The "D" Word by Jennifer Otte

Ayla and John watch their parents argue through soundproof glass doors; by Jennifer Otte.

Ayla paced the length of the bed closest to the door. Her tiny fingers pulled at a strand of hair that had come loose from her pony tail. She came to an abrupt stop and turned toward the other bed where her brother was stretched out. "Do you think it's the 'D' word?" Ayla asked.

John sat up and turned his attention from his sister to the patio outside of the hotel room. Their parents were sitting across from each other at a small table covered by an umbrella. He shook his head before addressing his sister. "And just what would you know about that?" John asked.

Ayla quickly moved to the bed her brother was on and flopped down beside him. Her attention drifted to her parents but quickly returned to John. "I know a lot. Cindy's parents got one and it's made everything worse for Cindy. She barely sees her father, and her mother spends all her time going out on dates so she never has time for Cindy anymore," Ayla said.

John huffed as he rose from the bed and moved towards the bathroom door. "That doesn't mean anything. Cindy's father is a drunk and her mother is... Well her mother is not the type of woman you would want around a child anyway. It's probably going to be better for Cindy. Besides, Mom and Dad are not getting the 'D' word."

Ayla frowned. Her tiny fingers pulled at a thread in the stripped comforter on the bed. "Mommy is not happy. She hates this vacation. I think she hates Daddy." Ayla's little fingers pulled and tugged at the thread in the comforter. Her attention occasionally drifted to her parents outside, but her fingers never stopped manipulating the thread.

"Stop that," John said. He crossed his arms over his chest and stared down his sister.

"Don't you see it's us? It's our family?" Ayla said. She continued to pull at the thread as each tug loosened another stitch. "It's coming apart. We're coming apart."

John walked back over to the bed and sat beside his sister. He gently took her hands into his own and looked down at the growing thread. "It's not. We're not. Mom just doesn't like the vacation. That doesn't mean that the family is falling apart. Everything will be fine once we get back home." John's gaze returned to his parents.

The two siblings sat in silence and observed the parents sitting further apart than before. Their lips would move, but no sound broke through the sliding glass patio door. Then their father stood and pushed the chair that he had been sitting in back.

Ayla straightened up and glanced quickly at her brother. She watched the scene from the patio unfold while still clinging to her brother's hand.

The father shook his head and then his lips moved again. It was a quick motion and then everything was still. The father looked straight through the mother then turned and walked away. He did not enter the room. He moved out the back entrance of the patio and out of sight.

Ayla cried out and threw herself face down on the bed. Her tiny body shook and trembled with each sob and sniffle. She shook her head repeatedly. "No. No. No. It can't be. This is not how it should be."

John's brow knitted as he slowly rubbed his sister's back. His hand large against her small frame. "Maybe he will come back." He continued to rub his sister's back as he watched his mother still on the patio.

The mother sat with her hands covering her face. Her body shuddered in a manner similar to her daughter's. No sound broke through the sliding glass door. The only sound was the muffled sobs of Ayla with her face buried in the stripped comforter.


  1. Packs a wallop in the space of a few words. The soundproof glass and Ayla’s pulling of threads are effective details. Maybe things aren’t as bad as they look.

  2. This story offers a slice of life. Instead of being overly aspirational, it strives to depict a life event, a relatable trauma, from a child's perspective, with authenticity and feeling.

  3. Difficult topic written with much skill. Enjoyed the child’s perspective.

  4. Wow well done! Reminds me of Ernest Hemingway and Harper Lee. I can really see the characters!