Friday, August 10, 2012

A flash story

I got this idea for a short story, but it turned out to be really short, so it's a flash story.  I'm thinking of expanding it. This is a rough draft.  Constructive feedback is appreciated!  -A. 

Nora Bell woke up on Tuesday with a question. A question mark, really. On the back of her left hand.  The mark looked like someone had scratched it into her skin with a bent-out safety pin. 

“Odd,” thought Nora. “That wasn’t there last night.” She would have seen it while washing her hands before she took out her contact lenses.  Every night, she took her contact lenses out and used this cleaning solution whose label claimed you didn’t have to rub the lenses to get them cleaned and disinfected.  She rubbed them a few times before putting them into the case anyway. 

Nora’s next thought was to show the question mark to Paul, but he wasn’t there.

Nora walked down the hall to the bathroom, her thoughts of work that day interrupted by a knock on her apartment door. “7:30. Who can that be?” she said to herself.  Nora always spoke to herself aloud when she was home alone.

Barefoot, she tiptoed toward the door.  If it wasn’t anyone she wanted to see, or a stranger, she didn’t want them to hear her approaching so she could pretend the apartment was empty.  Paul always said that the other person could see the light through the peep-hole get interrupted by your head in between the door and the window anyway, so why bother tiptoeing?

It was Billy the super. She opened the door. 

“Hey, Billy. Kinda early, isn’t it?”

“Sorry, Nora. No water.  Main broke down the street.  Should be fixed by lunchtime.”

“Crap.  Thanks for the heads up, Billy.”

“Sorry, kiddo.”

Nora closed the door as Billy turned to knock on the door across the hall. The lady there had 3 kids.  They moved in 3 months ago. No water till noon and they were probably going to have to boil it for a while after the main was fixed.  That wasn’t going to be easy for her.  Nora made a mental note to get a gallon of water to leave there when she got home after work.  She could hear Paul ask why she would do something like that for a woman she didn’t even know.

Nora went right to the fridge to get her Brita pitcher before heading to the bathroom to brush her teeth.  Nora and Paul saw this commercial one time for a super water filter pitcher.  The guy showed a pitcher with water filled with dust. He poured it through the filter and the water came out clean.  Nora wondered aloud if they should get one.  Paul asked her if she usually had a problem with dusty water. 

Nora got ready for work and went to the kitchen to get some breakfast.  There was Paul’s box of Froot Loops, unopened and staring at her.  She reached for her box of Special K with berries.  The bag inside had some flakes and a bunch of freeze-dried strawberry dust and seeds that would get stuck in her teeth.  Paul had eaten the Special K again.  She ate the flakes and dust with some skim milk and a Greek yogurt and looked again at the back of her left hand.  Her question mark was to the right of the tendons from her ring finger to her wrist.  Her mark was the only thing on her hand.

Nora looked at the clock on the oven and stood up.  She put her bowl in the sink and went to turn on the faucet to wash it out but nothing came out. “Forgot. No water. I’ll need a sandblaster to clean this when I get home.”

Nora walked a few blocks to her job as a receptionist at the fourth-largest personal injury law firm in the state. The attorneys were generally too busy and the clients in too much pain (mostly real, sometimes imagined) to really notice her, which was just fine with Nora. She liked to blend in and observe people.  She fancied herself a good judge of character. 

Nora arrived at her desk at 8:55.  She checked to see if her voicemail light was on (it never was), unlocked her drawer to get her three pens out (you wouldn’t believe how many pens just walk away from her desk), and was ready to answer the phone if it started ringing.  The office manager didn’t feel that Nora needed a computer, so Nora didn’t have to check email.  Nora took her pens with her as she unlocked the door for the clients and opposing attorneys who would soon begin to dribble in. 

Nora looked at her question mark again.  She thought it couldn’t be that unusual to wake up with a scratch you didn’t remember getting, but a question mark-shaped one?  That was unusual.  Once she saw a picture of a woman who had this port wine mark on her skin that looked like the Hawaiian Islands.  Nora guessed that people wanted to make all sorts of things look like something else.  We are creatures of relationship, she thought to herself.  We’re always looking for faces in faceless things-like the Man in the Moon. 

