SHORT PROSE CONTEST 2017 RUNNER UP:
Mandel & Mandel
BY Matt Sandbank
My parents went into business together well before I was born.
“Mandel & Mandel, trusted names in swimming pool accident law. May I help you?”
From an early age, I was taught to answer the phone like that.
They were respectable attorneys. Whenever we passed one of those dramatic lawyer billboards along the interstate, mom or dad would point, saying:
“Ugh! How crass!”
Our house, though, and almost everything in it, came from the cracked skulls of high divers. I caught on, gradually.
Mom left, once, to try a big case. She stayed two weeks at a hotel in another city.
“She’s better in front of a jury than I am,” dad explained.
I tried to stay out of his hair while he worked. He tried not to yell when I interrupted. We both tried to keep from fouling up the house. Time moved slowly.
Then, she was coming home, getting back the next morning. To celebrate, dad took me to a fancy restaurant, with starchy napkins folded into elegant animal shapes.
“Where’s your appetite tonight?”
I had barely touched dinner, and now I was just staring at dessert, a feat of ice cream and chocolate gymnastics that should have driven any kid my age mad to have to sit in front of, but not eat.
My lip trembled.
How could I not tell him?
I had wanted mom’s fancy pen to write my school report on barn owls. It was locked in her desk, but I knew where she kept the key. I found a picture there. Evidence in the case mom had just won.
A pair of kitchen scissors got stuck in the girl’s hair when they tried to free her from the underwater filter. Drowning made her look older than me.
Dad wiped his mouth with a napkin and called for the check.
“When was this?”
“A few days ago.”
He reached out and cupped his hand over mine, stroking the back of my wrist with his thumb.
“This isn’t a place you cry,” he said.
Later, in the car, after I calmed down, he told me:
“Your mom and I were on the right side of this one. The good guys.”
Outside, the night was busy with predators. That’s how my classmate had described it, giving his presentation on wolves earlier today.
“Everyone has to eat,” the boy had concluded.
Matt Sandbank is a graduate of the creative writing program at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. He works as a full-time shadow puppeteer, touring nationally with literary-themed shows for young audiences. Matt lives in Austin, TX, with his wife and daughter.