Wendy’s Call [Flash Fiction]

Another call, another disappointment. Wendy put down the portable phone with the numbers that were all rubbed off from the rubber buttons and sighed. She was sixty-seven, almost, and it was time for a kitten. It wasn’t proving easy to find. A young voice had just informed her that the two males she’d been interested in had already been snatched up by someone else, someone with two daughters who wanted them to each have her own cat. They don’t work that way, cats, Wendy knew, but she didn’t try to explain this to the girl on the phone. She tried to hide her disappointment. She tried to tell herself it was going to be alright.

Doctor Kendall was a nice man. He’d been looking. He would keep looking. He knows I’ll take good care of a kitten, Wendy thought.

She got up from the kitchen table, where she’d been drinking a cup of tea. Her dressing gown was tied tightly around her waist, broader now than her hips. Her whole family was like that, holding weight around their middles, like barrels of rainwater. Her feet were bare on the brown carpeting, and she wriggled her toes in it for a moment. The cleaning gentleman had been over that morning, and the carpet was fluffed from the vacuuming, and it felt soft and wooly. The way she always imagined it would feel to stand in a cloud, even though she knew, of course, that standing in a cloud would mean falling right through it and getting soaked to boot. It was moments like these that made Wendy feel silly about being sixty-seven, almost.

Her eyes, handsome gray and the only vanity she still had, would have to be made up. It was time to go out. She did the dishes first, only the tea-cup and saucer and a small plate where she’d been nibbling some melon rinds, and thought about the rest of her day. She worried about not being home. What if she got another call about the kittens? She needed to give Doctor Kendall her cellphone number. She had one, though she rarely used it, but this was important.

The too-wide bed was where she spread out her clothes. A pair of sensible black pants. A bra, which was important, because she sometimes left the house without one and got stared at. She wanted to tell people that she’d been a flower-child and that bras were for conformists, but she really wasn’t up to long arguments, so she just wore bras when she went outside of her neighborhood. Around where she lived, people knew her. They knew she wasn’t as old as life had made her look.

Over her aching back and shoulders she pulled a light sweater, a big one, that had belonged to a long-ago man who had been bigger than her. A lot bigger, back then, but now the sleeves were long and the middle fit just right, hugging her tummy like maternity clothes.

She brushed her hair with her fingers. She didn’t look in the mirror. Why look, Wendy reasoned, when she was always surprised? Always disappointed? So she’d stopped.

Lifting the portable phone up she replaced it in its cradle, so it could charge. She checked her handbag for her keys, her wallet, her tissues, her Tums, her Advil, her lipstick – not that she often used it, but just in case – and her cellphone, which she had remembered, for once, to charge the night before. It was all there.

Wendy locked the door behind her and took the elevator down. She resisted the urge to go back up when she heard a ringing from one of the apartments. It wouldn’t be hers, she knew. She couldn’t hear her phone from outside anymore.

Beauty Queen [Flash Fiction]

My name is Gwen. It’s a good, strong name. That’s what my pop always said. He said: Gwen, with a gee and a double-you, you’ve got nothing to be scared of in this world because the hardest thing for you will be learning how to spell your name with those big letters in it. I don’t know what my mama said because she skipped out on me and my pop when I was still real small. My pop always said she was the second prettiest gal in the world, after me. Then he would laugh and say: you had the best looking parents I’ve ever seen.

I guess he was right. I won all the beauty pageants when I was a kid, except for that one year when I was eight when I had to be in the hospital because I tripped and broke my head open. I don’t really remember it but my pop told me that I near broke it in two pieces just like an egg. Like the egg with kings and the horses, only my pop said that because I was the prettiest gal in the world we had the money to fix me up good. I still got a scar under my hair that I can feel. It’s all bumpy, and I kinda like it. I like having this one ugly thing on my head where no one, not even the meanest judges, can see it.

