Friday, October 10, 2014

Flash Fiction - The Nature Show

I enjoyed Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction challenge quite a bit last week. This week's (Picking Uncommon Apples) was interesting, too.  Find three apple names from his list, and infuse a story you write with them.

My three are: Malinda, Pixie, and Lacy.

I had only the faintest of ideas what I was going to write when I sat down, but this is what I ended up with:  The Nature Show (1339 words).

The Nature Show

Malinda sauntered out into the courtyard, trying to appear carefree and relaxed, because studies showed that appearances make it so, and a smile could supposedly make you feel happier. With two accounts going from her inbox to invoicing this month, she felt like all the anxiety and pressure should have started to die down, but she still felt like the wolves were snapping at her heels.

She found her usual bench under the shade tree that looked out toward the fountain. Everything was the same as every other day, except the fall was beginning to chill the air, and the fountain's water had been dyed a strikingly unnatural blue in honor of the Royals' unexpected appearance in the playoffs. Malinda was never a fan of baseball, but she ceded that anything which electrified and united the city was undoubtedly for the better, even if it was just in hoping that our guys smacked a ball with a stick better than the other guys.

She sat gingerly down on the bench, trying to allow herself to relax in the hour she had before she was due back at her desk, and unzipped her purse to remove her sandwich – always the first part of lunch. She shook things up today by making tuna salad instead of her normal turkey and cheese, even taking an extra couple of minutes to include diced apples like her grandmother always did.

Her grandmother was always matronly and practical. If she were still alive, Malinda would have called her last weekend like usual to hear all about how the corn was growing higher than your head at Papa's farm, and how being twenty five and single, why would she have a thing in the world to be so stressed about... and why wasn't she dating again yet?

Before she opened the zip-top bag to fulfill the next step in the weekday ritual, she reached up to touch her port scar. She rarely did it consciously, but she did do it often. It was grounding, as if some part of her was afraid she would forget all about the whole ordeal which only ended four months ago – the chemo, the sick leave, the mastectomy, all the unwanted but-you're-so-young-and-life-is-so-unfair attention from her co-workers who barely knew her name before, and almost always misspelled it. And her hair that had just grown out enough to be a pixie cut that she might have done on purpose, so she could get rid of those stupid hats that nobody wears except for cancer patients who don't want you to know that they're cancer patients.

And Floyd the coward, who had been by her side since high school, but decided that he had to "move on" because... well, she wasn't the same after the cancer, and he didn't know how to love this new Malinda because she could barely love herself.

Yes, the scar was still there, and she knew every nuance, bump, and irregularity of that ugly pink blob that now sat across her heart from a useless prosthetic breast, and only partly covered by a lacy white bra that no man would see. Life was still this, and she had made it through, but things were just now getting back to normal, whatever that meant. Right now, it meant a sandwich, and watching the fountain do its silly work of endlessly pumping that disgusting blue water through the dregs of bird excrement and wishing well pennies.

She came here because there were people, and all varieties of them passing through. Auto mechanics, geeky hipsters always tapping on their shiny new iPhones, lawyers with their briefcases, and other cogs in the machine like her who pretended to fit in to play some integral part. These people saw each other but didn't feel obligated to feign affection aside from the occasional pleasantry which might have sounded like excuse me, but really meant something like you're in my way.

Humans were a strange species, and while the cancer hadn't killed her, it had put her in this strange place where she felt like she wasn't really part of it anymore. Now she viewed it from the outside in, like on a National Geographic documentary. With their command of technology and their suits and Lexuses and OkCupid, people declared themselves at the top of the animal hierarchy, in effect, because they were capable of crafting the most wasteful and intricate mating dance imaginable.

A jet of blue faltered for a moment and Malinda startled. Through the blue and across the fountain, sitting casually with his arm up on the rest, was a man who looked through the fountain back at her. His hair was brown and shaved short, but his leather jacket was a stark black. In her surprise, she immediately cast her eyes back to her sandwich, which was now half gone. She took another bite, turning aside to the shops to her right, deciding to watch him from her peripheral vision.

