For Your Silence

A work of flash fiction that acts as an ode to those who have inhabited and influenced our lives, both positively and negatively…

by: Sean Burke

On Saturday mornings, my uncle drove to Buddy’s Liquor Mart and parked around back. When he pried open the store’s windowless metal door, frigid, cardboard-scented air rushed over us. Cold grape sodas cost fifty cents. “For your silence,” he’d say, handing me one with a wink and a full-faced grin that made me feel in on a joke, even when I wasn’t sure what it was. He’d also buy a fifth of Vodka which fit entirely into the front pocket of his Dickies and, turned on its side, under the bottom shelf of the rusted cabinet in the garage where he thought my aunt wouldn’t see it.

They both loved me, I think. She loved me at least as much as their two bouncy, black Labradors. I came when called, avoided being underfoot, and kept my paws clean. They didn’t have their own kids and I worried they hadn’t ever wanted any so I tried my best to behave. Before bed each night, my aunt kissed the dogs, and then me, good night. 

My uncle loved me with the careless kind bestowed by a hero. I was certain he could do no wrong and he knew it. He was everything my dead father wasn’t. He showed me how to fix things. He taught me about camping in the woods and took me out on the lake to go fishing from an aluminum canoe. He came to my soccer games regardless of the weather, cheered loudly, and, on the ride home, made plausible sounding excuses for embarrassing losses. He laughed a lot. He laughed when he was happy, nervous, or when someone else was nervous because he thought that helped. He laughed most when he was drinking, which was almost all of the time.

We won the last soccer game he saw. He spent the game taking nips between shouting encouragement and providing unwelcome running commentary to the parents that stood nearby. As we lined up to shake hands with the other team, I saw him talking with Ethan’s dad. Ethan’s dad seemed to be doing most of the talking while my uncle looked at his boots and nodded his head. As Ethan and I jogged over, my uncle turned and walked away. Ethan’s dad smiled at us, tight and fake.   

At Ethan’s house, we had Hamburger Helper and then two scoops of Rocky Road. Ethan asked his mom if I could sleep over but Ethan’s dad took me home in his squad car. My aunt sent me to get cleaned up as she spoke to him on the porch. Much later, the dogs and I woke up to the rumble of my uncle’s truck on the driveway. We heard whispered shouting. The front door slammed and then the truck growled away down the street. My uncle drove through a red light that night and t-boned a Pontiac full of high school football players.

No one died in the accident so the judge gave my uncle eighteen months and three years of probation. My aunt told me he didn’t want visitors. He sent a card at Christmas and another on my birthday which both said the same thing. “Hey ya buddy. Hope you are being good. See you soon!”

There were no more cards and it wasn’t too long before my aunt told me she didn’t want to talk about him anymore. When soccer season came around, nobody suggested I should play so she got me a job at the bakery and bought me a second-hand BMX bike to get there. I locked it to an old metal shed in the parking lot where the kid from the deli next door stashed the dented cans of beer he swiped for us. Some days, we’d hide in there on breaks and share a beer and when he kissed me, I would imagine it was Ethan. Some days, I’d sit inside that shed alone after work and drink a warm beer pretending it was a cold grape soda. After a little while, I’d toss it in the dumpster and bike home, the long way.


Sean Burke lives in Virginia with his husband and their grumpy little dog. When not writing, he works a day job to pay the mortgage on a very small house with a yard to grow raspberries. Sean’s recent fiction has been published in Prime Number Magazine, The Evening Street Review, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Backchannels Journal, Literally Stories, and Fragmented Voices’ anthology, Heart/h.

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