Henry used to tell me that I should be happy that I’m pretty. That was before he and Mick drove into a tree and got their drunk asses killed. I’m still mad at Henry for that, even though it was Mick who drove. I would have told Henry: don’t you get in the car with him, he’s drunk as a skunk. And maybe if it was me then Henry would have listened. But maybe not. My pop told me that there’s nothing I can do now except pray for their souls. But I don’t know if they need me to pray for them because if they died drunk then they must have stayed drunk in the next life too and those two pals had the best time when they were good and sloppy together. They could laugh at anything, even me when I let them and they were the only people who dared do that to my face so I liked it and I let them.

One thing that Henry never told me was that he thought I was pretty. He just said it as if I knew it, like it was the same thing as saying: the sky is blue like the ocean. All the others always kept telling me: do you know how pretty you are? But Henry didn’t because he knew that it didn’t matter to me one way or another if he thought I was pretty, just so the judges kept thinking so. Henry told me sometimes that I was smart, and I liked that best of all.

Foundling

A baby lay on the wide rim of the fountain in the middle of the town square. It was sleeping quite peacefully, wrapped in tattered green blankets. It was impossible to tell its sex by looking at it, since the only visible part was its face, which was still a little scrunched and red. The baby couldn’t have been more then a day or two old, and Maude Leary was astonished that it was sleeping in such a precarious position, on such a cool evening.

Maude was a sweeper. She walked around town with an old-fashioned broom made with nice long bristles tied well with a metal wire, and swept the leaves from the middle of the sidewalk to the edges. She did this all day, every day, from five in the morning until five in the afternoon. She’d gotten the job when she was seventeen, and even with all the changes that had been made in town hall over the last few years, no one had had the heart to fire her, even though she was the only employee of her kind. Maude was sixty-three now, but she looked quite the same as she had when she’d boldly walked into the now defunct old town hall and requested a job. She was, perhaps, more lined than she’d been at seventeen, but she still had the same sandy hair, the same spattering of freckles over her nose and cheeks, and the same wiry figure. She still wore overalls day in and day out, with a different colored t-shirt for every day of the week.

Today was a Tuesday, so she was wearing her purple t-shirt. Because of the cool weather, she had a scarf wrapped around her neck, too. Her hip was cocked to one side as she leaned on the familiar broom and watched the baby sleep on. “Well, I’ll be,” she murmured to herself. The town square was empty in the quiet before everyone got out of work and rushed on home, and a bird was cheeping absentmindedly in the nearby tree, doing its duty to the setting sun.

Quite suddenly, the baby opened its eyes. Its eyes roved this way and that until it found Maude’s kind, slightly mischievous, face. Her wide eyes met the baby’s and in a moment they seemed to understand each other perfectly. Maude took three steps and closed the gap between them. She saw now that there was a note pinned to the green cloth the silent baby was wrapped in. In big, slightly shaky, letters, it said: I NEED A HOME. Maude clucked her tongue, a habit she’d copied from her mother years ago. “Whoever left you here is a beast,” she informed the baby. A little hiccup came out of the tiny, pink lips. “You can chastise me all you want for it, but I still say they’re a beast,” Maude answered.

The big bell in the church began to toll the hour. Maude picked the baby up. “Our shift is over, little one,” she told the baby firmly. “Let’s go and have some milk, hm?” As the office building spewed out men and women in suits and the church bell continued to ring, Maude stumped off home.

A Relationship

“I can’t take it anymore!” Nell screamed. “I just can’t! I don’t know what I can do anymore, I really don’t!” She was at her wit’s end. It had gone on for far too long, and she had no idea how she’d let things get to this point. “What more do you want me to do for you, huh? What more can I do to please you? I can never win with you, you know that? It’s a lose-lose situation, no matter what I do!”

She huffed, and paced, walking from one side of the carpeted living room to the other. Her hands clasped behind her back, she tried to calm down a little. “Is there something I can be doing that I’m not? Tell me – is there? I’ll honestly do whatever it takes. I’ve been with you too long to give you up, even though I’m this close,” she held up her hand, forefinger and thumb almost touching, she was holding them so near. “But I’m not going to run from this – relationships are something you need to work on, everyone says so.”

