Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge this week is to write not fiction but a story. A real one from my (your) own life. This one was hard.
Everything was off that day. And I found myself looking around, as though I could spot a clue or explanation for it — out there in the world around me. But everything looked normal.
I couldn’t make sense of that niggling burn in my stomach – the team of butterflies gnawing at my insides. The specter over my shoulder that made me cast backward glances.
And the foreboding stayed with me for the rest of the day.
I went to work. Everything went wrong. Customers complained. Food orders didn’t come out right. And the cooks were more surly than usual. But who could blame them? A quivering, red-eyed, sad-faced waitress just doesn’t say, “At your service,” does it?
Things went so badly that by the end of my shift the manager pulled me aside and asked if I was having emotional issues. She asked in mock sympathy if I needed medical leave. She inferred that if we had a repeat performance on the next shift I’d be looking for another job.
When I finally got out of there, it was an hour past the end of my shift and it was pouring. I ran across the street to my car, getting soaked to the skin. And as soon as I closed the door, I broke down and sobbed. Still utterly baffled by my feelings of dread and despair.
The drive home was surreal. The physical world mirrored my mood — dark, lonely with only a sliver of light to lead me home. The only thing that kept me driving was the promise of a large glass of red wine.
But when I walked inside my little house and saw the flashing message light on my answering machine I forgot about the wine. I stared at it. I knew that flashing light and whatever message it foretold would explain the day. The dread. The tears that started again.
I sat on the floor in front of the machine and listened to the rain tapping on the window, urging me to press PLAY. I couldn’t. I knew I didn’t want to know. I knew it was bad, so bad that if I pressed it, my life would never be the same.
I lit a cigarette and stared at the little flashing light some more. I ached for that glass of wine but couldn’t move from that spot.. And when I finally couldn’t stand the anticipation any more, I pressed PLAY.
It was my stepmother. “Hi Anita, it’s Leona. Well honey, your dad passed away today. I’m sorry.” Her voice cracked. “We love you.”
Note: Even though this happened over 20 years ago, I still can only write about it from a distance. As though it’s a hot stove I’m afraid to touch.