#fridayflash

 

He slipped from one back yard to the next, trying doorknobs as he went, casting furtive glances over his shoulder to check if he’d been spotted. They were close, way too close for comfort, and he needed to find somewhere to go to ground for a while.

His heart skipped a beat when the knob in his hand actually turned. He held his breath, hardly daring to believe his luck. If luck held the house would be empty, and there wouldn’t be any ugly complications. He turned the knob slowly until he could tell there was no longer any resistance from the bolt before pushing gently inward.

A little light shone from an above-counter fixture in the kitchen. There was the slight hum of the refrigerator, but otherwise the house was quite. Best of all, no barking dog to give him away. Please let these people be out of town, he silently begged. I just need one night for things to cool off. He stepped inside and carefully closed the door behind him.

He took a moment to look around, to get his bearings. Nice place. Attractively decorated, with all the latest in electronics in the adjoining family room. Whoever lived here did all right by themselves. A momentary thought crossed his mind, to lock the door, but he shook that off. Maybe they always left it unlocked, and to find it locked would send up a red flag. Judging by the amount of swag, he doubted it, but people are funny.

After checking the garage he was able to breath a little easier – no cars present. These folks must really be gone. Out for the evening, or out of town? Probably not out of town. Surely they would have locked up tight if they were leaving for more than a few minutes.

That thought got his heart racing again. He needed to find somewhere to hide in the event they did come home.

He silently crept deeper inside.

~

“OK, sweetie, I want you into your PJs and your teeth brushed, like pronto.” Marybeth gave little Pete a playful swat on the butt as they came in from the garage. “No arguments, and no more candy. It’s late. Mommy’s tired.”

The Halloween party at Rachel’s had been exhausting enough, but then she had to also swing by and pick up groceries or there would be no milk in the morning.

Pete, still in his cowboy outfit, rushed off but paused in the middle of the kitchen.

“Can I have some chocolate milk?” He gave her his best puppy dog eyes and all so innocent smile.

“No, you can’t.” She juggled two bags of groceries onto the counter nearest the fridge. “And leave that bag on the table, you’ve had enough for tonight. Now go brush your teeth. I’ll be in to tell you a story in a minute. Go on. Scoot!”

He reluctantly put his bag of goodies on the table, then spun and rushed off for his room.

By the time she had the groceries put away Pete had on his PJs, and had brushed his teeth. When she stepped into his room he was in bed with his covers pulled up to his chin.

“Mom! There’s a monster under the bed!” His eyes were wide with fear.

Not this again.

“There is no monster under the bed, Pete. We’ve talked about this over and over—”

“Yes there is! I really saw it this time! There is!”

She let out an exasperated breath. “Stop. Just stop, or there will be no story time.”

“Mom.” His plea was heart-wrenching. “Please look! Please!”

“You have got to get over this.” But how could she ignore such a plea? Against her better judgment she knelt down and stooped to look under the bed.

Her scream was cut off by the hand that shot out and grabbed her by the throat.

Pete’s screams died a few moments later.

~ © 2014 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.

 

I could tell Molly got her second wind as soon as the Neimeyer’s house came into view. She straighten up, shifted the bag of goodies from her left hand to the right, and quickened her pace. I grimaced and reached out to gently grab her shoulder.

“Well sweety, I think it’s about time to head on home.” I kept my voice light and cheerful.

She squirmed out of my grasp, whirled round, placed her free hand on her hip in a scold, and stomped her little foot at me. “I want to go to the green house! They are the bestest.” Her purple fairy wings bobbed up and down with each syllable of her angry retort.

True, the Neimeyers were the bestest. Never a hint of crotchetiness crept into their old age. They always had a kind word for anyone crossing their path. They were known for their generous spirit, especially among the young on Halloween, it being well known throughout the neighborhood that they gave away full sized candy bars.

Not this year.

“They’re not home, sweetheart.” I squatted down to be more on Molly’s level and pointed to the darkened house. “See? No lights on.”

The police turned all the lights off when they had left.

Her lower lip came out in a pout as she looked at the house. “Why aren’t they home?” There was more than just disappointment at not getting a big candy bar in her voice. She truly liked George and Helen Neimeyer. Her face lit up any time we ran into them.

We tried not to talk about it around her, but I suspect she had heard at least some of our muffled conversations. I hated lying to my little girl. I ran my hand through my hair as I rocked back a bit on my heals. How much to say? How far to go? No. She was still too young to know the awful truth. Still, she needed some of it.

