Brad feeds his infant son a bite of bright-orange carrot purée, then uses the spoon to collect everything that didn’t quite make it in the little guy’s mouth.
“Da we go,” Brad said, using the baby-talk voice that he swore he’d never use. “Now, time for Daddy to take a few bites.” He sits back in his seat, picks up chopsticks and swirls them around his bowl, gathering a clump of steaming ramen noodles. He gives a quick blow, then puts a bite in his mouth.
While chewing, the baby slaps his palms on the tray of his high chair. Brad smiles, then feels a dribble of broth slide down his chin. He slurps what he can and uses a napkin for the rest. “Well look at that. I’m just as sloppy as you.”
He puts down his bowl, then grabs the jar of baby food. He dips in the spoon, then pulls out another bite, wondering how much will actually go in Simon’s mouth.
Turns out, less than half.
“That’s okay,” he said. “It just takes practice.”
He gives his son another bite. More goes in this time, but there’s still cleanup left. “See? Already getting better!”
The baby laughs and hits his hands on the tray.
“You know, Simon,” Brad says as he choo-choos in another bite, “probably the best advice I could ever give you is to keep practicing. You’ll be good at shockingly little on your first try.”
Simon gives him a big smile, orange globs oozing from his toothless grin. Brad laughs. “Yep, that’s right. Even smiling takes practice, I guess.”
He sets the small jar down and goes back to his own bowl. As he shovels in his own bites, he daydreams of the future they’ll have together as father and son. But as excited as he is for a life of fishing trips, rolling around in the backyard and building treehouses together, he snaps back to the present, forcing himself to stay in the moment. He reminds himself that Simon will only be eight-months-old once. He thinks, I need to enjoy these moments before they leave forever.
As he absently stirs his chopsticks, he realizes that there will never be a sudden, specific moment when Simon is “old enough.” There’s also no single moment when he graduates from infancy. Everything happens gradually. Sure, there will be milestones, like when he takes his first step or says his first word. And eventually, there will be a day when he picks Simon up, puts him down, and never picks him up again. Those moments are out there, but for everything else – the age at which he can go fishing, for example – those days can happen anytime.
Simon offers a few grunts and scoots in his seat, reaching for the jar.
“Okay, okay,” Brad says, putting down his bowl and going back to Simon’s jar. “I know it’s your turn.” He spoons out a bite and gives it to Simon. Simon takes the entire thing in one gulp.
“Wow, great job, buddy!” Brad shouts. As he heaps praise on little Simon, the baby soaks it up, flashing a big smile and bashfully shrugging his shoulders.
In that moment, Brad decides he won’t wait for the day when Simon is “old enough” because there is no such thing. The important things, like advice, shouldn’t wait for a milestone day, they should happen continuously. And it might as well start now.
“So I’ve already told you about practice,” Brad said. “It really does make perfect.”
Brad laughs, “Yep, that’s right! And what else…” His voice trails off as he spoons in another bite. “Oh, always stand up for yourself. That’s a good lesson.”
Feeling like he’s on a roll, he continues. “And ghosts aren’t real,” he says, “There are weird things, but the explanation is never ghosts. And don’t talk to strangers. Ever. And, let’s see…”
He scoops the last of the carrots out of the jar and feeds it to Simon. Brad leans forward to look his baby in the eye. “Sheesh, there are so many things I want to tell you. And I will someday. But for now, just know that I love you. More than anyth—”
A loud metallic clang wakes Brad from a daze. He looks around his empty cell. Sitting in his lap is a lunch tray with leftover puddles of slush and stray breadcrumbs.
A voice startles him. “Okay, Johnson, lunch is over,” it says. “Bring me your tray.”
Brad gets up, dazed, and shuffles to the door of his cell. He slides the tray through the slot. It’s snatched out of his hand, then the slot closes with a loud, metallic clang. Brad walks back, and once again sits down on the edge of his bed.
Outside the door, a prison guard walks away, followed closely by a trainee. “What’s up with that guy?” the trainee asks.
“Poor guy,” says the guard. “A while back, he was feeding his eight-month-old son when the high chair collapsed. He didn’t latch it right. It snapped up and the tray crushed the boy’s skull. He died instantly.”
The trainee winced. “Oh my god.”
“Tell me about it. I’m sure it was an accident, but with the baby’s injuries, he was charged with manslaughter. When he leaves that holding cell, he’ll be behind bars for like three years. Heartbreaking thing is, when he eats in there, he stares at the wall, mimes feeding a kid while he eats. If you ask me, I’d say he still sees the ghost of his son.”
As they walk away, Brad sits in his cell, looking at his son in his high chair. Simon smiles, pounding his fists and giggling. Brad checks the latch on the high chair, just to make sure, then leans forward and kisses Simon on the forehead.
I have so much more to tell you, he thinks, but that can wait until tomorrow.
“Some Good Advice” was written for NYC Midnight’s 2017 Flash Fiction Challenge. This round’s prompt required the 1000-word story to be in the genre of a ghost story, take place in a holding cell, and feature a chopstick.