Flash Fiction





Shelley Ontis

Beth yelped as she banged her left shin into something.  She twisted in the narrow hall and peered over the edge of the box she was carrying to see what she'd come up against--a box labeled "BOOKS" in red ink, the word overwritten again and again.  How hard was it for him to remember a marker?
She kicked it lightly, turned sideways and baby-stepped her way past it and out the front door.

"Would you please not leave your stuff around for me to trip over?"

Jim hopped down from the bed of his pick-up.  "Sorry.  Just coming back to get it; had to make room."

Beth dropped her box into the trunk of her car, then hissed and rubbed her shin.  "You could have left it outside, out of the way."

"And you could have waited a minute."  He retrieved his box and shoved it in the back of the truck with the already mountainous jumble of bags and bulging cardboard.  He grunted and pushed, trying to make everything fit.

She rolled her eyes. As she went back inside she said, over her shoulder, "It's going to leave a bruise."

Beth wiped sweat from her cheek and combed her fingers through her short, damp hair.  She looked around the bare living room, ticking off items in her head to make sure she'd remembered everything, and realized that neither of them had claimed the faded curtains.  His mother had bought them when they'd moved into the house and Beth didn't have the heart to hurt her feelings by leaving them unused.  They were burnt orange with yellow flecks, matched nothing they owned and, Beth thought, made the already plain windows look even worse.  Now she'd rather stick pins between her toes than put anything remotely orange in her new, stylish, hunter-green and maroon apartment.

She heard the tailgate slam.  A few moments later Jim came back in and brushed past.  "I guess the curtains are it."  He looked back at her, but when she made no move he said, "No point in leaving them here."

Beth watched him take them down, watched the muscles in his arms as he stretched, thought about how they used to feel under her hands, and how sometimes, when he wasn't doing anything in particular, they'd flex slightly and tighten against his shirt sleeves--had his girlfriend ever noticed that the way she had? She remembered how they'd fought--who gets what, what should they sell, how much child support, which days were best for visitation.  And she thought about the crayon drawing she'd hung on the refrigerator only the month before:  a rainbow-hued man, woman and child holding skinny hands under a lopsided lemon yellow sun.  It was signed, under the purple grass, in uneven letters:  "to momy and dady love brad." She'd been devastated for days wondering how exactly they would divide treasures like that.

She watched Jim fold the curtains, surprised at how gently and carefully he packed them.  She knew he didn't like them either, but they were a gift from his mother and he probably needed curtains for his new place.

His new place.  Not hers, the color-coordinated apartment, decorated the way she always imagined she would do it if she'd had the chance.  What colors would his place be? Would there be color, or just white walls and some second-hand furniture, faded gray with age?  She pictured a cold, monochromatic bleakness framed with ugly orange and yellow curtains and the deepest sadness she'd felt since this whole mess began prompted her to open her mouth and speak. Even after all the shouts, the packing, the lines down the middle, the ultimatums, she thought she might be able to do it, looking at his mussed hair, his hip cocked under a cardboard box of old curtains, she couldn't let this be all there was, but before she could speak he opened his mouth and they both said "I" and stopped, waiting for the other to finish.

No one moved or spoke. She wanted to cry, pound her fists, for the moment they'd lost, then his lips parted--her breath stopped--he paused, clenched his jaw shut, nodded, and walked slowly past her.

Beth snorted the breath she'd been holding, wanting to speak but now, inexplicably, unable to go that far.  She again considered curtains, color schemes, checking accounts, double-beds.  The sound of the door opening snapped her back to the present.

Without turning to look back at her, Jim broke the thick silence. "I'm sorry about your leg, Beth."

A deep breath.

"I want those," she said.


Shelley Ontis lives in Illinois, surrounded by cows, corn and pick-up trucks.  Her short fiction has recently appeared, or is forthcoming, in The Green Tricycle, the-phone-book.com, Planet Relish, Defenestration and NFG. She's also a columnist for Doll Reader Magazine.





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