Flashwriting addicts Neil Anthony (aka DrSpin) and Selena Jardine (aka Selena Jardine) were two of four judges in the Flash Fiction Contest organised so efficiently by Desdmona and Poison Ivan. With the contest now concluded, both offer five each of their own Flash fiction so that aggrieved non-winners can take post-contest comfort.
“Hah!” one such might say. “They call that Flash? With judges like that, no wonder I didn't win.”
This continues a fine tradition of blaming the umpire/referee when all else fails.
Neil Anthony (email@example.com) and Selena Jardine (firstname.lastname@example.org) accepted positions of judges happily, and enjoyed the experience. They are now prepared to accept the consequences, and cheerfully. All correspondence will be entertained.
They called her The Gecko because she was always flat against a wall.
“Maria,” I said with heavy disappointment when I found her at her usual post. No more accusations. We'd crossed that territory long ago.
She was leaning against a sun-baked wall, bare foot lifted and sole pressed flat against the concrete. She squinted at me in the glare of the early afternoon. “Hey, you,” she said.
Fifteen, she was, and only just. The United Nations paid me a wage ten times larger per month than her whole family's annual income, and for that I was supposed to get Maria to go to school. There were many Marias and my success rate was ludicrous — maybe one in twenty. Maybe.
The Gecko was special, though. She was as fiercely pretty as a small bird of prey, and just as quick and sharp. She did something to me, and this she knew with feral instinct.
“Hey, you,” she said cheerfully. “You I fuck for free.”
It was not the first time she'd offered. The temptation licked at me like cold fire.
“If you went to school,” I said, “you wouldn't have to fuck anybody. You're smart. You could get away from here.”
She looked at me with eyes too wise for a ghetto girl. “Go home to England,” she said, but good-naturedly. “You talk shit.”
I had the authority to physically take her to school, but there was no point. She'd just leave again.
“See you tomorrow, Maria,” I said, leaving.
But she already had her eyes on two blue-bereted UN soldiers from Greece who'd turned the corner. She'd suck their cocks for five American bucks the pair.
Economic assistance from the United Nations takes many forms.
He was twenty minutes late. Thirty, if you counted the ten minutes I spent waiting to be seated. I tapped my fingers, I twitched. I gave up smoking ten days ago. To distract myself, I passed the time eavesdropping, my usual cynical occupation.
There were two women seated near me, their heads nearly together, intense, intimate. One was dark and beautiful, nearly fifty, sleek Manhattan chic, the other younger, but rumpled and wan, and somehow disorganized.
“Listen,” said the dark woman. “I used to go to happy hour every day. Then my one happy hour stretched to two, then three. Then I found I was still happy at four in the morning and drinking during the day to stay happy. It just got to be... happy all the time.” She watched the other woman, wanting to be sure she understood.
The blonde nodded, understanding on cue. “No one,” she said, “can be happy all the time.”
I looked down at the tablecloth and thought back over the last six months with Derek. A date here and there, then every week. Then we fucked, and there was no going back. Blinding orgasms, whole-body flushes every time I saw him. Tied up, tied down, gagged, spanked, licked, swapped. Phone sex at work, then sex at work after hours, then sex at work while I was supposed to be at a client meeting. Fired, laughing hysterically down the street, clinging to Derek, his come trickling down my thigh, that sinking unemployed feeling drowned in a quickie in a bar.
The two women near me began chanting the Serenity Prayer. I rose and left the restaurant. Outside, I lit a cigarette and smiled at Derek arriving in his limo.
Those women, I thought to myself, don't know shit about happy all the time.
I pack shelves at the supermarket after 8pm because the rates are better. The extra money is sure handy — Mom's having her second mastectomy, Dad's still looking for a job after he was retrenched at the steel plant, and Sis really needs an oxygen tent for her asthma. Anyway, I like packing. There's great satisfaction in putting the goods in the right place for the customers.
“Can you help me find the dill pickles?” a voice behind me asks.
“Yes, ma'am,” I say, turning around. “Dill pickles, aisle five, on the left.” I stop, amazed. “Hey, aren't you . . .?”
She wrinkles her adorable nose. “Yeah, but even superstars need supermarkets, and I sure do need those dill pickles.”
Wow. Jennifer Love Hewitt in the flesh. She's totally gorgeous.
“You'd better get down from that ladder before you fall off,” she giggles. “I wouldn't want to be the cause of an injury to such a cute guy.”
Wow. Alyssa Milano thinks I'm cute? Me? I'm just your average high school student—6ft3in, with broad swimmer's shoulders, a tight butt, and a regulation 9in cock.
“I just don't meet any real guys any more,” she sighs. “In show business all the men are show ponies or gay. Without my collection of dildos I'd be in a sorry state.”
Wow. Is Jessica Alba really saying she's horny?