“I’m sorry, sweety. They passed away.”

The bag of candy landed on the sidewalk with a thud. There was a moment of stunned silence as she struggled to contain the tears forming in her eyes. “Like Nana Bowman?”

I reached out and cupped my hand at the nape of her neck, rubbing gently and nodded. “Yes. Like grandma.”

The tears and sobs came in a sudden rush as she leaned into me, burying her face in my chest. I hoisted her onto my shoulder and she wrapped her arms around my neck as I stood, then I dipped at the knees to nab the bag of candy she left forgotten on the walk.

“Let’s go home sweety.” I shook the bag. “I think you already have more than you had last year.” Another placating lie. She made no objection.

I turned and hurried home. Alice awaited us there, alone, giving out candy. And they still hadn’t caught the guy.

 

I remember the last words he ever said to me as he headed out the door.

“I’ll be back in a bit.” He flashed me his silly little smile. “If I don’t get hit by a meteor, that is.”

Who would have ever thought?
~

(c)2014 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.

 

A NASA concept image of a space station.I hovered just outside the circle of Dockside officers surrounding Captain McGuire, trying to catch his eye. No doubt they were busy, what with launch just six hours away, but I really needed to bring this issue up with him post haste. McGuire was known for his temper, as well as his disdain for civvy staff members. Since I’m definitely a civvy I dared not interrupt. Hendricks, our Chief Operations Officer here on LF-4, finally left the little cluster of uniforms and the Captain cast me a skeptical glance.

“What is it, Abbot? You’ve been dancing around there like you’ve had to piss in the worst way for the last half hour. Get it off your chest.”

Clearing my throat, I stepped forward, close to the remaining circle, yet not actually joining it. Fleet boys have an overdeveloped sense of personal space and have been known to deck anyone stupid enough to intrude. The three remaining officers stood nonchalant regarding me with smiles, bordering on sneers. I paused, uncertain of myself, of the situation. “Get it off your chest,” was a questionable invitation at best.

“Sir, I need to talk to you about the supply situation.” The sneer on Lieutenant Du Val’s face melted into a blank, unreadable expression. Lieutenant Anderson looked at her watch.

As Dockside Logistics Specialist for this launch it was my job to make sure everything was properly procured, delivered, and stowed aboard the ship before we sent her on her way. Once launched there’s no turning back, no resupply. First Crew would not emerge from stasis until the ship reached its full cruising speed, in about three years. The survival of the colonists depended upon a full manifest.

I cleared my throat again. “There seems to be a problem.”

Lieutenant Du Val frowned, folding his arms over his chest. Sub Lieutenant Gamble assumed Parade Rest, hands behind his back. His half smile-half sneer remained on his face. Anderson looked like she suddenly remembered something needing doing, and departed at a good clip.

I did not interpret the officers’ body language as good signs, and felt my situation growing tenuous.

“May I speak to you in private?”

Captain McGuire scowled, ever so briefly, then jerked his head to the side, dismissing the others. Du Val saluted and walked away, casting a black glance my way. Gamble stood off to about 3 meters and resumed his at ease position.

“What’s on your mind, young lady?” McGuire asked, his countenance all sincerity and concern.

“I’ve just finished my inventory, Captain, and there are critical shortages in the supplies.”

McGuire looked puzzled and stepped a bit closer to me. “What do you mean? Last week you told me everything was well accounted for.”

“Last week everything was well accounted for. I supervised that inventory personally, and everything was there down to the last gram of coffee.”

“Then how can there possibly be any shortages?” he asked, scratching his graying beard. “And what kind of shortages are we talking about here? Food? Medicine? Materials?”

“Yes. Yes to all of that. Plus equipment. Two tractors are missing. Otherwise, about 30% of the food and building materials have disappeared, and fully half of the pain killers.”

He shook his head in disbelief. “That can’t be right. All those supplies have been under guard and seal since their arrival. Either you must have made a mistake upon delivery, or are mistaken now. I can’t see how they could have just gotten up and walked away.”

My stomach dropped.

“With all due respect, Sir, there was no mistake. Then or now. Obviously someone has stolen these goods, and in doing so put the lives of hundreds of colonists in peril.” I could not help letting my eyes drift toward Sub Lieutenant Gamble. As if being reminded he was there, Captain McGuire turned and signaled the Officer over. As Gamble approached I took a reflexive step back.

“Yes, Sir?” Gamble stood rigidly at ease.

“Joe, Liz here seems to think there is a problem with the supply inventory.”

“Sir?”

