Together We Go

So this is what it feels like when doves cry. I again submitted to Three Minute Fiction and, yet again, I failed. I forgot about this little contest until the day before it was due, and typed this out rather quickly. The gimmick this time was something in the story had to be found. So here it is, my failed masterpiece:

Together We Go

Sister said if they find us, we’ll never see each other again. She said they’ll enslave us, either in the factories, or worse, at the pleasure houses.

“Young girls like you and me,” she said. “We’re daisies men can’t help but pick.”

I know where the gun is, and I know how to use it. If I ever see a Black Coat, I’m to get the gun and shoot her first, then turn it on myself, and she’ll do the same. “It’s better to be in Heaven together, than alone and in pain,” Sister said.

The dreams have come back recently. The Black Coats come in the rain and catch us sitting by the fire. I can smell the wood burning, it’s sweet and lingers as the doors burst open. The gun is in my hands, and I’m pulling the trigger, but what comes is nothing but misfire after misfire and Sister is gone out into the murky darkness and I’m alone, sitting in my nightgown from the time I was a child.

In the morning we take out one can of kidney beans and one can of peas. The beans we decide to share for breakfast and the peas will be our dinner. Until then, we go about our chores. I hunt for morels the way my father taught me before he died. He said they grow near decaying Elms and showed me how to identify them. What I remember is that they have a narrow leaf, so that’s what I look for. I take my time combing the forest floor, pushing away old leaves and broken twigs until I stumble upon a small patch of about a dozen. I pluck them, but leave the base so they’ll maintain their root and  return next year.

Sister and I found the cabin six months ago. We waited three days and three nights before deeming it safe to enter, but even then we only allowed ourselves to sleep in it. The cold was too much. It drove us to shelter. The moment sunlight touched our eyelids, we rose and tiptoed back into the woods and waited for the owners to return. But they never came and at first snowfall, we claimed the cabin as our own, assuming that they too, whoever they were, had been taken by the war.

In the kitchen, I soaked the morels in a bath of salt water to rid them of insects. Sister entered with her usual greeting of “It’s me.” And I answered in kind. She entered the kitchen and rinsed her hands and dried them on a towel.

“Did you think I wouldn’t notice?” she asked.

“Notice what?”

“The peas are missing,” she said.

“Are you sure? Did we put them away?”

“You took them.”

“No I didn’t.”

“Then who—”

But she turned and moved into the living room. Sister grabbed the drawer on the end table, pulled it open, and removed the gun.

“You have to do it.” she said. “I can’t.”

“We’re not doing anything.”

“We have to. Someone’s been here.”

“And they’re gone.”

There was silence then, thick and haunting. We went into the kitchen and grabbed what we could, then cautiously moved into the woods. Our feet had learned how to make little sound and fell back easily into their habit. We kept watch, moving like seasoned foresters, both knowing our strength was in being together, but fearing the day, if it ever were to come, we had to go alone.

Control

Number 21 sat on the moistened earth, flinging small pebbles into the opening of a rusty soda can. When the can was full, he shook it until it was empty, moved it another meter and restarted the process. It was now nearly twenty meters away.

By the time the can was half full, number 6 approached and sat and pulled a tuft of grass from the ground and flung each blade into the breeze. You’re getting good, he said.

Number 21 nodded. They can’t hold us here forever.

Not to be a downer, man, but there ain’t a whole lot tossing pebbles is gonna do.

Do you see those acorns? Number 21 asked without looking up.

Where?

On the first tree just past the creek.

I see a tree, number 6 squinted, but I can’t make out any acorns from here.

Number 21 stood and placed his palm face up in the air. In it were five tiny stones. They floated above his palm, then rocketed toward the tree. A faint spattering sound could be heard as the acorns fell to the ground.

Who said anything about tossing?

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Written for Friday Fictioneers. Click here to read others’ work.

Homecoming

This was my entry for NPR’s Round 7 of Three Minute Fiction. It obviously was not chosen. The rule was that someone had to leave town, and someone had to enter town.

The car passed the town’s limits before the sun awoke, two lone beams of light shooting like comets down the empty highway. Next to him, his wife breathed in-out, in-out, trying to calm herself and slow her epileptic diaphragm. We’ll be there soon, he said. We’ll be there soon. You’re doing great. We’ll be there soon.

Maybe you should move in with your parents. Just for the last month, he said.

I’m not living with my parents for a month.

But if it starts without warning, you’ll be closer to the hospital.

It takes, what, twenty minutes to get to the hospital? I’ll be fine.

Twenty minutes if we’re lucky, he said.

Twenty-nine minutes after her water broke he pulled into the empty parking lot and stopped outside the emergency room.

Just go to the main entrance, she said.

Too late, he replied.

He left his door open as he sprinted around the car to help out his wife. The emergency doors opened after detecting his movement, but no one came.

Where are they?

I don’t know, but I don’t think I can walk.

We have to get you inside.

Go, she said, go inside and get somebody. She breathed in-out, in-out, sucking the air in through her teeth.

The rain drummed the roof like the nervous fingers of god. She sat at the table dipping a silken bag of chamomile in steaming water, staring at the vapor as it curved up from the lip of the cup. She breathed in the soft aroma of blossoms and set the tea bag on a saucer and added a spoonful of honey and a squeeze of lemon and she stared at the window and stirred until the tea cooled.

