Sunday, January 1, 2017

Short Story: Floating Pellets

I wrote this in college and recently stumbed across it. I thought I'd share it here just for fun. :)

The turtle zipped across the rubber mat in the bathtub toward his food pellets. The two inches of water made him much faster than if he had been on the dingy linoleum floor. Molly hummed to herself as she watched him swim. Ever since her dad had bought her the turtle from a stall in China town, she had enjoyed watching Zippy in the bathtub.
            She began singing quietly, but grew louder after a few notes.
            “Shut up in there,” her dad growled from the couch in the living room.
            She immediately clamped her mouth shut and leaned over from where she sat on the toilet to wiggle her fingers in the bathtub water. She grazed the shampoo bottle with her elbow, causing it to crash into the bathtub, creating ripples. The noise scared Zippy, sending him into his shell. Molly watched him for a few moments, and finally he began to peek his head out.
            Zippy looked around, saw the shampoo bottle floating in the water, and whipped his head back into his shell.
            Molly sighed, knowing that he was probably done playing for now. She reached over, picked up the little turtle in her hands, and stood. Molly pulled the plug in the bathtub and walked past the living room to her room.
Molly tugged the sleeve of her lavender sweater down over her wrists as she gazed out the window of the car, watching the other neighbor kids walk to school. One boy, a boy she recognized from her street, was laughing at a smaller boy who had fallen in a puddle by the curb. Two more young boys were running ahead of the laughing boy, trying to shoot each other with miniature squirt guns. She turned to her mom.
            “Mom?” she asked.
            “Yes?” her mom answered.
            “Can I try out for the talent show? I really want to sing—.”
            Molly’s mom cut her off. “No, I don’t think so.”
            “Why not?” Molly asked.
            The light ahead turned yellow, and then red. Molly’s mom pulled the car to a stop and turned to face her. Her eyes were watery and her lips pursed. She opened her mouth, and then paused, biting her lip.
            “I’ll ask your father, but I don’t think so.”
            Just then the light turned green again. Molly pointed toward the light. Her mom turned from her, put the car in motion, and didn’t say another word about the talent show.
            They pulled up to the school.
            “Okay, Molly, hurry up now,” her mom said. “I don’t want to be late for work.”
            Molly slid out of the passenger seat of the car and walked slowly to class.
Her class was to play dodge ball that day for P.E. All the kids in Molly’s class squirmed with excitement. Their teacher, Ms. Mintin, had told them about playing dodge ball so that they would work quickly on their math worksheets, but instead the students had become even more antsy. Molly tapped her fingers on her desk, staring at her finished worksheet. Then she adjusted the sleeves on her sweater.
            As soon as everyone finished, Ms. Mintin told the class to go out to the dodge ball circle on the blacktop. The boys and girls popped out of their seats and ran out the door, squealing with delight. Molly stood slowly and moved toward the door.
            “Molly, why don’t you take off your sweater? It’s warm outside,” Ms. Mintin said.
            “I’m fine, Ms. Mintin,” Molly said.
            “Alright Molly. Go ahead and leave it on.” She smiled at Molly and the two went outside.
Molly was hit by one of the round rubber balls almost immediately after the game began. As she walked to the outside of the circle, she noticed the large brown spot the ball had left on her sweater from bouncing in the dirty water on the blacktop. Molly pulled the sweater off over her head. She glanced down at her wrist and saw the purple bruise she had forgotten was there. But before she could put her sweater back on, Ms. Mintin was standing beside her.
            “What happened to your wrist, Molly?”
            Molly’s eyes grew wide. “I, um, I dropped a jar on my arm. I was reaching up into the cupboard and I accidentally knocked it off the shelf.”
            “Oh, alright,” Ms. Mintin nodded and smiled at Molly. After a moment, she walked around the circle of students still playing dodge ball and waved over one of the yard-duties.
            Molly couldn’t hear what Ms. Mintin said to her, but she did see Ms. Mintin look in Molly’s direction once.
            The elderly yard-duty nodded her head.
            Ms. Mintin smiled at the woman, and then walked quickly toward her classroom.
When Molly walked inside her apartment after school, it was quiet and dark. Snoring came from the living room. Her father was asleep on the couch again. There were no lights on in the apartment.
            Her mom came up behind her. “Play quietly, Molly. Your father isn’t feeling well.”
            Molly glanced over at the beer cans on the coffee table and then looked at her mom. “Okay, Mom.” Molly gave a weak smile and moved down the hall toward her room.
