#1MinFiction: Stuck in the Drain

Jesse told Robert not to touch the kitchen light switch. Not until she could figure out which one controlled the garbage disposal. Not until she could snatch her fist out of the drain after she stupidly shoved it down there trying to catch a chicken bone. Crazy kids couldn’t just throw it away. When had they ever seen her wash a paper plate?

—Nortina


For a new flash fiction challenge: Monday’s One-Minute Fictionwrite a story in one minute, no more, no less, based on the prompt provided. This week’s prompt hints at a lesson to be learned: Don’t touch. Click the link to join in!

Breastfeeding Mannequins

The mannequins at Macy’s are often naked. I’ve complained to a manager twice. Display clothes that actually fit or buy bigger mannequins. No woman is that size anyway.

Harold’s mother gives me money for formula. She doesn’t agree with our plan to wean Ryan after six months, but he’s already teething, and he bites.

The formula’s on sale, so I have extra money to stop by Macy’s and try on jeans I know won’t button. The baby weight hugs my hips; I’ve gained more since giving birth.

While checking the price tag on a pair of Kim Rogers, I notice Ryan leaning over his stroller. He’s sucking on the nipple of a bare-breasted mannequin half my dress size.

He’s just like his father, I can hear my mother-in-law saying, but I’m sure you know that already.

Forgetful Fred

We sat silently in our circle for several minutes, the only noise being the steady creak from the rocking chair as it teetered under the nurse’s shifting weight.

Grandma plucked at a string dangling from the hem of her dress, stalling while she gathered the details of her next story in her head. Had she run out of material? It had to be hard keeping up with twenty-six men—all who had apparently died their own unique deaths.

Where did the stories come from? I tried to remember the years of my childhood when I’d come to her and Pawpaw’s house after school to do my homework while she watched her soap operas. Many of those characters died mysteriously; crashed off cliffs on motorcycles, shot by evil twin siblings, cursed by witches to other dimensions, buried alive. I searched my memory for scenes reminiscent of Andrew, Burt, Carl, Deek, or Elliot’s deaths. Was there a winded jazz musician on All My Children? Maybe an inattentive mechanic on One Life to Live? General Hospital was sure to have had a patient with bulimia checked into a room. No soap opera was without at least one emotionally unstable character, contemplating suicide, but nothing rang a bell. The fork in the outlet trick—I’ve seen that done on America’s Funniest Home Videos, or World’s Dumbest. A silly prank gone horribly wrong, but no one was seriously hurt, right? They wouldn’t show that on TV, would they?

Finally the woman with the eight-year-old hair style spoke. “I don’t remember that at all.”

“What don’t you remember, Tammy?” Grandma asked.

“Any of it. You never married a man named Elliot.”

I surprised myself at how quickly I laughed. Elliot was probably the most believable of all her husbands, if not for the simple fact that his story was so similar to Pawpaw’s.

“It’s just, well, I’ve been listening to you talk about your husbands for years, and I’ve never heard you mention the name Elliot.”

“That dementia’s catching up with you, Tammy,” Thomas said with a smirk.

“Don’t you call me old.” She bit down on her lip and turned away, as if embarrassed to have said anything at all. I wanted to back her up, assure her that her memory was still in tact, but the truth was Grandma had mentioned Elliot, at least enough times for the nurse to remember him—so much so that her enthusiasm to hear it again helped to drive the story since Grandma was also getting slow in her memory. Even as she recited the deaths of her husbands, she took frequent breaks, either to sip water from a glass, swat at invisible flies, speak to nurses, visitors, or other seniors walking by. Then we would have to remind her of the place in the story where she’d left off and wait again while she collected her thoughts to continue.

Age was catching up with all of them, and they fought it ferociously, knowing that if they were to lose their memory, there would be nothing else to live for.

“I married a man with Alzheimer’s once,” Grandma spoke. She was back on focus, using Tammy’s forgetfulness as the base for her next tale. “Right after Elliot.”

“How old was he?” I asked. Grandma couldn’t have been no older than eighteen at the time. That young, what husband would she find suffering from an old man’s disease?

