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”

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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

Flash Fiction: Sharing Stephen

“I can’t believe you went out with Bob!” Lisa said, but it wasn’t really about Bob. It was never really about Bob. In fact, there had been about a million Bobs since Stephen. Lisa still missed Stephen, and the gaping emptiness he had left in the world around all of them, but specifically in her world.

“I don’t even know why I tell you anything,” replied Kat, sighing loudly for emphasis. For her it wasn’t about Bob either, but really about what Bob represented – change. The entirety of her adult life had been spent chasing shiny guys like Stephen – all flash and no real substance. But Bob, well, Bob was steady, if unremarkable. “Why couldn’t one guy have the whole package?” she often asked herself, but she never asked Lisa.

That’s because Lisa was madly in love with Stephen, as shiny and as unsubstantial as he was. Kat knew it ever since that Dave Matthews concert, when Lisa seemed all aloof, like she didn’t really care for Kat’s new boyfriend. It was Lisa’s tell, the sideways glances, the way she ignored him unless he was speaking directly to her – so obvious. But she would have denied it to her grave, liking Stephen, wanting to be more than just his girlfriend’s best friend, which is why Kat never pressed her on it. What was the point? It was like everything else between them, just below the surface but never explicitly stated.

“You tell me everything because you know I live vicariously through your relationships,” said Lisa. Which was true enough. She herself hadn’t had a date since no one knew when because she kept everything buried inside. In fact, Kat had come to realize that throughout most of their friendship she was always the one to do the majority of the sharing. If only she had shared Stephen.

But it wouldn’t end up mattering, the sharing of Stephen, because he inexplicably broke up with her, as reticent as he was to admit it was her fault. Yet she knew it had to be her, her inability to be what he needed, what he craved in a partner. Either that or he was too immature to see what she really had to offer. Of course by then she had grown distant as she always did when things got too serious. That’s why there had been a series of Bobs before Stephen, why there would be a series of Bobs after him, and why she really wished she had an answer to her many issues.

“I tell you everything because you’re the closest I’ve ever had to a therapist,” Kat answered, realizing it was true only as the words tumbled from her lips, realizing why it really hadn’t worked with Stephen. To her he had been all flash, but to Lisa he might have been something special. Lord knew she needed something to hold onto other than the dregs her friend had always given her.

“Damn straight!” said Lisa, emphatically. “But Bob? Really?”

Sam

Flash Fiction Challenge #8 (Something New)

flashfictioncartoon-300x300Back in 1998 I was writing… a lot. And most of what I wrote back then was short fiction. It was a renaissance of sorts because I hadn’t really planned on it. In fact, for the past year before that I was writing a lot of poetry snippets. Not real poems, mind you, just bits and pieces, lines here and there that came to me. Suddenly, though, those lines transformed into snatches of conversation. Those words became characters who spoke to me, forcing me to set them in motion and see what happened.

Before this challenge I could probably count on two hands the number of short stories I’d written over the past year. That was probably because of many factors, not the least of which was the maintenance of my blogs. I guess I forgot that writing short fiction could be a part of anything else I decided to write. But I’m proud to say that if this is my second renaissance it is a fruitful one. I’ve fallen in love once more with short fiction during this challenge.

Only three more stories to go. Here are the rules of the Flash Fiction Challenge…

  1. Each entry has to follow a set prompt
  2. Each entry has to be 1,000 words or fewer
  3. Each entry has to be written specifically for this challenge

“Something old, something new, something borrowed,” Thalia said, counting on her fingers and feigning confusion.

“…and something pink,” laughed Celie, fluffing her hair in front of the gilt-edged mirror.

“It’s something blue, silly,” Thalia corrected before giggling. She couldn’t help herself.

“What. Ever,” said Celie, fingering the chiffon fringe of the ivory gown on the rack in front of her.

“Although pink would certainly be more interesting in a wedding,” added Thalia, grinning. “Imagine pink bow ties on the groomsmen, pink shoes on the ring bearer, pink highlights in the groom’s hair.”

“If the groom has pink highlights, I’m going to say that couple is not staying together,” Celie said, letting the gown slip through her fingers and moving on to the next one.

There were miles of gowns at the Wedding Wearhouse, rack after rack of white, off white, off off white, and other pale shades of dresses. On first glance they appeared ghost-like in the massive space of the Wearhouse, as if twenty thousand headless brides awaited their grooms in shameless expectation, pressed together like cattle at milking time.

