have the exact ones you like…So, I got two different ones that are similar,” I say to a head-down Emily. “aaand, since you have been so good on the trip, I decided we should add a little music.” From behind my back, I reveal a CD that reads, ‘Top 100 Pop Songs 2008.’

Her eyes light up for the first time in a long time, but that other emotion is right beneath the surface.

“Can you sing with me?” Trepidation is clear in her tone, a glimmer of something that I can’t quite recognize in her eyes. 

I let out a small chuckle, this time not forced. 

“Yes, I can sing with you.”

Her hand reaches forward, and she grabs both snacks.

I get behind the wheel of the car. There are so many memories inside these four doors. A slow, deliberate breath exits my mouth. The engine comes to life, and the red line of the gas gauge is satisfied as we exit the sleepy gas station.

If we can manage until the next gas station, we’ll be just fine. The words echo like a mantra in my head.

September 20, 2023 17:32

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22 comments

Michał Przywara
00:12 Sep 29, 2023

Short and sweet, and a little bitter. The car's running on fumes, and so is he, and refueling is what it takes. And then, he realizes he's got to be strong for his daughter, but considering she seems to be trying to put on a brave face too, perhaps she's also trying to be strong for him. Maybe that's just what they need - to need each other. It's purpose, in a difficult time. Good story, thanks for sharing!

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Anthony Carello
01:26 Sep 29, 2023

There's a lot of different elements to unpack. The main idea for me is - the prices we pay for family. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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20:22 Sep 27, 2023

Great stuff Anthony, feel for the dad so much. Thank you for sharing

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Anthony Carello
21:25 Sep 27, 2023

Thanks for commenting. I like to think he still has his daughter as a reminder and that she gives him strength.

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Nina H
18:09 Sep 25, 2023

I like the parallel you draw at the end with the refueling, engine coming back to life, like the ups and downs of their grief. Just when they feel empty, they can find something to bring them to life again like the favorite snacks and singing together in the car. Great story

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Anthony Carello
18:41 Sep 25, 2023

That was exactly the idea I was trying to get across with the gas gauge. I'm glad you could see what I was trying to say. Thanks for commenting!

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Vid Weeks
13:39 Sep 23, 2023

I thought the use of dialogue was well done. great read,

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Anthony Carello
16:08 Sep 23, 2023

Thanks for the comment. I tried to make it seem as genuine as possible.

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02:02 Sep 22, 2023

Very powerful. Nicely done!

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Anthony Carello
09:36 Sep 22, 2023

Thank you for commenting!

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Jon Blackstock
22:09 Sep 21, 2023

Powerful story! Thank you for sharing this.

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Anthony Carello
23:38 Sep 21, 2023

I'm glad you think so and thanks for commenting!

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Old Mate
21:31 Sep 21, 2023

Hi Anthony. Just wanted to say 'Good stuff' on your short story. I'm an amateur with short stories and on giving feedback. I wish you all the best with your writing adventures. Warm regards Jake.

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Anthony Carello
21:32 Sep 21, 2023

Well, thanks for leaving a comment. I hope you enjoyed! Good luck with your writing!

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Mary Bendickson
17:23 Sep 21, 2023

Third paragraph think you meant things have not been ... Excellent take on prompt. Thanks for liking my kneaded touch.

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Anthony Carello
17:30 Sep 21, 2023

Yes I did. Thank you for the catch. Hope it was still a good read for you!

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Martin Ross
16:14 Sep 21, 2023

Very powerful emotionally, and a great poignant approach to the prompt. Nicely done — thanks!

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Anthony Carello
16:49 Sep 21, 2023

Thanks for reading and commenting!

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19:03 Oct 07, 2023

Did a good job of showing their struggle in a small window of time. It was easy to visualize their emotions.

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Anthony Carello
13:40 Oct 08, 2023

Thank you for you comments.

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Dragon The Poet
16:05 Sep 26, 2023

You did such an amazing job capturing what was going through the dad's head, so much detail! My heart literally aches because I could feel the pain emanating from the characters.

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Anthony Carello
17:13 Sep 26, 2023

Wow, thank you very much. I really appreciate the comments.

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