Continuing to pace, Nell waited. And waited. The silence lingered. She burst out again, unable to restrain herself. “But how can I make you happy if you don’t tell me how?! I feed you, I clothe you, I bathe you – I take care of you, damn it! But you keep saying it’s not enough! I try to do things for you, I really do, I swear I do!”

Tears now stained her face. Her voice broke and she sat down heavily on the couch, pulled her legs up and hugged them tightly to her chest. “Tell me, please, I beg you, tell me what I can do,” she was rocking back and forth, sobbing, her anger evaporated. Only a deep, heavy sadness remained. “Please… please tell me… Tell me how I can make you happy – I’ll do anything, I swear, I promise, I really will,” she looked up imploringly, her eyes two pools of salt-water, pleading, waiting for an answer.

There was no one else there.

Border

There are borders everywhere. The sky above is, perhaps, the only place where there are none, no borders whatsoever. There may be clouds drifting across that create an illusion of borders between white fluff and blue sky; there might be layers of gases and pressures and atmosphere; but there aren’t any borders that humans created.

But people create borders all the time. There are visible ones, between inside and out or between general admittance and an employees-only area. There are borders that change all the time and seem, on the surface, to be so pointless really – like the borders between countries, or even more so, the borders between different cities. These are often invisible borders; they’re there, and crossing from one country to the other may require a passport, but if you walk on foot from one side of a barrier to the other, the land won’t have changed nor will the birds sing differently or the sun rise from a different direction.

The worst borders are the ones we put around ourselves, the way we separate ourselves from other people. We’re animals – we shouldn’t have a sense of privacy. But along with consciousness and individual thoughts and ideas, we’ve developed a love of loneliness and seclusion. Not physically, not necessarily. There are many people who can’t remain alone for long, but must surround themselves with other people, with noise and movement and a proof of life being lived. But there are still always borders – no one can know another mind perfectly; no one can fathom what someone else is feeling exactly; no one can remove the borders around themselves completely.

Move [Part I]

“Again!”

Frowning in concentration, Marianne wiped the sweat from her brow, took a deep breath and tried once more. The grain of rice on the table in front of her was her challange, her goal, and she had to conquer it. She had to master it. She couldn’t let her thoughts wander at all. She tried once more to believe, with all her mind and heart, that the grain was rising from the table, that the grain, lighter than a feather, could easily defy gravity. Marianne’s upper lip and forhead began seeping with wetness again as she gazed fiercly at the tiny grain of rice and tried with all her might to make it rise.

She almost had it, she felt, so close – but then her thoughts began to wander again, despite her best efforts, and she thought sullenly Why am I even doing this? Why am I doing what they tell me? In a moment, she collapsed in a heap on the floor, exhausted, and felt as if she had been wrung out like a sponge. She sat there, on the cold, metal floor, and tried to organize her thoughts again. She didn’t know where she was. She didn’t know how long it had been, but she knew it must have been some weeks – it seemed so endless. She fingered the white hospital-type bracelet circling her left wrist. It read “NOVICE  #824: MARIANNE” in big block letters, with no more indication than that.

“Again! Try again!” Came the cold voice over the loudspeaker. Marianne didn’t even see where the speaker was in the room, but she’d learned to hate the crackle of it, that little “Ffff…” before the person, who she couldn’t recognize as male or female, spoke. The voice was as present in her current situation as the sweat on her brow. It was the voice that awoke her from her restless sleep, the voice that commanded her to take the food from the odd, metallic dumbwaiter and eat it, the voice that told her relentlessly, over and over “AGAIN!”

As she had nothing else better to do, and she’d almost been convinced that maybe something would come of this, and also because she had learned what happened when she refused, Marianne rose to her feet, walked to the table with the grain of rice on it, and tried again. For a moment, for no reason at all, her mother’s face flashed before her eyes as she was concentrating on the grain. Blinking away the vision, Marianne stared at the reality in front of her. The grain of rice was hovering a full foot off the table. She coughed, and the grain clattered onto the metal table.

“Finally.” Said the voice over the loudspeaker. Marianne looked up at the wall, as metal and unadorned as the rest of the room, and tears filled her eyes.