Celie was bored, and she wasn’t even a bridesmaid. She wasn’t the maid of honor either, even though she was Thalia’s best friend, and had held the title since grade school. But it didn’t phase her because 1) Thalia wasn’t even getting married, and 2) she didn’t believe in weddings. They were only at the Wearhouse because her friend wanted to jumpstart the proposal she was certain was just around the corner.

But Celie knew that Brett was never going to propose, at least not anytime soon. He was the kind of guy who talked a good game but never got off his ass long enough to do anything he said he would. In fact, if looks could be believed, he had gone backward instead of forward when it came to commitment. More often than not he did things without even telling Thalia, and she let him. Celie knew if that was her she would have dumped him ages ago, but Thalia was a bit of a pushover.

And a bit of a romantic, the hopeless variety.

“A guy can be into pink and not be gay,” said Thalia, holding up a strapless gown against her size zero figure with her eyebrows raised.

“Uh, yeah, and my father watches Barney every night before bed,” huffed Celie, flopping onto a nearby chair as if exhausted.

“There are worse things to watch than a big purple dinosaur,” Thalia said, tossing the gown into her shopping cart full of things to try on.

“Like your weight, so you can fit into that dress,” said Celie, smiling.

“Well, probably not this dress,” Thalia replied, eyeing the others in the cart.

“You’re worse than those bridezillas on ‘Say Yes to the Dress,'” laughed Celie, rolling her eyes.

“I just want things to be perfect,” said Thalia, sighing. The sound was more pitiful than anything else to Celie’s ears.

“And you’re absolutely certain Brett is going to propose?” Celie asked tentatively.

“I’m a million percent certain Brett is going to propose, silly,” Thalia said, her tone final.

“Well then, I would go with strapless,” said Celie. “You’ve definitely got the shoulders for it. It could be your something new.”

“Your something new can’t be the dress!” gasped Thalia.

“I don’t see why not,” Celie argued. “It’s new, isn’t it?”

“No, no,” maintained Thalia. “Your dress is above all of that stuff. It can’t be used for anything other than the most special thing on the most special day.”

“I thought the most special thing was getting married,” said Celie, laughing.

“Grrrrr, you get me so agitated,” Thalia said, but she was laughing too.

While Celie knew that Brett wasn’t ever going to strap on a pair and make an honest woman out of Thalia, she also knew the fiction was the only thing keeping her friend from being depressed. It was a fragile string to pull, so Celie knew she had to avoid pulling it at all costs. She had already voiced her concerns, but short of yelling them at Thalia there was really nothing else she could do but be supportive.

“You can get a new bra for the day,” Celie said with a straight face. “It can be one of those strapless ones that makes your boobs look like they’re floating. Like Princess Jasmine’s from Aladdin.”

“Like Princess Jasmine’s magical floating boobs from the kids’ movie Aladdin?” repeated Thalia, dissolving in giggles. “I’m sure that’s exactly how the director intended it. I’m sure he spent a lot of time wondering how her cartoon boobs were going to be supported.”

“Hey, it was before Pixar,” Celie argued. “They had to do something to keep the movie interesting.”

“You’re crazy, C,” said Thalia. “I hope you know that.”

“Seriously, though,” said Celie, her smile muted a tad bit. “It doesn’t even matter what you get, what’s going to be your something new, because when you find the right guy, and he’s standing there in front of you, you’ll feel new yourself.”

“Wow, I never thought I’d hear something so romantic out of your mouth,” Thalia gushed, leaning down to hug her friend. “You sure you don’t want to be my maid of honor?”

“You’re going to make me regret my caring side,” laughed Celie, blushing. “I’ll think about it. You gotta get engaged first though, then some back and ask me again.”

“You’d better believe it,” said Thalia. “You know, you’d look great in taffeta.”

“Yeah, I’m out of here,” Celie said, rising from the chair.

“And we’re back to the way things are supposed to be,” Thalia laughed, pushing her cart in the direction of the fitting rooms, Celie trailing a few steps behind.

And for the first time ever, she hoped she was wrong. Because if Brett broke Thalia’s heart she knew it would break hers too.

Sam

Flash Fiction Challenge #7 (Driving South)

pacific-coast-highway-sleiman-moussa2Pac’s “California Love” blasting from its subwoofers, the SUV roars down the Pacific Coast Highway, doing eighty in a sixty-five, its windows vibrating from both the acceleration and the sheer wall of sound. Andrea sits in the back seat on the passenger side, lost in her own world, caught between the wreckage of her relationship and the promise of a brighter future her friends keep trying to convince her is just over the horizon.

