a short story

Copyright © 2001 by
Sean Michael Ragan

This is my probably noblest attempt at so-called "flash fiction," which is generally defined as short fiction of between 200 and 1000 words. This piece tops off at 784. Please let me know what you think of it.

It was morning. Laura was in the kitchen, doing dishes.

John had always been a light sleeper. Her noise awakened him, and after tossing on his bath-robe, he stumbled downstairs, bleary-eyed, into the kitchen.

He froze when he saw her. His thoughts went instantly to Julie, lying asleep in their bed upstairs, and he prayed that she would not wake up and find her here.

Laura went on, rinsing the dishes and drying them with the green-and-white plaid cloth, ignoring him.

He watched her for a moment, cautiously, and then edged over to the table and sat down. He folded his hands beneath his chin and looked at her. His face was a mask of tight control.

"What are you doing here?" he asked softly.

For a moment it was as if she had not heard him. And then she started, as if awakened from a daydream, and looked over.

"Do you know what day it is?"

He bit his lip.

"Of course I do," he said quietly.

"Then you know why I'm here," she responded, and went back to cleaning his dishes.

He looked at her. Her hair was the way he'd always liked it, straight and long, tied back away from her flawless profile in a ponytail secured with the same purple scrunchy. The skin of her neck was smooth and tan above the collar of the sweater he?d bought her for Christmas three years ago. Her arms, long and slender, moved gracefully under the water. He watched it spilling across the back of a Pyrex casserole dish, running over her hands, and dripping off the tips of her fingers. Green metallic polish on the nails. Her favorite.

He looked down at the table and hid his face in his hands. For a long time, there was no sound in the kitchen except the splash of softly-running water, the squeak of the towel as she dried each dish, and the soft clink of contact as she set it in the drying rack.

John swallowed the lump that was growing in his throat and looked up at her again.

"I don't want you to come around here anymore," he said, with as much force as he could muster.

Again, it was as if she had not heard him. She went on, and finished rinsing his coffee cup. She dried it carefully with the towel (squeak, squeak) and set it carefully in the rack to dry (clink). Then she turned off the water and turned to face him.

Her eyes were fierce.

"Does she make you happy?" she asked icily.

He felt his own eyes starting to water. Her anger was terrible and beautiful; as terrible and beautiful as it had always been.

"Yes," he said, fighting back the tears. "Yes she does."

Laura did not respond. She just stood there, staring at him with those electric green eyes radiating anger, and he began to be truly afraid.

What was she going to do?

"There's part of me that will always love you," he found himself stammering. "But neither of us can change what happened. The past is the past. We have to go on with our lives."

"You mean you,," she snapped bitterly. "You have to go on with your life."

Her anger was like an open furnace in the kitchen, sending waves of heat against him through the air.

"Yes," he squeaked, almost choking on the words. "I have to go on with my life."

And then, suddenly, the anger in her eyes was gone, replaced by a look of yearning so powerful it almost made him swoon. Tears were streaming down her perfect cheeks.

"John," she whispered, in a voice of infinite sadness. "John, I love you so much."

This was too much for him. He looked away from her, down, at the table, and felt hot tears welling at the corners of his eyes. His throat tightened. He must speak now, he knew, before his voice failed him completely.

"Please go," he managed tremulously.

His face was hidden in his hands, and he did not see her loving expression as she watched him, did not see the tears drying on her cheeks, did not see the look of peaceful resignation that came over her face. He did not see when she turned, noiselessly, and drifted across the room to the back door. He did not see when she went out, not bothering to open it before she went through.

When he looked up and saw that she was gone, his control broke completely, and he collapsed over the table, cradling his head in his folded arms, and cried until it was light.