            Zippy was sitting on his rock when she came in, basking in the sunlight that was creeping in through the blinds on her window. Her smile grew. She set her backpack on the floor. She reached for the pellet box on her dresser. Dropping tow pellets into the water, she sat on her bed and watched.
            She sang to Zippy as he swished across the water and snatched a pellet into his mouth as fast as he could. In seconds the other one had also disappeared. Zippy swam around the bowl for a minute and then returned to his rock in the sun.
            Molly closed her door quietly so she wouldn’t wake her dad, and then she pushed her backpack closer to her desk with her foot and sat down in her chair. Reaching into the backpack she took out her books and set to work on her homework.
“Molly?” Molly’s mom opened the door. “Dinner’s ready.”
            “Thanks, Mom.”
            Molly’s mom smiled then disappeared behind the door again. Molly finished up the word problem she was working on, set down her pencil, glanced at Zippy, and then left her room.
            Once she reached the kitchen, she saw it was her favorite meal: sloppy joes.
            “Here, Honey, grab a plate from the table and come here,” her mom said. “I’ll serve you.”
            “Okay.” Molly moved to the table, picked up a plate, and walked toward her mother.
            Once her mom had served her, she sat at the table. She looked up at her mom.
            “Is Dad eating with us?” she asked.
            “I don’t know.” Molly’s mom went into the other room. Molly heard her whisper.
            “Joe, dinner’s ready. Sloppy joes.”
            Molly heard the couch squeak.
            “I’m not hungry, thanks,” her dad grumbled.
            “Are you sure?” her mom asked.
            “Yeah. Go eat.”
            Molly’s mom walked back into the kitchen, served herself some dinner, and then sat at the table with Molly. The two ate silently.
            When Molly was finished she thanked her mother, set her plate in the sink, and walked back to her room. As she closed the door, she began singing again.
Molly was reading when she decided it was time for dessert. She went to her door, and then paused. Her mom was standing at the counter in the kitchen, filling a plate with leftovers from dinner. Her father was standing right behind her, about to speak.
            “I told you never to wake me up,” he said.
            “Dinner was ready, Joe,” her mom whispered. “I figured you’d be hungry.”
            “Did I ask you to wake me up?” he asked.
            “No, but I—.”
            He interrupted her. “Do what I ask, Mae.”
            Molly’s mom didn’t say anything or turn from the counter to face her husband.
            “Look at me when I’m talking to you.” Joe grabbed Mae by the arm and pulled her roughly around to face him. The jerk on her arm caused her to drop the plate, sending sloppy joe all over the brown carpet. Some of it must have spilled on his pants, because Joe started down at them in disgust.
            “Look what you’ve done now, Mae.” He raised a hand and hit her.
            She fell back against the counter.
            Molly watched silently. Her mom’s eyes turned down the hall and settled on Molly.
            Joe spun around quickly.
            “What are you doing?” he asked as he stomped down the hall toward her.
            Molly took several steps back and tried to shut her door, but he reached her before she could. He grabbed the doorknob and pulled the door open, dragging Molly into the hallway.
            “Answer me.” He glared down at her.
            “I was ready for dessert and—.”
            “You were eavesdropping,” he said.
            “No I—.”
            “Don’t lie to me, Molly,” he yelled.
            “But I—.”
            He slapped her across the jaw. She fell back against her dresser, upsetting Zippy’s bowl. Molly bent down to grab Zippy before he could crawl away, but her dad grabbed her by the shoulder.
            “I’m not done talking to you,” he said. He spun her around to face him.
            Out of the corner of her eye, Molly saw Zippy crawl under her bed.
            “Don’t you ever let me catch you eavesdropping again,” he said. “You hear me?”
            Molly nodded.
            “Good,” he said. He turned and left the room.
            Molly’s mom stepped forward and gave Molly a hug. “I’m sorry, Honey. Try to stay out of his way, okay?”
            Molly looked up at her mom and nodded.
            From the other room, Molly’s dad yelled. “Clean up the kitchen, will you? And make me a new plate. I’m hungry.”
            Molly’s mom gave her shoulder a squeeze and then walked down the hall to the kitchen.
            Molly went down on her hands and knees and looked under the bed for Zippy. Once she found him, she put him back in his bowl. She carried the bowl to the bathroom and put fresh water in it, and then she brought it back to her room and set it gently back in its place on her dresser. She put a towel down on the floor where Zippy’s bowl had spilled and stepped on it to sop up the water.
