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Ann Walters
Three Flash-Fiction Works
 

Three Hundred Stones

Marcus stood on the shore and weighed the stone in his hand. It felt right; neither too heavy nor too light, perfectly balanced from end to end. He rubbed his thumb over the smooth, flat surface and nestled the edge against his curved forefinger. Satisfied with his grip, he studied the stone's grey veins crawling through glossy black, and imagined his life in those lines. All things in the universe were of a single substance, connected by their very existence in an inextricable and ever-changing web. He was as much mineral as man. With the swift slide of his arm and the snap of his wrist, Marcus sent the stone skipping over the restless sea.

The rising sun cast patterns of light and shadow on the water, making it hard to see, but he followed the stone until it sank before reaching for the next. This one was a little larger. It would be for lust, Faustina's power of arousal and pleasure. She was beautiful, lively, and intelligent, his wife. Only she could excite passion in his well-trained Stoic's heart. Wisdom was his defense against such failings, and the foundation of his faith. Through it, he maintained virtue by letting go of vice. With the stone's release from his fingers, Marcus felt the equilibrium shift.

The next five stones were small, well-suited to the grief of children lost in infancy. They skidded fast and far in brief flights of glory, the weight of remembrance lessening with each. Then a green one caught his eye, the only one of its kind in the pile of grey and black beside him. Lifting it, he found it was awkward; long and rectangular, thickened at one end. It would be hard to skip. This was Commodus, his heir and successor. Marcus didn't understand his son, but he loved him. Bitterness was knowing that Commodus cared for neither love nor knowledge. Marcus cast the feeling aside clumsily, the green stone skipping only twice before plopping beneath the waves.

He plucked another, this time for fear — of armies massing on northern borders, and imminent war ­ and sent it singing out of sight. More followed. One for pride, two for wealth and prestige, and a heavy round stone as large as his palm for self-conceit. With each toss, the universe shifted, moving closer to the proper alignment, bringing Marcus back into balance with nature. Behind him, at the edge of the beach, slaves waited with missives from the provinces, stacks of petitions, and a line of senators vying for his attention. They would continue to wait. The Emperor had 287 more stones to throw.


Cracks

They showed her into the room where he died. Dios mio, can you believe that? It's a small clinic, yes, but to put my daughter in the same room, to have her lay on the very table and spread her legs wide right where her Julio died?

His blood covered that table. My friend Dolores, her daughter Trina works at that clinic, cleaning up the filth and the waste, erasing the stains of life and death. She said that room was slick with Julio's blood, that it seeped into the flooring, penetrated the cracks in the linoleum.

It's there now, a crust of Julio's blood under the floor in the room where they put my daughter, Soledad. They wouldn't let me go in with her. "It's all right, Mama," she said. "It'll be over soon." When she squeezed my hand, hers was dry and firm. She said it was more important I watch the babies, anyway, and then she walked away into that room, her shoes squeaking over the rust-colored linoleum.

Such good children. Ernesto and Julia played together, and Carolina, bless her heart, sat in a chair the whole time, looking at the pictures in her child's Bible. She likes the one where Jesus is raising Lazarus from the dead. Her mother says it's because the Cristo looks like Julio, but I've heard Carolina's prayers in the night when Soledad is out, and I know why she likes that picture. She is alone too much, that child.

I held the baby the whole time, and he never cried, not once. Such an angel. Who would not want another? God knows, it wasn't my choice to go to the clinic. It wasn't my decision to put her in that room and let it splash over that table, let it drip out onto that floor and mingle with the dried up sangre of my daughter’s husband.

It didn't take as long as I expected. Soledad was pale, but she was steady when she came out, and I saw past her, through the open door. Trina was in there, slipping on blood and fluid, erasing with her mop the things we will never forget. Surely she won't get it all. There are too many cracks in that floor.


The Peacock

Backstage at the Crown and Sceptre Club was crystal chaos. In every direction Lou looked, divas were primping. The razzmatazz flash of costume jewelry and greasepaint was blinding. Flocks of wannabes in their best wigs and frocks paraded behind the curtain, awaiting their turn in the spotlight. Louella Langtree had been to the annual open audition at the Four Queens Hotel and Casino before, but this time, the third time, was going to be different. It had to be.