“Excuse me.”

Nora started and looked up.  A bike messenger was standing in front of her.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“It’s OK.  How can I help you?”

 “This is my first time delivering to this firm and I don’t know where I can take this envelope for Joe Harvey.”

“Mr. Harvey is on the third floor.  Off the elevator and go right.  His secretary is right there.”

“Thanks.  Can I leave my bike here?”

“Be right back.”

People tended to walk right past Nora to read the directory on the wall opposite her.  Or they already knew where they were going.  She was glad the messenger interrupted her. Paul always told her she walked around with her head in the clouds. She was trying to daydream less.

“I’m back. Thanks for keeping an eye on my bike.  I’m Paul,” said the bike messenger as he extended his hand.

“Paul? Oh. I’m Nora.  Nice to meet you.”

“Nora.  Have you been here long?”

“Since five till nine.”

Paul’s eyes crinkled as he smiled at her.  “Um.  I meant, ah, how long have you worked here?”

“Oh. Duh.” She ran her hand through her hair. “Three years.”

“Did you do that?”

“Do what?”

“On your hand.”

“No. I woke up with that this morning. Isn’t that weird?”

“Yeah.  And cool.”

“Yeah.  Kind of cool.”

“Well, see you later. ‘Bye Nora.”

“’Bye, Paul.”

At 5:05, Nora locked her three pens in her desk, got her purse, and walked outside. She looked up at the puffy clouds.  The sun was getting low in the sky, making the sky a brilliant blue and the puffy clouds a rosy pink with blue edges. She walked and searched for shapes: a dragon here, a turtle there.  She nearly walked past her building.   

Nora walked up to her apartment.  She passed Billy the super on the steps. “Water’s back on, Nora.  We have a boil order for three days.” Water!  Nora walked back downstairs and went into the convenience store around the corner.  She picked up the last gallon of bottled water in the neighborhood (said the clerk) and took it back upstairs to her neighbor’s door.  She stood on the doormat, unsure if she should ring the bell or not. She could hear a cartoon on the TV inside and a couple of fighting kid voices. Nora could smell…Hamburger Helper? She rang the doorbell. 


  1. I like it!! I like Nora's character...and I want to know more about how she got that question mark, etc. (And does it HURT?)
    The Brita thing was funny! (dusty water)
    Something I don't get: Nora lives with a guy named Paul. I'm guessing he is her live-in boyfriend (no ring...) and she's irritated with him (he's not there, and he eats all her cereal--again). But the bike messenger is also named Paul?
    And what's with the whole water thing?
    I want to read more! Keep it going!

  2. Thanks, Barb.

    The question mark doesn't hurt. It's just a weird thing.

    In my mind, Paul had broken up with Nora the night before and moved out of the apartment. Paul the BF is SUCH a jerk, I made bike messenger named Paul so that Nora could kind of see that there are better guys out there for her.

    The water main break was, for me, the impetus to get Nora to interact with the woman across the hall. The lady and her kids moved in months before and THIS is what gets Nora to knock on the door. Nora is a good person, and she imagines herself to be good at reading people, but she really isn't. She's pretty naive and is easily taken advantage of. She's also painfully shy. Paul the BF breaking up with her (she would never have the courage to do that-even though he is AWFUL to her), frees her to take these baby steps of human contact. Having a conversation with the bike messenger and knocking on the apartment door.

    The question mark itself, well, I woke up with a similar mark one morning and it was just so weird. I should have taken a picture of it. And I thought about writing something about it. Someone with a different point of view then mine might have done something very Kafkaesque with it. I would have loved to go there, but I didn't think I could do it. The dusty water was an actual conversation my husband had with someone (not me) about 15 years ago.

    I have written more about the interaction with Nora and the lady across the hall, but I am not sure where its going and it is not ready for publication. But you're not the only one who wants to see more, so maybe i will carve out some time to work on it this weekend.

    Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  3. Well, I'd buy a novel with this beginning--and I'm sure I'd enjoy it very much.