COME FLY WITH ME • by Phyllis Rudin

“My father’s a writer.” When Seth’s turn came around in class he said what he’d been taught to say. He could have more truthfully announced, “My father’s in marketing,” but no, his parents had drilled the writer line into him, like his dad was goddamn William Faulkner. They’d started massaging the message into his scalp before his fontanel closed and his brain developed greater resistance to parental claptrap.

They’d had Seth in training, the pair of them, from the day he was born, prepping him for the school he had no business attending. Every other kid in his homeroom had a shoe budget that could relieve third world debt and enough pocket change to keep Seth’s family in the black for a year. Their families’ creation myths, printed on parchment, didn’t come with the word steerage in them.

But Seth’s classmates found him out. Ariel Stern was about to walk his dog Peppy and needed a plastic shit bag pronto, so he emptied the plastic Publisac that had just landed on the doorstep, dumping all the circulars advertising assorted supermarket shlock. And that was how he came to spot Seth’s father’s Savvy Shopping column printed on cheapola newsprint, highlighting the week’s best deals on ground chuck and tampons. Naturally, Ariel broadcast his discovery all over school.

Seth could have engineered a reciprocal outing of his schoolmates’ fathers, but he was a dreamer not a fighter. He yearned for one of those movie families where fathers were lawyers in offices with boardroom tables long enough to seat the whole mishpocheh without even adding a card table, and with panoramic views over Chicago, or in indie movies, Toronto. They never worked from the basement like his did unless they were planning the world-saving discovery that would rocket them up to the penthouse in the finale. Yeah, his parents loved him, they provided for him, they taught him not to mix plaids with stripes. They’d done all the requisite donkey work, but did they have to be so embarrassing?

Seth’s mother was the lesser trial.  She worked at the dry cleaner’s, letting out waistbands, but at least she toiled behind a paisley purdah curtain. A seamstress she was, but Seth had been instructed to say “my mother’s a fashion designer.”

He tried to ride out the mockery, but those kids were pros, virtuoso tormentors. Dummies at their studies, at bullying they were Nobel Laureates, founders of the school’s Idiot-Savant Club. And in Seth they had a twofer; not only had he lobbed his father under their hooves for easy stomping, he was a science geek to boot.

Seth kept his head down and plugged away at his science fair project, consuming duct tape and double A’s in unprecedented quantities. There was a bit of a kafuffle down on the flagstone terrace when he was ready to present.  He could just make out his parents in the crowd. He balanced himself on the school building’s sixth floor ledge, his flying device strapped on, and shouted down, “Don’t worry, Mom, Dad. I’m an airline pilot.”

Phyllis Rudin’s stories have appeared in This Magazine, Prairie Fire, The Massachusetts Review, Prism International, and Qwerty Magazine, and as a podcast in Bound Off. Her debut novel, Evie, The Baby, and The Wife, a fictionalized account of the Vancouver to Ottawa Abortion Caravan, was published in 2014 by Inanna Publications. She lives in Montreal.

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 average 3.4 stars • 36 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Paul A. Freeman

    This story doesn’t work for me because I’ve no idea if we’re expecting a ‘Birdman’ ending (i.e. soaring high), or a ‘The Other Guys’ scenario (i.e. splat). I figure we’re expecting the latter, in which case the bullying at school and the conditioning at home would need to be explored in greater detail to make the story more plausible.

    • Von

      Since Seth was painted as a dreamer (like his parents), I went with soaring high. (I’m an optimist.) He had several things working in his favor–the amount of time he devoted to his project, an abundance of duct tape and triple As, and a science geek mentality. 🙂

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    Just could not believe in Ariel actually noticing anything printed on those circulars. If there’s a male creature alive who’s ever read one, let him raise his hand…I understand the tone the writer was aiming for here, but it fell flat for me. Two stars.

  • Overall this was an superficially-told story. Not enough funny moments to make it humorous for me. Not enough character development to make me take it seriously.

    The father’s name appearing on the advertising piece – that just doesn’t happen, so with that, the story lost credibility.

    I didn’t find the peer pressure and taunting of the boy, or the shallowness and false position in life of the boy’s parents, to be to the extreme point to justify the end results.

