I have enjoyed writing fiction since I was very young. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with short stories and flash fiction. While the definition of what qualifies as a “short story” can vary widely, flash fiction is an ultra-condensed form of storytelling. This particular piece is exactly 500 words. I hope to have this be the first in an unconnected series of super-short stories.
Immediately after the fires abated, Marion faced the dread of driving down that road and getting caught at that one particular stoplight. For the first two months, she avoided the road entirely, extending her daily drive to the bowling alley by nearly five miles. In the end, the detour wasn’t worth the extra gas money. The following two months, Marion darted past the intersection, going ten miles over the speed limit until she reached the artisanal bakery on the corner of Imperial and Solano. This practice might have gone on forever, but for the stone-faced officer who pulled her over. She didn’t understand why he didn’t give her a ticket. Maybe it was the way she went whiter than sea foam as she was forced to sit in her Camry, at that dreaded intersection. Who knows. He let her off with a warning – “Be more careful, alright?”
Careful. Marion laughed bitterly for the remaining five minutes back to her sparse apartment. He had no idea. He had no inkling of Marion Rivera’s arsenal of mental “be careful” rules – rooted in scraped knees and falling from monkey bars, fortified by vulgarity scribbled with Sharpie in bathroom stalls, and locked down tight by the looming threat of flames.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” her mother said as Marion stirred crushed tomatoes into pasta. “The fire’s gone. It’s been gone. Aren’t you tired of walking on eggshells every single day?”
“It’s not eggshells,” Marion retorted. “It’s coals. It’s walking on hot coals, forever. And yeah, Mama, I am tired. That doesn’t mean it’ll ever end.”
She could hear Mama’s sigh. For a split second, she could feel an exhale on her shoulder. When she shut off the dingy kitchen light, Mama was gone again. Another seven months played out. With summer came the return of cracked and parched earth. Marion’s car finally died, and she bought another Camry. The emails from USC that gingerly pushed the question of fall registration became stacked, unopened, in her inbox. She went to work, went home, and in between charted the flourishes of change at the intersection each time she passed by. The char marks faded and became obscured by grasses. Bulldozers filled in the gaping pits where structures once stood. Within weeks the dark stains were sprouting tiny blooms, saplings, and fungi in the shady areas. Some became dotted with “Land for Sale” signs; others did not. Late at night, after 357 days, Marion found herself at the stoplight again. This time, she turned right onto Palomar – the street name emblazoned inside her lunchbox since preschool. The spot where her house had stood was gently illuminated by the waning moon. Rosy purple blossoms poked out of the ground where the philodendrons once lived. Her mom wasn’t there, and Marion was overwhelmed with relief, tension leaving her shoulders. Nearly a year had passed, and she’d been numb to something so oppressive sitting on her soul. She stood still for a long time in the rich, dark soil.