Two Short-Short Fictions by John C. Goodman

Living at a Distance

The fog had developed into a persistent cloying drizzle shrouding the Tim Horton’s at the corner of Duckworth and Prescott in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. A woman waited on the corner for the light to change. She looked weighed down, pudgy around the middle, arms hanging lifelessly at her sides, a purse dangling from one hand like a kite caught in a tree branch, straw-blonde hair matted wet from the mist.

She crossed Prescott St., the counter on the Walk sign ticking off the seconds, 20, 19, 18… accentuating the quickness of passing life. Reaching the other side, she heaved herself wearily along the sidewalk, eventually looking around and, instead of seeing the law courts on her left and the Longshoremen’s Protective Union Hall across the street as she expected, saw a locksmiths, a used furniture store, and a shop that sold discount bridal dresses, the white satin display gowns in the window faded to a dingy yellow.

Confused, she turned around and saw the Tim Horton’s on the corner just as it always was. Walking back, she crossed against the light, pushed through the glass door and entered the fluorescent shadowlessness of the coffee shop.

“Where am I?” she asked the teenaged girl in the perky striped shirt behind the counter.

“This is Tim Horton’s, ma’am.” The girl looked at the woman askance, afraid she would turn out to be some kind of weirdo who would suddenly start shouting and cause a scene.

“No, I mean, what city?”

“City? Why, it’s Victoria, ma’am. Victoria, B.C.”

The woman nodded, her eyes distractedly sweeping the floor. She turned and plodded back into the wet night. Somehow in crossing the street she had crossed the whole country, the Tim Horton’s and drizzle of St John’s giving way to the Tim Horton’s and drizzle of Victoria. Not knowing what to do, she caught a bus that took her into a suburban neighbourhood. Choosing a stop, she left the bus and walked a block to a bungalow with a ragged lawn and forsythia bushes beside the front steps.

In her purse, she found a key that fit the front door lock. Inside the house was a husband wondering why she was so late and when were they going to have dinner. In the kitchen she made spaghetti with bottled sauce, opening a can of fruit cocktail for desert. There were two teen-aged boys who seemed fairly well-behaved, although she caught the younger one trying to poke his brother with a fork under the table.

As soon as his plate was clear, the older boy bolted for the door. “I’m going over to Keith’s to do math homework,” he called as the door slammed behind him.

“Don’t be too late! You’ve got a dentist appointment tomorrow,” she called to the closing door. The husband and younger boy settled in the living room, slouched in front of the TV. She cleared the table and began to load the dishwasher, looked in the fridge for things for the boys’ lunches the next day.

She was amazed at how easily she fitted into this new life. She wondered if someone else was in her house in St John’s making supper for her husband and her kids. One life was really no different from another.

Doug Holds Betty’s Purse in the Mall

Doug sat on the bench in the mall holding his wife’s brown leather purse by the handles. With his elbows on his knees, he let the handbag dangle between his ankles. Across the aisle sat another man holding another purse. They didn’t make eye contact.

Doug looked around, his gaze falling on a poster in the window of a travel agent’s. The poster showed a young blonde woman in a bikini skiing down a slope. Her eyes looked straight at Doug; her smile was inviting. Beside it was another poster showing two young women in bikinis having a snowball fight. “Let us book your ski destination vacation!” was printed underneath in large letters.

Doug imagined himself in ski boots and a bathing suit joining the laughing women in the snowball fight. The scene switched in his mind to the ski lodge afterwards, a rustic room lit by flickering light from a fireplace, the bed covered in a fur throw, himself on the bed with the two women, both naked, all legs and breasts and mouths that kissed like ocean storms.

With a disgruntled sigh, Doug looked away. Never going to happen. While his attention was diverted by the posters, a teenage girl had sat down on the bench beside him. Her spiky hair was dyed three different colours, her jeans were ripped and patched with scraps of patterned material. Heavy make-up complemented the stud in her nose and the piercing in her eyebrow; her arms and fingers were heavy with bracelets and rings.

“Hot one today,” Doug said. “Nice to be in here where it’s cool.”

The girl gave him a sideways glance, then ignored him. She looked distressed, eyes red rimmed, eyeliner smudged, lips in a pouty frown.

“Are you ok?” Doug asked in what he imagined was a kind and concerned tone. “You seem upset. Anything I can do to help?”

The girl didn’t respond; she stared down at her frayed black running shoes.

Doug looked up as a young, shaven-headed man approached. His ears bristled with hardware, eyebrows and lips sported rings. A black t-shirt with a winged skull on the front had the sleeves ripped off to show the tattoos on his arms.

“You slut!” he spat when he reached the girl on the bench.

“Don’t you ever walk away from me when I’m talking to you!”

“Fuck you, Deke,” she snapped back, her voice taught with anger. “Leave me alone!”

“You little bitch!” Deke reached out to grab her.

Doug spoke up, coldly and calmly, “Leave her alone.”

Deke gave him a quick glance. “Fuck off.” He made another grab for the girl.

Doug rose and straightened his shoulders. “I said, leave her alone.”

“Fuck you, you stupid old fart,” Deke shot back.

The girl stood and took a step towards Doug, very close, face to face. He looked into her sharp eyes.

“Yeah, butt out!” She shoved Doug in the chest. He stumbled backwards, more out of surprise than the force of her push, dropping his wife’s purse. “It’s none of your fuckin’ business.” She walked away. “Let’s go, Deke,” she said, adding a muttered, “Fuckin’ jerk.”

Deke gave Doug a disdainful look as the turned to follow the girl. “Fuckin’ asshole,” he mumbled.

Doug knelt down and scuffled the spilled contents back into his wife’s purse. When he sat down on the bench, he realized that his heart was racing. The man on the bench opposite was staring at him. Doug leaned forward and put his head between his knees. He tried breathing deeply; it was difficult through teeth clenched tight with anger.

“Doug? Are you all right?” It was his wife, Betty.

He sat up. “Yeah, I’m fine. Did you get what you wanted?”

“Oh,” Betty enthused, “I found the cutest shorts.” She opened a plastic shopping bag and took out two pairs of shorts, one in pastel green, the other pastel blue. “Aren’t they great? On sale, too. And the way they’re cut at the back doesn’t make my rear end look so big. Do you like them?”

“Yes,” said Doug dutifully. “They’re nice.” He didn’t have the heart to tell her they looked like little-old-lady shorts.

She retrieved her purse from him and slipped her credit card into a zippered compartment inside. “I’m ready to go, unless there’s anything you wanted to look for?”

“No, I’m done,” said Doug, standing up, taking a last look at the bikini girls in the posters, waving to the man holding the purse on the bench opposite. UG

John C. Goodman has published two collections of poetry, naked beauty (Blue & Yellow Dog Press) and The Shepherd’s Elegy (Knives, Forks and Spoons Press) as well as a novel, Talking to Wendigo (Turnstone Press) which was short-listed for an Arthur Ellis Award in 2009. He currently lives in the Gulf Islands, British Columbia, Canada where he is the editor of ditch, an online magazine of experimental poetry.

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