“She says close to a third of it has disappeared.”

Gamble’s face remained a study in stone.

“You can confirm that Warehouses 6 and 7 have been under 24/7 security?” McGuire looked stern.

“Yes, Sir!”

“And that the contents were moved, in their entirety, aboard the SS Hudson last night?”

“Yes, sir. I observed the transfer personally.”

“But–” McGuire cut me off with a gesture.

“And that the hold has been under constant guard since being sealed?”

“Yes, sir.”

McGuire turned to me with a skeptical, half bemused look on his face. “I think you must have made a mistake, Ms Abbot.” I opened my mouth to object, but he cut me off again. “Now don’t fret. We’ll double check everything, and believe me, if anything is missing – one, I will personally lead the investigation, and two, we will not launch until any shortfall has been filled. Thank you for coming to me with this. We’ll get on it right away.” He turned to Gamble. “See to it, Joe.”

“Yes, Sir!” Sub Lieutenant Gamble saluted, smirked at me, turned on his heal, and marched away.

“Captain!”

McGuire glared at me. “I think we are done here, Ms Abbot. Dismissed.”

He walked off, leaving me drained and shaken.

I knew what I needed to do. I had to downlink right away. I turned and rushed back to my quarters.

I locked the door even as I noticed my message board blinking. When I called up the text any hope for support melted away. Instead of a reassuring message from Captain McGuire, it was orders. I was being reassigned. I was the new Logistics Specialist for SS Hudson. I was to report onboard within the hour. As I reached for the communications console my door swept open. Two Marines stepped in, one to each side, followed by a grinning Lieutenant Du Val.

“Good afternoon, Liz. Come with us please. Oh, don’t bother to pack.”
~

© 2014 by J. M. Strother. All rights reserved.

NASA image believed to be in the public domain.

 

My instructions were clear.

Only go to houses with the front light on.
Always keep your sister within sight.
Don’t cross the streets.
Stay on our block.
Say thank you.

Trick-or-treating in our neighborhood starts around twilight for the little kids, and sometimes lasts as late as nine o’clock for the bigger ones. My sister and I were of that in-between age, she being seven, and I a very mature ten. She was still too young to go out on her own, so I was tasked with the burden of being her escort.

I was of two minds on the matter. On the one hand it made me feel important, and I took my responsibility seriously. On the other hand, what ten-year-old wants to be saddled with their kid sister on the coolest night of the year? If my parents were the audience, it was the worst burden they could have possibly dreampt up, pure and simple. Out of their purview, I pretty well strutted with self-import, and tried to boss Molly around as if it were my divine right.

Not wanting to be confused for a little kid I insisted on waiting until five-thirty to roll around, much to Molly’s protestations. Five-thirty was what my friends, Tim Morgan and Bill Taylor, and I had set as an acceptable departure time. By then many of the little ones were already being shepherded home by their over-protective parents.

Halloween night of ’05 was all one could ask for. The weather was warm and dry, the sudden cold snap at the start of the week past, with only the lightest of breezes to stir the air – no jackets were necessary.

We all gathered down at Bill’s back gate. Tim looked none too happy, for while I was encumbered with Molly, he had it worse – his twin sisters, Mary Ellen, and Tabby were in his care. Bill, on the other hand, looked pleased as punch. He was the youngest in his family, and this was the first time he was allowed to do the rounds on his own.

The six of us – me as Albert Pujols in my Cardinals jersey and cap, Molly as a witch à la Hogwarts, Tim a hobo as he was every year, his sisters as Kim Possible and Dora the Explorer, and Bill as a pirate – headed out, intent on making the best haul ever.

Our block, though not particularly long, is known to be generous. Another factor going for us, Crestview Court – the short cul-de-sac bisecting the back side of our block – adds another nine houses to our route without requiring us to cross a street. So, despite our parents’ rules, we had a good chance of meeting our goals.

We did our own street, Brookdale, first. Unfortunately, we made old lady Carter our first stop. Valuable collection time was lost while she puzzled out who we were. In the end Mary Ellen and Tabby stumped her. They had to say who they were, and then had to go into a long explanation detailing the exploits of Kim Possible and Dora the Explorer. Still, it was my first chance to try out my home grown joke, and I delivered it with gusto.

“How many Cubs does it take to screw in a light bulb?”

Mrs. Carter stared at me for a moment before making the obligatory response. “I don’t know. How many?”