“I can't stay out late,” I tell her. “I have to collect Mom from the hospital first thing in the morning.”
Natalie Portman grins at me gratefully. “I'll pick you up outside.”
Sure enough, when I finish my shift at 10pm, there she is —Christina Ricci, standing beside her red Maserati 3200 GT. She flicks the keys at me. “Here,” she says. “You drive.”
Not telling the rest. But she's a really nice person.
Tilly had an awful fever almost all that month of August. Fever in Mississippi in August is no joke, and while my papa and the sharecroppers were out in the fields harvesting, my sister and I were taking care of Tilly. She glowed like a tiny coal in the bed, sweating through the sheets as often as we changed them.
There was another fever in the air that I didn't understand. My sister, dressed in white linen, looked out the window at the fields, at the sun in the sky. Just before noon, she had an idea. We would take Tilly to the creek, she said. Cool her off. Do her good.
We carried Tilly, burning like an ember, to the creek, and put her in the trickle of water. I looked around, squinting into the oven-hot breeze, to see my sister disappearing like a swan into the woods. Dared I leave Tilly? She was not moving. She had not moved much lately, patiently waiting to be cooler. I followed my sister.
There in the woods, I saw my sister, naked as a swan, linen dress on the ground beside her, astride the strong black thighs of one of our tenants, John Washington. Her eyes were squeezed shut, her hands planted like pale starfish on his chest. He was looking at her so intently that he did not see me. I ran.
Perhaps it was twenty minutes before John and my sister came out of the woods. John put a kindly hand on Tilly's head.
“That little girl, she burning up,” he said. It was all I ever did hear him say. My sister did not say a word.
It was 1956. How could I say what I had seen?
I am high up, seated astride the branch of a tree. Below, on a small patch of sand surrounded by tall, waving grass, a woman is stretched out, naked. Her hands and feet are pulled apart, tied to stakes. A man stands, fully clothed, beside her. Two more men stand on the other side of the naked woman, one wholly naked and the other naked from the waist down. The woman's soft pubic hair fascinates me. The fierce and ruddy erections of the two men horrify me.
That's all I can remember. Probably, I climbed down from the tree and went away. Possibly, I stayed and watched, and the memory did not take hold for one of many reasons. I was about five years old, maybe six.
I remember why I was there. It was a picnic at the place where we often went for picnics in those days, up on the dunes behind a beach that was so long you could not walk from one headland to the other. These days it's a suburb. The dunes and the tall grass are gone.
The man wearing the clothes was my father. He has long passed on.
I never knew the identity of the two men with the erections.
The woman staked out naked on the sand was my mother. Is my mother. I visited her only yesterday. She's frail, but well enough.
For some reason, as I sat and talked to her, the image of her staked out, her pubic hair black and lush, came to my mind. I didn't ask, of course, although there is little time left to ask things of her. As an adult, I understand the complexities of sexual behaviour. But I remain her son, and I cannot ask her about them.
I spotted her on the subway, on my way to lunch with my wife. She was about twelve years old, fresh as a morning rose, with those pink cheeks, that long brown hair, those coltish legs. She wore spectacles, which she kept pushing up as she stood reading a book. The car was crowded, and I looked around for her inevitable family. She appeared to be all alone. I stepped closer, inching my way through the press.
I could see now that she was wearing a plaid skirt that fell just above the knee. Her thighs were slender and pale gold. Just an undershirt under her blouse, but I could see the beginnings of breasts. As I watched, she lifted one foot and scratched her calf with the toe of her tennis shoe. Perfect grace.
I flicked my eyes away in case anyone was watching me watching her. The subway car rocketed on through the darkness.
When her foot came back down, I saw that something was wrong with her skirt. It was hiked up somehow in front. I made an involuntary face. It spoiled the picture. Perhaps it was caught on someone's umbrella, or a folded newspaper.
Then I saw her face.
Her eyes were wide and shocked, and her face was deeply flushed. The press of bodies around her was so tight that she could not move easily, and she still had her book in one hand. With the other, she scrabbled and beat at whatever was creasing her skirt and concealing her perfect thighs from my vision. She made no sound. Once, she gasped, and great tears stood in her eyes. Her book fell from her hand.
But I had to get off at the next stop. One mustn't be late for lunch.
She didn't disguise what she did. I'll concede her that much.
She brought home a young man from her office, introduced me offhandedly, and told me they'd be working late on urgent annual report papers. She took him upstairs to her workroom.
Two hours later, I knocked on the door. I tried the handle. The door was locked.
“George, go away,” she said, and there was something in her voice that dismissed and excluded me. It wasn't a figures-and-documents voice. Go away. Get lost. Leave us alone.
I went to bed at midnight, and they were still at it.
I had to get up early in the morning. It was barely light when I left. In bed beside me, she grumbled in her sleep as I disturbed her.
