Thursday, January 12, 2012

Flash Fiction Challenge: "Dust Bowl Dance"

It's been weeks and weeks (at least four weeks) since last I did one of these challenges. I'm fighting the idiot self-imposed conviction that everything I write has to have a supernatural or fantastic or SF element. That's just stupid.

“The name of this place is pretty offensive,” the woman said as I set her beer on the bar.

"Not my fault," I said. "It was named that when I got here."

"Still, you're making light of people's suffering." She might have been 43 (just a guess), with long hair in a ponytail, still mostly blonde. She wore paint-spattered jeans and a tee-shirt.

"They're all dead. And I think it's more a statement about our cleaning staff. Lanes should be clean."

The man who came in and made a bee-line to her would have been two or three years older, fit like a runner and suited like a lawyer. His hairline was receding. He wore a wedding ring. A bowling alley must have seemed like a good place to meet; neither artists nor lawyers would hang out here.

“Diet coke,” he said, and turned to her as if they had known each other how long? I’d guess two-and-a-half years. “I was worried sick.”

“You should have been,” the woman answered. She wasn’t the type of woman a man like him would marry.

“Why didn’t you text?” he said, sipping his coke through a straw.

“I was in hospital.” He winced as she sucked back a quarter of her pint of beer in one swallow. “They take all your stuff and lock it up so no one can walk off with it.”

There was a long, awkward silence. I was cleaning glasses.

"How did you get there?” he asked.

“My landlady was looking for the rent,” the woman said. “She found me in the kitchen. I guess she saved my life.”

“I should have dropped by,” the man said. “What day was that?”

The woman shrugged. “My chart said I was admitted on the Wednesday.”

It was Friday now. “You bled for three days?”

“Presumably.” The woman finished her beer and looked at me.

She was too light to be able to handle much. “Driving?” I said.

“Hell no,” she said as if I was crazy to even ask. “You wouldn’t believe the questions I had to answer. They asked if I had done it to myself.”

“I’m sorry,” the man said.

I put another beer down in front of the woman, and she took a sip as the man’s eyes searched her face – eyes, lips, beer, ringless paint-stained hands. “But it’s gone,” he said.

“Yeah, it’s gone.”

He seemed relieved. “It won’t happen again.”

“No, it won’t,” the woman said. “It was ectopic. They snipped some things, cleaning up, for my own good. It won’t happen again.”

He put an envelope in front of her, but she set her beer on it, leaving a wet condensation ring. “I can’t finish that,” she said. She took off a cross on a chain and set it on the bar. She turned away, and left.

The man left a $20 from the envelope on the bar. Everything else, he stuck in his jacket pocket as he followed her out.

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