In another life, the old Malinda may very well have found him handsome. He wasn't imposingly large (like Floyd the coward), and he had a face that seemed incapable of harshness or anger. The new Malinda wondered academically if she could grow to trust even a man like that, if he was what he appeared to be and everything else she wanted.

She turned back to the bench in curiosity to find it empty, and even craned a bit to make certain. Then, she surprised herself by feeling a bit disappointed.

As she took the last bite of her sandwich, she reached back into her purse for another zip-top bag containing the yogurt of the day (cherry cheesecake, an old favorite) and a plastic spoon with which to enjoy it. She noticed for the first time that the lid was pink with a ribbon, because of course, October was breast cancer awareness month, and so Malinda declared herself officially aware.

As she reached for the spoon, a voice rang out saying "Hello", and her back straightened as she startled once again. She looked up to find a man in a black jacket with closely shaven brown hair now standing aside her bench. Why was he interrupting her lunch, and what the hell did he want? Her eyes widened, her heart raced, and the hand that was reaching for the spoon now found her scar. One finger traced its contour.

The man took a step backwards as he realized her condition and spoke again.

"God, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare you. I don't want anything, really." She exhaled and would have closed her eyes if she weren't keeping watch on the strange but handsome-to-the-old-Malinda man.

"I just wanted you to know, in case you didn't know or had forgotten, that you're beautiful."

She looked away and smirked, her cynicism spilling out of her in a slight laugh, but he kept on. "You see, I may be dying, and I'm trying to learn how to be honest with the world in case I have to leave it soon. This seemed like a good first step: find a woman who I think is beautiful and just tell her. I'm not even going to tell you my name, so I have nothing to gain, and you'll know it came from honesty. I'm really sorry to have scared you."

Malinda's smirk was halted as it waned, and she struggled to open her mouth and say something, but she was utterly lost as to what the right words would be. He saved her the trouble. "I wish you the best," he said, and turned to calmly walk away.

It took a few long moments, but with the help of the yogurt of the day and the sounds of the fountain, some semblance of normalcy returned, and Malinda watched this odd species in the nature show for a few more minutes before returning to her desk to finish her day's work.

10 comments:

AJ Bauers said...

I absolutely loved this piece. So many good things- being "officially aware" for breast cancer month, "the coward Floyd", hats that only cancer people wear. Wow. Also really like the twist with the handsome fella at the end. Thank you for sharing!

Kevin Wallace said...

Thank you kindly, AJ :). I was really fond of yours too.

nikki broadwell said...

lovely piece!

Kevin Wallace said...

It's quite different from Maeve's brush with Lord Lamborne (which I enjoyed, by the way). Thank you for the kind words.

Latedra Gladney said...

Wow😊

makesmesodigress.com said...

This is wonderful, Kevin. You give such a complete picture of Malinda in a few short paragraphs. This seems self-promotional, but we're kind of on the same page with the beautiful strangers thing, so I am sending you a link to a post on my own blog from a few months back. :)
http://makesmesodigress.com/2014/06/25/park-bench/

Kevin Wallace said...

Thank you, Latedra :).

Kevin Wallace said...

@makesmesodigress.com:

Thank you very kindly, I liked yours a lot from this week too :). You're right, there are quite a few parallels between our two pieces.

I didn't mention anywhere around here that I'm a Java developer by day, did I? That's almost a bit eerie :).

makesmesodigress.com said...

Really?! That is eerie...moreso when combined with the 11-year-old, blue-eyed daughter. I promise I am not intentionally mining your life for details to add to my stories.:) Stranger than fiction...

Kevin Wallace said...

@makesmesodigress.com: Stranger than fiction, indeed. That's okay, though - those details seem more interesting in your stories than they do in my life, anyway :).