Featured Short-Short – February, 2021

This Month’s featured Short-Short is the winning entry for round #129 of the Angry Hourglass flash fiction competition.

by J. R. Nichols

Laughing, we jostle into Katja’s living room with our shopping bags.

She drops hers. She is not laughing anymore.

I turn to see what she does – two embracing figures. One is Katja’s husband. The other is a woman I do not recognize.

Katja shoves past me, back out the door.

I follow her.

She runs up the street to the park on the corner.

“Katja,” I call. She does not slow down.

She turns onto the park’s running trail. I fall further behind but am confident I will catch up. She has always been the faster of us, but I have always had more endurance.

It’s been years since either of us has done running of any significance. She tires after less than half a mile and collapses on the grass next to the trail.

When I reach her, she is hugging her knees and sobbing.

“This sucks,” she says.

“It does,” I say, “but you can’t run away from it.”

“Didn’t I just, though,” she says, laughing through hitched breaths.

I laugh, too. “I mean, I guess you can. You did. But, you’re going to have to go back. Deal with stuff.”

She rocks back and forth on her bottom. Watching her, I’m reminded of a game we’d played as kids.

“Remember, ‘Rotten Tomato’?” I ask her, joining her in the grass and hugging my own knees. I push myself backward and attempt to use momentum to right myself without letting go of my knees. I flop onto my side.

“Oh, yeah,” Katja says, then tries herself, rocking backward and then straining to come back to sitting position. She fails; her hands slip and she releases her knees.

We each try again, hugging our knees and rocking backward.

Attempts once again unsuccessful, we lay sideways in the grass.

A teen-aged couple appears on the trail. They stop, staring at us.

We stare back.

I ask, “wanna play ‘rotten tomato’?”

They do not answer as they continue past, wearing worried expressions.

When they disappear around the corner, Katja and I laugh.

We laugh until there are no tears left for crying.

Then, I walk her home.