Flash fiction by Charles Rammelkamp
“If it’s a story you want about a marriage, I can’t really come up with anything,” I told Christa. “I guess I qualify for the medal or the certificate, the gold watch they give you at the retirement party, working on forty years with Lisle now. But no heartbreaks.” I shrugged, almost apologetic. “The kind of thing that makes a story a story.”
I felt uncomfortable talking to Christa. She’d had two failed marriages and plenty of drama, and I just didn’t have anything to add to the conversation. Maybe it was easier to glorify infidelity and abuse if you were a woman, I thought, but then I worried that might sound sexist and I tried to erase it from my memory, to unthink it. No, it was all my fault that things had worked out as they had – and Arlene’s too, of course. The shame was all mine, a marriage like one of those feel-good holiday movies whose happy ending is so anticlimactic. But damn it, why did Christa get all the good heartbreak stories? It wasn’t fair.
“It’s OK,” Christa reassured; not my shortcoming if things hadn’t gone wrong. “At least you didn’t have to spend seven years with a violent drunk who cheated on you with your own sister, or another twenty with a bully who wouldn’t have sex with you.” Well, at least there was that.
Laughter in the Darkness
Harris had a gravelly kind of laugh, short but full-bodied – unh-unh-unh – that made people direct their jokes at him at the lunch table in the cafeteria. The joke tellers could always get Eddie to cry real tears of mirth – plucking the moisture out of the corners of his eyes while his body shook – but it was Harris’s that gave the real satisfaction of a joke well told, a punchline delivered with skill, the timing just right.
Taking his tray of dirty glassware to the conveyor belt, Eddie considered the art of telling a joke. A good joke teller can make anything funny, even stuff that’s not so funny, and he remembered the rape jokes Swanson had told the all-male crew at the lunch table; he could hear Harris’s unh-unh-un, like a thumbs-up. Eddie hadn’t laughed that time, not that anybody noticed. He was too busy remembering something that hadn’t been very funny at all.
She Came in Through the Bathroom Window
I didn’t go to school dances. It just wasn’t my style. I liked bands, concerts, live music, collected records, but dances – just not my style. All through high school I’d avoided them – proms, after-sports-game hops, private dance parties (which was possibly one reason I never got laid), and I saw no reason to change my ways in college.
“Come on, dude,” my roommate Mark urged. Mark was the kind of guy who liked “cutting a rug.” The minute the lights went out in the gym or the cafeteria, tables and chairs moved aside to create a dancefloor, and the strobe began to oscillate, Mark had his shoes off, boogying up a storm, arms waving, feet shuffling to whatever live band was up on stage.
I went with him one time to a freshman mixer after we’d smoked a joint, but I left after a shitty cover of “Light My Fire.” But here was my dilemma. One of the sororities was having a Sadie Hawkins dance, and my gawky wallflower friend from Math class, Judy, was going to invite me. I knew this because Becky Goodman told me, probably feeling me out first, and I didn’t outright say no, for fear of hurting Judy’s feelings.
Partly it felt like I was the only chance at a date that shy, homely Judy had, for whatever reason – who else from the Delts or the Gammas or whatever Greek letter they went by was going to ask me? – and, more to the point, who else would Judy dare ask? Rejection was about the worst thing that could happen to anybody.
“Do it, dude!” Mark urged when I mentioned it to him.
But did I really want to go through with this simply because I didn’t want to hurt Judy’s feelings? What would that lead to? Was I going to be trapped into something I didn’t want, couldn’t foresee? I liked Judy, don’t get me wrong, but I didn’t want to go to a dance with her. I didn’t do dances, just wasn’t my style.
And then here in the Student Union, “Light My Fire” coming in over the sound system from some jukebox in a distant room – here came Judy and Becky. “Peter!” Becky called, Judy hanging back, shy, but definitely two girls on a mission.
“Peter!” I nodded, smiled, broke for the boys’ bathroom. That flushing sound you hear? It’s my heart swallowing my conscience.
Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore. Two full-length collections have been published in 2020, Catastroika, from Apprentice House, and Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books. A poetry chapbook, Mortal Coil, is forthcoming from Clare Songbirds Publishing.
Flash Boulevard is edited by Francine Witte. Banner photograph Wes Candela. All rights revert to author.