A match flares. A moment later, an empty cigarette pack lands at Janey’s feet in the back seat. She stretches her arms and yawns. Her mother drums her fingers on the steering wheel and beeps the car horn. “Hurry up, Jack.” The Joe’s Blue Lounge sign creates an eerie glow inside the car, a rusted Ford sedan idling by the curb on Main Street about a block south of the square.
“Don’t go to sleep. Let’s play not real,” Carol says.
Janey perks up a little. “Oh, OK. You first.”
Janey’s older sister slides her hands together like she’s praying, twists them in opposite directions, then wiggles her two middle fingers as if they’re one long one.
“Not real.” Janey giggles even though she’s seen the trick many times. She tries to copy her sister but gets her fingers tangled. “Dad did it best.”
“C’mon, c’mon.” Sally beeps the horn.
“Me again.” Carol reaches her hand under her shirt then pumps her other arm. Frap frap frap. The girls giggle.
“What’s going on back there?”
Carol keeps flapping her arm like a wounded bird. “It’s just an armpit fart, Mom. Not real.”
“Well, cut it out. Let’s go, Jack.” Sally honks the horn loud and long startling a couple walking past the car.
The man leans down and raps his knuckles on the front passenger window. “What the fuck’s your problem, lady?” he says, the glass muffling his voice.
The door locks clunk, and Sally waves her palms toward the man. “Sorry. Wasn’t honking at you. Sorry.”
The man gives Sally the finger then walks away. “Asshole,” Sally says.
“Asshole,” Janey says then squints as bright headlights approach them. “Cops,” she says when the car gets close. It slows to a creep as it passes alongside them. Sally sits up straight and stares straight ahead. Janey does the same. When the car gets past them, Sally leans toward the side view mirror. Suddenly everything turns red, and Janey twists around and looks out the back window. The police car has stopped, its brake lights glaring. After a moment, it edges on again. Janey looks back at her mom and sees her shoulders rise and fall. The red glow fades, and their car fills with Joe’s Blue Lounge again.
Janey rummages in the pile of rubbish on the floor and finds two plastic straws. “My turn.” She puts one straw in each nostril, raises her hands, curls her fingers, and growls. “I’m the abnomel … badomel … the bad snowman.”
Carol hoots. “That’s a good one, but I think it’s real.”
“I’m the real bad snowman,” Janey says and continues growling. The girls start giggling uncontrollably, but suddenly hush when somebody pounds on the front passenger door. Janey pulls the straws from her nose and drops them on the floor.
“Hey, unlock this thing.” The door locks clunk, and Jack slides in. Carol folds herself into the far corner of the seat and sits with her knees under her chin and her arms around her legs.
“What took so long?” Sally says.
“I’m here ain’t I?”
Janey hears a crumpling sound, then a wadded paper sack loops over Jack’s shoulder and lands on her lap. She pushes it to the floor. A moment later there’s the sound of a cap being twisted off a bottle and of Jack taking a swig. He pushes the bottle to Sally. She takes a long drink and shoves it back to Jack.
Janey tilts her head back and takes an imaginary drink.
“Did you get the stuff?” Sally says.
Jack’s hand, holding a small plastic bag, appears over the center console.
“About time.” Sally pulls the car, growling and rattling, away from the curb.
Janey yawns. “Mom, can we go home now?”
“What’d I say?” her mother answers.
Janey looks at Carol, who shrugs. The younger girl then scoots over and lays her head on her sister’s shoulder. “We’ll probably be home before long.” Carol strokes her sister’s hair.
“I saw him today,” Janey whispers.
“Saw who?” Carol whispers back.
“Dad. I saw Dad out the bus window. He was standing on the corner.”
“No you didn’t.”
“Did. And he was at the next corner too, and he looked up at me, and he smiled, and he waved.”
“You know he’s dead.” Carol reaches down and pinches her younger sister’s leg. “Don’t lie.” Janey yells out and tries to pinch Carol back, but her sister slaps Janey’s hand away. Janey slaps Carol, and the two start hitting at each other and yelling.
“Hey! You girls be quiet,” Jack shouts. “I’m trying to think.”
The sisters pause momentarily then resume fighting.
“You heard Jack,” Sally shouts. “You do what he says.”
Janey slaps one last time at Carol, then scoots to the far side of the seat and sticks out her tongue.
Jack twists ’round, reaches back and touches Carol’s knee. “I ain’t their dad,” he says with a grin. Janey closes her eyes, not wanting to see his teeth. “Carol, you pretty little thing, want a sip?” Janey hears him say.
“Not real,” Carol whispers.
Then there’s a loud blast of the horn and Janey’s mother telling the asshole in front of them the light’s turned green.
Banner image: Pixabay.com
11 thoughts on “The Real Bad Snowman by David Henson”
Brilliant. A heart breaker. The pace is perfect. And the empty butt pack detail at the start sets it in motion. My vote for the best thing I’ve read on the site. I am entitled to hate you a little for that. Leila Allison.
Now now – ladies and gents – this is not a competition!!! Oh well, maybe just a bit if it results in stories like these. !
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I came out on the short end of a Skittles eating contest with a co-worker today. I told her that it was the journey not the result that matters. She laughed as she pocketed the five dollars.
More training needed I reckon!
Thank you so much, Leila!
So terribly good I just wanted to SCREAM!
Thank you, June!
It is so good to see you back Dave.
This has just proven what a superb story teller you are. The set-up, back story and revelation were all pitched perfectly.
All the very best my friend.
Thanks, Hugh. It was great to be back with a story. I much appreciate your comment. All best, Dave
I loved the match flare leading into the Blue Lounge light, the cop brake lights, and finishing with the green light at the end. Inspired and moody. Plus, I’ve done just enough bad stuff to know that lurch in the gut you get seeing a cruiser’s brakes go on right after they pass you and you don’t want to talk to them. A lurch for the adults in the front seat, maybe a different reaction for the girls?
Also made me think of a story where a guy lives in a shithole apartment by the tracks and the neon Vacancy sign keeps waking him up. He thinks he’ll get used to the blinking, but doesn’t.
Good stuff, David. A def rerun allstar.
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Thanks for such a nice note, Mitchell. It’s much appreciated.