I started cracking up before I even delivered the punchline. “No one can remember, they haven’t done it since 1908!” My laughter subsided as I realized Mrs. Carter was still staring at me as if waiting for the finish. “Get it?” I asked. “Since 1908.”

She smiled and said, “That’s funny,” in the most unconvincing way. All this, and all we got was a lousy fun-sized plain chocolate bar.

Fortunately the rest of our street made up for it. Green Meadow, being the cross street was pretty much a wash. There are only two houses on it, and the Stewarts’ porch light, as always, was off.

By the time we got halfway down Woodcrest our bags were actually getting pretty heavy. Tim looked longingly across the street at the Turner’s well lit house. Word had it that the Turner’s went all out, gave full-sized candy bars, and had a great haunted house setup in the basement.

“Let’s check out the Turner’s this year,” Tim suggested.

“We can’t cross the street,” Molly said.

“It’s not busy. Let’s go.”

I was all for it, but Molly said she’d tell mom if we did.

“We’ll we’re going,” Tim decided for himself and his sisters. He was determined. He was also drawn by the fact that he had a major crush on Jenny Turner. “You coming?” he asked Bill.

Bill looked torn, but in the end decided to stick with us. Tim and the twins gave a quick look both ways and then dashed across the street and disappeared into a crowd of about a dozen other kids heading up the walk.

The three of us continued on and soon came to the corner of Woodcrest and Crestview Court. Of the nine houses only three had on lights. Bill suggested we skip it as not worth the effort, but Molly insisted we do the circle. After a good deal of wheedling she got her way.

The last house we came to with the light on looked a bit unkempt and Bill suddenly lagged behind.

“What’s wrong?” I asked him.

“Oh, nothing. I just don’t want to… That’s old man Henderson’s place.” I didn’t know much about old man Henderson expect he seemed to be lonely and walked a tired old black lab every day. I shrugged. “He’s kind of creepy,” Bill went on. “They say he killed his wife and keeps her in a rocking chair, like in that movie.”

“He did not!” Molly retorted. “He’s a nice old man, and Bo is a really nice dog.” She started down the walk.

“Molly, wait!” I reached for her, but she jerked out of my grasp and darted to the door. Before I could stop her she rang the bell.

What could I do but follow her onto the stoop? I looked back, and Bill stood there at the end of the walk, neither coming nor leaving. Distracted as I was, I nearly jumped when the front door jerked open. A warm orangish light washed out upon us.

“Trick-or-treat!” Molly shouted.

An old man in a red T-shirt and bluejeans stood on the other side of the storm door regarding our attire. A rolly-polly black lab stood just behind him, lazily wagging its tale. The man glanced aside, into another room, then slowly opened the door a crack.

“Trick-or-treat!” Molly shouted again, her eyes fixed on the black lab.

“Hello, Molly. Is it Halloween? I clear forgot.” He looked a bit perplexed. Then he opened the door wider to allow us to step in. I reached, but Molly was over the threshold before I could stop her. What could I do but follow her in?

The house had that vaguely sweet yet unpleasant odor reminiscent of the nursing home grandma was in. I glanced back out the door to see Bill standing resolutely at the curb.

Molly made straight for the dog, who nuzzled up to her warmly. They obviously knew each other well. Then she glanced into the other room and said, “Happy Halloween, Mrs. Henderson.”

That’s when I noticed the hospital bed. I took in a sharp breath when I saw a pale withered arm rise up and give a fluttery finger wave before dropping back down. The arm belonged to a gaunt old woman laying under several blankets. With a knit cap on her head only her pale arms and face were visible. Yet her clear blue eyes were very much alive, and she gave us a warm smile.

“I’ll see what I can rustle up,” Mister Henderson said, shuffling off toward the kitchen. As he did so Molly went over to visit with his wife, the dog tagging right behind her. I lingered by the door, undecided whether or not to bolt. As I fretted, Molly blithely related the adventures of our evening thus far and detailing her night’s haul. I was about to make a move to grab her when Mister Henderson came back into the room.

“This is all I could manage,” he said, almost apologetically. Molly joined us in the hallway and he dropped a full-sized chocolate bar into both of our bags. “So,” he said, “you have a joke for me?”

I told him my Cubs joke and he laughed heartily. Then he handed me another chocolate bar. “This one’s for your buccaneer friend out there,” he said, indicating Bill.

Old man Henderson watched us walk back out to the curb. When we got there Molly let out a gasp and turned back abruptly as if she forgot something. “Thank you!” she shouted down the walk toward the house.

In response Mister Henderson gave us a friendly wave. As we turned to go he closed the door, and front light winked out.
~
(c) 2013 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.