I got home early, just after five. The young man was sitting at the kitchen table, eating wolfishly. He smiled at me, fearless, smug.
“We'll be starting again in a moment,” my wife said. “You'll have to do for yourself.”
After two hours, I crept to the door and listened with my ear against it. I couldn't hear a sound.
In bed, I waited for her in the dark. I heard the young man leave in his car. She took a bath. It was after midnight.
She slid into bed and saw I was awake. “Don't ask,” she said. “If you ask, I'll tell you.”
There was something in her voice that suggested I wouldn't want to hear it.
“You look different,” I said. “You are different.” She'd never looked half as good.
“George, don't ask,” she said, upgrading the warning.
“All I want,” I said, “is what he gets.”
She rolled over and turned away from me. “Don't be disgusting,” she said. “I'm your wife.”
“Someone said to me once that adultery encompasses all the seven deadly sins,” he said.
I licked my lips and pressed back a little farther onto his cock, my breasts swaying in the late-afternoon light. “Tell me,” I said.
He closed his eyes. “It starts with Avarice, of course,” he said. “Coveting someone else's wife. And then Envy. You want her so badly that you think her husband's a fool. That's how you can convince yourself he doesn't deserve her.”
I began to rock back and forth, the long muscles of my thighs working, his hands on my breasts.
“Go on,” I said.
“Lust is next,” he said. “Lust all through it. Oh Jesus. There's nothing sexier than adultery. You can't think of anything else, just her body, her hands, her cunt. Oh, faster, please...” I moved faster, my eyes on his face.
“Pride,” he said, panting, beginning to thrust into me. “You're sneakily proud of getting away with it, think you're the — oh Christ, oh do that again — the cleverest man on earth. And then Sloth sets in, the inertia of the whole thing, and you don't know how to get out of it, even if you wanted to. So you call up Anger as a last resort. Oh. Oh God, oh God.”
And then he was off and gone, that indrawn look on his clean-cut face, holding my hips and coming and coming.
Afterward, I looked at him closely as he dressed. “That's only six,” I said. “What's the last one?”
“Gluttony,” he said. “I never did see how that one fit in.”
I thought about that until after he had left.
Next time we met, I was going to teach him to eat pussy if I had to tie him to the bed to do it.
She is greedy for attention, in the way of self-centred and insatiable adolescent girls, absorbing all she can get, no matter who or where it comes from. Her eyes search for it restlessly and constantly. Who's looking at me?
I am. I shouldn't, and God knows — doesn't He? — that I wish I wasn't.
Her eyes meet mine as, stopped at traffic lights, I look out the window of my car. She holds my gaze just long enough to vacuum up my interest, my admiration, my lust. All sucked up. Another dirty old man, but she'll take it. Her eyes move on, looking elsewhere.
It's terrifying that she knows about her power. She's only fractionally a woman, just over the borderline. How old is she? I don't know. Can't guess. It's too hard these days. They're so tall. She could be fifteen. By God, and God forgive me, she could be twelve.
Skin, hair, legs, and of all those, it's the hair. Gorgeous, tumbling, shining, healthy, free-spirited, spilling and spiralling strawberry blonde hair. By God, she's stunningly beautiful. There ought to be a law. There is.
Her school uniform skirt is hiked up unnaturally high. Underneath, the body will be flawlessly almost-developed, breasts not as big as they're going to be, pubic hair soft and shy, thighs long and smooth.
“Oh, for God's sake,” says my wife, disgustedly. “Grow up.”
She's not talking about the girl. She's talking about me.
The lights change and I drive away. I can't defend myself. Saying anything will only make it worse.
Sometimes when I look at something perfectly ordinary like my grocery list, I think of the whole population, all of us making grocery lists, forty thousand grocery lists at any one time reading BREAD and MILK and FRUIT. Makes me feel less alone. Forty thousand of us at any one time going into a Chinese restaurant or unwrapping a package of English muffins. Packages coming off the conveyor belt for us, thup thup thup, going into all the homes in America, all of us the same together. You've got to admit it's nice.
And all of us doing the same things, too, forty thousand of us at any one time reading or doing our laundry or seeing a game. The more the merrier, it makes you feel less alone. What if there were 48 pro ball teams? You could see a damn lot more games! People need people, what's nicer than people? Have ten sweet kids! Have twelve! I would tell my wife, imagine wires connected to all the beds, a big board with lights showing all the orgasms in America, little lights popping on either side of the Great Divide, pop pop popping to beat the band. All those little cries of pleasure.
So if there are forty thousand notes on the draining board in kitchens all over America on any given Saturday night, notes reading I CAN'T ANY MORE, DON'T LOOK FOR ME, I'M NOT COMING BACK, well, then, your own note is nothing special, no horrible heartbreak. More like a TV special, one you've seen before. You know this plot. You feel better already. It's a people thing. You've got to admit it's nice.