FLASH FICTION: Chez Franco

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“How’s the wine?”

“Tastes wonderful.”

“But does it taste expensive?

“It tastes older than you. You must know Franco pretty well.”

“You look beautiful. Really. It’s not just me. The guy by the window…”

“Frog Eyes?”

“He can’t take them off you.”

“I wish he would.”

“No worries. They’ll cook him up shortly.”

“So you’re a friend of Franco’s? I mean, to get a free bottle. You must be well-acquainted?”

“Not really. I’ve known him … twenty years.”

“Old friends?”

“I never could stand the man.”

“Does he know that?”

“I’m guessing he’s knowledgeable. With a forehead like that.”

“Then why the wine?”

“Madeline…”

“And why come here?

“You’re a beautiful woman.”

“Frog Eyes seems to think so.”

“Franco, too. He keeps looking at you.”

“He doesn’t.”

“If we’re not vigilant, a duel could break out any minute.”

That I’d pay to see.”

“Madeline?”

“Yes?”

I only noticed the masked man when he yelled something unintelligible. He pulled out a gun and…

Franco’s head exploded.

Then we were on the floor. Under the table. Madeline… I’m sure I looked just as terrified. I’m not sure who took whose hand. Who gripped harder, with every shot.

People falling. Tables. Shattering glass.

No words. No screams.

For a minute or an hour, we didn’t move.

When we crawled out…

Frog Eyes was lying in the middle of the room. In a puddle. Breathing hard.

No one else was breathing.

We knelt beside him. In the broken glass.

He was gasping.

We each took a hand. He squeezed them. I took Madeline’s.

Shots. Somewhere outside. Faint. Fainter.

Frog Eyes stopped squeezing.

One shot, far off.

Then it was quiet.

                                                                                                  

From The Big T, a flash fiction mini-collection. Order a copy.

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FLASH FICTION: Family Reunion

I traveled a good deal when I was younger. By the time I was twenty, I’d been to Africa, India. Canada, I think. The whole of Europe, though I hated every minute of France. My mother was French.

I still traveled after I married, though nowhere near as often. Not at all, actually. Alfie was a house plant.

When I turned eighty, I bought a flower pot big enough for the two of us. Wollbaum watered us with tea. Or I guess … we had Andrews, then. He didn’t last. There’s something tragic about surviving one’s butler.

Andrews handed me a salver, one day. On it was an invitation—to a family reunion. I thought it would be a great surprise and fun to see what family I had left. But Alfie wouldn’t hear of it. I’d press him and he’d just sit quietly in his chair, petting the Business Section. He’d’ve done that if the bombs were falling.

A day or two later, Andrews lifted the cover on my dinner. Instead of roast, though, there were two tickets, train tickets, sitting on my plate. I looked up at Alfie. He was smiling.

The reunion was to take place in Chudleigh, where I’d done most of my growing up. I hadn’t been so excited about something, I don’t think… Since I was a teenager.

The train took us as far as Exeter—it’s not much more than a thumbprint, Chudleigh— where we hired a car.

As we drove through the fog, I told Alfie about the old house and the hidden passage and the dirty magazines. Puritanical Aunt Claire, who threw her empty wine jugs in the lilac bush. The hybrid crimes my brother and I committed every day, to mark the hours. The closer we grew to Chudleigh, I think, the more I talked, the faster. Alfie just quietly smiled as the bombs dropped.

When I saw the church spire sticking out of the mist… There’s nothing so dreamlike as meeting one’s past again, on the second lap.

With the town still a half mile off, Alfie slowed down. He pulled up to the gates of the Protestant Cemetery. He wasn’t smiling anymore.

“Alfie,” I said. “It’s nearly 2:00 and—”

“There,” he said, pointing at—I wasn’t sure if it was something among the graves. It was pretty foggy, still. I squinted.

There,” a bit louder, moving his finger in a circle. Meaning, I determined, the cemetery itself.

I looked at Alfie.

That’s where your family is. If you want to say hello, do it quickly. The train leaves in half an hour.”

Alfie. I looked at … his eyes.

He was serious.

He was serious.

On the train…

We didn’t say a word to one another, the entire way.

 

                                                                                                      

From The Dream Museum, an unpublished short story collection.

 

FLASH FICTION: Paw-Paw

When Mom’s friend went to India, we looked after her eclectus Paw-Paw.

Mom put the cage in the living room so the bird could observe our dysfunction.

