“One Little Piece” (Flash Fiction)

I’m really starting to enjoy writing flash fiction. As someone who has always kept to traditional short stories and novels, I’ve only recently dipped my toes into the pool of short-shorts. It turns out the water is fine. I’m not sure where this new form will lead, but if nothing else, I’m having fun with it for now.

You can read some of my slightly longer stories through the “A Little Taste” and “A Cautionary Tale” tabs above. The “About My Books” tab has a dropdown selection of links to my short story collection and novels.

Meanwhile, here’s my latest attempt at flash fiction:

The installers had gone for lunch. Jerry surveyed the family room where the old carpet had been torn up, but new carpet had not been laid. The bare floor made the room foreign and uninviting.

The house hadn’t had new carpeting in decades, and though Jerry hated changing anything, it was time. He stared at the floor, trying to recall what it had looked like this morning, and for the past 35 years. A little bit of something against the wall caught his eye.

Holding the wall, he bent to pick up the blemish to the otherwise clean floor. Grasping the object, he expelled a small groan in straightening himself.

He held it between his thumb and forefinger, positioning it at the focal length his eyes required. He pursed his lips and blinked his eyes as recognition filled him. “Vermont and New Hampshire,” he breathed, shaking his head gently. “He searched for you guys for weeks.”

Jerry squeezed the tiny square in his hand, even as he squeezed closed his eyes. Then, he made himself open his eyes. He shuffled across the foreign floor to the stairs.

Upstairs, one door was closed. He opened it and entered a bedroom. The carpet here would not be changed. The posters would not come down, nor the twin bed be disturbed.

Among some books and games on the desk rested a wooden puzzle of the United States, assembled except for a small hole in New England. Jerry fitted the bit he’d found into the hole. “See? I found it for you,” he whispered to the emptiness.

He gazed at the completed puzzle for a long time, wondering what it must feel like to be whole again. As he shut the door behind him, he coached himself, “One little piece at a time.”

The hole

Is this the start of a flash fiction addiction?

I enjoyed my last attempt at flash fiction so much, I’ve decided to give it another try. I haven’t written much of this form before, but I am liking it now that I’ve tried it. Isn’t that what our parents always told us about vegetables? “Try it; you might like it.”

As long as it doesn’t interfere with my other projects, I guess it’s a harmless pastime. If it goes beyond that, it will have become a dangerous addiction and I will need an intervention. So stand by with the in-your-face tough love, okay?

Toaster

She grabbed the lever on the toaster like she did every morning. Today, her arthritic fingers slipped off the plastic and the toast did the very thing she had spent years preventing: it popped up, with a snapping sound from the spring mechanism.

He jolted in his chair.

“I’m sorry,” she said as she silently chastised her own carelessness. “It was just the toast.”

He gave her a reassuring smile. “It’s okay. It’s just toast.”

She put the plate down in front of him and took the seat opposite the kitchen table. His hands shook a little as he crumbled the toast onto his oatmeal. They were thin, age-spotted hands, but they only shook on particular days.

She lifted her coffee cup with both hands. Her hands shook every day. There was nothing to be read from them. “Any plans for the day?” she asked.

“I was thinking of driving in to get some chicken wire for that hole under the porch.” His eyes began to look past his toast, past his oatmeal, past her.

“Let me go with you.”

“You want to look at chicken wire?”

“I can look for a rose bush in the garden center.”

His eyes came back to the kitchen. “Don’t worry,” he said. “It was just the toaster. I know that.”

His hands hadn’t stopped shaking.

“I know, but I would like to get another rose bush.” If it happened again and she weren’t there, they wouldn’t understand. They wouldn’t know why.

“Okay. You come too.” He flashed his usual, tender smile. “Just in case.”

It was his old, tender smile that always got her. That remnant from before always tried to convince her everything was okay, but only reminded her that, even after 45 years, the war wasn’t over for him.

An invitation to flash fiction I couldn’t refuse

On his excellent blog, Mark Bialczak, Mark posted an interesting piece of flash fiction. He invited all comers to use the premise he had created to write a piece of complimentary flash fiction. I don’t write flash fiction often, but there was something in his story that inspired me to give it try this time. The following is my contribution to the premise from a different perspective. I’m not sure it matters which piece you read first, but if you read this part you should definitely click the link above and shoot over to see Mark’s version of events.

Also, I will take the liberty to extend Mark’s invitation to carry on this story to anybody else who wants to add another perspective.

Here goes:

hiring

He leaned on the service desk and struggled to make eye contact. “I saw someplace where you were hiring,” he said in a soft voice.

Margaret led him over to the application kiosk and showed him how to start the electronic document. He typed slowly and made a lot of mistakes. Business was slow so she stayed to help him.

Stevie liked her patience. This was the first time anyone had taken such trouble to help him apply for a job. Maybe that meant he’d get this one.

He liked the way she smelled too, and she was pretty. He didn’t get so flustered by all his mistakes with her there. She was so nice.

He tabbed to a drop down menu to choose what kind of job he’d like. He stared at the choices before turning his searching eyes to her.

“What type of work would you like to do?”

“I’m not sure. What do you do?”

“I work the service desk.”

“If I chose that, would I work with you?”

“Maybe sometimes.”

His eyes darted back to the screen. He read as fast as he could, but there was no service desk job.

“Just pick “Customer Service,” she told him.

He did.

A customer came to her desk. “I’ve got to go now,” she said. “Think you can finish on your own?”

“Yes.” He read her name badge. “I think I can, Margaret.”

“Margaret,” he called to her as she moved away. She looked back. “My name’s Stevie – Stephen,” he said with an uncharacteristic grin.

She smiled back at him, but the smile faded as she reached the desk. As she processed a return for the customer, she couldn’t help looking at the new name badge sitting beside her drawer. The badge said “Brett.” Brett had come in an hour ago, wearing a tie and handing her a resume. He’d looked her square in the eye and reached out to shake her hand. She’d made a name tag for him as soon as he left, because she could tell about these things.

It was too bad she’d never make a name tag for Stephen. He seemed like a nice kid.