By Tim Hanson
This Story Won First Prize in Our Contest
Learn More About Our Contest Here
The second-floor linen closet held more than just towels and boxes of soap. There were keepsakes from vacations and long weekends, boxes full of photographs, receipts from our first few years of dating, and folders stuffed with poetry we’d written for each other in college.
After our daughter was born, my wife insisted on getting rid of the clutter, but when we attempted this arduous task, I protested each item’s removal. “You’re a hoarder,” she said, looking helplessly at the overflowing closet. She laughed about it, though, and when she closed the closet door, everything remained right where it was, her campaign lost, but that didn’t weaken the smile we shared as we headed back downstairs.
The last thing I want to do is get out of bed, but there’s nothing in the fridge, and a man’s gotta eat, so I drive to the grocery store and wander the aisles, starved but without appetite, as songs from decades ago play overhead, their singers and songwriters long since expired, and listening to that is so much worse than bearing the silence back home, so I grab a bottle of Jack Daniels and pre-prepared food and leave, carrying two bags full of things I probably won’t eat back into the parking lot, where the howling wind whips against my face as I head toward the car, and I think about finally throwing away the Christmas tree when I get home, but I realize it’ll just sit on the curb and rot, and I don’t know why I’m so anxious to get back home anyway, or why I don’t just drop the grocery bags now, close my eyes, and walk into oncoming traffic, or why I plan to drop the groceries first, why my mind insists on inserting this detail into the plan, and I wonder if there’s even enough room in my trunk for the groceries, and maybe I should just drop the bags anyway, remove the Jack Daniels, the real reason I came, and walk home with my coat open, a middle finger to this unrelenting winter, and drain the bottle on the way there. The path from store to car was set long ago, though, and I’m a slave to routine, no matter what happened last December, no matter if there is only one person to walk this path now instead of three, and sure enough, when I open the trunk, I see there isn’t enough room for my bags amongst the boxes of things from the classroom where I used to teach English and the cleaning supplies left over from working during the pandemic and a picture Maggie painted for me and…and…
Throw it away.
Or just leave it here with the bags.
But be sure to grab the Jack Daniels.
Maybe I’ll just empty the bottle right here and now and then drive my car into the side of the store, make it look like my wife’s car after the semi plowed into it, but a high-pitched scream steals me away from this thought before it becomes a reality.
Three cars over, a little girl is sobbing in her father’s arms as he tries unlatching her umbrella stroller, but he can’t see that his struggles are futile, that the stroller is broken. We actually had one die the same way last summer before we replaced it with this one, and if I still believed in God or fate or any of that nonsense, I’d see this as a sign, as something other than an opportunity to finally rid my life of at least one piece of clutter:
Give the stroller to this man, who naively thinks this is the lowest his day can get. It doesn’t need to rot in a junkyard. Just give it to him and be rid of it.
“Um. Excuse me?” Silence, save for the baby, and her cries rip something from the deepest confines of my mind, something raw and jagged that tears my throat on its way out. “My own little girl…um, she won’t need this anymore, and you’d be doing me a favor if you just took it.” It was my voice breaking when I said “girl,” one word betraying the lie I’m hoping to sell, that my daughter has actually outgrown this stroller, but it’s enough to bring light to those eyes slumbering in the black bags of early parenthood.
My mother was a hoarder, every object a chapter in our story together, and she loved to tell us those yarns again and again as we sifted through the memories she kept stored in the hallway closet. My father was also a hoarder, but in a different way: he held on to his feelings, filed them away, and then shut the door, never to show them the light of day. I inherited my own breed of hoarding from both of them, objects standing in for what I couldn’t say aloud. Yet when that father’s hand leaves his daughter’s arm and grips my shoulder, the door finally opens, and everything I’ve stored in that closet upstairs the last three months comes tumbling out.
“Hey. Hey,” he whispers, my father’s voice with my mother’s tone, and it’s enough. “I’m here. I’m here. Tell me what happened.”
The world blurs, the wind howls, and I sob into this stranger’s jacket, and somehow, I’m still clutching the grocery bags.
The line, ‘my father’s voice with my mother’s tone’, was pitch perfect. And the long paragraph as he walked to the car from the grocery, every step a step towards the pain….Really well done. Congrats on the prize, well deserved.
I really appreciate the feedback and kind remarks. Thank you, George!
I was scanning through this one and then I got drawn in. A sad tale, well doled out. Nice one.
Thank you so much, Cathy! I’m happy to hear you enjoyed it!
Well deserved first prize. Thank the author for bringing to light hoarding which is an illness.
Thank you so much, Rudolph!
I love how this story attempts to explain hoarding as part of inheritance and deepens into the “hoarding” of feelings.
I’m glad you enjoyed it, Aline! Thank you!