 

We are celebrating the fourth year anniversary of Frdiay Flash (#FridayFlash) via a blog hop over at FFDO. The idea is to write a piece of flash fiction of 400 words or less which deals with a 4th year anniversay, link back to the hop (just click on the little green guy), and enter your story in the Blog Hop Collector for a chance to win a one year membership to Duotrope, one of the best market guides for writers you can find. I am taking myself out of the running for the prizes, but did want to participate with my own little tale. The hop is open until the end of the month, so it is not too late to enter !

We also have a prize for readers, so leave a comment on this story and you could win (again, click on the green guy for details).

The Setting Sun

I stomp my feet again, impatient, raising small clouds of reddish dust which drift lazily away. The nearby trough is nearly dry, forcing me to stretch my neck to barely wet my tongue. From inside the saloon I can hear Randy Garnet’s brash voice and guttural laugh over the general din. From the sound of it, he has plenty to drink. Typical of Randy, to leave me tied this way – the bastard never did think of anyone but himself.

Drink up, Randy, the more the better.

This year I’m a horse.

I have no say in the matter. Each year, on the anniversary of my lynching, I come back.

Last year I was a rattlesnake, coiled up under the front steps of Garland Foster’s ranch house. The year before, a mad dog. My first year back I was jaybird. Never would have guessed a jaybird could be so deadly. Spooked Warren Henderson’s horse good. The rock under his skull did the rest.

One by one I’ve hunted them down.

I hear chairs scrape inside, and Randy’s name called out by several of his compañeros. His voice is louder, and though I can only understand a handful of the words, I know he is leaving – coming to me. I paw the ground in excitement, raising more dust.

Randy stumbles through the doors, eliciting a peel of laughter from within, steadies himself, gets his bearings. His eyes meet mine and I nicker, stomp my right foot, nod my head as if in greeting. Unused to such a warm response he studies me as if trying to work something out. Then he lets a long stream of tobacco laden spit fly, right into the watering trough.

I’m really going to enjoy this.

Randy shambles down the one step and fumbles with my lead. Once unhitched he steps to my side and firmly plants his left foot in the stirrup. I move with an unholy instinct, throwing him off balance, wedging his foot between the stirrup and my side. He lets out a yelp as I lower my head and run for the setting sun, dragging him behind.

Randy Garnet is the last one. Maybe now I can finally find rest.

~

 

© 2013 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.

 

The FFDO Blog Hop BadgeHi all. I know I have been very silent of late, which is no way to run a blog. While I miss it, and all of you termendously, for now life has other priorities.

However, I am still at the heart of all things a writer, and still involved with Friday Flash, though less visibly. For those of you who know me through the Friday Flash community, and anyone else who might be interested, I want to point that this coming week marks the 4 year anniversary of this international writing community. It is a testament to all of you, who read and write #FridayFlash, and to our terrific editorial and technical crew, that we have passed the test of time.

To celebrate, we over at Firday Flash Dot Org are sponsoring a blog hop with two very nice prizes for participants, one each for readers and writers. So follow our little green friend and hop on over to check out the rules and prizes. I think you will be pleased.
~jon

 

My story, “The Rains Come Down,” is featured over on the #amwriting Blog today. It examines the theme of grace and dignity in the face of adversity. I hope you’ll go over to read it.

~jon

Photo, Four Mule Team, from the OSU Special Collections, via Flickr Creative Commons, no known copyright restrictions.

 

A coal mine trap boy sitting by his trap door.The worst part was not knowing the time beyond the broadest sense of the term. There was starting time. There was lunch time. There was quitting time. If old Harv happened to be on one of the trains there was the occasional real time, since old Harv owned a watch that actually worked.

“2:35, Vance,” old Harv told him last time the train trundled by on it’s way deep into the mine.

“Thanks, Harv!” Vance called back while trying to shield his face from the bulk of the coal dust being thrown up. He felt the grit of it between his teeth. As the train passed he fell in behind it, walked some feet into the passage to watch the arc of light cast from the lead car’s headlight grow ever smaller. Before it dropped completely out of sight Vance grabbed the handle and heaved the trap door closed, shutting the miners and their precious air into #29 West, and him into the dimly lit access shaft.

2:35. Nearly three and a half more hours before the train would return with its load of coal and offer him his ride out to fresh air and comparative freedom.

He retook his seat and stared at the dimly lit wall on the opposite side of the tracks.

