Flash Fiction by Mary Grimm
Whatever Comes Next
When Jinny was sitting at the park eating her sandwich, a man drove up in his car, parked, got out, and walked straight over to her. “Are you my friend?” he said.
He looked angry or upset. His eyes were red, the whites, that is, but also the skin around them. He was wearing sweat pants and a sweatshirt that said Bird on the front in big letters. “Are you my friend?” he said again.
Jinny held her sandwich pinched between her finger and thumb. It was a tuna sandwich, made for her by her sister that morning – tuna and chopped hard-boiled eggs and mayonnaise and sweet pickle. “No,” she said.
“I knew it, I knew it,” the man said.
Jinny scrabbled at her napkin, her wrappings, her paperback, trying to gather them together discreetly.
“No one is,” the man said. The words were sad, but he said them angrily. “Where’s your car?” he asked Jinny, looking around as if he could guess which one it was.
“It’s that dark blue one,” Jinny said. She pointed to an SUV that looked substantial, even threatening.
The man squinted his eyes at the blue SUV. “There’s someone in it,” he said.
“That’s my husband.” Jinny put her hand on top of her notebook, her back straight and tense.
The man spoke under his breath, swinging his head to follow the cars on the road outside the park. It was cool, the trees half bare of leaves, the sun warm when the wind stopped blowing. Jinny wanted to take a drink of her pop, but she waited, waiting for the man to go away. She wondered if she should offer him the rest of her sandwich. But he might be insulted. Without turning her head, she tried to check out who was nearby. The man in the blue car, fifty feet away. A woman and her twins in a double stroller by the swings. A high school track team was running on the track, but they were far enough off that their voices were indistinguishable, silvery and sweet as bells.
The man turned back to her, turning with his whole body as if he were doing a dance step. “If he’s your husband, how come he isn’t eating with you?” He screwed his face up anxiously as he said this, as if it were a question on an important exam.
Jinny gathered up all of her things in a stack, the unwrapped half sandwich dripping on the open page of her book. “We’re having a fight,” she said. She stood up. “We had a terrible fight and I got out of the car.” She looked over at the blue car. Its windows were tinted, dark and shadowy.
“I’m sorry,” the man said. He sounded angry again. “I’m really really sorry.” But he didn’t go away. He stood there, his hands hanging, his reddened eyes, his mouth moving and chewing over what he might say next. He looked toward Jinny although not directly at her.
“Well, goodbye,” Jinny said, but he made no move to go. She started walking toward the blue car. It was in the opposite direction from where she wanted to go. She turned her head, just a little, to see what the man was doing. He was still standing there, looking at where she had been sitting. The back of her neck prickled. She walked slowly toward the blue car. When she had almost reached it, she looked back. The man in the sweatshirt had taken a few steps after her. He was looking at the ground as if he were tracking her footsteps. More quickly, Jinny walked to the blue car, and, after hesitating, knocked on the smoky, tinted passenger window.
“It was your fault, wasn’t it,” the man shouted after her. He was running across the parking lot clumsily. “Say you’re sorry,” he yelled.
She opened the car door. It was dim inside, and the man in the sweatshirt looked gray and sick through the glass. He was standing by a trash can at the edge of the parking strip. She felt for the lock button and listened to the click it made, breathing hard.
Jinny knew that she had to turn to the man in the driver’s seat and apologize, explain her presence in his car. She knew this and still she waited, just a moment longer, staring out at the parking lot, at the leaves skipping and tumbling across it. As if she were dying, her life came to her, ran before her in a series of jumbled pictures and words. The thinness of her wrists, the blanket on the bed that belonged to her sister and her sister’s husband, the room in their house with the venetian blinds, ancient and dusty, through which she would peer to see what kind of day it was, her hand making a small space to look out. Her brother-in-law standing outside the bathroom door in the mornings while she stared in the mirror, her hand uncertainly applying a coat of lipstick. Her trip to work, sitting with her knees together on the bus, her paperback open on her lap while she stared out the window. The damp chill of the office, the crumbs she swept from the break room table every day. Every day someone had been there before her, someone had eaten and left behind their crumpled napkin, their half-empty Styrofoam cup. Her nights at the movies with her sister, girls’ night out, her sister’s husband would say smiling fatly, you girls behave yourselves. The shared popcorn, the movie’s enormous images of roses, velvet, dancers sweeping across a marble floor, one pair of lips against another, a gleam of streetlight on water, an explosion like a flower, a body lying bent on the hard bed of the street, blood finding the cracks and hollows in its roughness. And afterward, her sister’s dry voice, the clinking of glasses or coffee cups, her sister’s advice, her sister’s complaints, tears, mockery. And then the flatness of her pillow, thin lines of light on the wall, the coldness of her sheet which she pulled up over her face, breathing warm into the dark.
The car was blue inside, Jinny noted, still hesitating, dark blue, the seats soft under her fingertips, and the windows were tinted blue, smoky blue. They made it seem to be twilight outside, like the blue of windows in a house when you look out just before true dark. Without moving her head, she could see the man’s legs, so close to hers, and his shoes. One of his feet was resting on the accelerator. She could see the fingers of one of his hands resting on his leg, square tipped, thick, blond hair on the knuckles, a ring with a red stone. Less than a minute had passed since she had gotten into the car, she thought.
Outside the man in the sweatshirt was dancing in great clumsy leaps, his arms outstretched, his head thrown back, his feet stumbling and skipping among the blowing leaves.
Jinny turned her head, as slowly as if her bones were becoming stone, each tiny movement bringing one bit more into her view. His arms, the color of his shirt, his shaven chin, his sunglasses, dark and gleaming, his close-cropped hair, the misshapen lobe of his ear. Turning, Jinny shifted in her seat, turning her body, she tightened her fingers, pressing her nails against the palms of her hands.
He was angled toward her already, waiting, polite. He was wearing a jacket with the word Army on it – two letters on either side of the zipper.
“Are you in the army?” Jinny asked.
He seemed to be looking at her through the dark glasses, but she wasn’t sure. “Not anymore,” he said.
The engine was running. His voice was soft. She couldn’t see his eyes but she imagined they were dark.
Mary Grimm has had two books published, Left to Themselves (novel) and Stealing Time (story collection) – both by Random House, and a number of flash pieces in places like Helen, The Citron Review, and Tiferet. Currently, she is working on a YA thriller. She teaches fiction writing at Case Western Reserve University.
Flash Boulevard is edited by Francine Witte. Banner photograph Wes Candela. All rights revert to author.