This week’s flash fiction challenge, via Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds, is about traveling; a journey of some sort. Any genre. 1000 words or less. I used 999 words. Enjoy.
I shift my shoulders and rotate my head. The phone rings.
“Thank you for calling Wellsmith and Lovell. How may I direct your call?”
Listen. Nod as if they can see me. Smile because “they can hear it in your voice.” Tell them, “Hold for just a moment while I transfer your call.”
Brrring. An email has arrived. Reports are needed in the conference room by 9:00 tomorrow morning; reports that take two hours to generate from compiling, to printing, to delivering. It’s 4:55, and I’m supposed to leave at 5:00.
I pick up the phone and call Aaron, with whom I’m scheduled to have dinner, and tell him I can’t make it.
“That’s fine,” he says, after a pause. “I’ll catch up with you sometime.” He hangs up without waiting for a response or saying goodbye.
I stare at the receiver as if it can answer my unasked questions, and then set it into its cradle. I arch my back to stretch it out and open the database; plug in the parameters for the first report and click “submit.”
I return to the still-open email and type a brief response; confirm the reports will be ready.
The phone rings, but it’s after 5:00 now, and I don’t have to answer it. My tongue darts out; points at the blameless device. I draw it back in with a furtive glance around.
I check the progress of the first report and my stomach tightens when I see it’s only at ten percent. Damn, ancient laptop. Damn, ignorant boss. Damn, soulless job.
I tamp down my errant, negative thoughts, reach for my reusable water bottle, knock it over. I grab it up, but not fast enough. Water is puddled on the keyboard and seeping into the laptop.
I untuck my thrift store blouse – Coldwater Creek; new, with tags; $5.00 – and blot at the water. Tilt the laptop to drain off and out the water. The laptop that now has a blank screen and makes an odd noise. I disconnect the power cable in a panicked whoosh, face puckered against possible electrocution.
That’s when the tears begin, accompanied by a wail. I clap a hand over my mouth, then gather it into a fist and pound the keyboard. I’m rewarded with a splash that dots my glasses with drops of water. They need cleaning. I start to laugh while I use my wet blouse to thoroughly wash and dry the lenses, and return the glasses to their post on the bridge of my nose.
I realize I’m still crying, and I collapse into my chair because that line from Steel Magnolias – the one Truvy says – pops into my head: “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”
“Fuck!” I say again, as I cry, laugh, and now hiccup, too. “Fuck-ic-ity fuck-fuck-fu-ic-uck!”
I wipe my face with the back of my hands and see smears of black. Great. I sneak into the bathroom across the hall, flea-market Coach purse in hand, to repair the damage. Easy enough, given the amount of crap I keep in that purse.
Back in my office, I stare down the ruined laptop. My desk, illuminated by a humming fluorescent, is tidy, and nearly anonymous. The picture of Aaron and me taken last summer at the beach is the only personal item in sight that identifies this space as mine. Except it isn’t mine; not really.
My mind goes blessedly blank for a few moments, and then the ticker-tape thoughts resume: fifteen years and two months… it pays the bills… great benefits; stock options… huge savings account for that rainy day… thirty-nine years old; unmarried… living alone… dating a great guy… Mom wants to be a grandmother… I want-
The ticker tape stops abruptly, as it always does when I begin to consider my wants. I don’t know what I want, because I don’t let myself think about it. I do what I’m supposed to do; what’s expected of me.
I work a 9-to-5 job in a semi-casual corporate environment, for a company with longevity. My job is as secure as any job in the current economy. I hate it. No, I dislike it. No, I hate it.
What do I want? I ask myself. I want- I want… a companion to come home to; a window-lined studio to do my art in; a baby in my arms. I want more than this. I want different than this.
I grab a piece of paper from the recycle bin; flip to its blank side. The words I write are barely legible. I fold the paper and thrust it into an envelope; scrawl my supervisor’s name; prop it against the laptop’s screen.
I pull my tote bag from the bottom drawer of the desk, add my water bottle and the picture of Aaron and me to the collection of reusable containers. Aaron. We’ve been dating for two years; I know he’s growing impatient. Next goes a bottle of Advil, a bag of Ricola, and a pack of Dentyne. Those are all my personal effects, except my purse.
I stand up, possessions in hand. My heart pounds and my knees falter. I turn off the fluorescent; close the door behind me. I walk unnoticed down the hallway, through the lobby, and out the revolving door. I walk toward my car, reach into my purse, pull out my cell phone, and dial.
“Aaron? It’s me. I can do dinner after all, if that’s still okay.”
I stop in the middle of the parking lot when I get an affirmative, albeit surprised, answer. I notice the trees, bursting with buds in hopeful shades of gold, green, and copper. The sun is a couple hours from setting, and still warms the air. My chest expands in a way it never has before.
“Aaron, I love you.”
I smile as I slide the phone into my purse and climb into my car. Pulling out of the parking lot, I drive toward my life.