Flash Fiction – in a Flash!

You might not believe this.

When I woke up this morning Dot’s email with her Wednesday’s Word piece sat in my inbox.

At 7:02am.

I forgot to mention yesterday that Dot didn’t want me to send her any word from my magic word bag a day or two ahead of time. She wanted to attempt the Word of the Day challenge like I do – wait until the Wordsmith sends his word out into cyberland, then write like mad.

So, when I crawled out of bed this morning, opened my laptop, and saw her story, my mouth fell open.

That’s what I’m talking about when I say commitment and dedication, and a fervor for writing. Amazing!

And, I don’t just mean her quick turnaround. Wait until you read her story….

*****

From Wordsmith.org, Today’s Word:

bread and circuses

MEANING:
noun: Things intended to keep people happy and to divert their attention from the problems.

ETYMOLOGY:
Translation of Latin term panis et circenses, from panis (bread) + et (and), circenses (circuses). The term originated in the satires of Roman poet Juvenal (c. 60-140). Circus refers to the circus games, such as chariot races, held in the Roman times. The term has been loan translated into many other languages. In Spanish, for example, it is pan y toros (bread and bullfights).

USAGE:
“Madrid has set up a series of summits that look a lot like bread and circuses for a domestic audience at time of economic misery.”
John Vinocur; Still Waiting for a Brave New Europe; The New York Times; Jan 4, 2010.

——————————————-

Judy opened the suede covered octagonal box, lifting each of the origami flaps – ocean blue and ponderosa green and solar yellow – as if the touch of her delicate fingers would burn them. Leaving behind a scar so ugly that no one would ever bother look inside again. And look inside was the point. Just a glance, a peek, no lingering. But if the entry point was marred then no one would come.

Each pointed flap laid open on the royal purple satin tablecloth, splayed as a ripened sunflower at the end of August. She moved forward, resting her belly on the edge of the table and peered over the box’s edge. There was the hat, just as she left it.

She felt comfort in knowing there had not been others since her last visit.

Judy reached into the box and slid her hands under the brim, whose color was the same as the dimming table. The four sprouts of the hat, the same color as the exterior of the box, bounced and giggled as she lifted it upward and toward her head.

Should she put it on now? Or wait?

“How long?” Judy yelled into the other room.

“Not long.” Margaret replied. “The ticket sellers will be here soon. Followed by the ushers. Then the food handlers. Why?”

“My hat, is it ready?” Judy shouted back, her voice now breathy as the opening moment neared.

“Wait.” Then silence.

Judy lowered the hat back into the box but left the flaps open.

“What are you doing?” Judy asked as she entered the kitchen.

“Building hardtack boxes,” Margaret answered. “Practical and nutritious and they last a long time. You entertain and I feed. Okay?”

“Deal.” Judy continued walking through the kitchen then walked right out the door and down the steps to the lawn. Where. Her naked feet met the blades of grass – again – and they smiled. She continued walking until she reached the plastic covering they’d hung from the garage. The white length of Tyvek stretching from the roof’s overhang, across the pvc pipes duct-taped together to the opposite sides where they were tightly tethered by yellow truck rope. All very carefully done so as to not smash their attendees. Or each other.

For some reason that neither of the women understood, the county government gave them a grant to do their show. Judy the performer and Margaret the nurturer. Between them they kept the people happy and kept them out of trouble. The valley was hit hard with the downward spiraling economy and people started becoming just plain mean. Hoarding. Isolating. Not taking car of themselves.

One day, Judy was in the driveway with Billy. He had just started taking acrobat lessons from her a few weeks before, she remembers. They were stretching and doing handstands and back flips and this car pulled up across the street. They even turned off their engine. Judy was having Billy practice smiling when he was upside down which was, according to him, a nearly impossible task. The couple in the car started laughing after a few minutes, with giant smiles on their faces nearly to the point of tears.

Two weeks later Judy received the distinguished monetary grant award for performers whose work inspires others to “Just Be Happy.”

That was about two years ago now. And here they are again, except that they bought the house next door and it was currently under remodel. The goal was to finish the master suite and to make the unused child’s room into a guest area. Every visitor needs a little “me time.”

And now was Judy’s time. She skipped back into the house and into the room with the box with her hat. This time she lifted it onto her head. Then she checked herself in the mirror and ran through the kitchen and out the door. She would not have her guests upset – so she places the hostess with the mostess hat on her head and let the spokes bounce with each step back to the garage where she could help people forget their troubles, just for a day. Or an hour, even. Every moment counts. Every moment is important to the health and well-being of the individual which is important for the survival of the planet.

“You feed their bodies and I feed their soul,” Judy shouted toward the kitchen window, where Margaret was standing, shoulders up, hands pressed against the window’s ledge. And the faint beginnings of her smile.

“Y-up,” Margaret mouthed, since Judy wouldn’t be able to hear her, anyway. Best to save the vocal cords for the evening’s performance. Judy said she had a surprise for them all tonight. Margaret would wait, as she always waits. And be there with Judy’s hardtack when she was done. For now, she needed to get the first pan out of the oven, before it burned.

*****

Dot is a writer in the spaces between work and working out. Current projects are completion of a memoir and revision of a mystery novel, alongside writing short stories and poetry.

She blogs at The Writing Vein.

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3 responses to “Flash Fiction – in a Flash!

  1. Thank you, Christi, for the opportunity to join you. I wanted to share a little of my process for this short short story.

    The first thing in terms of writing a story that came to mind was how this phrase could fit our time. I was curious where the “bread and circuses” were happening and a few political scenarios floated across the possible themes I could use.

    But that felt forced; I don’t generally do well when I try to make deliberate subtleties or parables out of my writing. So I let the phrase wash through me and just started typing, letting a character emerge. And let her tell me her story. *smile*

    As I was writing it, I felt again that pull to make a political statement. But what I heard from myself as I was making revisions was – again – to not force the story into a box. There could be a political interpretation; and it is politics of the ordinary human. That’s what this phrase said to me today. Yes, I think there are large scale bread and circuses happening to distract us from some big issues. And I think that we also provide kind and loving bread and circuses for each other to make life more tolerable and gentler.

  2. Dot,

    It’s funny how speculative fiction (maybe I’m wrong to call it that, but that’s how I read it) borders on the “that could never happen” to “but, it seems so real.”

    What I love about speculative fiction are those moments when the author pulls the reader deep into the moment, so that the story is no longer speculative but real. Here are the lines that pull me in:

    This – She moved forward, resting her belly on the edge of the table and peered over the box’s edge. [my belly reacted to that sentence!]

    and this – Judy was having Billy practice smiling when he was upside down which was, according to him, a nearly impossible task.

    and the use of the word “hardtack.” I had to look it up, and it makes perfect sense.

    I also love this description:
    Each pointed flap laid open on the royal purple satin tablecloth, splayed as a ripened sunflower at the end of August.

    I’m glad you followed your political pull. And, now, I want to know exactly what sort of surprise Judy has in mind! Great story!

    Thanks again for participating 🙂

  3. Hi Dot,

    I echo Christi, you have great description. And I love your comment about the “politics” of the ordinary human.

    Thanks for your engaging piece of flash.

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