They are on their way to Pasadena for Spring Break, the four of them, but it doesn’t promise to be a paradise. In fact, Andrea is quite sure it’s going to be the worst week of her life, because her ex, Jeffrey Montague, is sitting in the seat directly in front of her. They had made the plans before the breakup, and a lot of money was tied up in it. Phrases like “being adults about it,” and “moving on in a healthy way,” have personally strapped her into that seat, and now she’s stuck there.

“Out on bail, fresh out of jail, California dreaming…” raps Carl from the driver’s seat, at the top of his lungs, and totally off beat.

“It’s funny how you think you’re all roughneck,” says Amy, kicking the seat in front of her. “When we all know you’re a Valley boy with a bank account and a Lexxus. You probably don’t even know where the jail is.”

“It’s in Culver City, and I’m as roughneck as they come,” Carl replies, throwing up a peace sign and stepping on the gas. The car jumps to eighty-five.

“If you think roughneck is knowing all the lyrics to 2Pac’s sorry catalog, then I feel bad for you,” Amy says, laughing.

“Shake it, shake it mama. Shake it Cali,” Jeff chimes in, gyrating his hips obscenely to the infectious beat.

In that moment Andrea knows she hates him, that every single ounce of love she used to feel has oozed out of her pores like so much sweat. It’s not just the song lyrics either, or even the hip tango. It’s the attitude that was hidden for so long but that has emerged big time over the past couple of months, making it impossible for her to remember his sensitive side. She closes her eyes and tries to block out both the noise and the memories.

It’s only an hour into the four hour trip, and she’s already regretting her decision to travel with the gang. After all, Amy and Carl were Jeff’s friends first. They have no loyalty to her, and everyone knows it, but they both begged her to come along. She now knows it’s because they didn’t want Jeff to end up being a third wheel, and she allowed them to wheedle her into adding her fourth wheel to the equation. It helped their cause that the deposit was non-refundable.

“Where are we going anyway?” Andrea asks in the pause between songs, directing her question at Carl’s back.

“Pasadena or bust, baby,” he says, which means absolutely nothing.

“The Flats,” Amy adds, and I’m grateful to her. “It’s a little hike, but the view is incredible from the top. It’s like a gigantic table up there. Perfect camping area.”

Andrea hates camping. It was always something she did because of Jeff, and this trip was never going to be a joy for her, but even the trip there has become a microcosm of their entire relationship. His friends always dominated his world, the sidekicks to his alpha male personality, and they always took center stage. Sometimes Andrea had wondered if a girlfriend was even what he wanted, if his friends weren’t just enough for him. Which would have been fine if she had never existed in his world, if he had never asked her out and made her feel like he wanted her more, at least initially.

“Me and the homies smoking roaches, cause we broke…” yells Jeff as they speed across one of the million bridges that populate the southern California landscape.

They are two of the whitest boys she knows. She remembers meeting Carl first, back in sophomore year, Marketing 102, and people were calling him “Ghost.” Andrea found it hilarious when she discovered all he listened to was gangster rap, and mostly 2Pac. It intrigued her enough that she had to find out more, so they became friends, he introduced her to Jeff along the way, and the rest is history. Oddly enough, she doesn’t blame Carl for the intro, or for what eventually happened with Jeff. She blames herself for everything.

She puts on her headphones, some Beats knockoffs, fishes out her phone, and tunes in her Sarah McLachlan Spotify playlist, tired of all the 2Pac that is still shaking the car. Cranking up her own volume, Andrea can still hear the urban poet in the background, but he merely provides a remix flavor to one of her favorite artists, someone she hasn’t listened to nearly enough lately. Closing her eyes, she sinks into “Building a Mystery” like an exhausted woman into a hot bath.

“You live in a church where you sleep with voodoo dolls. And you won’t give up the search for the ghosts in the halls…” croons the chanteuse over the background of 2Pac’s “If I Die Tonite.” It is strange and yet appropriate at the same time because it succinctly symbolizes why her relationship died. They were too different, and there is some truth to opposites not attracting. Or better yet, they attract for a time, and then they repel, like magnets sliding over and around each other.

