Flash Fiction: Christmas Past

© Olivia Tejeda

“My great-nephew over in Prescott invited me.”
“Say again?”
“MY GREAT-NEPHEW!”
“Criminy! Irene, what are ya hollerin’ at?”
“Turn up your hearing aid.”
“They’re up, they’re up …  Are you going?”
“Where?”
“To your damn nephew’s house.”
“Land sakes, Bea, your language!  Yes, I’m going.”
“Is he the one with the kids?”
“The screaming kids, the fat wife, and the drunk mother-in-law.”
“You gotta drive all that way for that kind of nonsense?”
“What else am I gonna do?”
“Stay home!”
“By myself?  No how, Mister!  Not on Christmas!”
“My sister-in-law is flying in from Utah.  We’ll have dinner.”
“Oh good, so you’re covered.”
“I’d rather be alone.”
“Oh heavens, Bea! It’s Christmas.  Why would you want to be alone?
“You never met my sister-in-law.”
“But being alone … on Christmas … what could be worse?”
“My sister-in-law.”

Writing this story, I was reminded of one of my favorite songs, Hello in There, performed here by Bette Midler.

Thank you for reading.  To read more flash fiction from a great group of writers, search #fridayflash on Twitter or visit Mad Utopia.


Now in Print: Best of Friday Flash – Volume One

There aren’t many shopping days until Christmas, so save yourself some trouble and give a gift that will please everyone on your list.

“Best of Friday Flash – Volume One”

What could be better?  This collection gathers sixty-seven of the very best flash fiction from writers around the world.  Mystery, intrigue, romance, sci-fi, horror, slice of life, humor.   Just about every genre is represented and each story comes in a quick hit, flash fiction format — one thousand words or fewer.

Don’t let the short format fool you.  There are some powerful stories here, including mine, “Bottom of the Ninth,” about a nervous preteen whose softball team championship rests in her pudgy little hands.

The flashes were written by members of the Friday Flash community, an online writer’s group that posts stories on their blogs and announces them via the #fridayflash hashtag on Twitter or Facebook.  The variety of styles and the amount of  talent included in this anthology will keep you turning the pages, and wishing for more when you’re done.

“Best of Friday Flash – Volume One” is available in paperback for $7.99, and  ebook for just $2.99.

Don’t wait!  Act now!

 

Friday Flash: OMG at Barnes & Noble

© Olivia Tejeda

“Oh my God,” Fredrika’s husband gasped as she approached the table where he sat reading “The Portable Jung” at the Barnes & Noble cafe.

“What’s wrong with this?” she asked holding out the copy of Oprah she brought back with her.

Her husband looked up, eyes only, over the top of his glasses.  He said nothing and went back to reading.

She leaned in and said through tight lips and a clenched jaw, “I asked you if there’s something wrong with this.”

No response.

“Edward!” Louder this time.

Edward closed the book and slid his glasses down.  He pondered the pinched looking woman standing in front of him as he stroked his short salt and pepper beard.

“Can I … help you?” he said.

“Why did you say ‘Oh my God?’ ”

“You are truly pathetic.”

“Wrong again, Edward,” she said, pointing a sharp finger at him.  “You are an impotent troll.”

Fredrika sat down and noticed the woman at the next table, caught mid-sip and still staring, surprised and embarrassed by their candid contempt.  Fredrika smiled and began flipping the pages of the magazine.

Flip.  Flip, flip.  Flip.

“Did I do something?” she said.  “Is that why you said ‘Oh my God?’ ”

Edward sighed. “Really, Fredrika? Really?”

“Just tell me.”

“I’m reading.”

Flip, flip, flip.

“Want pizza for dinner?” she asked.

Edward grunted.

“Chinese? You want Chinese?”

Silence.

She flipped more pages.

“We can have dinner with the Crandalls.  You like the Crandalls.”

“Fredrika,” Edward said.

“Hmm?”

“Fredrika,” he said

“Edward,” she said.