“Well if he was dealing with Alzheimer’s, he was pretty old, Meg,” Grandma said condescendingly. “You gotta remember, by this time, no man my age wanted anything to do with me. Fred didn’t care ’cause he was so close to dying anyway.”

“Did y’all  . . . ” the nurse raised one eyebrow, ” . . . do it?”

“You ain’t married if you don’t.” Grandma said.

“Oh god, Grandma, too much information!” Bile rose up at the back of my throat, and I swallowed down hard, feeling the heat and tasting the acid on my tongue. I wanted to gag, but I covered my mouth and held my breath as my stomach settled. We didn’t need another reminder of Burt. The linoleum tiles under the wet floor sign were still a faint pink hue from the other nurse’s haphazard cleaning. Looking at it made me sick all over again, so I turned to Winifred, who had quietly camouflaged herself into the purple couch once again.

“It wasn’t that bad,” Grandma was saying. “It was quick, but when you get to be Fred’s age, you’re lucky to have the stamina to be doing it at all. Gotta take what you can get.”

“I was fucking Mildred all the way up until she died,” Thomas declared proudly. He stood with his knees apart and thrust his hips forward, insinuating his wife bent over in front of him.

“Sit down. Keep it in your pants.” Grandma pushed him away from her. “Nobody wants to see that shriveled up old thing!”

“Careful now.” Thomas turned to me and smirked. “I might become your next granddaddy.”

“Oh, hush up! I’d marry Marcos before I’d ever think about touching you,” Grandma said.

“Yeeeeeaaaah!” Marcos upper lip curled under itself as he grinned from ear to ear, his mouth the shape of a cantaloupe slice, and we all burst into laughter.

“Whatever happened to Fred?” Tammy asked amidst everyone’s cackles and howls.

“Damn, Tammy, you don’t remember Fred, either?” Thomas thumped his temple. “Glad to know I still got my brains.”

Ignoring him, Grandma leaned across his lap to talk to Tammy.

“Careful, there’s a snake in there.” Thomas put his hands behind his head and reclined in his chair.

Grandma only rolled her eyes. I suspected she might have secretly enjoyed his teasing.

“I don’t know what ever became of Fred. He told me one day he was going to the store for milk. He hated it when I did stuff for him. He said it made him feel like an invalid.” Grandma paused. “You know, it was actually my birthday that day.” She closed her eyes, counting silently to herself, then shook her head as if confirming the date. “Yep, and dammit, he was gonna make me some blueberry pancakes, even if it meant walking to the store to buy the ingredients,” she said giggling, mimicking how Fred might have spoken. “I never saw him again.”

“The whole, ‘I’m gonna buy some milk’ ploy,” I said sarcastically.

“Say what you want.” Grandma pushed herself off of Thomas’ knees. “I know for a fact he was telling the truth.” She wagged her finger in my face. “He just forgot who he was on the way.”

© 2016 Nortina Simmons


A to Z Challenge theme: 26 Husbands–26 Unusual Deaths

Read next: “G” is for Ghostly Gaston.

Electrocuted Elliot

Marcos returned wearing a new pair of starched khaki pants and the slippers to match. The nurse rolled him into the space between me and Frank and set the anchor to keep the wheelchair in place.

“There you go,” she said. “Nice and clean.”

“Yeeeeeaaaah!” Marcos said.

Then the nurse walked over to Frank and turned his chair to face us, making our circle complete.

“I was fine the way I was,” he said. His voice was deep and hoarse, as if something was caught in his throat and he couldn’t clear it out.

“You don’t want to hear Mrs. Millie’s stories about her husbands?” the nurse asked.

“I’ve heard these stories at least a million times.”

“But you keep coming back, hmm.” Grandma tapped her chin with her finger. “Must be something you like.”

E

“My favorite is Elliot,” the nurse said. “He was such a clown!”

“Well come have a seat, baby.” Grandma slapped her palm down on the seat of the rocking chair. “Let me tell you about him.”

The nurse side-stepped by Frank, tip-toed around the puddle of water—which had since dried to a sticky consistency that crunched underfoot—and flopped into the rocking chair.

