National Public Radio’s Three Minute Fiction contest. I’m still determined to get an honorable mention…some day…but not this day. Round eight was not it alas. But as I always do, I’m posting my entry here on my blog. The schtick this time was that the story of 600 words or less had to begin with the words I’ve marked in royal blue. Some of you may recognize bits I “borrowed” from a flash I wrote quite a while ago.
“She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. The End.”
I read the final words of my book aloud, struck by the foreshadowing of my own ending.
Eight long hours stand between me and my new life.
I can’t concentrate. At work I let my phone go to voice mail. A few emails pull me back but only for a few hours. By lunch, my stomach has developed a serious case of the gurglies. Nothing wants to go down. It all sticks in my throat, until finally I give up and drown my hunger with a Coke or two or three.
I’m wired with caffeine, jittery and nervous. Only another two hours to go. What have I done all day long? Anything?
I finally check my voice mails.
One is from Ted. He needs me to pick up another loaf of bread and a gallon of milk, chides me for having let us run out.
One hour to go. I take a break and walk around the block. I mentally role-play all the possible scenarios when Ted discovers what I’ve done.
Fifteen minutes to go. I wonder if I can slip out early. What’s fifteen minutes after all?
Five o’clock. Thirty minutes to drive to the square though I only need fifteen. I bolt out the door with a hasty goodbye to my staff.
The man in the car next to me has his signal on and wants to break in front of me. I think he should have waited his turn, should have chosen the correct lane to begin with. Nobody likes people who take cuts; nobody likes a cheater. I don’t let him in, and he gives me the finger as I pass. I’m relieved the car behind me doesn’t let him in either.
I see the square ahead, and circle it twice looking for a parking space. When I find one, I throw the car into park, shut off the headlights and sprint to the statue that marks the center. This is where we are to meet, where he says he’ll be, where I’ll start my new life.
But he’s not here.
I take a seat on the bench…and wait.
My cell phone chimes with an incoming text. I snatch it out to read the message. “We need butter too.”
It’s six o’clock, half an hour after our meeting time. Traffic has probably delayed him.
Another text arrives. “Are you still at the store? Should I pick up dinner?” I delete Ted’s message in a fit of impotent rage.
Six thirty. I’m cold. I pull my legs up into my coat and lay my head on my knees.
Another text arrives. I curse Ted’s relentless nagging.
It’s not from Ted. It’s from him. He’s very sorry, but he’s not coming. It’s over. We’re over. He can’t do it, can’t leave. He wishes me well and says he’ll always love me.
I stand in the center of the deserted square and brush the dirt off my coat. I stomp the life back into my feet, but hard as I stomp, I can’t make it flow to the rest of my body.
My car is cold and lifeless. We make quite the pair.
A man driving in the lane to my left puts on his right signal. I slow and wave him over in front of me.
I take the familiar route to the grocery store I frequent, where I’ll stop and pick up bread and milk and butter and dinner.