KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 3: Spring 2015
Flash Fiction: 919 words


by Dan Leach

“All done?” the server asked, collecting first Ruth’s plate, then Tristan’s.

As she did, Tristan could not help but admire her hands, the way she balanced the massive wooden tray on her palm, how she easily stacked both plates, silverware included, before snatching up the dish that had held Tristan’s side of cucumber salad and plucking the empty bread basket, two torn sugar packets, and shriveled lemon off the table.

“We are,” Ruth said, removing the napkin from her lap and tossing it into the bread basket.

“No room for dessert?” the young woman asked, and flashed the same grin—more gums than teeth—that she had two hours earlier while taking their drink orders.

Tristan addressed Ruth with a pitiful gesture, half-shrug and half-wince—a coy request suggesting, on the one hand, his desire to stay out later and, on the other hand, his feeble hope that she might feel the same way. “Come on,” the look seemed to say.

“Just the check,” she said.

When the server left, Tristan reached across the table and slipped his hand inside Ruth’s. Her long, muscular fingers were cool to the touch. He rubbed his thumb over her knuckles and whispered, “I was thinking maybe we could walk along The Battery.”

It was their first of two nights in Charleston and, having spent the majority of the day driving down from Ohio, he wanted to stretch his legs and look out on the water. He wanted to buy candy from a shop and break in the new loafers he had purchased earlier that afternoon.

“Maybe tomorrow,” she said, pulling her hand loose and using her thumb and forefinger to pinch a spot between her eyes on the bridge her nose. She sighed, as if, inside her head, some unbearable pressure had swelled and released.

He picked up a sugar packet and slapped it against his thumbnail. “How about a praline?” he said, opening his fist and bringing the packet down first on each of his fingertips and then on his outstretched palm.

“Stop that,” she said, yanking the packet out of his hand and returning it to the container on the table.

When the server reappeared with a slim black book, Tristan fumbled for his wallet, a stubborn button on his pocket refusing to budge. Ruth’s hand darted into her purse and emerged with a credit card. She slid the card in the book before the server could turn to leave, and waved it in the air. “We’re ready.”

When the server returned, Tristan smiled and Ruth said nothing. She just signed the receipt, using her left hand to shield the tip amount like schoolkids used to do during tests.

Outside, he slipped one of two complimentary mints into his pocket and then struggled to free the second from its cellophane prison, the thin layer of plastic resisting his finger’s jerky attempts to peel, pop, or tear the candy loose. After several failed attempts, he placed the wrapper between his teeth and tore at it, spitting plastic over his shoulder and nearly bringing the mint to his lips before Ruth, who had stopped in the restroom, burst out of the restaurant, letting the door slam behind her, the raucous crack of which sent Tristan’s hands into the air. The mint completed a shallow arch, lingering just long enough for him to snatch at it once, before it fell and cracked in two on the pavement.

Ruth was already charging down the sidewalk, shouting “Let’s go” over her shoulder. By the time Tristan retrieved the mint, wiped the pieces against his khakis, and popped them in his mouth, she had turned the corner into the alley that led to the parking lot and their car. He licked his fingers and skipped twice to catch up.

When he entered the alley, she was pressed up against the wall, gun against her temple, the man’s massive hand over her mouth. He swung the gun toward Tristan, whose knees went to water. He scrambled along the ground and back around the corner. Twice, he tried to stand. Then, hearing a muffled whimper from the alley, he forced himself to get up. He looked in both directions and, seeing a group of men, waved his arms above his head and screamed for help until the men ran in his direction. Tristan entered the alley behind the men and found Ruth on her knees, collecting the scattered contents of her purse. The man with the gun was gone.

One of the men used his phone to call the police and, within ten minutes, two cruisers were parked outside, their blues lights splashing against the restaurant and infiltrating the plumes of smoke rising from a cigarette Ruth had received from a stranger. A sergeant with broad shoulders and a buzz-cut covered her with his jacket while they talked about the incident. He took her hand and led her into the back of an ambulance where a young man told her to lie down and relax. Tristan sat on the tailgate and watched her exhale as the man placed a stethoscope against her breast and told her, once more, to breathe deeply.

Tristan reached into his pocket for the other mint. With trembling fingers he tried twice to tear it free from its wrapper before slinging it like a stone across the pavement outstretched before him. And then, not knowing what else to do, he stood outside the ambulance and chewed on nails already worn to the nub.

Dan Leach
Issue 3, Spring 2015

was born in Greer, South Carolina, graduated from Clemson University in 2008, and taught in Charleston until 2014 when he relocated to Nebraska. His short fiction has appeared in The New Madrid Review, Deep South Magazine, Drunk Monkeys, Two Bridges Review, Drafthorse, and elsewhere. He is currently at work on his first novel.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

A Good Christian Man, 1474-word short story in Drunk Monkeys (3 October 2014)

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