Category Archives: Flash Prose

Gus

I feel a wet nose on my hand as I wait in line to board the bus, and I look down to see that it’s attached to a young yellow lab. His bright eyes peer up at me, almost glittering against his bright golden fur. My first instinct is to reach out and pet it, at least until I notice the working dog harness that’s attached to it. The woman holding the other end of the harness pulls the dog back as he stretches to sniff my treat pouch belt.

“Gus, lay down,” she commands him. He persists in sniffing my treats, and she pulls him again. “Gus.”

He reluctantly lays down on the ground, careful to stay right next to her legs. He can’t be more than two years old, and I find myself impressed by his behavior. “I’m sorry,” I tell the woman, fingering my treat pouch. “I just came from walking dogs, and he smelled my treat pouch full of Chewy Louies. I’ll put them in my bag.”

Her laugh is surprisingly high for an older woman, and I smile as she turns towards me, even though she can’t see it. “It’s okay, he works for treats. You can give him one if you have an extra.” To the dog, she adds, “Gus, up!”

Gus stands up immediately, his four paws squared and his tail curved upward; his ears are perked for the next command. I bend down slightly and feed him the treat, and I swear he smiles a little as he devours it. His tail wags only slightly, as the urge to be excited loses out to his drive to work for his owner.

“What a good dog,” I say.

The bus pulls up. “What number is it?” Her hand tightens on the harness.

I look out the window, playing her eyes. “The 166. Which bus do you need?”

“Oh, any of these.” There are four buses that go down our street, and they all stop at this same part of the bus terminal.

People start to move, and Gus goes to work, leading her out to the bus. The people in front of them let the door slam back, and I reach around them quickly to stop it from ramming into Gus. He takes the first step on to the bus and then the second, seeming to know precisely where he’s supposed to go. I wonder how often they make this trip as I offer the woman my hand as she takes the first step, as Gus waits for her to move, step by step. We sit next to each other in the front seat, my favorite spot. Gus lays down between the woman’s legs, his nose on his paws, sniffing the half wall in front of our seat.

“What a good dog,” I say again.

“My old guide dog passed away last month. I’m still breaking this one in. But I trust him, and I know he’ll take care of me.” She reaches down to pat Gus on the head.

Oh, to have that, I think. Oh, to have that.

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Seventh Grade, Continued

Jason was a five foot walking terror with black hair and Gap clothing. Quiet, unassuming, non-brand name clothing wearing, stringy hair me made the perfect victim.

We were in the seventh grade hallway—I had just come from getting my food in the cafeteria and was on my way to lunch in my Language Arts teacher’s classroom; we were reading Hatchet in class that month and I wanted to get ahead. Jason was coming from our math classroom, having been forced to stay after class to pay penance for an inappropriate comment to the teacher.

“Hey, lice-head,” he called as he came towards me.

I had tried to pass off my fourth grade lice incident as an allergic reaction to a new shampoo, but my classmates couldn’t let it go. The nickname followed me out of elementary school and right on up to junior high.

Jason moved so that he was right in front of me. “Why don’t you ever wash your hair?”

I did wash my hair. But it didn’t matter what I said. I clutched my lunch tray closer to my chest. The hallway was completely empty. No one was coming to save me.

“Why don’t you answer me?”

I shook my head. “I wash it every other day.”

“Maybe if you washed it more, you wouldn’t have lice head,” he retorted.

“That was in fourth grade.”

Jason looked me up and down. I had nightmarish visions of him hitting the bottom of my lunch tray and sending my food flying everywhere, a la some TGIF show. I took a step backwards as he fluffed his hair.

“You know how you could have nice hair? Like mine?”

I didn’t answer.

The bottle came out of nowhere—a tiny white Paul Mitchell salon sample bottle. Jason opened the cap and squeezed the shampoo all over my head. I froze as the liquid oozed down my head, onto my shoulders, my backpack, my lunch tray. My lip trembled, but I refused to let him see me cry. Jason dropped the bottle onto my lunch tray and sauntered past me towards the cafeteria. I threw my food away and spent the next ten minutes scrubbing shampoo from my hair and clothes. The shampoo burned my eyes as I tried to shove my head under the short sink. I cried, unsure if it was from the burning or the anger.

When I arrived in the Language Arts classroom, fifteen minutes later to my lunch spot than normal, the teacher asked me why I was soaking wet. I buried my face in my book instead of answering, because an answer would only bring bullying worse than a shampoo bath. Ironically, one of the first lines of Hatchet I read that day was: “He did not know how long it took, but later he looked back on this time of crying in the corner of the dark cave and thought of it as when he learned the most important rule of survival, which was that feeling sorry for yourself didn’t work.”

I smiled, tied my wet hair back with a pencil, and leaned back to finish my book.

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On Speaking Spanish in a Spanish Land

I don’t speak Spanish.

Never has this fact been more clear to me than when I moved to my current neighborhood. I was buying groceries the other day, and as I loaded my things on the belt, the cashier started speaking to me in Spanish.

“Hola! Como estás?” she asked.

“Um…bien,” I replied hesitantly.

This opened up a can of worms. Or rather, a can of rapid fire Spanish. I froze.

I flashed back to a conversation I had in the hallway of my undergrad university almost two years before. I was taking eight weeks of concentrated Spanish because the university had mandated I review from the four years I had taken the language in high school. I was angry about it at the time; I didn’t feel like I needed the review.

“Tienes un oído para español,” my professor told me after we finished our midterm conversation in her office.

You have an ear for Spanish.

“Graciás. Me gusta aprender.”

Thanks. I like to learn.

“Su alta escuela español ha llegado de nuevo a tú. Qué vas a hacer con tu español? Por qué estás en mi clase?”

Your high school Spanish is coming back to you. What are you going to do with your Spanish? Why are you in my class?

“Necesito dos años para estudios de posgrado.”

I need two years for graduate school.

“Tú podrías ir más lejos en ella si quería.”

You could go further in it if you wanted to.

“Lo haría si tuviera tiempo.”

I would if I had time.

There is never enough time.

I didn’t have to think about the Spanish then. It just came naturally.

I came back to the present and the cashier was staring at me. What had she said? I understood her just fine. She had asked how far I had to walk. Whether I wanted the plastic bags doubled so they’d be easier to get home. There were at least a hundred things I could say floating just on the tip of my tongue, Spanish words just within reach that I couldn’t quite shape. I could communicate. If only I could make myself do it, say the words.

But if I said the wrong thing?

This is not my home, not my environment. Not my comfort zone. I am overthinking; I am taking to much time to reply.

What if I said the wrong thing?

“No hablo español,” I muttered quietly, pulling my debit card from my wallet and swiping it in the machine.

The cashier shrugged and doubled my bags without my asking before handing them to me and thanking me for coming.

I walked out of the store, two bags in each hand. Silent.

I don’t speak Spanish. I don’t speak Spanish, but I could if I could just be unafraid.

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Seventh Grade

Lissa was the most popular girl in the seventh grade class. She had curly dark hair and a winning smile. The boys all said that she was pretty, and they also said that I wasn’t. But I didn’t think she looked that different than I did. Sure, she wore brand name clothes and makeup, and I didn’t. Sure, her hair was glossy and combed and perfect, and mine wasn’t. Sure, she could carry on a conversation that didn’t involve a book or an animal, and I couldn’t. Sure, she was interested in boys, and I wasn’t. To me, we were really just the same.

Everyone wanted to be around Lissa. To sit at her table at lunch, to walk with her in the hall, to carry her books. Her upcoming birthday party was the talk of the cafeteria. I heard that the invitations were selective, not the normal “everyone gets one just for being in class with me” type we had grown up with. I heard that she was handing them out herself. I heard that they were on glittery Lisa Frank Stationary, with cute, brightly colored animals plastered all over them. I heard that there would be boys at the party.

I viewed the invitation as a ticket to … something. And god, did I really, really, really want that ticket. I wasn’t sure why. Did I want to fit in? Make friends? Finally get interested in a boy? Or did I really just want to be invited somewhere, to be a part of something?

Lissa’s shoes clacked against the cafeteria tile as she walked towards the seventh grade area, invitations in hand. My seat was at the edge of the table, with at least two spaces between me and everyone else. Just out of conversation range, because no one really talked to me anyway. I stared at my bright red compartmentalized lunch tray, digging my spoon down and scooping up mashed potatoes that might as well have been soup before letting them drip back onto the tray without putting them in my mouth. I held my breath as Lissa got to the table.

She gave an invitation to everyone.

Everyone except me.

There would be no cute glittery animals. No party. No presents. No boys. Not for me.

For the rest of the year, I refused to eat lunch in the cafeteria. I stayed in one teacher’s classroom or another, reading books or doing homework. It only cemented in my classmates’ eyes how weird I was, but I didn’t care anymore. I figured that if I wasn’t going to fit in anyway, I might as well not fit in doing something that made me happy.

