Monday, October 6, 2008

Nobody Home

I wrote this flash fiction in July and sent it to Muzzle Flash. I didn’t hear back from editor DZ Allen and, in fact, the Muzzle Flash site went dormant for a month or more. (DZ recently resurfaced there, explaining -- possibly tongue-in-cheek, possibly not -- that he’d been locked up.) Long and short of it, the story is probably not Muzzle Flash material anyway, and I don’t know of anywhere else to send it -- so I’m putting it up here, because I need some action.


Devin was supposed to be looking for a job, but Rachel wasn’t convinced. He never got out of bed before she left for work, and when she came home, to an empty apartment, the TV was warm to the touch, the game controller in a different spot. When he returned in the evening, after she’d eaten dinner alone, there was always beer on his breath and smoke in his clothes.

The promise to look for work was ripped out of him on Valentine’s Day, and now Mother’s Day was around the corner. Rachel tried once again to convince him to work at the florist, just for the holiday.

“We always need delivery help for Mother’s Day. It’s something. They pay cash!”


“I told you last time. Five, six bucks a signature.”

“Five bucks,” Devin said.

“You know your way around,” Rachel said. “You could make ten, twelve deliveries an hour, sixty, seventy bucks.”

“What happens if there’s nobody home?”

“You try next door, on either side, across the street. Get someone to sign for it. We have these red tags for the front door that say, Flowers for you, you weren’t home, we left them with – and there’s a space where you write the address.”

“What if nobody’ll sign for ‘em?”

“Yellow tag for the door that says, Call us, we’ll bring your flowers back when you’re home.” She could see Devin was losing interest.

“Then you gotta make a second trip for five bucks,” he said.

Rachel and the other floral designers usually ran those deliveries back out on their way home, for no extra money, but she didn’t say anything more to Devin. She knew he wouldn’t understand: People working together, busy times, pulling more weight than usual.

Ann, one of the designers, was the first person to guess Rachel was pregnant. They were greening the stupid FTD Mother’s Day baskets, production-line style, and she caught Rachel sobbing.

“I am,” Rachel said. It was the first time she’d told anyone at all.

Ann told her to go home.

Go: That much sounded good to Rachel. She washed her face in the restroom and walked out to the garage, where the temp drivers shuffled around with maps and clipboards and boxed roses. They were drinkers and deadbeats, and she admitted to herself that Devin wouldn’t have looked out of place among them.

A funeral spray she’d made before starting on the FTD crap was still here. Hard to get a five-dollar signature from a dead man, she guessed. She carried it to the company’s panel van.

At the funeral home, the name of the deceased didn’t appear on the blackboard in the delivery room. It was late in the day, visitations in progress, but she pushed through the door that opened into the main hallway off the parlors, to double check.

The first parlor on the left was unoccupied, and Rachel ducked in, sat on a couch. The empty stillness promised quiet, but she could hear a constant low murmur of voices from the other rooms. It was not that different from sitting alone in the apartment.

What kind of home did she have?

It was night when the designers finished stocking the cooler with arrangements. The deadbeats had cashed out, left behind the usual half-dozen soggy-looking packages. Rachel took two with addresses on streets she recognized, said something reassuring to Ann, and carried the flowers to her car.

The people at her first stop had seen the door tag and phoned, expected her; the second stop was a stab in the dark. The house was in a neighborhood where friends had lived when she was little: Shingle Victorians and Tudors on large lots along the curving streets, separated from the city grid on three sides by a shaded creek. She’d daydreamed about living here when she grew up.

There were lights on inside the house as she pulled up to the detached garage. When she got out of the car, the lights on the ground floor went out, and lights came on upstairs. She hurried to the side door to the house, hoping to catch them before they went to bed, when she saw the yellow tag hanging from the doorknob, bright as day.

So they returned home and walked fifteen yards out of their way to use the front door… Odd, but there were many other explanations, and it was the end of a long day. She rang the doorbell.

A floodlight on the garage clicked on, showing her car to the people in the house. Long minutes passed before the room behind the door filled with light. Then a silhouette loomed behind yellow half-length curtains no hand reached to part.

Rachel forced a smile and gave the package a meager hoist, a gesture she hoped looked friendly, even as cold sweat glued her blouse to her spine.

Devin opened the door, stood there with a weighted-down bag in his hand.

He was listening to me, Rachel thought. Yellow tags. He was paying attention.

Rachel still wore her florist apron. Blade in the pocket.

Devin never let go of the doorknob. When he finally dropped the bag, heavy crystal shattered and spilled at her feet


David Cranmer said...

What can I say but excellent. I'm glad you posted it here.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Ditto. I think flash is on a hiatus because of the current problems. I hope I get some entries for my little challenge.

Joe Boland said...

Too kind, both of you. Thanks for reading.

Anonymous said...

Strong little tale, Joe.
Nice, tight storytelling, nothing overplayed, and a sweet punch of an ending.

Too much modern crime fiction takes immersion into the world of criminals for granted. Nice to see a fresh, shocked, view from outside.


eo said...


Joe Boland said...

Thanks, Hocking...Borat...

Gainesville Dave said...

Damn You Joe Boland, for sucking me in and making me care and then dragging me into this assault with a deadly weapon

Joe Boland said...

Dave, that is easily my favorite reader comment.