In that moment, when the sonic dissonance threatens to overwhelm her with its extreme relevance, it also squeezes her in its arms like a long lost lover. They are heading to Pasadena, to a place flat as a pancake, to a future that no longer fits her, but she doesn’t have to deal with it, not anymore.

“Stop the car,” she tells Carl. “I’m going home.”

Sam

Flash Fiction Challenge #6 (Wild Child)

keep-out-restricted-area-sign-s-2451

The sign outside of Felix’s bedroom door said, “Keep Out,” and he meant it. His mother found out the hard way when she walked in without knocking the other night and found him smoking out the window. She believes smoking is of the devil, so she had a righteous fit, and he turned fifteen different shades of red. The next morning he bought a deadbolt for the inside of his door, and she stood outside his room banging on it with her ineffective fists for close to twenty minutes. To no avail.

She had him when she was fourteen, a child having a child, and she had planned to give him up because the father wasn’t going to step up, even though he was seventeen and supposedly an adult. They weren’t going steady or anything, just two drunken idiots who went too far without a condom. Lesson learned. Felix was her only child, but he was more than enough for a teenager to handle. He was more than enough for anyone to handle. Her mother was no help, condemning her and throwing her and her son out of the house when he was four years old.

Felix always loved rap music, and she never knew where he got the obsession from. She and the sperm donor were both as white as chalk, and they lived nowhere near the “hood.” She eventually realized that geography didn’t matter, that if he had somehow heard some of it even on the radio and liked it that was it. Most of it was offensive in several different ways, but she tried to tune it out when Felix played it at high volume in his bedroom. She tried not to kick the door down and throw the stereo out of the same window out of which she had caught him smoking. She had to practice her meditations again.

Other than the smoking, and the dreadful music, and the huge lock on his door, Felix had always been a good child. Not perfect, because no one’s perfect, but good. It was the most she could have hoped for, especially since he grew up for the most part while she was in her 20s. She desperately wanted for him not to be a stereotype, not to fall through the cracks of the same system that had abandoned her when she had been abandoned by her own mother. And when he turned fourteen she gave him the “talk,” hopeful that he wouldn’t continue the cycle of men who fathered children but who felt their commitment ended there.

“I don’t smoke all the time,” he told her when they spoke.

“Smoking kills,” she told him in response.

“It can, but I know a lot of people who are just fine,” he said. “Besides, we’re all gonna die someday anyway.”

“But you don’t want to make it come faster if you can help it,” she said.

He had given her the look, a combination of pity and disdain, what she remembered as the same look she gave her mother when the older woman had given her the talk about sex. That talk was two weeks before she’d gotten pregnant, so she knew Felix was only humoring her by even responding when she told him that smoking kills.

She sighed and looked at herself in the mirror. When had she gotten old? It seemed like just yesterday when she had been his age, when she had given the looks instead of received them, when life had been spread out before her like an open book. When had the book closed? There were crow’s feet in the corners of her eyes, but she was barely 30 years old, so they were testament not to age, but to the sort of hard life that being a single parent entailed. She had grown up quickly without a manual or a blueprint, and she worried more than most other girls her age.

The stairs led her down into the basement where she had stored some items. The apartment had come with the storage space, but the drawback was that there was no way to lock it up, so she worried often that someone would take her treasures. But there had been no recourse since the apartment itself was infinitesimally small, and she was lucky she could afford it on her waitress’s salary. In her storage nook she had the cheap dollar store photo albums that she insisted on having even though all of her pictures were on her phone. Every month she went to Walgreen’s and forked over a few bucks to print the photos out so she could add to those very albums.

Most of the pictures were recent, most of them featuring Felix through his various stations in the growing up process. As she thumbed through the pages her eyes misted over because it was clear that her little boy was no longer little, that her little boy was becoming a man more by the day. It was no wonder he shut her out of his room and blasted the gangster rap that made her ears bleed. He was testing his boundaries, flexing his independence, being the young man that she had raised him to be, not the sheep her mother had always hoped she would be.

It was difficult for her to separate the two — the wild child that she had been, and the good, but not perfect son that she had raised. As she looked through the pictures the tears began to come because she saw the same patterns in expressions on his face that she could clearly see on her own from when she was his age. She wondered if despite her best intentions he would turn out just as she had, but in reverse. Would she get a call one day from some hysterical mother of a girl her son had impregnated? She shut the photo album abruptly and prayed to god it wouldn’t come to that.

Sam

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