This post isn’t really about the Neil Diamond song, “Sweet Caroline,” but now that you have it in your head, I’ll do you a favor and post the song right here:
Blogging every letter of the alphabet is hard, especially when normally I just post pieces I write for Flash Fiction challenges. Today, I thought about writing about confidence, but instead I decided to give you “The Last Straw,” in which Caroline is a peripheral character. I won the Special Challenge over on Finish That Thought for this piece. The first sentence was provided, and then we had to use at least one emotion/noun combo (e.g. angry waffled).
And although Caroline is a secondary character the story revolves around her. Her mother, the protagonist, makes the right decision for her.
The Last Straw
This was neither the time nor the place for his antics. Lines were being practiced on the stage. Kids flitted around like anxious butterflies. My daughter sat in the glum corner.
“Where’s your father?”
“He took the happy juice, again,” she said, without looking up at me. “He forgot my costume.”
I sighed. My tired feet weighed a thousand pounds from a double shift. He had one job, to bring Caroline’s costume to school, and he’d failed like he had a dozen times before.
“Is he here?”
“Outside, with Victor. Mom, how can I be Juliet without my costume?”
“Go talk to Ms. Harrison.”
I knew I didn’t have thirty minutes to get up the mountain and back down. Caroline’s eyes were stained red from too many tears as she went to track Ms. Harrison down. A seething bull settled inside me, ready to gore Darnel. I’d given him so many chances, and he kept disappointing me—a record constantly on repeat. And now, he’d shattered our daughter’s dream like he had the cracked window in our lonely bedroom.
Darnel was out on the school’s quad with Victor. He was dancing around, a raving lunatic, and I knew he’d taken more than just happy juice.
“What’s he on?” I asked Victor, as Darnel tried to kick up his heels and belly flopped onto the firm green lawn.
“I’m not sure,” Victor said. “Honestly I’m surprised he even made it here without running off the side of the mountain. Caroline was something else. Mad as a tick. She yelled at him in front of everyone. Told him she wished he was dead. Didn’t faze him one bit either.”
Bones ached, and I shifted my legs trying to find a comfortable position, having stood all day at the diner. Low on tips too, and I needed to pay for Caroline’s senior trip still. I was bone tired of coming home to find Darnel having spent the money on booze and drugs. And the lying. That was the worst of it. He wove tales with a dishonest thread. I couldn’t even catch a glimpse of who he used to be. The man I fell in love with all those years ago—he didn’t exist anymore.
I reached into my pink apron, and I pulled out fifty dollars, a good chunk of the day’s tips. I settled the money into Victor’s hand and caught his eye.
“Take him down to Bradford. I don’t want to see him again.”
“What’ll you tell Caroline?”
“Leave it up to me.”
I turned my back on Darnell, and walked away from the man I had once known. Caroline wore the color of hope when the curtain rose.