Short Fiction ~ Francois Bereaud
Honourable Mention, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 16
Over the last hour the rain had intensified and she felt the tension build in her neck as she strained toward the windshield. She needed a bathroom stop, not wanting to go in that place. To make matters worse, she had left before dawn without eating and now her stomach was growling. She turned up the radio willing herself to drive a bit faster and ignore her bodily urges. In an hour she would be there. Security check, pat down, an hour-long visit, and then the four-hour drive home. Already she craved a hot bath and a glass of wine.
Her mind drifted and she thought of him as he was twenty years ago, a curly headed eight-year-old boy with a perpetual grin on his face. He was always the last to leave for recess, asking her if she had a job for him. He watered the classroom plants, erased the boards, and helped her sort the afternoon art materials. She knew it was against the rules to pay a student but she was young then and thought rules didn't apply to her. And besides it was only change.
Mouth full of Snickers and hair dripping from her gas station stop, she exited the turnpike and merged onto the small highway which led to the state prison. The last few miles of the trip were the most desolate and, in the rain and the grey, the land seemed primeval. She gripped the steering wheel tightly, taking deep breaths.
Since it was a small town, their paths had crossed several times over the years. Around the time of her divorce, she saw him at the supermarket. Then a teenager, tall and well built, he told her that he was going out for the high school football team. Later she heard that he had been suspended from the team due to an unspecified incident. A few years later at the drugstore, he smiled proudly as he told her about his graduation and job as an electrician’s apprentice. Then last year's front-page headline and picture (still the curly hair). Completely drunk and out of control. Bit a cop's nose off.
"You have got to be kidding me. You're going to see him? What the hell is wrong with you?"
Each time she pulled into the prison's visitors' lot, her brother's words reverberated in her head. The cop was a local boy too. Had spent his third-grade year in the classroom next to hers.
The demeaning security procedure over, she was finally in the visiting area. A few minutes passed and then she saw him coming down the hall, a guard on either side. Even in the baggy orange jumpsuit he seemed bigger, a result of weightlifting she guessed. He looked straight ahead, head shaved, no sign of a grin.
He came into the room and their eyes met. He smiled. For the first time all day she felt her jaw relax.
Francois Bereaud is a husband, dad, full time math professor, mentor in the San Diego Congolese refugee community, and mediocre hockey player. His stories and essays have been published online and in print and have earned Pushcart and Best of the Net nominations. He serves as an editor at Roi Fainéant Press and Porcupine Literary. The Counter Pharma-Terrorist & The Rebound Queen is his published chapbook. In 2024, Cowboy Jamboree Press will publish his first full manuscript, San Diego Stories, which is the realization of a dream. You can find links to his writing at francoisbereaud.com. Tweets @FBereaud.