            Zippy seemed scared after his fall from the dresser. He sat on his rock, unmoving. Only his eyes moved. It was as if he was waiting for his world to be toppled to the ground again. Molly tried singing to Zippy. He still didn’t move. Not even a pellet could tempt him to swim.
As Molly was finishing her reading, her door opened. Her father was standing there. Molly stopped working and looked at him. His face was calm and a bit red, as if he was embarrassed.
            “I’m so sorry I hit you, Molly,” he said.
            Molly reached up and touched the swollen bruise on her jaw.
            Seeing the bruise, Molly’s dad grimaced. He took a couple steps forward. “I’m a terrible father.”
            “No you’re not,” Molly said. “I got in the way.” She started to cry. “I’m sorry,” she said.
            Her dad watched her for a moment and his eyes started to tear as well. “If you want, you can stay home from school tomorrow,” he said. “We’ll go get some ice cream, just the two of us.” He smiled at her.
            “Okay, Dad,” Molly said and nodded. “That sounds good.”
            “Alright, it’s a plan then.” Joe touched her shoulder, and Molly winced. He drew back and closed his eyes for a moment before leaving the room, shutting the door behind him.
            Molly looked at the door for a moment, and then went back to her reading. She read for a minute and then sat back in her chair. She got up and opened the door to see where her dad was. He was back in the living room, watching an infomercial.
            Molly walked slowly toward him. He didn’t notice her until she spoke.
            “Oh. Yeah, Molly?” He asked. He turned to her and waited.
            Molly looked down at the floor and then back up to her dad’s face. “Can I sing in the talent show?” She stared at him, trying not to let him see how much she wanted to sing.
            He sat for a minute staring back at her.
            “I guess. If you want to, yeah,” he said, and then turned back to the infomercial.
            Molly smiled and crept back down the hall to her room singing quietly.
Ms. Mintin called when Molly didn’t show up to school the next day. Molly’s dad answered the phone.
            “Hello? Uh, yeah, she’s here. She’s sick. Yeah she gets sick a lot… I’ll tell her.” He hung up the phone and then continued watching TV.
Her mom was at work, so it was Molly’s job to make dinner. Molly only knew how to make one thing—Rice-A-Roni®—so that’s what she made. She left it to brown on the stove while she went to the bathroom. Then she went to check on Zippy. He was still not in the water. He simply sat on his rock. His eyes had stopped darting to and fro. Molly didn’t think he’d moved since she wen to the kitchen.
            “What the hell?”
            Hearing her father yell made her jump.
            She ran down the hall into the kitchen. Her dad was standing over the stove staring at the pot, beer in hand. The Rice-A-Roni® was burning. He turned to her.
            “What the hell are you doing in here?” he asked.
            “I went to the bathroom,” Molly said and pointed.
            “You were in your room playing with your damn turtle, weren’t you? I never should have bought you that stupid thing,” he said.
            Molly took a step toward the stove to turn down the burner.
            Her dad swiped at her, hitting her squarely in the head and causing her to fall back and hit her head on the table leg. She lay on the ground, shocked, and stared up at him.
            “Get up,” he said.
            Molly didn’t move fast enough, because he reached down and yanked her up by her arm. She winced when he touched her bruise. He didn’t notice.
            “Clean up this mess,” he said.
            She nodded.
            “Answer me when I talk to you,” he said. His hand tightened on her wrist, and she sucked in a breath to keep form making any noise. He glared at her.
            “I’ll clean it,” Molly said.
            He let go of her wrist, but pushed roughly past her into the living room.
            “You can forget about that dumb talent show,” he yelled.
            Molly winced as if she had been struck again. After a moment, she moved the now-ruined Rice-A-Roni® to the back of the stove, and then turned the burner off. She stood waiting for it to cool. When she though it had cooled enough, she took the pan to the garbage can and scraped out the burnt rice with a wooden spatula. Then she cleaned the pot. She put a new batch of Rice-A-Roni® into the pot and then added a little butter and put it on the burner to brown.

After her dad ate his fill of dinner, Molly ate the few bites that were left. Then she tidied up the kitchen and went to her room. She went to her dresser and knelt down so she could watch Zippy. His little body was laying awkwardly on the bottom of his bowl, just to the side of his rock. There were two untouched pellets floating in the water.


  1. Oh how terribly sad. I pray the teachers/school steps in to save a child like this. I realize this is fiction BUT there are real children in situations similar to these.

  2. A very sad but well written story. Unfortunately, this type of abuse happens way too often.