“Fredrika,” he said.

“What?” she hissed.

“Can I tell you what I want?”

She sat mute.

“I want you to shut up,” he said.  “For one minute of one day in the entirety of your life, I want you to shut your mouth and be silent.”   Then he went back to reading.

Fredrika huffed and straightened her posture.

Flip.  Flip, flip.

After flipping the last of the pages, she took a deep breath and rubbed her forehead.

Edward looked up.  “Are you all right?” he asked.

“My contacts are bothering me.”

“Do you want to leave?”

“I hate to disturb your book, but yes, yes, I think so.”

He closed the book and stood up.

“Here,” he said reaching out.  “Give me your magazine.  I’ll put it away for you.”

When he returned, he took her hand and they walked together to the exit.

Thank you for reading.  To read more flash fiction from a great group of writers, search #fridayflash on Twitter or visit Mad Utopia.

Flash Fiction: Going Vocal

© Olivia Tejeda

Pat Sajak’s voice filtered into the bathroom as Catherine stood nervously doing her hee hees.

Hee hee hee.  She breathed.  Hoo hoo hoo.

Her vocal warm-ups usually settled her nerves, but this was a bad case and they weren’t helping.

Hee hee hee.  Hoo hoo hoo.

Knowing her courage could slip at any moment, Catherine stepped into action, standing straighter, and striding toward the living room.

“Aunt Dee,” she said focusing in the dark room.  “Do you have a minute?”

“Hi dear,” Aunt Dee absently waved Catherine in.  “Come watch Wheel with me.”

The light from the TV cast blue shadows around the room.  Aunt Dee never used the lamp when she watched TV.  “I’d rather not support the power company,” she’d say when Catherine used to ask if she could turn on a light.

“I-I’d like to talk to you,” Catherine steadied her voice.  “It’s kind of important.  Would you mind if we lowered the TV?”

Aunt Dee sighed, irritated by the imposition.

Catherine clenched her fists, her nails digging tiny crescents into her palms.  She had been living at Aunt Dee’s since being discharged from Sunnyvale ten years ago, and it still didn’t feel like it home.

After Catherine’s parents died in a car crash, she tried finishing her senior year at Juilliard.  She wanted to honor her parents by getting the degree in voice they had all worked for since Catherine was a child, but during her senior recital, Catherine froze on stage, unable to sing, speak, or move.  She was admitted to Sunnyvale after a botched a suicide and stayed for a year.

“I’m sorry,” Catherine said, her courage slipping. “I’m interrupting your show.”

“Yes, dear, Wheel of Fortune is on.”

“Yes.  Right.  Sorry.  We’ll talk later.”

“No,” Aunt Dee grumbled, waving again.  “I’m already missing this round.  May as well keep going.”  Her comment hit the mark as always, evoking in her subtle yet piercing way, the constant sacrifices she made for her niece.

Catherine looked for the remote to mute the TV, but Aunt Dee had it tucked between the seat cushions next to her. She tried to reach for it without Catherine seeing, and Catherine played along, pretending to notice something beyond the dark window.

“Well, out with it.  Are you in trouble?”  Aunt Dee asked lowering the volume one level.

“Oh, nothing like that,” Catherine said sitting opposite.  “Everything’s fine.  I-I just wanted to let you know that I’ve decided to sing at the Jeffersonville Talent Show next month.

Aunt Dee’s face turned stony.  Her ears pulled back, tightening the skin across her cheeks.  She looked furious, but stayed silent.

Catherine’s excitement boosted her courage again.  “I’ve been thinking about it for a while.  My voice teacher thinks I’m ready, and I think so, too.”  Her smile beamed.

“I see.”

“I know you’re worried.  I’m nervous, too, but I’m finally ready, and I have to try.”

“I see.”

Aunt Dee nodded, allowing herself time to form an argument.

“Catherine … Dear … I really thought we were done with all this foolishness.  You’re not a child anymore. I thought we let that silly dream go a long time ago.”

