The Play Date

My local writer’s association holds a flash fiction contest – short stories of 500 words or less. The Play Date was my entry this year, and won the grand prize!

The Play Date

     Maggie twirls into the office, a hurricane in a sparkly purple tutu and chocolate milk-stained T-shirt. “Play with me, Daddy!”

     I sigh and look up from the spreadsheet before me. “Daddy has a lot of work right now, Sweetheart.”

     “But you always have work.” She pouts and squeezes herself under my arm to make better use of her lost puppy eyes. I swear, this child can make her eyes three times bigger when she wants something. “Please? Just for a little bit?” Her breath smells of cheese curls, and neon orange dust coats her smile.

     I turn back to the spreadsheet. If I stay up late tonight and get some extra coffee in the morning, I should still meet the deadline tomorrow. “All right.” I give in. “Just for a little bit.”

     “Yay!” She dance-skips out the door and I follow her to the living room.

     The tea party with her stuffed animals turns into an epic battle between super hero plushies trying to keep the evil villain DaddyMan from stealing the world’s supply of cookies. This, in turn, morphs into a safari through the jungles of the dining room as we search for Scallywag Joe’s buried treasure.

     I plop down on the sofa for a break, and Maggie cuddles up next to me with a book and the tattered remnant of Mister Blankie. I stroke her hair as I read, and she remains quiet once I reach “The End.”

     I glance back towards my office. I really should get back to work, but even if I could figure out how to extricate myself, I don’t want to lose this moment.

     “Why did Mommy move away?”

     The question punches me in the gut, and I fight to keep my voice steady. “She couldn’t stay, Sweetheart. It was very hard for her to leave, but she had to go.”

     “Was it because of me?” She tilts her head to look up at me, and her eyes cut to my soul. She’s afraid of what I’ll say, but trusts I’ll tell her the truth.

     I take a deep breath. “Mommy loves you so much, Maggie. But staying here made her very sad. She had to find somewhere else to live.”

     “She’s sad because of me.” Maggie was always sharp. I knew she’d figure it out at some point.

     “She can’t see you when you come back to play,” I keep my voice gentle. “You’ve been gone five years, and she misses you.”

     “But I can still come back and play with you?” She trembles, worried I’ll tell her no.

     I hug her close and kiss the top of her head. “Always, Sweetheart.”

     Reassured, she lets out a contented sigh and snuggles close once more. “Good night, Daddy.”

     The plushies and tea cups disappear, and my toynado-struck living room is once again neat and tidy. I stroke Maggie’s hair until she, too, fades away.

     Pulling myself from the couch, I return to my waiting spreadsheet.

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