Whenever Steve smoked on the patio, his son Robin would sit on the back doorstep and talk. The cutest Pokémon, the weirdest YouTuber, how he’d like to fly south for the winter like a bird, how he liked art but was rubbish at it. Robin’s thoughts chugged out of him every day. Steve scratched his long beard and listened, not expecting to respond.

Robin had started joining Steve for his smokes since Helen had left them for Spain with Dave from her office. She’d told Robin she would come back for him. Steve knew she wouldn’t. He didn’t know how he felt about that. Parenting Robin hadn’t produced the Hallmark card bond he’d anticipated. It was busier and louder, and Robin didn’t always seem to hear him. His teacher had mentioned some red flags to Helen, but Steve didn’t remember the terminology and acronyms, and the teacher had avoided Steve since Helen had left.

Steve soon realised he hadn’t emptied the ashtray in months, but there were no butts. Polishing his glasses on the bottom of his shirt, he wondered whether birds had eaten them, but Google said birds didn’t eat fag ends. Then he noticed the smell in Robin’s room. Steve planned what he would say. I’m not angry you smoked, just disappointed. It’s bad for your health. I’ve not set a good example. I’ll quit.

Steve sat on Robin’s bed, the mattress chirruping as Robin bounced. After Steve had said his piece, Robin reached under his bed. Stuck to a sheet of A3 card was Pikachu, butts cut to points for ears. YouTube was spelled out in yellowed ends. White shreds of cigarette paper were torn into feathery wings, a fresh orange butt for a beak.

‘All the things you love,’ Steve said.

In the corner, he spotted a man’s face drawn in biro, large specs around bulbous eyes. Ashy tips formed his long beard around an open smile.

 

Rebecca Klassen

Rebecca Klassen is an editor from the Cotswolds. Her work has been featured in publications including Mslexia Best Short Fiction, The Phare, Popshot, Superlative, and The Wild Word. She has won the London Independent Story Prize for flash and was shortlisted for the Oxford Flash Fiction Prize. Rebecca has performed her work at Stroud Book Festival and Cheltenham Literature Festival.

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