“No,” Catherine whispered.  “I never let it go.  You remember how much singing meant to you.  It’s the same for me, and now I’m ready to try again. My voice teacher says …”

“Your voice teacher!” Aunt Dee snapped.  “Your voice teacher doesn’t know you were a mental case.”

Catherine nodded.  “She does, actually.  I told her.”

“Catherine!  Why?  She couldn’t possibly understand.”

“But she does.  She does understand.  She’s taught me so much, and she’s been so helpful.”

“Is that so?” Aunt Dee sneered.  “Will she be so helpful you when go batty up on stage again?”

Catherine sighed.  “I’m not going to have another breakdown.”

“Well if history is any indication …”

“That was a long time ago,” Catherine pleaded.

“Maybe for you, but it seems like just yesterday for me.  What I went through.  Every week, I had to drive to that hospital!  I only thank God your parents weren’t alive to suffer through it like I did.”

“Aunt Dee.”

“No, it’s true.  It was terrible.  I’m sorry to say this, but they had you so drugged you don’t remember anything, but I do.”

“But I’m much older now, and stronger,” Catherine said.  “That was right after Mom and Dad died, and …”

“May God rest their tormented souls,” Aunt Dee interrupted.  She bowed her head and made the sign of the cross, a move that always worked to deflate Catherine, until this time.

“It’s just one song at one show.  I have to do this, and I’d like to have your blessing.”

“Dear,” Aunt Dee’s face softened. “You know I only want what’s best for you.”

Catherine realized at that moment that those words, “I only want what’s best for you” were the lynch pin for years of manipulation.  She looked at her aunt and tried not to believe what she knew was true.

Aunt Dee looked away as if she’d been caught.  “Oh, dear!” she said, changing the subject.  “We almost missed the end.”

The two of them sat together in the blue shadowed room watching the bonus round.  They guessed the answer at the same time, just before the contestant got it.

♦  ♦  ♦

When the talent show was over, Catherine was exhilarated.  She did it, and was awarded an honorable mention certificate, which surprised and thrilled her.  She was backstage congratulating the other winners when Aunt Dee found her.

“Poor dear,” Aunt Dee said.  “You did your best, but I guess that ship has sailed.”

“Didn’t you see?” Catherine said, holding up her certificate.

“That’s nice, dear, but you didn’t win.”

Catherine smiled and shook her head.  Aunt Dee continued.  “We’ll meet outside, dear.  Why don’t you go say goodbye to your friends.”

“Actually, Aunt Dee, I’ll see you at home.  I’m going to go to the after-show party,” Catherine said. “With my friends.”

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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.

Flash Fiction: Waiting Room

I kiss him and hold onto his hand until the orderlies roll his bed out of reach.

“It’s a routine procedure,” the doctor assured us last week. “We’ve done it thousands of times.” I secretly Googled it when we got home and found out the doctor was right. It is routine, but Google also told me everything that could go wrong.

In the waiting room, my overstuffed tote sits stupid and useless on my lap. The doctor said between two and four hours, so I brought along enough diversions to fill the time. A pile of paperwork, sudoku, my iPhone, they all seemed sensible when I packed them, but now I can’t focus on anything but the gurney rolled into another room on another floor where I’m not allowed. What’s going on in that room? Did they cut him open yet? Did they find out what’s fucking everything up? Did they fix it? Can they?

He has to be okay.

“Honeyyy,” he teased, slurring from the sedative and holding up four fingers. “I’ll be out in five minutes.”

“I know,” I said, smiling, but I don’t know anything except all the things that can go wrong.

I try to settle in among the plants and the artwork that have been arranged to make the room feel homey, but waiting rooms are awful places. No matter how much they try to feng shui it, the hum of the fluorescents and the milky hospital stench that’s imbedded into every crevice tell the real story.

