Nottingham

“You need to sit still,” Mrs. Nottingham admonished, hair brush in hand. Penelope was the absolute worst when it came to patience. Every day she had to sit through hair, and makeup, and dress fittings, an endless litany of responsibilities out of the spotlight that hopefully would make her more palatable to the public when she finally emerged from her various chairs.

“I’m just so bored,” she told the stylist, shifting in the seat.

“Don’t you want to look your best?” the older woman asked. But it was rhetorical. Her entire life, Penelope had been groomed for that exact moment, or the adjacent exact moments that made up her existence. It was never about her, either, which was the most frustrating part. She belonged to the country, as the country belonged to her, though she had never asked for the responsibility.

“I never asked for this responsibility,” Penelope whined. But even she knew she was wasting her breath. Mrs. Nottingham shook her head, mutely, preferring peace over setting the young girl to rights. It would be a long enough existence for the girl, but telling that to the princess was simply not in her job description.

“None of us ever ask for the things we get,” the older woman opined. “They just fall to us, because they are our due.”

Which, in Penelope’s not-so-humble opinion, was so much hogwash, what adults said when they didn’t have an answer but they wanted to end the subject. She sighed.

“Besides,” Mrs. Nottingham continued. “Lord Rupert will be here soon, so we don’t have time to bemoan our stations in life. It’s courting season, and you can’t be seen as anything but amenable to, how shall we say, certain dispositions.”

“But Lord Rupert has a massive overbite,” Penelope moaned.

“Which is precisely the disposition we must avoid,” replied the governess. “As you know, Lord Rupert is immaculate in all the ways that count. We cannot afford to dismiss him out of hand.”

We cannot afford to be flippant about our decisions,” snapped Penelope. After a few moments’ pause, Mrs. Nottingham shut her mouth, swallowing her words whole. It wasn’t her place to put the princess in her place, and she had already overstepped enough.

“As you wish,” she said instead, forcing a smile onto her generally taciturn face. She could only hope that her charge did not ruin what was best for her, when Lord Rupert did indeed show up to court, to woo, to make exchange of vows.

Because Mrs. Nottingham knew a secret. The king of the neighboring Belgravia had just lost his eldest son to a freakish horse-riding accident, which meant that Lord Rupert was next in line, suddenly, for that throne. But Penelope’s father wanted her to approve of the match, for her sake, not because a kingdom was in the offing. Mrs. Nottingham wondered if she could keep her mouth shut and let nature take its course.

And hope to god that it would take the right one.

Waiting to Exhale

The elevator buttons lit up one by one, as if touched by a child’s ghostly index finger, the display sparked like a Christmas tree finally dressed in its finery. Craig and Lindsay stood side by side at the rear of the car. They were headed to the fifth floor for a meeting, but, even though they knew each other, they did not interact. Neither did they react to the sudden illumination, one by one, of the floor numbers.

On four, Allison stepped on without even glancing at the display. She nodded at Craig but completely ignored Lindsay. It was rare for Allison not to speak, though it seemed customary for the other two, but she simply eased herself next to Craig as the doors slid shut once more. She was preoccupied by other things at that moment anyway.

At eight that morning, when she arrived for work, the fountain out front had sometime in the night begun spouting black water. She glanced at the strange color, but it didn’t slow her down. It wasn’t her problem, though she hoped it would be remedied by close of business. Not because she was afraid, of course.

“It’s probably just a prank,” they said around the water cooler on four. Delightful Décor had spread downward two floors from the fifth, which meant five more water coolers, and more chances to hear office gossip. Continue reading “Waiting to Exhale”

Not the Swearing Kind

He had Tourette’s, but not the swearing kind. In fact, if you didn’t know him very well you wouldn’t even suspect he had any issues. If you looked closely, however, you might notice the trembling in his right hand, the clicking of his tongue slamming repetitively against the back of his teeth, or even the twitching of his left eyebrow in time with some hidden drummer in his head. It was at once both familiar and reassuring, but also supremely frustrating to him. It had only caused him real trouble twice in his life: the one time when he accidentally voted for Jill Stein, and the other when he wet himself at the urinal at City Hall. Both times had been quite embarrassing. He had vowed not to let either one happen again.