Dad tried coaxing Paw-Paw to talk. She still just squawked after a week but he didn’t give up. I’m not sure… I don’t remember him ever spending that much time with me.

Feeding Paw-Paw was my job. Pineapple, strawberries. Grapefruit she spat back out. We had that in common.

I hadn’t realized I could be nurturing.

One morning between bites of pineapple, Paw-Paw said, “I love you.”

I’d underestimated her.

Paw-Paw cocked her head. She looked at me like she expected a reply.

She’d overestimated me.

“I love you,” she said again.

My parents love me. They used to tell me. I have a good memory.

I don’t know why but I opened the cage and Paw-Paw flew around the living room, shitting everywhere and squawking.

When Mom came out of the kitchen with more fruit, she swore. Paw-Paw kept repeating “Shit.”

Mom grounded me for a week—a meaningless gesture.

After dinner, Dad went to the living room. Mom gave me sorbet and complained about her depression. “Life is medieval,” she said.

When I wheeled through the living room, after, Dad was feeding Paw-Paw. So I didn’t have to. I went into the elevator.

“I love you,” I heard him say, over and over, as the door closed.

FLASH FICTION: Two Hearts

My mother and I were in Bristol, visiting someone. A cousin, or something. We were having tea—like this. Our hostess … and her teenage daughter. I would’ve been nine or ten.

Children did a lot of listening in those days. I was never very good at it. I’ve always felt that only interesting people should speak—though it’s the opposite of convention. I suppose I fidgeted too much or said something smart because Mother hissed into my ear: “Why don’t you go upstairs and say hello to Katherine?”

Children still did as they were told in those days. I was never very good at that, either. But this time, I listened. I suppose I was bored. I didn’t know who Katherine was and I didn’t ask.

The first room I went into was the master bedroom. There were clothes all over the floor. When the parlour had been so clean.

The second room was the teenage daughter’s. She had a lot of nice things. Fashionable clothes. There was quite a lot of makeup on the vanity. I put on a bit of coral lipstick and looked in the mirror. I’ve always liked that color.

The third room…

A girl lay asleep in bed. But she wasn’t asleep, no. Her eyes were open. She was looking straight up, at the ceiling. There was something… I could tell there was something, here.

There was a chair by the bed, so I sat in it. I looked at this girl. I was curious. She was no bigger than a child of four or five, though she could’ve been my age—or older, even. Her wrists…

As I watched her, she turned her face to me. Her cheek against the pillow. She looked just like a Victorian advertisement. She looked at me. She said…

She said…

“Because I have two hearts … I am strange and sad to everyone.”

I took her hand. It was so small. I closed my fingers around it. Her skin. You could see every vein.

And I could feel them. PA-PUM … pa-pum. PA-PUM … pa-pum. PA-PUM … pa-pum. The two hearts. A stronger, and a weaker. I didn’t know … that was even possible.

She didn’t say another word, the girl. She didn’t have to.

It’s strange, how something can affect you. For years, I prayed for that girl, long after… Or when I was about to enjoy something, perhaps something too nice, something improper, I’d think of her. An image of her, with her head against the pillow. And I’d set down the cake, or tell the young man no.

The girl … the two hearts. My moral companions.

Another cup?

____________________________

Rolli’s latest collection, I Am Currently Working on a Novel, was longlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and shortlisted for the High Plains Book Award.

*Have you heard about The Walrus Project?*

FLASH FICTION: The Big T

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2016 was my happiest year.

I pursued my writing dream.

I lived in twelve apartments.

I wrote fifty-two stories.

I sent my stories to the Big T (The New York Titan).

The Big T sent them back.

I sent my stories to The Chesapeake Community Newsletter-Gazette.

The Chesapeake Community Newsletter-Gazette sent them back.

I just about shot myself. The bullet lodged in the wall.

I couldn’t write a word in Eternal Rest (the name of the shelter). Not at first.

The ceiling was plaster painted blue.

Then it came to me.

Rippling Tongues of Hungry Desire.

Rippling Tongues of Hungry Desire.

Rippling Tongues of Hungry Desire.

The book wrote itself. It sold itself.

I shot myself. It was a year before I could see again.

Telexa is the name of my estate. The Big T. There’s a glittering T on the rooftop.

The world’s celebrities visit Telexa. We drink champagne. We joke about orgies.

I joke about climbing the Big T and jumping. Every night.

                                                      

If you like what you see on my site, you really ought to buy me a coffee (or two). More coffee = more stories, poems, cartoons and drawings for you to enjoy. Without coffee … I don’t even want to dream, of that.