Richard Pearse: Every morning his desk pulls him out of bed and demands that he explain himself, briefly but completely. He tries. His poems, stories, and flash fiction have appeared in over thirty magazines, including The Paris Review, New York Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, North American Review, Fiction, Iowa Review, Quick Fiction, and the Same, and anthologized in Sudden Stories. Private Drives: Selected Poems was published by Rattapallax. .

A Flash Fiction

By Richard Pearse

 

My neighbor Eric lends me his cat carrier so I can take Delilah to the vet to have her put down. She’s nineteen and keeps stumbling; everybody tells me it’s time. Only, it’s nineteen years of my life with her. Longer than with anybody.

As Eric stands by my car door, he says “Hey Julia, how ‘bout dinner tonight? Seeing as how we’re both flying solo.” He chuckles. It’s half a joke. His wife Samantha has gone off to an eight-day conference, while Steve left me in November and headed to Key West, where he tells me how great it is being the only straight guy. Steve likes to half-joke too.

I remember this one-liner: some dummy says “Look—the ocean comes right up to the shore!” Only the night before last in my dream it didn’t. I’m walking along the beach and where the waves should meet the dry sand, there’s this black chasm spreading. It’s a sheer divide: no sand, no water. I can’t see any bottom to it. I keep backing away, but it’s widening too fast. I wake up suddenly, my heart pounding.

Before dinner Eric lifts his glass to mine and says “Here’s to our abandonment!” We’re having gin and tonics at Pearl’s. It’s a more expensive restaurant than I thought he would have suggested. I want to tell him what’s worse than being abandoned: my husband feels he has to call me every week to ask if I’m okay. I lift my glass to Eric’s; why not?

He takes a quick sip and sighs and says what a valued friend I am and how attractive he finds me. I ask him how Samantha’s doing at her conference. He shrugs. “Oh, no worries about Samantha. She’s conquering. Mightily.” He takes a longer sip and says “If you’d like to come over tonight, I’d be highly honored.” He wants to highly honor me in bed. Men can’t stand being alone. Nor being too close. Nor anything in between.

I tell him I’m tired, and he nods, putting on a deep-sympathy frown. But it’s true; I am tired from teaching. Okay, Eric would be all right in bed, probably. He’s a little soft and jowly but really not bad-looking.

They’re taking their time bringing dinner and I’m hungry. He holds up two fingers for more gin and tonics. I don’t drink much, but it’ll feel good, this second one, and there’ll be wine with dinner. I’ll wait till we’re finished, then I’ll probably say yes. Not for tonight; it’s Wednesday. Friday would be nicer, after my week teaching. How awkward would it be, suggesting we defer? And then how to induce him not to say something like “Hey! Good Friday!” Some women know how to suggest these things and still not get the man annoyed. Channel all their restlessness and half-joking into some more suitable way. I envy them.