Madam Chanterelle Lebeaux was in charge of the herd. Part ringleader, part fashion consultant, and part den mother, she managed them all – rookies and veterans alike – with a wave of her manicured hand and the soft authority of her singsong voice. She was the standard, against which most would fall short.

Louella took comfort in Madam Chanterelle’s ample presence. Ducking beneath headdresses that dripped feathers and gems, the neophyte dodged a forest of glittering gowns to reach Madam’s side. Other hopefuls lined up there as well. An opportunity to practice under the eye of the great Chanterelle couldn’t be missed. Belting it to the rafters, Lou strutted for the grand dame of the Crown and Sceptre.

The moves were more suited to cheerleader tryouts than a class establishment such as this. Prancing, flouncing, exaggerated shimmies – the motions were cliché and awkward. Madam Chanterelle winced and tried to be patient, but she whispered to herself that Louella Langtree’s sugar needed a whole lot more sweetening than could be accomplished in the next ten minutes.

Lou raised arms to the heavens, striving for the high note, then ended with a slap on the butt and a wicked wiggle. Chanterelle Lebeaux wasn’t the only one in the room who wanted to grab those sweet, firm cheeks; it was a mighty fine ass. Her tongue darted in and out as she waved a hand laden with rings, gesturing Lou to her side.

A pair of pros, in costumes worthy of Bob Mackie and sporting enough makeup to cover an entire Central American country, passed in a breeze of cloying perfume. Sucking on a lower lip that savored of Racy Red Raspberry lip gloss, Lou wondered how they could afford boas made of real ostrich feathers. And those Swarovski-studded spike heels were to die for.

“Lou, baby, you need to take it easy.” Madam Chanterelle pulled the rhinestone-covered cowboy hat from Louella’s hand. “Darlin’ you are trying just a little too hard.”

“Madam, do you think I have what it takes?” Lou’s big browns were puppy-dog wells of sadness reflecting the belief that an entire life hinged on this audition. A slow, deliberate spin revealed a lithe body in a Daisy Duke outfit of sequined halter and tight jean shorts. The look was one-third country girl, two-thirds streetwalker. Eager-to-please sincerity spilled like tears from the eyes searching Madam Chanterelle’s face for a sign.

Before she could answer, the call came from the auditorium. Jo-Jo, the director, was ready: Louella Langtree was up next.

*****

Lou was quiet on the drive home from the airport. The excitement was gone, dribbled away in peanuts and pocket-size vodka like a slow leak from a silicon breast. The sameness of the midwestern landscape was a blight of dullness after three days in Vegas.

“Lou, you okay?” Pam’s concern was revealed in the uneven squeak of her voice. Met by silence, she didn’t pry any further.

The only response was a tiny shake of the head as Lou stared out the window. Tears were unacceptable. Pam hadn’t realized this trip was supposed to mark a turning point in their lives. It would’ve been a point of no return for Lou, anyway, and Pam, well, she could’ve come along for the ride, if she’d wanted. But that didn’t matter now. They’d be stuck in this low-rent life forever, living the so-called American Dream.

They passed the same old endless rows of run-down apartments and shabby strip malls. Nothing would ever change. Lou sank lower in the seat and picked at the peeling faux wood trim. There was the Cash-in-a-Flash, where hopeless hopefuls traded the future for the moment, and then past the Taquería Dos Pescadores, where the Johannson family sold fish tacos a thousand miles from the sea. They were almost home.

On the corner by the liquor store, where the biker bar used to be, a new club called The Peacock was opening. The exterior had been painted purple. A large mirrored ball beckoned, twinkling, through the open pink door. A glimpse of graceful movement – the shimmer of showtime – caught Lou’s attention. The sign in the window read ‘entertainers needed - female impersonators only’. Lou sat up.

“Louis, don’t you want to talk about it?” Pam gave her husband a gentle squeeze on the shoulder. “Obviously the meetings didn’t go well...I guess there was no promotion again this year...”

“No, not this year,” Lou said. Watching the Peacock Club shrink to a perfect purple cube in the mirror, his voice brimmed with hope. “I have a good feeling about next year, though. I think it’s going to happen.” He leaned back, closed his eyes, and tapped out a disco beat.



The works of Ann Walters, a Physical anthropologist, have been published in several literary journals.  


A MetaNym Visualization
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