Many thanks to the editors at Brilliant Flash Fiction for publishing my latest flash fiction, “Champion,” a story about love, loss, and the redemptive power of human connection.
by David Thomas Peacock
Kiko was going to miss coming to this place. Enveloped by the quiet, she’d watch him sleep, imagining the possible futures they might share. Today was different. Legs fidgeting, she parted cracked lips painted in cheap magenta and moved in to nibble a truncated nail. The tip of her finger was stained rusty brown, like it had been held too close to a flame. Goddamn rock, she thought. Nasty. Under her bony ass it went.
Outside, the ever-present sound of honking horns mixed with the high-pitched squealing of children on their way home from school. The neighborhood’s racket was audible but muffled through the sheltering walls of this sacred space.
3:20 in the afternoon. Fucking clocks, always telling you what time it is, reminding you you’ve got nowhere to go. In the room’s coolness, a sticky film of city grit and sweat had dried to a glaze of iridescent funk on her copper skin. Working girls in the heat smelled the same everywhere, acrid and sweet — the pheromones of sex laced with cigarettes had their own allure, at least if that’s what you were looking for. She’d been strolling Broadway when her beeper went off.
Come now. J.
Yeah, this place was safe, alright. Might be the only safe place she’d ever been, a sanctuary from the streets. Digger would come looking soon enough, but for now, all was peaceful — just the two of them, hushed and alone. A furtive scan of the room confirmed the coast was clear. Kiko pulled her hands out from the hard crush of ischium that felt like rebar grinding into her fingers. Digger always sayin’ I have a flat ass. Fuck him.
Intricate patterns left behind by long-forgotten lives covered the floor like secret hieroglyphs. This building was over a hundred years old, always a fortress of healing for the city’s poor.
God bless the child.
It’s funny the things that pop into our minds. Billie Holiday’s fragile voice echoed, uninvited, conjuring memories of Sunday afternoons spent at her grandma’s years ago. Even as a little girl, she understood what the words meant. Outside, activity bustled, but in here, it was suffocating as a tomb. Marquis lay a few feet away, sprung from his incubator, looking peaceful in the sunlight streaming through the wooden blinds. Wrapped up tight. Papoosed.
That was a favorite. Captain Champion. Together, they would fly away to the far corners of the world, laughing and hugging the way people do, discovering foreign cultures that, in the end, weren’t as different from each other as you might think. He’d have on a pilot’s uniform and cap, and when they’d walk through the terminal, people would smile and nod out of respect.
Kiko had never been to an airport, never even sat on a plane. Still, it was a pleasant dream. Seemed possible, at least for a moment.
The traffic outside sounded like it was getting farther away. That’s strange.
A steady beep emanated from somewhere; she couldn’t place the location.
She could hear it now; his name paged overhead with urgency.
Doctor Champion. Oh, now we’re talking. People used to think she’d made up her last name, but it really was Champion. What was the origin? Who the fuck knows? No one in her family ever stuck around long enough to tell her. All she knew was her name was Kiko Champion.
Champion of nothing.
Her face hardened, then went soft. Marquis, on the other hand, was another matter entirely. Marquis Taiwan Champion. Now that was a fucking name. With a name like that, he was bound to go somewhere far away from this shithole of a neighborhood. No doubt he could be a doctor if he wanted. Maybe help mothers with sick babies. Why not?
Three days after he was born she saw a picture of Taiwan in a beer ad at the Chinese take-out on St. Nicholas. A sign. Miss J said there wasn’t any rush to name the baby, but Kiko didn’t like seeing a number on his incubator. Running to the NICU, she didn’t bother picking up Digger’s moo shu pork. Fuck Digger. The nurses all said it was a great name, and she watched through the window as they taped it to the side of his isolette. Twenty-six weeks. He was a tiny brown bean with a knit cap on his head, never touched by the warm flesh of another human. Never held by his mother. Too fragile. No immunity, the doctor said. Kiko wasn’t sure what that meant, but it didn’t sound good.
Crack baby. Marquis’s sickness was all her fault. Stupid crackhead ho. No one needed to tell her what everyone already knew.
She wanted to die.
For almost a month, Kiko would come here when she could. Not every day though. A short stint in Rikers and time lost chasing rock kept her away, but she never stopped thinking about him. Whenever she showed up, Miss J was never mean, even though she deserved it. She’d watch him through the nursery window; the nurses looked like astronauts wearing spacesuits to protect the babies. Planet crack baby. Everyone was safe here. This was where the babies grew strong enough to go home. Kiko didn’t have a home, but she was gonna make one for Marquis. Clean up like a real mother.
The door opened, startling her.
“You OK in here?”
Miss J’s head peeked in, blue eyes coruscating, a stethoscope hanging around her neck like medical jewelry. Even in her scrubs, Kiko thought she looked like a movie star.
Ashamed, she stared down; the scratches on the floor seemed to be a puzzle she couldn’t solve.
“Do I have to leave?”
Miss J walked in and sat next to her.
“You can stay as long as you want.”
Their hands touched, the nurse’s flawless mocha skin wrapped around Kiko’s reddish brown fingers, stained with the pain of a life without hope.
“He was a beautiful baby.”
Kiko began to cry.