(Thursday, I had an “Oh, hey, it’s September. I should be 11 days into my 30 Stories in 30 Days challenge!” moment. Right. Funny how things can so totally slip your mind. But I do feel like writing some flash fic right now, so … welcome to my “Some Number of Stories in 18 Days” challenge … yes, it loses it’s swagger that way, doesn’t it? No matter. With all this free time I’ve got on my hands, maybe I’ll get crazy and catch up!)
Aiding and Abetting
Ora and Joe waited by the pharmacy entrance, neither looking comfortable, neither looking happy with waiting.
“We should have called your sister,” Joe said quietly. “This is her business.”
Ora didn’t look at him. “You’ve said that. More than once.” She looked away from him, down the street. She waited a beat, waited two, watched the traffic light change, turned back. “If Mona was ready to involve her mother, she would,” she said. “You know my sister feels the need to wear her official hat in every situation.”
Joe pulled his coat closed against the chill breeze. “We need an official hat,” he said. “Mona’s in something bad. You heard her message clearly as I did.”
Ora shuddered, recalling the fear in Mona’s voice on the answering machine, hearing her say someone was dead. “And if we don’t meet her, what? She’ll be arrested.” Ora’s words were clipped with her draining patience.
“She’ll be arrested, yes,” Joe said, sighing. “But I have to think bigger picture, think of more than Mona. What happens if we get involved in whatever this is? You know I never mind helping your family, but this is different.” He hated how ugly that sounded, how small. But he was out of arguments, was grabbing whatever came to mind to get Ora back to the car, back home, safe.
Ora took a step away from him. She could feel the bitterness in the back of her throat, a painful pinch that was ready to rage out of her in an angry storm.
“She didn’t call you,” she said slowly. “You can go right back home and focus on that big picture. I’m going to wait for Mona.”
Joe said nothing but stayed where he was. Ora’s god daughter had always been trouble, from stealing snacks in pre-school to pulling fire alarms and cheating on exams in high school and college. And Ora defending her at every turn, softening every offense, hearing only what she cared to.
After listening to Mona’s voicemail message, Ora had repeated her revisionist version over and over. “She says someone is dead, Joe. Someone is dead. We have to go.” But Mona hadn’t said someone was dead. What she’d said was that she had killed someone. And here was Ora, waiting to get sucked into the cover-up, already planning ways to aid and abet. Unwilling to call her sister the DA, Mona’s mother.
He shuffled out of his coat and handed it to Ora, who hadn’t thought to grab one before leaving the house. She looked at him with an expression that could have been disappointment or just sadness.
“I can’t do it this time, Ora. Just can’t. I’ll come if you need me, but I can’t let that girl drag me down.”
Ora took the coat and turned her back. Joe stood watching her gently sloped shouders, thinking of how many times he’s massaged away their tension, imagining the tension that Mona’s crime and his dissertion must be twisting into them even as he watched her.
He walked back the way they’d come, glad he’d thought to slip the car keys in one of the coat pockets. She wouldn’t let him forget, wouldn’t forgive him. He saw it in the turn of her neck and the tightening in his gut. He wondered what of their marriage would be left. Twenty-three years, and all their fights over Mona chipping and chipping and chipping away at them. He’d met Ora on a package tour of Germany and Austria. He’d noticed her right away — she’d been the only other black person in the group — but he hadn’t spoken to her right off, not until the night the tour bus had dropped them at a shabby restaurant in the Black Forest. She’d been standing apart, looking at the dingy setting, an odd, amused expression on her face. He had walked up to her, but before he could speak, she had turned to him and nodded.
“This is only our third night,” she’d said. “You would think they could have managed at least five, get us through half the trip in a style that lived up to the brochure.”
He had smiled, and she’d said his smile made her feel at home.
At home. He had loved the thought that his smile made her feel comfortable. And in that moment had imagined them with a life together.
He stopped walking at the end of the block and turned to watch Ora wait, laughing at himself a little. He knew there was no way he would be able to leave her alone in the street in the middle of the night.
He walked back. She was on the phone, and the sound of his approach startled her. She spun around and met his eyes, her face shifting from hard to calm.
“My sister,” she mouthed to him, pointing at the phone.
When he reached her, she took his hand.
“Yes, I should have called you,” she said evenly. “This time I am afraid for her. Maybe it’s best that the police found her first … Joe is here — ” she looked into his eyes again and nodded. “He’s taking me home.”
For this story, I used a random words writing exercise I learned from Laurie Stone: a list of 10 words from which I use 7. Laurie’s idea had more to it than the random words — including that the writing of the should take only 30 minutes. The 7-of-10 random words part of the idea stuck, but I sometimes give myself a little more freedom with time limit. I get the word lists from a random word generator. The word list for this story: forest | restaurant | official | storm | traffic lights | valley | pharmacy | dead | mind | coat.