Two Flash Fictions
About This Woman, Lena
Lena towels her hair but lets it dry as it will. Lashes mascara-grazed, cheeks lightly blushed, mouth glossed in ChapStick. Au naturel.
Read her lips: I am not trying.
She lathers herself with unscented lotion. The cologne (on the inside of her wrists, between her breasts) is the scent of a woods where wise men tread, carrying frankincense, myrrh, and the tall one’s mother’s rugelachs…pine, musk, spice. It wafts around Lena, clings to her close. It suggests: he tried to make me stay, oh, how he tried. But me? No. I could not stay. I have my life to master, hard things to make look easy. Men cannot keep me. Neither will you. You are not good enough. You will never do what I do.
And: I am not even trying.
Thong. Jeans that make you long to touch her hips. Black camisole. No bra. A shirt that slouches at its frayed collar. Thick socks.
Cowboy boots. Of course.
And in this manner, Lena begins. Then follows the drive to town where she opens the bookstore, starts the coffee, arranges at the front the new releases, a display indicative of style, not taste. Taste means making good choices and therefore showing effort.
Remember: Lena is not trying.
You admire this about her. You want those boots. You imagine her tapping a dark horse with the heels, driving it into a canter and, faster, a gallop. She needs no reins and holds the animal with the power of her thighs, while looping and looping and looping and letting soar the lasso to wrangle the steer with grace, with talent.
With ease (not trying).
Lena slips behind the counter and perches on the edge of a stool, one cowboy boot hooked on a rung by the heel. She reads.
You are a little in love with Lena.
I like your cowboy boots, Lena, you say, resting before her a paperback, slowly placing the impending purchase, in the reverent manner of a novice offering a sacrifice.
She sets aside her hardcover. (Victorian. Something by Eliot. Thicker and more intimidating than anything you’ve ever attempted.) Cowgirl boots, she corrects without a thank you.
You don’t expect one.
A Pantry Moment
Ted Candido was riffling through the spices in the butler’s pantry, looking for the smoked paprika, and dreaming about winning the lottery, working toward his favorite part of the fantasy that involved telling his boss at FineTech to go to hell, when a fire sprang in his chest.
He crumpled to the floor under the cracked window, taking a squat bottle with him. Through a haze of pain, he frowned at the container: paprika, but not smoked. The burn bloomed toward his shoulder. He squinted at a Cheerio by the baseboard and said faintly, “Faith?”
His wife turned down NPR and said from the kitchen, “Oh, God, Ted, you won’t believe what that idiot did now.”
The hurt traveled down his arm. His breath came fast. The air smelled like fried peppers and onions. His stomach turned, and the pantry began to spin. The paprika bottle fell from his hand and rolled. Through the window, he heard the wind in the trees, the trembling leaves making a sound like rain.
His wife was saying, “…and just move to Canada or, heck, maybe Denmark.”
Faith sounded far away. Everyone…so far away. The news on the radio just barely reached him, a somber drone about Russian operatives and Facebook ads. What about his daughter Jenny? Ted worried dazedly. She hadn’t dumped that hothead Kyle. From the kitchen, there was a mention of hundreds of thousands of people fleeing a military purge. But heavy on Ted’s mind was the situation with Doug. Three years had passed since that argument after Aunt Sue’s funeral, but Ted’s brother still wouldn’t return his calls. Iran had test-fired a long-range missile. And Faith’s Dad in Florida, a highway menace, refused to quit driving. Another storm was brewing in the Atlantic. And the pain was spreading. It slipped into Ted’s hand. So many violent storms, warm ocean water evaporating, rising, cooling, recondensing into clouds and rain, riding swift currents of air, twirling toward a shore…
But much closer, Faith was coming. “Ted?” she said. He could hear her slippers, slap, slap, slap. And now she stood in the wavering entrance to the pantry, her eyes wide, Bambi eyes he’d always teased her, a green pepper in her one hand, the santoku knife in the other.
If the ambulance were to get Ted Candido to the hospital in time, over the next four weeks, he would learn all about progressive inflammations, blood clots, ruptures, and arteries. He would say goodbye to his Tuesday tradition of fried chorizo, peppers, and onions piled in a good roll from D’Angelo’s Bakery. He and Faith would not discuss moving to Denmark but would start taking walks around the neighborhood every morning. They would agree, even if it meant giving up cable, one of the cars, and the yearly vacation to Florida, that the FineTech torture had to end. Faith would convince her father to hand over the car keys. Ted would tell his daughter he loved her and only wanted her to be happy. Then he would write a long letter to Doug, a last-ditch effort. He would point out in the letter that the rift was his brother’s doing, not his, and Ted just wished they could get along.
And if his brother refused to call or write back, well then, Ted would make his peace with that, too.
About the Author: Melissa Ostrom teaches English at Genesee Community College in Batavia, New York, and is the author of the YA historical novel The Beloved Wild (Feiwel & Friends, March 2018). Her short fiction has appeared in The Florida Review, Quarter After Eight, The Baltimore Review, and Passages North, among other journals, and her second novel, Unleaving, is forthcoming from Macmillan in March of 2019.