Wonderful story, and easy to see why it was the winner. I loved the structure, it really grabs you.
I’m glad you enjoyed it! Thank you so much for the kind remarks!
A really good story, told “slowly” ( a rfeat in flash fiction) and affectingly. Well put together. Congratulations on your win.
Thank you so much, Tom!
Great story. I was right there. Wow. Good work! Thank you.
Thank you, Candace!
Oh, damn. I’m sitting outside a restaurant waiting for a friend with tears streaming down my face. This was so beautifully written. Thank you! (Snuffle, snuffle).
Sherri, thank you for the feedback: I am so glad this story meant so much to you! That’s such a good feeling as a writer. Thank you for reading!
Great story! Loved the part about hoarding feelings and the final moment of emotional support and telling of the man’s story. Well done!
Thank you, Alisa! I’m so glad you enjoyed it!
Very good story. Really pulled at my heart. Congrats!
Thank you, Matt!
Where to start?
Many jewels in this flash. Viewing the closet with his wife, and she, claiming him a hoarder, ‘… but that didn’t weaken the smile we shared…,’ sets the stage and reveals to the reader the presence of unconditional love in the relationship.
And, oh, how many of us have despised the behavior but love the person?
‘… starved but without appetite…,’ a great description revealing the state he’s in, and yes, been there.
‘… objects standing in for what I could not say out loud…,’ so poignant.
‘…those eyes slumbering in the black bags of early parenthood,’ yes, I remember.
This, ‘ … who naively thinks this is the lowest his day can get.’
‘… father’s voice..
A broken soul, a broken stroller. I could go on and on.
I’ve re-read this and each time I find more nuggets of fine prose. And the structure works exceptionally well.
Kudos on winning!
Thank you so much for the feedback, Linda! It is so helpful and really means a lot to me. Thank you again!
This is truly a story that will stay with me forever. So insightful and heart wrenching. Skilful writing.
That means so much to me, Martin. Thank you!
Chapeau…you captured me from the beginning…well deserved first prize …
Thank you so much, Valli!
Beautiful. Heart wrenching.
Thank you very much, Rabab!
Tears – a powerful ending with the empathy of a stranger to comfort someone grieving a heartbreaking loss.
Thank you so much, Lois!
Wow. That was wonderful. Really captured the depth of feeling.
I’m laying my len down to you.
Thank you, Tom!
That was a typo: I meant “laying down my PEN to you.
(no reply needed)
The everyday blandness of the first paragraph disguises the punch in the stomach that follows and that left me gasping.
A brilliantly told tale like a Scott Fitzgerald story, a 100 years on.
I didn’t understand the line “make it look like my wife’s car after the semi plowed into it” Is a semi a vehicle? It’s a house in UK.
A truly great story. Congratulations on winning.
That comparison to Fitzgerald means a great deal to me: he is one of literary idols. Thank you so much for the kind comments! Also, semi is short for semi-truck in North America, which would be called an articulated lorry in the UK (I didn’t know that off the top of my head, but I’m always fascinated by the differences in word usage between here and the UK, so I fell into a rabbit hole on Wikipedia trying to figure out the differences–honestly, I would have had no idea what an articulated lorry is or that semi is a house in the UK before today!).
That is powerful.
Thank you, David!
Tom, this is such a deeply moving story. You’ve written it with focused precision that lands with direct hits within me in all the right places. Marvelous story! ❤️🙏
Thank you so much, Kas! And no worries: I have also hit send on many emails before realizing I’d signed them either Tom or Time!
Sorry Tim. Let it go before checking spelling.
Perfect explanation of why people hoard, clinging onto happy memories afraid to loose them forever and to avoid unresolved issues. The end was a beautiful release and had me crying.
I am so glad you enjoyed it. Thank you for the feedback!
I was so moved by this wrenching piece. I gasped while reading and carried it with me through the day.
I loved the internal dialogue as well as how completely you capture the shock and pain of tragedy within the ordinary parts of the day.
Thank you for the kind words, Sarah!
What a pleasure to read, even as I fight tears. So much feeling in spare, perfectly pitched prose. And such a relief from all the alien, futuristic, fantastical stories that assail us. A slice of authentic life. Thank you!
I very much appreciate the feedback, Susan! I’m glad you enjoyed it!
Thank you for this mental journey. I see and feel it. The pain is out there and we need to be ready for it.
Thank you, Sandra!
Authentic and relative to so many lives/generations. Pain is palatable among the positives, hard to do in any genre. Finding comfort with a stranger is classic throughout the history of literature and a good ending here. Good job; you deserve the win.
Thank you, Judith!
Such brilliant writing. I’m new to Flash Fiction—and struggling. Your story both amazes and educates. Every word builds toward an end I didn’t see coming. Well done.
Thank you, Carol!