Magazines are fanned neatly on the coffee table. The linoleum is yellow with age, but it’s spotless and shiny. I keep looking into the corners searching for dust balls to see how careless this hospital is, but there aren’t any.

I appreciate the effort they’ve made in this room. I do, but I don’t want to be here. I want to be in the operating room making sure they do everything right. I Googled it! I know what could go wrong, and I want to be in that room with my checklist, making sure the doctors go over every single thing.

“Did you check everything?” I would ask.

“Are you sure?” I would ask.

“Double sure?”

He has to be okay.

I pick up a copy of Woman’s Day from the table. A picture of chili dogs on the cover makes me think of how much he loves hot dogs.  He ate six in one sitting once.  Mention them and his blue eyes light up like a little boy’s.

He’s amazing.

What he loves, he loves completely.  Hot dogs, travel, Lewis Black, architecture, and me.

He loves me. Completely. I don’t know why, but I’ll take it. I’ll take it, and I’ll gobble it up, just like he gobbles up hot dogs. I don’t care about the heartburn.

He has to be okay.

I decide to make him chili dogs when he’s feeling better. That will be our celebration dinner. I flip open the magazine to see the recipe, but someone’s ripped it out, and I burst into tears.

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Thank you for reading. I would very much appreciate your thoughts and any constructive criticism you would like to share.  To read more flash fiction from a great group of writers, search #fridayflash on Twitter.

Flash Fiction: Bottom of the Ninth

© Olivia Tejeda
Bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, two outs. It’s the final game of the Cinderella Softball League Championship, my team is down 4-1, and I’m up.

I haven’t hit the ball once this season and now it’s all up to me. The only way the team can win is if I hit a grand slammer.

We don’t have a prayer.

The championship title is in my hands, my sweating pudgy little hands. My stomach hurts so much I’m afraid I might poop my pants. I swallow hard and wish I could hide until this is over. I want to go home to my bedroom with my books and my Scott Baio posters.

I love that. I hate this.

When Kayla was up, I figured that if she didn’t make an out, I’d have to bat. I’d have to be the one to lose the game, because I know I won’t win it.

Even though there hasn’t been any divine intervention so far this season, I start praying again anyway.

Hail Mary, Full of Grace, The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.

This feels like the hour of my death.

If I do die, at least my parents won’t have to pay for the funeral. Our team is sponsored by a funeral home.

The Colonia Funeral Home …

Owned by my grandfather …

I have the same last name.

The embarrassment never ends.

Coach Rockman gives me four hard raps on the back. “We’re counting on ya,” she threatens through clenched teeth. She takes her game seriously, and even though we’re a klutzy group of 9, 10, and 11 year old girls, winning matters to her as much as it does to Steinbrenner.

I walk to home base with my shoulders hunched over, wishing I could disappear. The stands are quiet. Everyone knows how hopeless I am at this. They’ve watched me strike out all season, and they’re just as embarrassed for me as I am for myself. I can feel their pity. I see it when I look over and see my Mom hugging her arms in front of her. She cringes when she tries to smile and gives me the most feeble thumbs-up I’ve ever seen.

As I get ready to bat, I try to remember everything Coach has told me. Plant your feet a little wider than shoulder width apart, keep your knees loose, stay relaxed. Check the opponents’ position.

The shortstop and second base are chatting. Right field is waving to someone in the stands. Third base is playing an invisible game of hopscotch. They know the ball’s not going anywhere. I know it, too. I’m just not any good at this, but I have to be here because of my grandfather’s funeral home. He says he sponsored the team for me, but I know he did it for the cheap publicity, and I have to stand out here and deal with the humiliation until it’s over.

Everything goes slow-mo as I watch the pitcher start her wind up. My hands shake as I grip the bat. I want so desperately to hit this ball. I want so desperately to prove to my team, to my grandfather, to myself, that I’m something more than a fat little pile of nothing.

I’ve daydreamed about hitting the game-winning home run, and my team carrying me around on their shoulders. I think about that now, and I want so desperately for that to happen, but I know it won’t. I hold my breath and feel sweat rolling down my back.

