Lit/South Awards 2022
Flash Competition – First Place

Amber Wheeler Bacon

The Damage

The project was worth forty percent of Tom’s science grade, which I thought was ridiculous. I was a teacher, so I knew.

“I have to build a model of a hurricane,” he said. “I’m doing Florence, how it hit our town.”

“When we lost the longleaf pine,” I said.

He came in with an empty box from the garage. I was struck by his youth as he stood in the doorway, his knowing. I remembered myself at his age: twelve years old with a soft face and unsure of everything. And what was I sure of now?

Florence had washed away our neighborhood pier. Tom built it with Popsicle sticks and stuck it to the cardboard town, leaving the end jagged and broken like the real one four blocks away. He drew in streets with a black Sharpie and named them: Poplar, Cedar, Dogwood. All trees. The men who’d planned our town were devoid of imagination.

I went outside and pulled a twig from one of the pines in the yard, a different species than the longleaf, but it would pass. Squirrels scattered. Since the hurricane, the animals in the neighborhood had multiplied, come out of hiding. Feral cats yowled outside our windows at night.

“You can glue it down,” I said, holding up the pine twig. “For the one we lost.”

Tom’s last additions were facts written on notecards: wind speed, direction, storm surge, category. It was only a “1” but the damage had been vast.

A few days after the storm, his father left us.

“I’ve looked and looked,” I said when he’d gone. “He’s nowhere to be found.”

“He’s hiding,” Tom said.

This boy saw more than me, hoped less.

He got an A on the assignment, an A in the class.

The day Tom got his grades, I picked him up from school, and he shoved the hurricane model in the trunk. The trunk was frightening when opened—filled to the brim with disparate parts of a past life.

Pulling out of the parking lot, an animal crossed my path. I imagined it as quick and small, good at camouflage. I slammed on the brakes. There was a loud thump in the trunk, a crushing of paper and cardboard. At home, I pulled the damaged model out of the car, wondering what had been in the street, why I wasn’t prepared for it.

I should have seen it coming.

Flash judge Tara Campbell writes: This story achieves emotional resonance with clean language and keen attention to detail. Using a parallel between a storm-ravaged town and a fractured marriage, the author deftly imbues small moments with additional layers of meaning.