I’m not a writer of short stories, or flash fiction, whatever you want to call it, but Chuck Wendig from Terribleminds was running an interesting contest, so I decided to try it out. The challenge was to take a line specifically written to be the last line in a story, and use it as the first.
I’m still undecided if I really like to write in this style, but this first line stuck with me, so I decided to see what I could make of it.
“And then, being mindful not to spill my tea, I eased into the tartan embrace of Endolyn Muirden’s least offensive armchair, and settled back to watch him die.”
I don’t know if it was the tea or tartan reference, but I knew I found something poetic about it. Anyhow, here is my first official “Flash Fiction” piece. I know there are tense issues (among other things for picky editors, I’m sure), please just ignore/forgive.
And then, being mindful not to spill my tea, I eased into the tartan embrace of Endolyn Muirden’s least offensive armchair, and settled back to watch him die. This is my kind of viewing, the smell of tea slowly wafting up from my cup, sitting in an armchair with supportive but soft arms on which to clutch when the moment comes, and the freedom to determine when that arm-chair clutching moment shall be.
I’m a believer in the up close and personal. We watch the horror of a fluid covered screaming child being born, with delight – how much more should we treat the beauty of death with fanfare. Celebrate an ending.
That’s why this job suits me. I like to watch life right up to its last minute.
I don’t come to the homes of those who are making effort to be rehabilitated, or have a useful skill even if they’ve got a mind broken worse than mine. This prison-in-your-own-home program aims to fix the problems of the American penal system – overcrowding, gang violence, lack of services, education, money, and therapies. I am only sent in when a client has been evaluated as Futile.
To the Budget department, this means he’s a money drain. To the Skills department, it means if he’s either failed too many courses, or he hasn’t made any wares. To the Education department, it means there’s nothing left the shrinks can learn from his broken psyche. To the Rehabilitation department, it means people are plain tired of visiting him. Okay, that’s just my guess, but these “life-sentences-unless” types are probably more boring than me. By the time the file comes to me, all that’s not blacked out is a name, address, and the pre-program profile of the client
This Futile is named Thomas. His house is rather normal. Not meticulous, like mine, or with weird little knick-knacks strewn around like some others who haven’t handled the aloneness so well. He’s an unusual type, this one. Normally by the time I’ve arrived, they’ve been given a couple days notice and are in full out panic/escape mode. Thomas just shook my hand, and asked me to take off my shoes. He invited me to the kitchen, and served up tea and jellies. I took a polite sip, then continued my set up. He followed me to the living room, where I pulled a couple of chairs together by the window. He sat in one, and started storytelling.
Life stories are frequent in my job, and that’s why I’m placed here. People who have failed the Rehabilitation test and Education test, go through one more step. If their shrink determines their level of empathy to be nil, they go through a program to determine if they have feelings pity, compassion, or anger at the story-telling or experience of others. In other words, if you’re a sociopath, but can learn how to do stuff, we might have a job for you, but you have to listen to all these really boring stories. There’s only three of us, former clients, now Closers, who’ve made the cut and know the rules: Accomplish the task, and we don’t care who you are – as long as whoever that is, is only exposed to the clients who will not live long enough to speak of it.
Thomas didn’t talk like the rest- saying what they’ve done, how they’re sorry or how they’re not, and who makes these decisions anyway…he told me about her. Endolyn Muirden. And how all the furniture came from her shop. She was a dark haired, bun-wearing, pawnstore owner, with a face nobody would notice. He speaks of friendship, not love or lust, of normalcy, not horror or violence, and once I finished setting up I stood waiting for him to finish. He tells me she recovered most of the furniture in his house, they are the only thing he has left from his previous life. I sensed his desire for me to figure something out, to take something away from this little event.
I’m not paid to listen, take notes, or get a special sort of knowledge from them. In order to be accepted to the program, they have to have confessed already. I’m here to be mostly humane, and to complete the task.
At this point, I’m back to the start of this little essay, sitting in her chair, as I’ve been made to understand. I don’t get his anger, but I do understand that this is his eulogy to their friendship. His remorse is not for the crime committed, but for the person who he lost. Not because he killed her, or left her…he just lost track of her. He asks if I’ve ever lost track of anyone, who’s presence was not missed until later. I don’t care for other people, so I am honest when I say no.
He used to frequent her store, looking for army knives or defunct grenades. Then he was arrested, and “acquitted” to the program. After being alienated by anyone who knew him, this acquaintance friendship, was all he had. When the Education department emptied his house of everything of his old life, he decided to refill it with things from her store.
I can feel the crux of the story coming, and that this chair holds some special significance. I test the arms, and lean in a little closer to him. He thinks I’m interested. And I am, just not in the story – but in his reaction.
I surprise him with the swiftness of syringe, and wait for it to register in his eyes. He gasps but holds my gaze, my pulse quickens and my hands automatically start squeezing the armchair, as we both realize how the moment is finally here.