about the author

The work of Andrew Stancek has appeared in Tin House online, Frigg, jmww, Peacock Journal, and many other fine venues.

Bookmark and Share


font size

Three Flashes  

Andrew Stancek


Konrad crosses his legs, pats the bulging stomach and pours himself a tumbler of ginger ale. “I miss the tornadoes,” he announces to the room, not looking at you.

Lukas, your son, has been catching crickets for tea. His favorite basketball player says that drinking cricket tea every day improves coordination. Lukas is determined to be a basketball player first, and then to travel to Pluto, which to him will always be a planet.

Konrad belches, rustles the newspaper, folds it into a hat and crowns himself. “We could live in Oz,” he says. “I hear it’s warmer there.”

Lukas shakes the cricket jar and does not deign to glance at his uncle. “I need seven more,” he says. “Protein and chlorophyll.”

Your golden retriever named Moira ran away the day after Yolanda cleared out. Lukas says that Moira is happy on Pluto and when he visits, he’ll bring her favorite squeegee toy. He does not say anything about his mother.

Konrad picks up the snow globe, shakes it, makes a snow flurry inside. You feel the cancer cells floating from your esophagus to your feet. You wiggle your toes.

On the phone Konrad said, “Every marriage has a period of turbulence. She’ll come back, you mark my words. Do you want me to come down for a few days, play with Lukas, give you a break?” You listened to the girl next door practice her arpeggios as the phone silence stretched. Finally you said, “Yes, please.”

You haven’t told anyone the test results.

You don’t think she’ll come back.

You look at Lukas, the odd glow radiating from his cheek but then you blink and it’s the setting sun.


The two of you sit on the bank of the creek, watching crawlies. Ants march by, carrying a dead beetle. Silences feel companionable, full.

He has a ketchup stain on his Warriors T-shirt and his arms are scratched by the raspberry canes. From the house you hear Konrad wailing along with Buddy Holly. The sun reflects off the water and you long for a jumping fish but they died out years ago. “It all gets washed away,” you say, and he looks up but then looks at the water again, picks up a flat rock, flicks it. He smiles at the plonk. If he asked about his mother, what could you possibly say?

You have needle stabs of pain in your back through most of the night. You repress a cough, hold your side. Decisions have to be made soon, Doctor Zamrod said.

“I used to play marbles when I was your age,” you say. “Have you ever played marbles?”

He shakes his head.

You wish you’d given him a sister to play catch with, to climb the willow, to issue dares, or even better, a brood of brothers and sisters for a jamboree. He is much too solitary. Maybe Yolanda’s sister knows where she is, would pass on a message, not for your sake but the boy’s. You don’t want to beg.

A woodpecker hammers. You think you hear a moan between the poplars but must be just imagining it. “Shoot hoops at the school?” you offer.

He hops up. Your knees creak, the chinos feel loose. You can’t be losing weight yet.

He beats you by six.

Not the Grand Canyon

Lukas and you are watching Mary Poppins for the fourth time in four days. She doesn’t grate: you both sing and recite along with Bert and Jane and Michael. Mary is practically perfect in every way. Lukas does not ask about his mother.

Konrad calls. “You’re the adult, damn it. You’re driving the bus. You have to tell him, sooner or later.”

You know. Sooner or later is right; you just want it to be later.

Your sleep is broken. You have heartburn all the time except it might not be heartburn. You tell Konrad your heart is sizzling, that your flown-off wife has charred it. He does not laugh. “Tell the boy,” he hisses. “I will come back when you need the help, when it gets urgent, but you have to tell him.”

Your next appointment is in ten days. They said if the situation changes radically, if you have new symptoms, new pains, to call, but you don’t know what is old, what is new, what is dire, what is blue. You are funny: that could be one of Lukas’s rhymes. But it’s not. It’s your whistling in the dark. You are lucky to have someone to help with Lukas. So many people have no one. But you are scared.

In the middle of the night, you are popping popcorn, pondering a switch to The Sound of Music. The party at the Nicholsons two houses over is breaking up with laughter, car doors slamming, Aerosmith blaring. Last year you celebrated with them, no invitation this year. Bad news spreads faster than wildfire—no one wants to be infected with whatever ails your house.

You turn on the TV, a National Geographic documentary washes over you, and you realize he’s never seen mountains, lakes, the ocean, a desert. He doesn’t need to be in school, will learn more from experience. Soon you’ll have to quit work anyway but you’re still well enough.

You’ll kayak and ride horses and climb something, some mountain. You’ll have time for words.

HTML Comment Box is loading comments...