“I met Elliot in the supermarket,” Grandma started. “I stood behind him at the checkout. The line was really long that day for some reason. Maybe one of the cashiers didn’t come to work. Or maybe the whole neighborhood decided to go grocery shopping at the same time. We waited in that line for hours, it seemed like. The woman in front of Elliot must’ve had a litter of kids back home, all that food in her cart.

“The whole time we waited in line, Elliot would look back at me and smile. I knew he wasn’t from around here. Most men would take one look at me and run in the other direction. Four dead husbands in two years. Nobody’s luck was that bad.”

“Tell ’em about the quarter trick,” the nurse said.

Grandma nodded. “When the cashier finally got to ringing up his food, he realized he was twenty-five cents short. He patted down his shirt and pants pockets and checked his wallet again. Nothing. Then he looked at me. I thought he was gonna ask me to borrow some money, but he felt behind my ear instead and found the quarter. ‘What do ya know. And this whole time I thought you’d stolen my heart,’ he said. The kids today would probably say his pickup line was lame, but after Deek, I really needed something that would make me smile.”

I twisted my mouth. She had to be lying. I couldn’t count the number of times Pawpaw had played that same trick on me when I was little, so much so that I expected it whenever I came to visit. “Get the quarters outta my ear! Get the quarters outta my ear, Pawpaw!” I’d shout. He’d smack my ear with his massive hand, and the change would tumble out on the other side into his palm. My ears rang for days after with the sound of clinking silver. To this day, I still don’t know how he did it.

“My grandpa did that to me all the time,” the nurse said proudly.

“Whose hasn’t? I’m pretty sure that’s how Pawpaw proposed to you, isn’t it?” I said. He’d asked Grandma to marry him on her birthday, and every year, he recounted the story. Originally from the coast, Pawpaw took her back to his hometown of Kure Beach for a picnic. Unfortunately, it was mid-October and all the fishermen were out. The pier was crowded and reeked of dead and gutted fished, and all along the beach, fishing lines extended out into the ocean from poles planted in the sand, just past where high tide had ended. With the smell of raw fish filling her nose on the wind, Grandma lost her appetite, and to save the afternoon from total ruin, Pawpaw thumped her earlobe and drew back his hand, spinning the ring around the tip of his finger.

“Nothing your Pawpaw did was original,” Grandma said.

“Well you blushed every time he told us the story.”

“I didn’t say he never swept me off my feet.” Grandma shook her head. “But everything he did he got from Elliot.”

“He knew about him?” I asked.

“He knew about all of my husbands before him. They weren’t a secret.”

Why had he never said anything, I thought. If any of this was true, at some point, Pawpaw would’ve mentioned it. He was a jokester, and Grandma was always the butt of his jokes. I could only imagine how often Pawpaw would’ve brought up something about his twenty-five predecessors, predicting how his inevitable demise would befall him. How would it happen? By cinder block or school bus? He would’ve bantered Grandma endlessly, calling her cursed. I could hear him now—no man would ever live to tell the tale of being married to Millie Jones. He wouldn’t have missed the opportunity to tease Grandma about Burt, or even Andrew. How does one choke on a saxophone mouthpiece anyway? How could one hundred people in the audience sit there and watch it happen? Did they think it was part of the show?

If only Pawpaw were alive today for me to ask him. But anyone capable of refuting Grandma’s stories was long dead.

“The quarters behind my ear, the whoopee cushions in my chair, the bloody fingers in my cup, the floating Jack-o-lanterns at Halloween. All of these were Elliot’s pranks,” Grandma said. “Your Paw just took them and made ’em his own.”

So Elliot was the reason I had nightmares about conjured severed body parts, why I wet the bed for two weeks straight when I was ten. Pawpaw had squirted ketchup into a Styrofoam cup and stuck his middle finger through the bottom. He’d covered it with a lid and called me over to show me something he claimed to have found in his backyard. When I looked inside, I saw a finger, detached from its hand, wiggling around in a pool of blood. I ran out of the kitchen screaming at the top of my lungs, locked myself in my bedroom and wouldn’t come out until he and Grandma had gone home.

“Good thing he never tried the fork in the socket trick.” Grandma sighed. “That’s what did Elliot in.”

