Remember to Blink

The following is a bit of flash fiction written in response to Chuck Wendig’s call to action. Apparently there’s a new edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory coming out that has the odd cover that you see here. The challenge is to write a piece of fiction that might go with that cover (ignoring the title is allowed).

Following is a story written as a follow-up to the classic movie Mannequin.

———————-

The hardest thing is remembering to blink.

Mommy and I live in the Prince & Company department store. She says Daddy’s busy, that he’ll come back soon. I know it’s not true. Mommy says that Daddy still loves us.

When I close my eyes I see Daddy the way he was on his last day here in the department store.

Big tears rolled down his flushed cheeks and sank into his scruffy beard. He reeked of whiskey and vomit, but that didn’t bother me. I stopped breathing so I wouldn’t smell it. Nobody notices if you stop breathing as long as you keep moving around.

Nobody noticed that day, anyway. The department store was packed, maybe it was almost Christmas. The crowd pressed past us, flowing in a grumble of holiday cheer.

“Honey,” Daddy said. “I’m going to go away for a while.”

Blinking slowly, I tilted my head and looked carefully up at him. I was seven and he was everything to me. I counted to twenty, then blinked again. It was important not to blink too fast or too slow. I had been working on my pace.

“You’ll be happy here, Sweetie,” he said. “You and your mother will do fine, I’ve arranged it so that you’ll be able to set up your own displays. You can use whatever you like from the store.”

Blink. “Anything?”

“Anything, Honey.”

“Even the teddy bears from upstairs?” Blink.

“Yes, even them. Any of them.”

I twisted my face into a smile, but I didn’t stop looking at Daddy. He crouched down and touched my chin. There was such tenderness in his eyes. He swallowed and his tears stopped. He set his jaw, but I could still see the pain in his eyes.

A fat man jostled past Daddy, nearly knocking him over. Daddy stood and turned to confront the man, but the crowd swallowed everyone. Daddy said one of the words I’m not supposed to say, then his jaw softened.

“Will you be back tomorrow?” I asked. Blink.

“I don’t know.” He looked at me for a minute, then shook his head. “No,” he said. “No, it’s not fair to say that I might come back tomorrow. I won’t.”

Blink.

“Look, Sweetie. It’s not easy for me to explain, but your mother and I, well, we’re having some trouble.” His voice got very quiet. “It’s not your fault.”

“You don’t love Mommy?” Blink.

He let out a sigh and took my hand. We walked, moving with the flow of traffic leaving household items and entering children’s clothing. There were other kids there–sullen, angry kids as well as happy ones. They clung to their parents as if letting go meant losing them in the vast forest of clothing and legs. Maybe they were right. I squeezed Daddy’s hand as hard as I could.

Blink.

Finally, he said, “It’s not that I don’t love her. Of course, I love her. And I love you.”

“Then–”

“Why am I leaving? I don’t know. I just can’t handle the pressure. I look at you and I look at your mother and all I see are the times I failed you. I need to be better. You deserve better.” He stopped, forcing the crowd to part around us again. “Here, you can have everything you need and everything you want. You have your mother and you have beautiful things. You have the teddy bears and toys and the chocolates.”

“I don’t like the chocolates.” My lower lip was starting to quiver, so I bit it.

“No,” he said. “Of course not.”

“I don’t want all of those things, Daddy. I just want you.” Our eyes met. For a moment I could see tears forming in his, but then everything was blurry from the tears in mine. “I don’t need to eat anything. I don’t need to breathe. I’ll come live with you, Daddy. I won’t be any trouble.” My voice was breaking and I don’t know if he could understand what I was saying. Tears ran down my face.

When he spoke it was barely a whisper. “I’m sorry,” he said. He knelt down and hugged me hard. My tears turned to happy ones. My face twisted up in to a smile again. I knew that I had convinced him. He was sorry about saying that he was going to leave. I knew that he had looked at me and changed his mind about leaving. He really loved me.

I had forgotten all about blinking.

Later, I heard him talking to Mommy. I was in the display and she was behind the curtain with Daddy. It wasn’t so busy, so nobody was around.

“I can’t stay, Emma,” he said. “She–she’s too much like you, like how you used to be. It’s in her.”

“Johnathan–”

“No. She doesn’t blink, Emma. She’s not right. I don’t know what we’ve done, but it’s not right.”

“I love you.”

“And I love you.” There was a long pause. “Sometimes it’s just not enough. This is wrong.” His voice got quiet and I couldn’t hear what he said for a while. Then he said, “Goodbye.”

That was the last I heard from Daddy. I spend most days sitting with Mommy in the display, but sometimes I like to walk around the store and pretend to be a normal girl. The prettiest clothes and the best toys are always there for me. The kids will even play with me for a time, but they always stop when they see what I really am.

I can fool them for a time. I just need to remember to breathe and smile and blink. If I don’t breathe or smile or laugh or frown they might not notice, but they always notice if I don’t blink.

It’s always so important to blink.

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