Thomas Elson: Flash Fiction: May 2021

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I see a funeral, a widow, her daughter, and her son telling her what uncle did to …

Bunched Together

I want you to consider for a moment –
You walk into the Trident Health Center’s specialty clinic and smell sugar from the cakes and cookies, which, for a moment, overrides the jumbled aroma from the eighteen staff members seated in a circle inside the small conference room.
The specialty clinic’s staff sit together on the left side of the circle – all smiles and camaraderie. The director of the clinic flits around as if this were the first baby shower she’s hosted. On your right side are a few staff members from the main clinic down the street – all bunched together as if under duress. They scoot so close if one inhales the entire bunch tilts. You suppress a smile when, in seeming synchronicity, they cross arms, attempt to cross legs, but, unable to lift thigh over thigh, their calves slide past knees and down shins and you hear a chorus of feet plop onto the floor.
As you approach the circle, Naomi, the guest of honor, stands, glides forward, kisses your cheek. You return her kiss, place the baby shower gift on the table, and nod at the folks bunched-together on your right – most of whom you hired or promoted. Their eyebrows furrow. None smile back.
The guests talk, eat from brightly colored plates, dab their lips with matching napkins while attempting to control everything on their laps. Naomi methodically unwraps the gifts then passes them around amid gushing comments. When she opens your gift – a beige hand-knitted one-piece – someone from the bunched-together staff says loud enough for all to hear, “I’ll bet his wife picked that out.”
For some reason you feel compelled to say, “No, I got it myself.” Then you add, “A few days ago.”
To which Naomi replies, “I would have expected no less.”
After the shower you talk with Naomi about her time on the police force and her wife’s health. In typical candor she tells you, “It’s been difficult to get my wife pregnant while I’m undergoing estrogen therapy for my change. And we wanted our baby before then.”
Your phone rings. The screen shows your daughter’s name. “Hi, Little Bear,” you answer using the name you have called her since her diaper days. “Well, this isn’t the little bear. It’s the momma bear.” The voice of your ex-wife. It’s only the second time she’s called you in fifteen years, and she used your daughter’s phone.
Minutes later, the telephone back in your pocket, Naomi asks, “Are you okay?”
Instinctively you place your head on her right shoulder, and, as she pats your back, you say, “My ex-wife.”
She whispers, “I have one of those too.”
The next day when you walk into your office, two of yesterday’s bunched-together staff members have plunked themselves into your side chairs, arms crossed like displeased matrons.
“What’s up?”
“We don’t like it that you kissed him yesterday.”
I want you to consider for a moment how you would respond.

Your Paper Bag

Even in your condition you know a few things:
One: You are never getting out.
Two: You cannot remember why you’re here.
Three: You always walk with your left shoulder against the wall.
Four: Whenever you hear the screams, your protector yells at you.
Five: You were told to put all your belongings in a paper bag and wait by the door.

You stand with your left shoulder pressed against the reinforced wall near the heavy steel door. In your right hand is the paper bag neatly folded at the top.
“Why? Why?”
You’ve heard that scream and those words for weeks, but never once have you seen who cries out.
You walk over to the round table where the short, fat man wearing a dew rag sits – the man who helps you wherever you hear those screams. But, today, he won’t look at you. His eyes intent on something on the table. You tap his shoulder. He doesn’t move. You walk to his other side vaguely aware your right foot is dragging. Still no response.
Back by the door with your left shoulder to the wall, you look down. You are unable to release the clench of your fist.
“Why? Why?”
You see light through the door. A warmth, then strong hands on your shoulders guide you outside. The sun’s too bright.
Now, back in the darkness with your left shoulder against a cinder block wall near vertical bars you know a few more things:
One: Your paper bag is gone.
Two: You still hear the screams.


He likes this warm feeling. Not so much their extended evening, nor the release, not even his sitting in the passenger seat next to the six-foot blond in the mini skirt driving her green Jag, nor even the rising sun.
What he really likes is leaving her and getting into his own car parked under his re-election campaign billboard in the parking lot of the book store where his father had taken him at the age of twelve which is one block down from the church where he brought his wife a year earlier, and that warm feeling of continuity.