He still had an apple. He fingered it in his grimy pocket, then thought better of it. Best save it for when his stomach really started complaining.

To take his mind off food he began to sing the song he heard from the tavern across the street as he went to sleep last night.

Oh! you beautiful doll,
You great big beautiful doll.
Let me put my arms around you,
I could never live without you…

He sang through both verses and the refrain twice to be sure he had the words right before giving it full voice.

Vance never sang in public. For one thing, his momma would tan his hide if he did, for another, he was at that awkward age when his voice was beginning to change.

Still, Vance figured he had a pretty good singing voice and knew he had an ear for music. He only had to hear a song two or three times in order to commit it to memory. With the Coal Hole right across the street he had ready access to all the latest tunes. New songs drifted out of the tavern almost every week and he paid keen attention as he lay in his bed by the open window. His repertoire was constantly growing. As it grew, so too did the vague plan in the back of his mind.

People made money singing.

It would nearly kill his momma if he ran off, but he’d make it up to her. Once he got to a real city he’d get jobs in places much bigger than the Coal Hole. He’d send money back home, a lot of it, more than making up for the seventy-five cents a day he made as a trap boy. Heck, more than the dollar fifty a day he could make as a miner. Maybe he’d even be able to get momma to move away from Blacklog and join him in Lexington, or maybe even Louisville.

No sooner did he finish You Beautiful Doll than he started in on Down By the Old Mill Stream. She would never admit it, but Vance actually saw his momma smile when that song drifted in over dinner last summer. Then here eyes teared up and she made off for the kitchen to fuss over the coffee pot for a while.

He was just belting out “It was there I knew that you loved me true” when the explosion ripped the trap door from its hinges.

Vance groped around in the dark, coughing on the coal dust, trying to assess his own injuries. For the life of him he could not get his bearings. The explosion had made a shambles of his little set up, the concussion of it extinguishing his one lone candle. Unsure which way was what he crawled about, frantic to find his way out. When he felt the cold steel of the rail under his hand he gasped, then laid his face right down upon the track. This was his lifeline, his connection to the world outside.

He fumbled in his pocket for his matches. With shaking fingers he tried to strike one against the track. It broke. He fumbled for another, then stopped, realizing what a fool he was. The coal dust was thick and explosive. He pulled himself to the middle of the track and sat up, looking toward what he believed to be the interior of the mine and began to call out the names of the men he knew: Harv! Sam! Frank! George!

Harv!

Only darkness returned his call.

~

© 2013 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.

Photo by Lewis Hine, circa 1911, via Flicker Commons, no known copyright restrictions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Headlights in the darkShe’s hiding something from me.

Ellen sits hunched against the door, feigning sleep. I steal glances her way when traffic allows, careful to keep the car pointing straight down the rain-slicked road. Her eyes flit open now and then, when particularly bright headlights wash over us. Definitely not asleep.

The wipers make the drive miserable. I should have replaced them months ago, but somehow wipers are easy to ignore during a prolonged drought. Now that it finally is raining the windshield is so streaked the glare of oncoming traffic nearly blinds me.

I wished her luck this morning when I dropped her off at work, and checked my cell phone repeatedly throughout the day. It was make or break day for us, with her company handing out pink slips to 20% of the staff.

I knew by her face when she came out tonight that they let her go.

“They sacked me,” she said when she got in the car. We both sat there in silence for a minute, me trying to take it in, she trying to keep it together. I’d been out of work for four months now. In our mid-forties, with two kids, and a mortgage we really needed her job. As I moved to put the car in gear she lost it, wrapped herself into me, and cried her eyes out. It was all I could do not to join her.

“We’ll get by, Ellen,” I said with no idea how on Earth to keep that promise. “We can get through this.” Somehow we had to.

She grew sullen as we headed home, withdrawing into the pretext of sleep. I recognize it as one of her strategies to avoid talking about something.

I pull into our drive much relieved to be out of the glare of oncoming headlights. I nudg the car forward leaving her just enough room to walk between it and the house. For a long time neither one of us says anything, letting the warmth from the heater keep the cold cruelty of the world at bay.

“Jason,” she says as I start to reach for the keys, “I’m preggers.”

I stare out the windshield, watching the wipers lose to the rain. Flip. Flop. Flip. Flop.

She lays her hand on my thigh and whispers, “I’m so sorry.”

~
© 2013 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.

Photo by Steve A Johnson via Flickr Creative Commons, Attribution 2.0 Generic License (CC BY 2.0)

© 2012 Mad Utopia Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha