Flash Fiction: A Day’s Work

by Olivia Tejeda

Last night my husband announced he wasn’t happy. No explanation, no discussion. He calmly packed a bag and ended our life.

I spent the night in a bombardment of confusion and pain. My marriage meant everything to me, it defined me and happily so. Now it’s over, and I am paralyzed by it. This morning I’m so lost I don’t even know how to begin the day. The activities that mattered before, don’t anymore. I need something that still feels real.

I don’t know what to do, but I know that I have to get out of this house where I have nothing and go someplace where I have something – anything but the loss of a life I believed in. I work a menial job, shelving books at a store, but my passion for books makes the work meaningful for me and now it feels like a lifeline.

Like a robot, I get ready for work, allowing myself to feel nothing but numb. I follow the route and realize as I pull into a parking spot that I don’t remember any of the drive. I was in a mindless trance, putting myself and everyone else on the road in danger, but I don’t care and even regret arriving safely.

As I walk into the store I get the strange but comforting sense that unlike my home life, everything at the store is the same. A co-worker greets me as always, but I hurry off before responding. I’m so raw that the simple kindness of her greeting breaks me and the tears come back stronger than last night.

Hiding in a bathroom stall, I’m doubled over and heaving with sobs that I try to keep quiet. I don’t want anyone to hear because I don’t want anyone to know. I’m deeply ashamed. I had complete faith in the security of my marriage. I thought it was stronger than any other marriage I’d ever seen. Now that it’s over, I’m humiliated by my arrogance.

I have no answers for all the questions I know my co-workers will have. They’re the same questions I would have had if this was happening to someone else. But it isn’t happening to someone else, it’s happening to me. Now I’m stuck crying in this bathroom stall.

What the hell made me think I could work today? How did I ruin my marriage? How can I live through this? But here I am at work, and I have nowhere else to go. I can’t go home, so I need to find the strength to get through this horrific day.

When I finally recover enough, I go to the stock room where there are no customers, and I can work in solitude. I unload boxes and drift between numbness, misery, rage, and fear. I have to go out to the sales floor at some point, but I do everything I can to delay it. I don’t want to lose control out there. At least in the back I am alone with my loss, and I don’t have to hide when it overtakes me again and again.

I can’t put it off any more, so I roll my cart out onto the floor and start shelving. Again, I get the strange sense that everything’s normal, and I hide behind that false comfort.

As I shelve books, customers stop with their usual questions: An author’s name, the latest bestseller, directions to the bathroom. Some part of me grabs onto those questions and hopes that maybe each time I take care of a customer, I’m doing a little bit to care of myself.

At the end of the work day I know my broken life is waiting for me. I don’t know how I’ll get through it, but at least I made it through this day. Even if my husband doesn’t need me anymore, my customers do and my books do, and I wonder if that will be enough.

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Thank you for reading my flash fiction. Please share any constructive criticism and feel free to let me know about any errors you find here. To read more flash fiction from a great group of writers, search #fridayflash on Twitter or visit Mad Utopia.

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© Olivia Tejeda and Liv Loves Lit, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Olivia Tejeda and Liv Loves Lit with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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21 thoughts on “Flash Fiction: A Day’s Work

  1. Wow. I was getting ready to comment that I would pray for you. I was worried because you said you were sorry you arrived safely.

    You had me hooked. Very realistic writing. Have you been through this before or did you simply write it out of your head?

  2. Very intense. Poor woman.

    Well written, but if I may offer a tiny criticism: I think maybe the writing was a bit to clear and coherent? It seemed at odds with how she was describing herself feeling, you know?

    Like, carefully and meticulously how confused and lost she was felt a little odd.

  3. A very sad & touching story. I like the gritty realism to it. The sense of not wanting to have arrived at work safely… that her marriage defined her… the sense of needing ‘life’ around her to cope with the day ahead & the changes to her life.

    There is so there buried beneath her thoughts – such as why would she believe that she ruined her marriage?

    Enjoyed reading this. It leaves you wondering about what has happened and what will happen.

  4. So raw, so open. Your character got through the day doing the normal work things. She will find that in times of grief, it’s doing the normal things day by day that will help each time.

    Poignant look at a day in the life.

  5. Ugh – boy, there’s nothing harder than being in public with something heavy like that weighing on your mind. It feels like you have it tattooed on your forehead – you crave sympathy but fear it too. EXTREMELY good job portraying this moment in life.

  6. I have to wonder how she was so clueless about the end of her marriage. But finding sanctuary in the ordinary is very realistic and well written.

  7. I don’t like to offer criticism, unless it is asked for, and even then I’m reluctant. I don’t offer any at all if I don’t care for the writing, but I love your lit, so…

    This reads to me like a character sketch, not really a story. It looks like material – good material – that could be used for a story. (Take my crit with a grain of salt, I struggle with narrative myself.)

  8. Hey Olivia: I think we were writing from the same page this week! (cheatin-no-good-so-and-so’s) I liked your story. Real life. Real pain. I always love a tale more when it feels this real.

  9. Ouch! This one is a stinger straight to the gut, and to the heart. Your ability to get to the core of the matter in a hurry is a great strength of your writing. Every reader must feel the pain in your character. She goes on, like we all do, with dread and undoubtedly marked. Real or not, thank you for drilling deep with this one.

  10. Olivia,

    This is a very powerful piece. I am hoping that it is purely a work of fiction, and not memoir. I worried in the first few graphs that you were sharing YOUR horrible, personal experience with us, your readers. I do hope that is not the case.

    I like that you chose to write this story in first person. I think the close narrative distance really helps the reader empathize with her pain — her struggle to continue on with life, maybe even find small comfort in the daily routine, while emotional chaos wreaks havoc on her state of being.

    Congrats on a well done story!

    Deb

  11. I’m not usually a fan of slice of life for flash fiction but this was awesome. I thought it stood alone very well. And I liked the hopeful tone at the end. [I also wanted to give her a hug]

    I loved the first person, and I had no problem with the slight distance and the coherency of her thoughts because in my mind’s eye she was telling of how she lived through this day later on…..
    Excellent powerful sorrowful piece Olivia.

    Karen :0)

  12. Ug, why is she blaming herself?! You really played the sense of loss perfectly here. Her, trying to find comfort in her normal routine, hoping it will be enough to keep her tethered to sanity. Good use of first person and very well written!

  13. I appreciated how scatty she acted, how she went into work and tried to hold herself together. It made the story seem all the more realistic.

    I wonder (as it would seem from the choice of the present tense), is she telling this while the pain is raw, and if so, is her husband going to come back, or is (as it would seem from her slightly detached tone) she telling this long after the event, reflectively?

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