KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 1: Fall 2014
Flash Fiction: 998 words


by Eduardo Santiago

You talk to them as they shiver on your couch. So many of them, you had it reupholstered to celebrate your fourth sober anniversary. The new fabric covers sweat stains and sadness. So many girls who need you!

Before sobriety, you only had boyfriends and husbands. Friends were dangerous, saw too much. You liked your Chablis, snuck your empties into the garbage at night, but in daylight they chimed like bells around a naughty cat’s neck.

Now, you are known for your candor, your generosity, your sense of style. You take in girls and give them a place to sleep, to wait out the bruises, to terminate a pregnancy or deliver.

“You’ve known him since high school,” you say. “What were you thinking?”

“I thought he would change for me.”

“I didn’t think that just because he beat my sister he would do the same to me. My sister’s a bitch.”

“I was high.”

“I was lonely.”

The town is a tiny island on a mountain top. Sure, it’s beautiful and quaint. But why would anyone under forty live here? Go explore the world, you tell them. They have a hard time leaving, or return scarred and defeated.

Toot preys on them. You are revolted—those milky eyes, the flat teeth, the smell. That desiccated, “heroin chic” look. Imagine dropping a rock & roll god’s corpse into formaldehyde. Imagine keeping it in a dark cellar for years, then bringing it back to life. That’s what Toot looks like to you, his eyes pale and rimmed bright red, his teeth dull and dark as wood.

But he has a sense of style in all his vagrant glory. Bandana across his forehead. Biker boots, unlaced. Black pants and some sort of military coat, sometimes a high school band uniform, sometimes something more serious. Gulag official gone AWOL. For giggles, you think of him as The Ghoul of the Gulag.

A woman’s self-worth is a delicate thing, you tell yourself. But you can’t imagine the desperation, the fuck-it-all-at-least-he’s-a-man attitude that sends girls into his arms. They come to their senses eventually, leave him, and he steps up the drinking, busts into AA meetings where girls are praying to stay sober. More often than not, one leaves with him.

Please don’t get pregnant tonight, you pray. What do they see in him?

“He’s so sweet, so broken,” one says.

“I think the word you’re looking for is pathetic,” you say.

“He knows so much about music,” another says. “Did you know he once opened for Quiet Riot?”

“Listen, you fool, that man is as much a former rock star as my granny.”

“Not now—in the ’80s, when music really mattered.”

Slowly, you create a firewall between the man and these groupies of the mountain. He knows, and hates you for it.

Toot earned his sobriquet back when cocaine was his Drug of Choice, at a glass-topped, razor-scarred coffee table. He tells you that Toot is the same spelled backwards. A palindrome, you suggest. “No, the same spelled backwards!” he insists.

Oh, you are so smart, so superior in your sensible heels and Paris-knotted scarf. He says that you know nothing, that you are making assumptions you have not earned.

“Google me, bitch, I used to be a star.”

“Your life cannot be easy,” you say, “being both the town drunk and the village idiot.”

“That’s very spiritual of you, sober lady,” he says and walks away. You regret your words and decide to make amends next time you see him.


Five years ago, you sat in your first AA meeting with the dregs, the low bottoms, the homeless and the hopeless, and you felt right at home.

You had found your tribe.

You were better dressed perhaps, but the look in their eyes matched the look in yours. With time, people got sober, got jobs, got their children back from foster homes. They found new loves, married, took care of themselves and others. This was the promise of the Twelve Steps. Don’t drink or use, one day at a time, and all will be well.

Except when it wasn’t.

Your first husband led you to AA and divorce. Your second led you to Al-Anon. And divorce. Looking for love in AA felt like fishing in a toxic pond. Still, you harbored hopes. You worked on yourself, you learned from the meetings.

The holiday season comes and goes. The mountain is dark and cold again. You have not given Toot a second thought. Then he shows up at the meeting on January 3rd. New year, new people, with sobriety as their resolution.

He says, “I’ve been coming to meetings for years and I see all your lives get better. But me? I spent December sleeping under the church steps. Yeah, I know, I did this to myself, and you all tried to help me. But where is my God? He got you all sober, why doesn’t he get me sober? Where the fuck is he—” He stops, ashamed of his tears.

Perhaps God expects others to act for him? You flash on amends, on the money in your purse, 182 dollars, meant for firewood. Or a warm dry place for an old ghoul. But there is something else on your mind that you dismiss with a shudder.


In spring, the snow melts away, and they find his body under the church porch, along with two cases of cheap vodka. To your relief, nobody asks where he got the money for them. People speculate he planned to drink himself to death. But all the bottles are sealed.

You need to get off the mountain. It feels good to descend, to enter a new town. No one knows you here. No one knows you anywhere. Your feet are heavy as you walk into the bar but once inside you feel light, bright, released. You drink a toast to Toot, just one.


You detest the taste.

You down it.

You order another.

Eduardo Santiago
Issue 1, Fall 2014

Author of the novels, Tomorrow They Will Kiss (2006) and Midnight Rumba (2013), and many short stories and non-fiction articles, Eduardo Santiago has won numerous awards and prizes. Among them: the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award, the Latino International Book Award, the New England Book Award, and the Beverly Hills Book Award. He is also a two-time PEN fellow (2004, 2008).

Santiago teaches creative writing at the UCLA Writer’s Program and is the founder of the Idyllwild Authors Series.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Eduardo Santiago: Author of Midnight Rumba, an interview by Sarah Rettger (18 April 2014)

Interview With Eduardo Santiago: The Idyllwild Authors Series by Natali Petricic

Site contains text, proprietary computer code,
and graphic images that are protected by:

⚡   Many thanks for taking time to report broken links to: KYSOWebmaster [at] gmail [dot] com   ⚡