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Flash Fiction

February 3, 2012

I decided to participate in a flash fiction challenge put forth by Chuck Wendig at his blog terribleminds. The challenge was to write a 1000 word piece of flash fiction in the present tense. Here’s my effort.

Just A Moment

I like to people-watch.

The company gives us an hour to take for lunch. Unpaid, so there’s no real benefit to working straight through and eating at your desk. People do, of course, because they feel that it’s expected of them. I was right there with them, once, but nowadays, I’m regular as clockwork: you’ll find me from 1:00 to 2:00 at Finn’s, this little family-owned sandwich shop a couple of blocks away.

Finn’s is a nice spot to people-watch. Decent food, always a clean spot by the window, not too cold, not too hot. Most folks order to-go, and are in and out in ten minutes flat. Life’s too short for that. I take my time with my sandwich— roast beef, cheese, bacon bits, all washed down with bottled water— and entertain myself with watching the people pass by two feet away, in their business casual combos of suit-tie-and-slacks. It is a slow day for a Friday, though: nothing more entertaining than the occasional stumble over a rogue crack in the sidewalk that is older than God.

Finn’s doesn’t get too many walk-ins. There’s a young guy at the table across from me sipping a Coke and looking rather anxious, a group of construction workers shooting the shit at the counter and me. Then the bell hanging over the front door tinkles, and this girl walks in, bringing in a chilly gust of the October weather with her. She’s pretty in a classical way; green eyes framed by a pair of thin frames, short brown hair, dressed in a business casual blouse-slacks combination that’s the standard for Hoboken.

The guy across from me waves her over, and I’m struck by how different they seem to be. He’s dressed like a college student with a free period— MSU sweatshirt and cargo pants— while she might be off on her lunch break. All at once, I know I’ve got a real show here. Something’s going to happen, and it’s going to be worth watching.

I shift a little in my own seat as the girl makes her way over to his table and sits down. They could be a couple if it were not for the way her hands seem to stop short of his on the table between them. They’re only a few inches away, but it might as well be miles.

“What’s up, Becca?” MSU’s eyes make a cursory pass over the restaurant, looking at everything and seeing nothing. He runs a hand through his crop of shiny blond spines, and for a second, I can see his fingers tremble ever so slightly. Then they’re back on the table.

“Thank you for meeting me here, Mark,” Becca says, and I don’t need to see Mark’s face to know that there’s a frown forming there. “I wasn’t going to have the time to see you later today, and this seemed like the most convenient time to talk to you.”

Oh, Jesus Christ.

“Sure, sure.” Mark says, and now his fingers start to jitter and bounce, drumming out a barely audible beat of anxiety. He seems to be on the verge of saying more, but then (wisely) closes his mouth.

“I just don’t think—” There is a pause, and now it is Becca’s turn to survey her surroundings for eavesdroppers. I take another bite out of my sandwich as her gaze passes over me, and pass unnoticed for a while longer. “I don’t think that it’s in our best interests to see each other anymore.”

Mark is silent. My chewing slows to a halt.

“I just think that we’ve been going in two different directions for a while now, and that it would be kindest for this to end before we begin to resent each other.”

“What do you mean, two different directions?” The anxiety is gone from Mark’s voice. Raw, incredulous anger replaces it. “Just what the hell are you trying to say?!”

“Well, come on, Mark,” Becca says dubiously, her voice rising a bit higher in response to his own. “Do I really need to spell it out? I know what I want to do with my life. Can you really say the same thing? You’re not…that’s not…”

Mark’s throat works. “You think you’re so high and mighty— all those internships, and you’re still just a secretary, fresh out of school. Don’t kid yourself!”

Rosebuds bloom in Becca’s cheeks. “At least I’m out of school. How long are you going to keep smoking yourself stupid with those asshole friends of yours?”

I realize that I was only half right. This is a not just a show, it is a spectacle: a car crash in slow motion, zoomed in and three-dimensional. Suddenly, I want no part in it, but it is too late for that: it is no longer their moment. In a few seconds, it will not even be their moment, not from the way the construction crew glances in our direction. Don’t they deserve that much?

My bottled water tumbles to the floor in the beat before their next volley, and the puddle of water spreads swiftly, licks at their feet.

“My bad, my bad, sorry!” I apologize through my best shiteating grin. I swipe a few napkins, drop to the floor and mop hastily at the floor, but it’s a futile effort: the napkins are too thin and grow soggy in my hand immediately. Mark gawks at me, uncomprehending, but Becca eyes me like dirt on the bottom of her shoe. She pushes herself back from the table with an audible squeak. The moment passes.

“Good-bye, Mark.”

She steps over the puddle and favors me with one more disdainful glance. Then there is the tinkle of the doorbell and she is gone. Mark makes no move to follow her; perhaps he is still in shock.

After a moment, he stoops to help me clean up. Neither of us make eye contact. I don’t bother to say thanks, and neither does he. But we know.

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