Short Fiction ~ Elaine Barnard
First Prize, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 4
He got on this trolley last stop. Now he don’t stop walkin-walkin-walkin. Like he got somethin bad on his mind. Could be he a terrorist like they show on the TV or one of them crazies that shoot up shoppin malls.
I sit tight. But he keeps movin, his baseball cap pulled down over his eyes sos I can hardly make out his face. He has this huge pack on his back. Who knows what’s in it. I don’t think I want to find out. I’m not sayin a word to him. No way.
If I be real quiet I figure he won’t notice me even though I’m wearin these gold slipons that I got from my last lady, Mrs. Johnson. She was gonna throw them out. I was so proud of the way they glittered. But now I wish I had on my old white sneakers. They no longer white but just sorta gray even though I hosed them down and set them in the sun to bleach dry.
He’s at the other end of the trolley now but comin this way. When he gets right in front of me he looks at the trolley pole careful like. Then he circles it as if he was measurin his steps. Maybe measurin the distance from one end of this trolley to the next. See if his bomb could explode in the center and do a good enough job on all of us.
A boy and girl sit near the exit. Her head is on his shoulder. He kisses her light like. She smiles. Pretty girl, fluffy black hair, skinny boy, so serious. I hope they get off before anything bad happens.
I cross my legs, uncross them. Try to shrivel into my seat so maybe he won’t see me. But my slipons are a dead giveaway.
He’s comin this way again. His arms look strong. If he decided to take a whack at me I’m sure I’d be done for. His black T-shirt stretches tight across his hairy chest. His jeans hold their shape. He maybe thirty five or so. A lot younger than me anyways.
I’m hopin he notices the teddy bear in my sack. God has mercy on little children. Or so they say. I’m hopin he’ll have mercy on my teddy bear. It’s not a great lookin teddy. Kind of a tired brown. I rescued it from the dumpster. Givin it to my granddaughter if I ever see her again.
Two more get on. A fat white lady with a super-sized drink and a greasy bag of chips. The grease turns my stomach bein I haven’t ate since yesterday. Trolley rules say no drinks, no eats, but who’s to know? The honor system ain’t honored here.
The fat lady’s daughter is fat too. She’s chompin a fat chocolate bar. Also a bag of peanuts. Chocolate smears her lipstick. Nuts between her teeth. She don’t talk to her mother. She just talkin on her cell like she don’t know how to stop.
I could use some of their fat. I’m so thin one big wind could blow me out the doors. It’s muggy hot today so a big wind not likely but you never know.
He don’t look at me when he comes this way again. He don’t look at anyone. And no one looks at him. We all afraid to look at him.
I’m thinkin maybe he’s not a terrorist. Maybe he’s just wrong in the head like my husband after he back from Vietnam. He walked the house day and night. Finally walked off for good. I’m still lookin for him. Bring him home. Everyone needs a home even if they wrong in the head.
Doors open. Old man in a wheelchair tries to push in. Chair so big he can’t make it. He shoves and shoves but his wheels catch in the door. It tries to close on him.
I sit tight. Everyone sits tight watchin the old man struggle. None of us has the strength to budge the chair.
The terrorist stares at the old man. I wonder what he’s thinkin. What he’s plannin to do. I hold my breath. The fat ladies stop eatin. The cell phone is silent. All eyes on the terrorist.
Suddenly he lunges toward the empty seats opposite the door. He shoves them up against the wall. Makes room for the old man. Then he rushes to the chair and drags it in.
I breathe. The fat ladies eat. The cell phone talks. The old man smiles.
The terrorist continues pacin. Maybe if he pace long enough he’ll make his head right. He’ll sit down and do nothin like the rest of us.
Elaine Barnard's stories have been published in numerous literary journals. The collection of stories from her travels in Asia, The Emperor of Nuts: Intersections Across Cultures was published in 2018 by New Meridian Arts. Her work was featured in the New Short Fiction Series at the Annenberg Center in Santa Monica, CA. She received her MFA from the University of California, Irvine and her BA from the University of Washington, Seattle.
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