The ball leaves the pitcher’s hand, and I watch it sailing straight toward me. I keep my eye on the ball and try not to wince, like Coach told me.

Without wanting to, I shut my eyes. I pull back on the bat and swing as hard as I can.

My eyes open, shocked by the feeling of the ball cracking against the bat.

Holy Mary, Mother of God!

I hit it!

Stunned, I stand there with my mouth hanging open.

“Run!” Coach Rockman screams, “RUN!” And I do, with all my might, I do.

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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.

Flash Fiction: Just Like Her Mother

by Olivia Tejeda
Sunday mornings were special for Penny. It was the one day a week Julian didn’t rush off to work and they could spend time together. This Sunday was especially exciting. It was Valentine’s Day and she had plans.

Shortly after waking up, she took a deep breath and cuddled against Julian’s back, feeling his familiar warmth. He stirred slightly and she seized the opportunity.

“Happy Valentine’s Day, Dreamboat,” she whispered into his ear.

“Oh, that’s right,” he mumbled. It’s Valentine’s Day, isn’t it.”

“Don’t pretend you don’t remember, Penny said, niggling him with her finger. He rolled his eyes, but was grateful for her trust. The truth was he hadn’t really remembered, not for her.

“I have a conn-fehh-shuuun,” Penny said, drawing out her sing-song statement.

She has a confession? Julian thought.

“Do you?” he said, forcing a smile and turning to face her in bed.

“Well, I didn’t want to spoil your surprise, but …” she said, stretching the short word into three syllables. “I stopped at the post office yesterday? To pick up the mail for you?” Her nervous habit of turning statements into questions infuriated Julian but his impatience was tempered by what she just told him. His smile froze as heat started prickling up his chest and neck, and his mind started running through the possibilities.

“Why didn’t you tell me, Sweet Dumpling?” He feigned patience. “You know I like to go to the post office. I drove all the way over there yesterday, and didn’t even need to.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, Daddykins” Penny said, deflated. “I was on that side of town, and I thought I’d do you a favor. But then I saw something I shouldn’t have, and I … I just didn’t know what to do.”

Julian’s heart stuttered. Why would she pick up the mail? He didn’t even remember giving her a key to the box. He kept calm and turned his smile into the glare that kept Penny in line. Penny stayed silent.

“Well, Gum Drop,” he said in that clenched-jaw way he had that allowed him to be menacing, but didn’t allow her to protest. The few times she did, he told her she was being overly-sensitive and ridiculous, just like her mother. “Are you going to tell me what you saw or are we going to play guessing games?”

“Oh, Cuddlebug,” Penny sighed. “I’ve upset you.” She looked at Julian with puppy eyes. “I guess I have to tell you now.”

She took a deep breath. “There was a little envelope from Pamela’s Floral Cottage in the mail. I thought it was just an old ad, so I opened it,” she glanced up at him, his handsome face was not so menacing now. Penny blinked a few times, looked down, and continued.

“I’m sure you know what I found and … and … Well, I just think you are the sweetest husband in the whole wide world to spend that kind of money on roses for my Valentine’s Day gift!” She threw her arms around him and squeezed him tight.

“Well,” Julian breathed, relieved at having the moment to figure something out. “You’re the sweetest wife in the whole wide world, and you deserve them.”

“But listen, Sugar Cube,” he continued quietly. “Since you spoiled my big surprise. I think I should have a chance to get you something else.”

“Oh you don’t have to do that. I’d love to get those flowers. I’m sure they’ll be beautiful considering what you paid for them. And the invoice said two dozen red roses for delivery on February 14, so they’ll probably be here any minute!”

“But Angel Face, it is Valentine’s Day and you should have some kind of special surprise, so …”

Penny interrupted. “Well, my Prince Charming, when I was at Schneider’s Jewelers yesterday with my mom, I saw the most beautiful necklace I’ve ever seen. I didn’t want to get it without asking you first, so we put it on lay-away and …” She looked at him again, batted her big browns and looked away.