“Didn’t he know he would get electrocuted?” the nurse asked.

“Well, yea, if the light switch was on. That was his plan. He’d turn it off and pretend to get electrocuted to scare me.”

“So how’d it get turned on?”

“I might’ve . . .” Grandma shrugged her shoulders. “I’d just bought a new lamp that day. I wanted to see how it looked in the living room.”

“You killed that man, humph,” Frank groaned.

“If I’m being honest,” Grandma said, and I chuckled at the hypocrisy of her statement, “I was a little relieved not to have to walk on egg shells anymore.” She turned to Frank. “I was ’bout sick of all his dang pranks.”

© 2016 Nortina Simmons


A to Z Challenge theme: 26 Husbands–26 Unusual Deaths

Read next: “F” is for Forgetful Fred.

Black Widow

“She’s talking about her six dead husbands again,” the front desk nurse said as I signed my name into the visitor’s log of Cedar Retirement Home.

At seventy years old and in the best shape of her life, Grandma could easily pass for fifty-five. However, with my busy Flight Attendant’s schedule, she was often lonely. So I checked her into an assistant living facility where she would always have an audience.

While the other residents were much too far gone to understand, she enjoyed their company—the wanderers in colorful fuzzy socks whose minds permanently resided in the early 1900s, the stroke victims whose numb left sides left them with the ability to utter only a few words (they were the best listeners).

Grandma sat in an armchair nearest the entrance door. Four other seniors huddled around her.

“…the hood slammed right on his head!” Grandma was saying.

“Husband number three.” I turned to the nurse. “He died fixing the engine on his truck.”

“Your grandma sure has the worst luck!” she said.

word count: 173

—Nortina


rattletrap-963641_960_720Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers is a weekly challenge where you write a story in 75-175 using the provided photo prompt as inspiration. Click the froggy icon to read other stories inspired by the photo and add your own.

Feminists in the Snow

“Do you wanna build a snowman?” Georgina sang, knocking softly on her sister’s bedroom door.

“I curse the Christmas Mama bought you that stupid movie!” Regina’s muffled voice answered.

“It’s only the best movie ever!”

“I can think of ten movies that are way better.”

“Name ’em!”

The door suddenly swung open, and Georgina fell forward, meeting her chin with Regina’s big toe. Regina kicked up her foot and hobbled backward to her bed. “I swear you have the hardest head of the human race!” she said, caressing her toe.

“C’mon.” Georgina jumped in place. “I already measured six inches. That’s enough, right?” She pulled a plastic ruler from her polka dot rubber boot. The snow had since melted and all that remained on the bottom half of the ruler were droplets of water.

“You know, for that movie to be all about girl power, why is it that they still build a snowman?” Regina scratch her chin. She raised one eyebrow and smirked towards the ceiling as the idea reigned down on her head like a dusting of snow. “Why not a snow woman?”

“But how would we make it look like a girl?”

Regina threw on her boots and coat. “Mama still asleep?” she asked over her shoulder as she searched her drawer for her gloves buried under socks missing their other halves.

“Yea, why?”

“Where’s that ugly wig she’s always wearing?” She stuffed her hands into the wool gloves, turned and pushed the drawer closed with her hip.

“It’s on the knob in the shower. She washed it last night.”

“Good we’ll put the wig on it.”

“On the snowman?”

Regina bent down and put both hands on her sisters shoulders. “Snow woman.”

“Ahh!” Georgina said, mouth agape. “And we’ll name her Olfina!” Georgina gave Regina a wide, obnoxious wink.

“Sure, whatever. Go get the wig. I’ll meet you outside.” Georgina dashed for the bathroom. When she disappeared around the corner, Regina mumbled under her breath, “Still a stupid movie.”

—Nortina

Day 17 of 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans

Snowball Cider

Snowflakes trickle down window pane.
She twists bulbs tightly,
lights up tree in green, red and blue,
breaks apart earth and sky blanketed
in white. She sips hot apple cider
from mug, steps onto porch,
watches him shovel the walkway.
Ice cold ball of cotton hurls for her head,
disintegrates into powdered water droplets
when met with mug. Return fire not as friendly,
metal shovel shatters porcelain—
scalding cider splashes skin.

