Flash Fiction by Dan Crawley
Leaving the Mexican restaurant after a long lunch, Lea pushed the heavy wooden door wide open.
Brent followed, saying, “All that I mentioned earlier, I’m just trying to…I want to help you.”
“New subject,” Lea said. “I think those people are wasted.”
Ahead on the sidewalk staggered another couple. They clutched each other as if traversing an uneven rock jetty, losing the battle against a wicked gale. Lea noticed a purple curl poking out from the black ski cap on the man’s head. The woman didn’t seem to have much hair under her ball cap.
“Timber,” Brent said.
The woman swayed, losing her grip on her partner’s elbow. He buckled, too, and all of his interior scaffolding seemed to vanish. The woman ended up between two barrel cacti, sprawled on the pink gravel lining the sidewalk. The man sat on his heels in the gutter.
“Jesus. It’s not funny. They can’t drive,” Lea said. “Hello,” she called to the couple, “are you hurt?” She left Brent’s side and hurried down the sidewalk.
“We can get the manager,” Brent called. “It’s his problem for serving them too much.”
When she bent down, Lea noticed the woman’s silver gray buzz cut under her cap and wrinkles around her eyes. Deep tributaries ran down the older woman’s cheeks, across her neck. “You could be my grandma,” Lea said. The man held on to the older woman’s ankle, and he was much younger than Lea thought. Thick purple bangs escaped from his ski cap.
“Lea? They aren’t your business,” Brent said.
“We are road-weary,” the older woman said and wiped her watery eyes. “My incandescent guidepost, lead the way home,” she said.
“No fair. I’m your shiniest guidepost,” the young man said. His smirk reminded Lea of her oversized class of first graders after they’ve disrupted her teaching for the millionth time. “I’ll drive you home,” Lea said, not asked.
“My truck’s over there.” The young man pointed his nose at an old blue Chevy a few parking spaces away. He gave Lea his keys and burped like a frog.
“Lea? What are you doing?” Brent stood in the same spot.
She helped the young man to his feet and they both lifted the older woman up. Lea stayed between the swaying couple, holding them close against her.
“Brent, if you want to help, follow in your car,” she called out.
Lea maneuvered the older woman up onto the threadbare bench seat and then the young man. She ran around the truck, shouting, “Bye, Brent, bye” and hopped in behind the steering wheel. She revved the engine.
Brent raced across the parking lot toward his RAV4.
Even with the boulevard’s dense traffic, it wasn’t long until she saw Brent catch up to her in the rear-view mirror. Lea pointed her nose over her shoulder. “He thinks my perspective is all messed up about my teaching job, my discouragements, my life in this city,” she said to the older woman. “That I need to change the way I think about everything and then everything will change around me.”
“My father dropped bombs from a B-52,” the older woman said brightly, enunciating like Lea’s unrealistically optimistic principal who promised that class sizes would shrink, that more money was on the way. “He became a world renowned artist, acquiring indispensable knowledge in regard to perspective by peering through his bombsight.”
Lea looked in the mirror again. Brent closed in behind her. “Where do you live?”
The young man mumbled something, his head against the passenger door.
The older woman said, “He said, ‘El Pueblo del Jardín de Las Cruces.’ I was born there and I shall end my days there, joining the blissful garden of bejeweled crosses.”
“You mean, Las Cruces…New Mexico? You’re a long way from home.”
“My, yes, so far away…our heavenly refuge awaits.” The older woman placed her head against the young man’s shoulder. She snored almost instantly.
“Ha,” Lea said. “I guess it’s waiting for me, too.”
Lea entered the next onramp. Brent stayed with her, even out to the far left lane. Soon they would leave the city limits, head south for Tucson.
“Ha,” Lea said again. She remembered that her phone sat on Brent’s dash. She imagined him trying to call her, the look on his face as the ringer played beside him.
The traffic dwindled. Now Lea peered at the driver’s side mirror. Brent was farther back than before. How long will I keep looking backwards? So she gazed straight ahead, taking in the boundless panorama outside: the gauzy ceiling of sky spanning the bug-stained windshield, the low mountain ranges rising steadily at the edges, and in the center of the frame stretched a cobalt blue highway dividing the scrub-strewn desert floor. She knew what she could barely make out now, many, many miles ahead, would eventually present itself, changing everything.
The old woman sits on the edge of her bed, sobbing. She hasn’t put on her red sweater with the oversized buttons yet. And sticking out of her sleeveless homemade dress, her bony shoulders roll and pitch like a tiny earthquake. Those strong hands of hers spread over her entire face.
The boy can’t help but stare at his grandma through the open bedroom door, fascinated. She has never cried like this before; usually her sleepy expression held a crooked smile. He is worried, though, that she might slide off the corner of the bed and hurt herself on the hardwood floor.
Then his mom turns his shoulders, which turns his legs, and steers him into the hallway.
In the front room his mom says that Grandma found out a dear friend, someone she cared a lot about, has died. Parley Yates, that is his name. What a name, the boy thinks. The boy says in his mind, Parley, Par-ley, Par-lay. She says it was someone Grandma knew a long time ago, and long before Grandpa.
“Did Grandma cry like this after Grandpa was gone?” the boy wants to know. He was born years after his grandpa died.
“Why are you still here?” his mom wants to know, exasperated. “Weren’t you complaining earlier about being cooped up inside the house? Look at that weather, that sun….” She hurries back down the hall.
It’s true. The haze is burning off, and the sky is clearing. When the boy goes to the wide window, he hears a voice on the other side of the miniature palm tree. He can’t make out any words. Maybe one of his friends? Someone he doesn’t know? Then he hears his grandma’s anguished voice carrying from the back of the house, but her words are lost to him, too. The voice outside replies something. His grandma’s voice sounds like she is beseeching. The voice outside sounds reassuring. And there, just beyond the water spotted pane of glass, those sunlit fingers shine between the palm fronds. They stretch and brighten even more so. They reach for the firmament.
Dan Crawley is the author of the novella Straight Down the Road (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2019) and the short story collection The Wind, It Swirls (Cowboy Jamboree Press, 2021). His writing appears or is forthcoming in a number of journals and anthologies, including JMWW, Lost Balloon, Tiny Molecules, and Atticus Review. His work has been nominated for Best Small Fictions, Best of the Net, and the Pushcart Prize.
Flash Boulelvard is edited by Francine Witte. Banner photograph Wes Candela.