“Don’t say another word,” Julian said, happy to be reminded that his wife was so naive.

The next day when Penny and her mother met at the mall, her mother saw the necklace right away.

“He went for it again,” her mother said.

“He sure did,” Penny smiled as she twisted the necklace around her finger. “He got me roses, too.” she said.

“That’s my girl.”

Penny leaned over and gave her mother a squeeze. “You’re the sweetest Mom in the whole wide world,” she said.

“Come on,” her mother smiled. “I’ll buy you lunch.”

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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.

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.

Flash Fiction: I, Zombie

by Olivia Tejeda

Living dead. That’s what I am. A zombie. A corpse. It took me a while to realize it, but now that I know, it makes sense.

I try to pull myself out of this brain-dead stupor, but its allure is undeniable.  I’m seduced into surrender, and I let it bury me. I don’t know what time it is, or even what day. Something deep inside me wants to claw its way back to the surface and escape the pain, but I know it’s futile. I lie in the darkness, twitching and shivering.

Something was wrong. I ignored the foreboding and focused on everything else that needed my attention. Now I’m paying the price.

When I wake again, I want to get my bearings, but a hazy film crusts over my eyes, blurring everything into a jaundiced fog. Whatever’s left of my body twinges with pain. My joints feel too big for their crumbling sockets. I feel a deep ache in bones I never think about, my femur, my clavicle, my nasal concha. I hear groans and labored wheezing. A fire fills my nostrils and burns a path to my lungs as I gasp and realize it’s me. I’m making those disgusting snorting sounds. I think my nose has fallen off. Everything goes black.

Nightmares trap me in a leaden limbo filled with fear and anger. What’s happened to me? Who did this? I think of that Goth freak at Safeway. She had a zombie look, and she was standing so close I could feel her tainted breath. I bet she put this voodoo whammy on me when she saw me staring. I didn’t mean to stare, but I’ve never seen so much metal in one face before. Is that what my zombie future holds? Is that what I’ll become?

My pulse flutters, and I try to move again. I strain to shift my legs off this suffocating slab, but their dead weight exhausts me before I make any progress. What remains of my will to live begins to decompose. More shivering. More pain. More darkness.

A tiny crack of light wakes me and slowly widens until I’m squinting into its brightness. I sense that my misery is reaching its end. My salvation is near, or my damnation, I don’t care which anymore.

An astral image looms closer until it’s shadow overtakes me. I see it reaching toward me. I can’t move away. I give up and wait for its touch to end my suffering.

A hand rests gently across my forehead.

“Your temp’s back,” my husband whispers.

‘”Huh?” I grunt.

“This flu is kicking your butt. You want more Dayquil?”

Dot yet,” I slobber, grateful for the attention, “but I deed more tissue.”

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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.

Flash Fiction: Life of the Party

By Olivia Tejeda
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The rapt crowd sat adoringly in the palm of Claire’s lovely hand. She engaged them with repartee, charmed them with humor, and enchanted them with bon mots of one sort or another. Her confidence was easy and natural, her charisma, a powerful draw. Everyone in her circle felt privileged to be there, and by their presence they were rewarded with the pleasure of her delightful company.

At least that’s what Claire tried to visualize as she stood in front of the bathroom mirror preparing for Kelly and Evan’s New Year’s Eve party. She imagined her favorite Jane Austen characters and tried emulating their chatty demeanor. She mimed conversations, nodding her head, smiling, laughing. She pretended to wave to someone across the room. She practiced standing. First with one foot forward, hand on hip. Too bitchy. Hands at her side. Too super-model-wannabe. Arms folded in front. Too hip-hop.

She slapped her hands to her face and moaned in frustration. She was determined that tonight’s party was not going to be a replay of her high school horrors. Even at graduation parties, she spent most of the night standing in the corner, talking to no one, except maybe a parent, and wondering what to do with her hands. Now that she was in college, she was determined to relax and have fun at parties – no matter how hard she had to work at it.

