A while back I cracked my knuckles and wrote some fiction. Some flash fiction, to be precise. NPR hosts, with fair regularity, a contest called "Three-Minute Fiction." The challenge? Write a piece of original fiction in 600 words or less. For each round of the competition, a successful published author also sets a specific challenge.
Something about the Round 8 prompt moved me. In addition to the word limit, the story also had to begin with this sentence: "She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door." Ignoring what I deem to be an incorrect comma placement choice (who's with me?!), I loved it. That word finally set my imagination a'running.
I had followed the contest after seeing some friends post about it on good ol' Facebook, but I had not yet worked up the ambition and focus to even think about the prompts for Rounds 4-7, let alone actually... you know... like... write something. I waited until nearly the last minute to actually set pen to paper (ok... set... fingerprint? to keyboard?), but I kept thinking about it and thinking about it. Eventually, I talked to my friend (and often Creative Partner), Krista and found myself somehow having committed to submitting an entry.
This is all a long preamble to having a place to post my entry, since the judge for this round, novelist Luis Alberto Urrea, author of Queen of America, turned out to either be a man with a notable lack of taste or somehow didn't ever really get to read mine. How else to explain his crowd-hushing decision not to pick my story as any sort of winner at all. Ok... Ok... I had great competition. Over 6000 entries, including Krista's, which he also somehow missed in the hubbub. His pick for the favorite turned out to be "Rainy Wedding" by Carrie MacKillup. And I must agree that her story is packed with layers and does indeed feel "novelistic in its heft."
After my perusal of the finalists' stories, I would have instead, chosen "Action Verbs" hands down. Not only did author Kani Martin make me throw my head back and laugh, but I also raised my fist in solidarity. Another Grammar Shaman! What a clever, clever, clever (and brave, brave, brave) take on the prompt.
So. Without further ado, I present my unpublished, uncelebrated, unrecognized, unwinnerly piece of short fiction, "Finally". Just think. You can say you knew me when.
"Door Opened" by hokkey on Flickr
She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. Had he known, he might have taken more notice of the details. The color of the top she wore. How she had done her hair. If she had worn lipstick. He might have noticed whether she had taken her small purse, which would have indicated she would be gone only a short time. Had he known, he might have done something. A hug, a kiss, a wave. Said something profound or touching. Something. At least he might have looked up from his cup of Sumatra, set down the paper.
Instead, he had done none of that. He had slurped the strong coffee, feeling annoyed there was no creamer. Had remained engrossed in the article about the coming cold front, wondering if he would get to play golf. Some time after she departed, he had stretched backward in his chair to check the time on the microwave's clock. 7:45. He had left his mug on the table, tossed the paper there, gone upstairs, brushed his teeth, grabbed his briefcase, and wandered out the door into the sunlight.
It would take nearly the entire day to realize. And it would take nearly one week for him to think about those actions: the closing of the book, the placing of it on the table, and the finally of her walk through the door. Later, he would read the book himself, laboriously sifting through its words, searching for some clue.
His day had gone by without incident, a typical plodding routine of emails and meetings, filing and printing, mundane conversations about people's genius children and disappointing spouses. She had not called him at lunchtime, which was unusual but not unprecedented. It was not until he returned home to see his mug and paper unmoved that he began to wish he had paid more attention.
On the other hand, the little boy's mommy had taken careful note of everything about his departure. She made sure he had finished his cereal and fruit and orange juice. Made sure he had worn light colored clothing, his reflective vest, and of course his helmet. She had helped him load the newspapers into his bike pack, making sure it was secure and that no ties could loosen and become entangled in the spokes. She had told him she loved him and had waved until he disappeared, finally, around the corner.
She knew right away. She felt it in her heart.
Nobody was around to archive the old woman's actions as she left the house. No one was there to feel saddened by her meager breakfast of half a blackened banana and fruit punch from a cracked plastic McDonald's cup. No one felt uncomfortable as she struggled to peel back the plastic on the single piece of cheese she ate as an afterthought. Nobody noticed how she tied a scarf around her white wiry hair and pulled lace gloves over her gnarled hands, squinting at herself in the dusty mirror by the front door before she left.
An observer might have thought she looked as though she had known what was coming. An observer might have wondered if she had cared. Or if she had thought only, finally.