He was a tour guide at the Museum of Modern Art, one of the fifty white-jacketed walking encyclopedias of the history of painting, with some sculptural knowledge on the side. When he was on his feet, using his hands to gesture at the works on the walls, he sometimes forgot the shaking that consumed him at all other times of the day. It was as if the motion lulled his brain into a sense of comfort that nothing else could. He wished he were able to bottle that feeling and keep it with him all day long, but he knew it was as impossible as Easter on the Fourth of July. Continue reading “Not the Swearing Kind”

No Silver Linings

“That cloud looks like Mike Tyson,” Sheena said, poking me in the ribs.

She was always poking me in the ribs, but I had nowhere to go. We had been shoved together in the backseat for five hours straight, and if I thought she was annoying in a room, Sheena in the car was worse.

“That cloud does not look like Mike Tyson,” I responded without looking.

“You didn’t look!” she squealed. “Joey didn’t look!” she told my mom, who also didn’t look.

Honestly, I don’t even think my mom wanted to go on the trip in the first place, but Barry insisted on it. He and my mom had been together for two years, and I felt like he was pushing it a little bit, with those stupid family trips. Sheena was his kid, a little brat who never stopped talking.

“You missed the cloud that looked like Mike Tyson,” she said, pouting. Continue reading “No Silver Linings”

Flash Fiction: Synthesis

The word: nimble
The word count: 500 words

The artificial lung hung on the wall as it had for 265 days, or as long as Allison had been at her job, give or take a day. It wasn’t there to commemorate her promotion, however. It was there for its own reason that the brass hadn’t deemed mandatory for their subordinates to know. Not that it stopped the kind of frenetic gossip that took place around the water cooler from occurring. In fact, since Product Corp had been founded, there were no fewer than eight such water cooler environments per floor to encourage just that kind of frenetic gossip.

Allison didn’t really give the artificial lung the time of day. She was far too busy making life or death decisions, figuring out which swatch matched the wall color in the Fergusons’ summer home down at the Cape, for instance. Continue reading “Flash Fiction: Synthesis”

Flash Fiction: Greater Atlantic Switchboard

“Greater Atlantic Switchboard, this is Quinn,” proclaimed the slim girl behind the reception desk, headset protruding from her left ear, microphone poised at her lips.

“Hi Quinn!” the man on the other end of the line replied, rather loudly. “I’m calling to report otters building a dam across the road down Loving Lane, you know, where the Peavy Farm used to be?”

“Mr. Hanson?” she asked, adjusting her headset even though it was unnecessary.

“Yes, ma’am!” he screamed back at her. It was obvious he wasn’t wearing his hearing aids, and it wasn’t the first time he had barked at her, but Quinn still found it sad.

“Mr. Hanson, there are no otters building a dam across the road down Loving Lane,” she assured him, but the man’s mind was stuck on autopilot, as it always was.

“Damn straight they are,” he said, a rustling sound gaining momentum in the background.

“No, sir,” she tried again. “Otters don’t build dams, Mr. Hanson.”

“Well, tell that to these two who are damn sure building a dam across the road,” he replied, gruffly. “I can see them outside my window, having a grand old time. Someone’s going to have an accident.”

“Do you have your glasses on, sir?” she asked, trying hard to stand her ground.

“Well, no, but…” he began, immediately defensive.

It was her daily exercise in using kid gloves, humoring the old man without embarrassing him, which was a thin line indeed. Their call center was inundated with real emergencies from morning to night, so she couldn’t stay on with him forever. Some days he was convinced possums were playing dead in that selfsame road, others he would swear to an earthquake rocking the foundation of his home, so the story of otters wasn’t very unique as far as his tales went.

“Now, I’m not saying you’re seeing things, Mr. Hanson,” she cut in. “But we both know there were no possums that time, and there was no earthquake, so… can you at least entertain the possibility that there are no otters building a dam across Loving Lane?”

“Hell no,” he said. “They’re there, and if you don’t send someone out I will take care of them my damn self.”

“Sir, there is no need for that,” she quickly replied, knowing he meant to get his shotgun out of mothballs. The last time Ed Hanson pulled out that gun he shot up Millie Gray’s peach garden. There had been peach juice running down the road for several hours, and poor Millie didn’t sleep right for a week.

“Good,” he said, properly placated. “Tell them to hurry, because it looks like these otters are fixing to have relations right next to that dam, and hell if I’m going to sit here and watch otters have relations.”

He hung up with a great clattering, as he always did, leaving Quinn with the disgusting mental image of otters having sex in the road. She sighed and switched over to the next call.

Sam

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