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Childhood Mistakes

Sweet Adelines is a nationwide women’s barbershop organization that has extensive choirs in almost every state. When I was a kid, my grandma was both a member and a director of the local chapter. She would bring me to rehearsals and let me sit up front on her stool, sometimes helping to direct. She would also give me cassette tapes of their rehearsals and concerts so that I could listen at home.
My favorite tape as a child was of the concert series they did on music of the 1920’s. I loved it so much that I not only played it at home, I also demanded my grandma play it in the car when we were running errands: “Play it again!” Grandma would bribe me with ice cream and Happy Meal toys to listen to something else, to no avail.
One day, after going to the post office, we drove home with the tape playing. I was nestled in the back seat with a few My Little Ponies, brushing their manes and singing along to the songs that I knew backwards and forwards. We got home too soon; the last song on the second side of the tape hadn’t finished yet. I begged my grandma to let me stay in the car and hear it, even though I had heard it at least one hundred times before. Grandma grabbed her purse from the trunk and went inside, leaving me alone in the car. I unbuckled my seatbelt and stretched out my legs, my tiny pink sneakers resting on the console in between the two front seats. I closed my eyes and listened to the music, in my happy place.
I was singing, and then, suddenly, I was rolling. Backwards.
The house my grandmother stayed at was on the top of a very steep hill, in the middle of the woods. The car was moving, slowly at first. And I thought it was a game. Until it hit the crest of the hill and gained speed. I cried out then, in perfect crescendo with the joyful choir. I wasn’t joyful anymore; I started to cry. My grandma came banging out of the side garage door, running after me, her poofy white hair a glow of light as I disappeared into the woods. Rolling down, down, down, and then the crash that I didn’t see coming because I never thought to turn around.
The car slammed into a tree in the middle of the woods, off of the main driveway path. My grandma plucked her way through the trees and wrenched open the door next to me, helping me out. The music still played; the fall had felt like forever, but it had really been less than a minute or so.
She told me later that she was never sure whether I had kicked the gear shift with my feet or she had forgotten to put the car into park. I always suspected she was protecting me from my own mistake.

Mrs. Thomas

(A new thing that I’m trying–the short essay, 500 words or less.)

I thought the phone call was about Chuck e Cheese.

I urged my Grandma to answer the phone. It rang a lot before she got to it. I was practically bouncing up and down into the plaid couch cushions.

You see, my best friend, Alanna, was supposed to be having a birthday party. At Chuck e Cheese. I didn’t get to go there often, only for parties. But I loved the games and the fun little prizes I could get with all of the tickets I won at the games. The day before said party, which was to be the highlight of my third grade winter, Alanna came down with the chicken pox. A massive phone tree went out. No more party. We couldn’t have a bunch of third grade girls coming down with the scratchy sickness and missing the last days of school before Christmas vacation.

My grandma answered the phone when it rang, on the little pink landline that still hangs in her kitchen to this day. The hello was her normal bright tone; I was listening carefully while also keeping an eye on my episode of Rugrats. But then she took the phone and disappeared down the hallway, the curly pink cord stretching into her bedroom and the door shutting behind her.

It wasn’t about the party then. I went back to my cartoon, having rapidly lost interest in whatever was occurring in the bedroom.

My grandma came out of her room a few minutes later and quietly hung up the phone, but I didn’t pay much attention until she crossed the room and stood in front of me. “Shut off the tv for a second.”

I did, annoyed that it was in the middle of my show.

“So listen.” She sat down on the fluffy pink armchair next to the couch. “Your second grade teacher, Mrs. Thomas, passed away last night.”

“Passed away? What does that mean?”

“She…died.”

“She did?” My eyes were quite wide. Death to me was a thing relegated to tv shows like The Simpsons, not something that happened in real life. “How?”

“She had a problem inside her head. She went to sleep and she didn’t wake up.”

“Okay,” I replied. I clicked the remote on button and went back to my tv show.

I found out later that the “problem” my grandma had been referring to was an aneurysm. My former teacher’s brain had literally exploded; they hadn’t been able to get her to the hospital in time. My former teacher, the one who fixed my broken zipper at recess, the one who french braided my hair, the one who encouraged me to read, was gone. The former teacher who had given us all a red apple Christmas ornament before our second grade Christmas break.

It was Christmas time. I found the ornament on the tree, and there was a tiny chip out of it. Like someone had taken a bite. A piece that was forever missing.

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