Her husband pulled into the driveway and came inside with wet hair like he’d just gotten out of the shower. He smelled like earth and leaves and he kissed his wife and she hugged him longer than she normally did.

What is it? he asked.

She pressed her lips into his and breathed and let herself feel the rhythm of his heart against her palm and she pulled away and smiled and he saw the tears in her eyes.

The labor lasted eleven hours and the child was put under an incubator to keep her warm and fight the jaundice. The grandparents and her father watched from a window,  the child wriggling in her sleep with booties on her feet and mittens on her hands. She wore a miniature heart monitor and her father watched the red flashing light and the display fluctuate between 142 and 147.

She’s beautiful, his mother said. She grabbed his hand and squeezed it three times then held on.

What’s her name?

I don’t know, he said. We haven’t chosen one.

A week and two days later they carried Laila from the hospital and strapped her carseat in the back. Her mother rode with her, letting the child grasp her finger and hold it to her mouth as she sucked on her thumb. The highway had little traffic, but it took them forty minutes to get home and bring their newborn into the living room. There were balloons and gifts wrapped in bright paper and potted white lilies and a banner with the child’s name draped from the ceiling.

As the family admired the new addition, the man hugged his wife and whispered in her ear, Welcome home.

Bundle

Right now, NPR is holding their Three Minute Fiction contest. For this cycle, I wrote two stories and chose the better of the two for submission. The story that follows is the story I chose not to submit. For this round, the piece had to be 600 words or less and start with the sentence, She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. Check out 3MF for past winners and more information.

Bundle

She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. Mingus’s Tonight at Noon played in her head and her pinky unconsciously tapped the beat on her thigh. She shuffled over her patio’s weathered wood and sat on a lounge chair, its creak a plea for replacement.

The sun singed the air orange and to save on electricity bills she lounged on her third floor stoop with a fan angled perfectly to direct the breeze up her skirt and loose fitting blouse. She held a glass of sweet tea with a slice of lemon. Sweat clung to the glass like it clung to her skin and every few minutes she used a bandana to dry her slippery glass and cool her forehead. She held half a soft pack of cigarettes and a cheap blue lighter that she bought at the gas station down the road. She’d have to quit soon. Perhaps the day after tomorrow she would get the patch.

One level above, her neighbor slid open the door and dropped a basket of laundry on his deck with a loud slap. Her body jolted at the sound, so she took an extra long drag to slow her fast-beating heart.

Can you not do that while my laundry dries? he called down to her.

Almost finished. She craned her neck. Your clothes are never gonna dry in this humidity, she said.

He laughed, then draped a t-shirt and a pair of jeans over the rail. The man reached down for more and continued until his patio was lined with wet clothes. When he finished he leaned over the edge and looked down at his neighbor and said, Just the one, yeah? Some a these are my work clothes.

Just the one, she replied. And exhaled a grey ribbon.

You and Margot wanna come up for dinner tonight? he asked.

Love to, but we’re going out tonight.

Well, Liz and I are making lasagna, so if you decide to stay in. Just let us know.

Will do. Thanks.

He slid his door shut and she snuffed out her cigarette, leaving a singed black dot on the splintering wood. She flicked the butt over the edge and finished her tea and stepped inside, bits of pebbled ice clinking gently in her plastic cup.

After a quick change of clothes, she grabbed her keys and descended the stairs. Her car had the scorched smell of summer, dusty and plastic. With her elbow out the window and Tonight at Noon playing, she navigated the streets to downtown and parked. She looked at the shop and bit nervously at her thumb. Was it too soon? Excitement bubbled in her throat and she swallowed it down.

An outfit could be the perfect way to deliver the news to Margot. She clicked open her door and dropped a quarter into the meter. Perhaps something in yellow. A nice neutral color. She stepped into the shop and immediately shuffled through some clothes.

Hello dear, can I help you find something?

She was the lone patron and the shop owner, an old woman with white hair and a smile like the sunset, seemed overjoyed to talk with her.

Something simple and yellow, she said.

The owner lead her to a rack and removed some outfits and handed them to her. This for a boy or a girl?

Not sure yet.

The old woman nodded and put her hands on her hips and asked, Are you expecting? You’re not showing at all.

Pays des Mille Collines

Tomorrow excavation begins. She looks through her window into her yard at the thin twine stretched tight and straight between two stakes, wrapped around, then stretched between another and another to form a square. They’ve gone ten years without need of a garage. Why now? She leaves the window and slouches at the kitchen table and spreads Nutella on day old bread. Her husband enters. He makes himself black tea with milk and honey. After he finishes he stands and kisses his wife on the forehead. Don’t worry, he says, it’s highly unlikely we’ll — we’ll uncover anything.

UPDATE/EXPLANATION: The title of this piece means in English “Land of a Thousand Hills,” which is the nickname for Rwanda. This story takes place a decade after the Rwandan Genocide. While visiting Rwanda in 2007 I learned that families were still uncovering the remains of victims. Simple things like digging to add a new garage were, in reality, no simple task at all, and were a reminder of the atrocities that took place there.

This flash fiction piece was inspired by this photo prompt provided by Madison Woods.