KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 10: Fall 2018
Flash Fiction: 940 words


by Barry Peters

It was like his middle finger was on a spring, a switchblade made flesh. Just a little bit of annoyance, the first whiff of irritation, and the finger would flip up before he knew what happened.

The car was fertile ground for the finger. It snapped at anyone who cut him off at the toll booth or tailgated with their brights on or sped past his right side after all the other drivers had merged into the left lane in a construction zone. The finger flipped when he was behind somebody who was waiting to make a left turn but wasn’t far enough under the traffic light when it turned red, so they (and he) had to wait another cycle for the green arrow.

Once he gave the finger to his cellphone when it slid off his leg into the narrow space between the driver’s seat and the gearshift. He gave the finger to his iced-over windshield on the first frosty morning of fall when he forgot to put the scraper in the car and sat in the cold waiting for the defogger to work. He gave the finger to the radio when it played another Eagles song.

The finger was spontaneous. Tourettic.

At work the finger frequently zeroed in on the interminable spinning wheel. The potato chips in the vending machine that hung maddeningly against the glass and wouldn’t drop—finger. One morning when his supervisor dropped a report on his desk and, without breaking stride, dismissively said “Do-over,” he put his hands under his desk and double middle-fingered him.

His finger of choice—or rather reflex since he didn’t have any control over it—was the middle finger of his left hand despite the fact that he was right-handed. He went through a stage when he tried to pre-emptively stop the left middle finger by consciously raising the right middle finger, but that felt unnatural, like trying to stand on one foot or swing a baseball bat from the opposite side of the plate.

He tried to restrain the finger when Karen and the kids were with him, especially in the car. He knew the finger upset Karen; she worried about a road rage incident. Of course he didn’t want his children, Charley and Hunter, to see the finger. But the finger was a free agent. No matter how hard he tried—digging his fingernails into his palm, counting to ten—up it popped. It was instinct, like fight or flight, no different than pulling his hand away from a hot stove.

He tried to remember the first time he gave anyone the finger. Did he give it to his older brother that second-grade summer when Christopher made him play Houdini, tying him up with belts in the closet? Did he give it to Sister Elizabeth, his kindergarten teacher, when she made him eat Fig Newtons at snack time? Did he give it to his mother the first time she didn’t pick him up when he was crying in the crib? He couldn’t remember.

Thankfully, the finger was more docile at home. Occasionally there was a bad call during a televised basketball game or a dropped egg in the kitchen. The pull-cord starter of the lawn mower. The plastic package of razor blades, the child-proof medicine bottle. Overall, though, fewer fingers than at work or that cauldron of fingers, the car.

It was evidence, he believed, that he was happy at home.

Then one day he gave Karen the finger.

A trash bag had split, spilling dirty cat litter onto the kitchen floor. He heard Karen’s voice as he was giving the bag the finger.

“What’s the matter with you?” she said.

“Nothing,” he said. “Trash bag is all.”

“No, that’s not all.” She folded her arms. “Look how angry you are. You’re so unhappy. I’ve never seen you so unhappy.”

He reholstered the finger.

“I’m not unhappy. I’m just mad about the mess.”

He wanted to keep the discussion on the level of trash. Karen, as usual, wanted to go deeper. He feared that. In their courtship and early years of marriage, he willingly joined her there. They called it sightseeing our emotional landscapes. They took the trip together. There was no finger in those days.

But then years happened. Job changes, credit cards, mortgage. The death of his mother. The births of Charley and Hunter.

“You don’t laugh anymore,” Karen said. “You’ve got so much anger in you. I’m scared of it.”

“Is this about the finger?” he asked. “Because I’ve got that under control. It’s a healthy release. Like shouting into a canyon.”

She wasn’t buying it.

“You don’t love me anymore,” she said, “and I think you’re angry about that.”

And that’s when he gave Karen the finger. It was concealed in his grip on the ripped trash bag so she couldn’t see it.

“I’m not angry,” he said. “I love you. I tell you all the time.”

In the early years they talked about the inevitable erosion of love. There was an article called “The 15-Month Lifespan of Romance,” how scientists believe endorphins generated by new love slowly dissipate after a year or two for most couples.

They had been married sixteen years.

“You love the idea of being in love,” she said, leaning against the doorway. “I don’t blame you. I do too. But you’re not in love anymore. And you’re angry that you’re not in love. And about other things, I guess. You don’t tell me.”

She turned and walked away.

He knew she was right.

He dropped the trash bag and watched both middle fingers rise at her back.


Barry Peters
Issue 10, Fall 2018

is a writer and teacher in Durham, North Carolina. His recent and forthcoming works appear in Baltimore Review, Broad River Review, Connecticut River Review, The Flexible Persona, The Healing Muse, Jelly Bucket, Kakalak, Plainsongs, Rattle, and Sport Literate.

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   ⚡