—Nortina

Day 16 of 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans

Criminal Santa (Part 3 of 3)

The Wal-Mart parking lot was empty save for a few cars. Santa pulled into the handicap space closest to the door. He turned off the engine and leaned over the armrest.

“I don’t imagine I’ll be able to convince you to leave that gun of yours in the glove compartment, huh?” he whispered.

“Not a chance,” Frankie said.

“You see, the thing is, carrying a gun on public property is sort of against the law. Add you being a kid on top of that and I’m sure to go to jail.”

“Breaking and entering is against the law too, Santa.”

He sucked his teeth. “Touché.”

“C’mon. Let’s make this quick.” Frankie opened the door and jumped from the front seat. He pulled his sweater down past his knees to conceal the revolver tucked in his back pocket.

Santa put his hand on Frankie’s shoulder and guided him through the sliding door. His grip tightened when he saw the security guard, and he pulled the strings on his hoodie to further obscure his face.

“Buying a last minute Christmas gift for Junior here,” he said quickly as they passed.

“And he’s with you?” The security guard frowned. Santa’s eyes immediately went to the gun at his side.

“I’m making sure he gets the right one,” Frankie said, then turning to Santa, “He gets it wrong every year.”

Santa forced himself to smile.

“Ha! I’ve been there with my kid myself.” The security guard laughed. “Store closes in ten minutes.”

They went straight for the electronics section. “Please, please, please,” Santa begged under his breath. They turned the corner, and Frankie dashed for the green and white boxes on the shelf.

“You’re in luck, Santa. Now where’s my game?”

“Is it not enough that you got the Xbox?”

“What am I supposed to do with it if I don’t got a game to play on it? You promised me Grand Theft Auto. I want my monster truck!”

One of the store attendants approached them, hands folded in front of his belt, and with a wide grin, he said, “Happy Holidays! Is there anything I can help you with tonight?”

Santa looked over his shoulder as if about to tell a secret. “Hey, uh…” he glanced down at the man’s name tag. “Brian. You don’t by chance have GTA, do you?”

“Uh, sure, but..” Brian hesitated. “Don’t you think that game’s kind of old for him?”

“I’m eight and a half!” Frankie said stomping his foot.

“Shhh, pipe down,” Santa said then turned to Brian. “Look, man, you don’t want to be the reason this little kid’s Christmas gets ruined. It’s not like he’s buying it, right?”

“I guess.” Brian looked down at Frankie, who wiggled in his ninja turtle slippers, struggling to hold the heavy box above his knees. “I’ll take that,” Brian said, relieving Frankie of his burden. “Follow me. The games are this way.”

At the register, Santa laid five credit cards on the counter. “One of them’s bound to work,” he said as the computer beeped, and “Declined” flash across the screen each time he swiped a card.

Frankie held his hands behind his back, whistled toward the ceiling as he waited.

“Don’t mock me, kid.”

“I just hope you can pay for it.” He pointed his fingers to Santa as if they were a pistol, then flicked them back as if firing. “Or else.”

On the last card, Santa pulled back his hood, revealing hair, the same rusted yellow color as his beard, tied into a low pony tail. Beads of sweat formed at his hairline. He slowly slid the card across the reader, drummed his fingers. He breathed a sigh of relief when the receipt printer came to life. Brian yanked the paper from the machine and put it in the bag with the Xbox and game. “Enjoy,” he said as he handed it to Santa.

***

As Santa slowed to a stop back in front of Frankie’s house, Frankie removed the gun from his back pocket and placed it in his lap.

“You know, I didn’t come here to buy you an Xbox,” Santa said.

“I know,” Frankie said.

“You won’t tell your folks about me, will you?”

“I think it’ll be more fun to watch them guess how I got it.” Suddenly he took the gun in his hand and pressed it against Santa’s temple. “But next time, you better knock. We got a lot of burglaries in this neighborhood.” Santa shook his head, held onto the steering wheel until his knuckles turned white.

“Ho, ho, ho!” Frankie winked and jumped out of the truck.

  —Nortina

Part One
Part Two

Day 13 of 31 Days of Holiday Hooligans