    I found too much reliance on telling and not enough on showing.

    I do read the circulars from “guy” tools and toys stores 🙂

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      Re the dad’s byline: back in NY we used to get a “Pennysaver” circular, which was a sort of mini-magazine on newsprint, included in the sack of flyers. A savings tip column would certainly have appeared in weekly issues. But no child would have been standing there, with his dog on the leash, reading it.

      • I stand, (actually sit) corrected 🙂

        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

          And I amend my comment to “adolescent male creature…”

  • Von

    Ah what a tangled web we weave… Seth’s parents wanted so much for him and thought they could provide it through hiding who they were. A shame really, because what they were was perfectly fine, and their son would have thought so, too, had they not been so embarrassed of it. I liked Seth’s voice especially–I thought it was quite strong with a realistic bite. The irony of the last paragraph made me smile because of course, children are more likely to follow what their parents do than what they say. I hope his flying device worked.

  • Carl Steiger

    It’s pretty clear to me (given the “airline pilot” announcement) that “splat” is the untold ending. But I learned something about Canadian political history today – after reading the bio I just had to google “Vancouver to Ottawa Abortion Caravan.”

    • Michael Stang

      It’s splat for me as well but in my sickly way when I read the last line, I laughed out loud.

      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

        Had the rest of this story matched that last line’s darkly ironic voice, I’d have had an entirely different reaction…

  • JAZZ

    Your story was a sad and truthful slice of life about the arrogance of the establishment bullying the newcomers. Why they do it? To make themselves more superior no doubt creating their on class system or should that be caste.
    Anyway, it was very well written in spite of some of the posted criticism.

  • After reading the comments already posted, I feel like I read a different story. I expected lavish praise for this piece, and was quite surprised at most of the comments. I find myself in direct opposition to most of them.

    I thought this was a fantastic piece of writing. The author clearly has a solid grasp on the language and how to use it. Someone mentioned a lack of character development. I disagree. There was plenty there–much of it between the lines.

    Yeah the byline thing was a tiny bit that probably wouldn’t happen, but to take that small part and judge the story on it isn’t being fair, IMO. That’s not where the story is.

    I love the way this was written, and definitely didn’t see the end (splat for me as well, otherwise I’m not sure if the story is as powerful). Everything was clear in my head. No confusion on what was going on. And it left me feeling terribly sad for the boy and his parents. Perhaps they weren’t perfect in their dishonesty, but they were obviously good, hard-working parents just trying to get by and help their son get by as best they could. This story touched me personally for reasons I not appropriate for this forum, and it isn’t often that such a short story does that.

    And once again (can’t believe I’m doing this but it’s warranted), five stars. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful story.

  • S Conroy

    I liked the idea of this and thought the writing style worked. The black humour of the last line is a very nice touch. It felt a bit underdeveloped though. I was really only beginning to get a slight idea of Seth’s personality when the story comes to its abrupt end.

  • Daniel Schoonmaker

    I liked the idea of it, but it lost me at the end.

  • While I enjoyed reading this story, when I got to the end something was bothering me: the story, while about a serious topic, reads more like a joke with a punchline. There is a suicide at the end, but nothing about the MC throughout the story that would indicate he was at this level of despair. It was hinted at perhaps via his parents’ hypocritical and avoidant behaviors but the emotion scarcely came through.

  • amanda

    Amanda It was a message story. You go one way or the other as you grow. I thought Rachael succeeded in her goal. Accept what you are or go for it. The end was satisfying for me. 4 stars.

  • Chris Antenen

    Had some trouble with this one. If written with very little dialogue, flash fiction must make every word count. This story does that and for that alone, I find the writing not only adequate, but polished.
    However, unless they’ve begun reading Faulkner in the third grade, this child is a teenager at least. That means his flight was not planned with a happy landing in mind. I just didn’t get from the story a reason for him to make such a decision, so although I may have found the writing polished, I found it rushed and without structure or accuracy–for instance, should have realized that rich kids don’t read flyers.
    Although a writer may be able to write ‘finished’ prose without much effort, careful and extensive editing is the only process that makes it work as a ‘finished’ story.
    Still, I liked the idea.
    Isn’t ‘Come fly with me” a happy song?