When she was home on Thanksgiving break, she took the “Are You the Life of the Party?” quiz in the November issue of Seventeen magazine. She fudged some answers hoping to make herself more interesting, but she still scored an 8, which meant, “Hey, sorry, but there’s no point in even showing up.”

Ouch! Was she that bad? She double checked her score, making sure she added correctly, but the outcome was the same. She tossed the magazine aside and decided that there was more to her than Seventeen allowed. She was smart, at least her grades said so. She was funny enough to make her parents, her friends, and herself laugh. And maybe she was even a little bit cute, although sometimes she thought her 12-year-old brother had more curves than she did. She knew she had all those things going on, she just had to figure out how to get other people to see it.

Once her first semester was over and she was back home again, she turned her attention to the Claire Improvement Project, which started with her spending all her Barnes & Noble Christmas gift cards on books like, “The Art of Mingling,” “1001 Conversation Starters,” and  “Ten Simple Solutions to Shyness.”

It was that last book that told her, “Practice in front of a mirror so that you can judge yourselves and rectify any mistakes.”

Judge myself? Claire thought. Oh sure, like I need more of that. But she kept an open mind and kept trying out the techniques the books offered.

She went with her mother to Karen’s Kuts & Kolor and decided to go ahead with the highlights that Karen had been trying to talk her into since 8th grade. She even had a session with the makeup artist who taught her how to do her eyes and lips.

On the way home her mother commented, “You look beautiful, honey.”

Claire rolled her eyes, “You always say that.”

“Only because you’re always beautiful.”

Claire looked at her mother. “Thanks, Mom, but it feels weird. Too fake.”

The morning of the party, Claire’s mother was in the kitchen rolling little hot dogs into puff pastry.

“You’re having pigs in a blanket?” she said.

“Of course! It’s a tradition.”

Claire reached over and started helping her mother roll.

What’s going on here tonight?” she asked.

“Nothing big. The Wilsons are coming over and Aunt Caroline, Uncle Jim and the kids.”

“Oh,” Claire said. “Even Annie?”

“Sure,” her mother said. “She’ll be bummed you’re not here. She adores you.”

“I adore her, too,” Claire said. “Maybe I can babysit some night while I’m home on break.”

“That’d be great,” her mother said not paying much attention.

Later on, when Claire was dressed for the party and finished with her hair and makeup, she went to the mirror again to check herself out. She had to admit, she looked good, but she felt way too JonBenet. Seeing herself painted and primped like a pageant baby felt unnatural, and she felt a nervousness that started in her stomach and moved into her chest, making it hard to breathe. She blamed it on the new pushup bra that was pressing on her ribs and she shook out her shoulders trying to relax a little and wipe away the clownish image she had of herself.

Her shoulder shake turned into a full-on shimmy that reminded her of burlesque dance hall girls. She kept at it until she realized how silly she felt and started laughing. She stayed in front of the mirror and stared at the strange young woman she saw there.

“This is ridiculous,” she said out loud.

In the kitchen, her mother mashed avocados into guacamole and her father fried his famous chicken wings.

Claire could smell the wings as she walked down the stairs.

“It smells great in here,” she said.

“Ready for your party?” her mother asked, not looking up from a half peeled avocado.

“I’m ready!” Claire said with more enthusiasm than she felt all week.

Her mother looked up and saw Claire standing there in her gray sweats, hair in a ponytail, and her freshly scrubbed face beaming with a smiling. She reached over and swatted her husband to get his attention. Both parents stood silently looking at their daughter.

“This is where I want to be tonight,” Claire said before they asked the question.

“Yay!” Her father shouted and came around the counter to hug her. She felt the familiar comfort of his warmth, and she marveled at how natural it felt.

She would still enchant the crowd tonight, it would just be a different crowd.

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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