Flash Fiction Challenge – The Four-Part Story (Part One)
Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge for this week has us writing the first 1000 words of a four-part story. Here is my offering for Part One.
I noticed her almost as soon as we boarded the train. It was hard not to. She was arguing with the conductor, trying to convince him to let her change seats on the train. She had an accent that seemed familiar but I couldn’t quite place – something Middle Eastern, I guessed, but she certainly didn’t look the part. She looked like a significant portion of the women I’d seen when I lived in L.A. – too thin, too tight, too tan, too highlighted, too made up, too gaudy. A woman somewhere between 40 and 70 but desperately trying to pass for 25. She had a pair of oversized sunglasses on in a feeble attempt to cover up a huge bruise and scar just under her left eye and I wondered if she’d “had some work done” or had been involved in something more sinister. But then I got distracted by the conductor asking for my seat assignment ticket, meeting my seat mate (when you’re part of a group of three, someone always ends up sitting with a stranger), and generally settling in for an 8+ hour train ride. I noticed that the woman walked past my seat several times en route to the Lounge Car or the Cafe Car or the bathroom or somewhere, but didn’t think too much about her until we went to the Dining Car for lunch.
For some reason, Amtrak insists on filling up each table in the dining car before seating people at another table. Put another way, there are only four-seat tables available, and if there are less than four in your party, you will be sharing a table with someone else. (Why they do this is a mystery to me, especially when at least half of the tables were empty while we were in there, but I digress.) As we arrived for our lunch reservation, the server said, “There are three of you? You’ll be sitting here,” and pointed us to a table already occupied by the lady in the sunglasses. She wasn’t happy to have to share her table, and I could tell that she and our server had already gone around a bit before we got there, so my husband, my son and I sat down and I braced myself for an unpleasant experience. I sat next to her, which seemed the proper thing to do, and before we had hardly settled into our seats, we’d heard about her choice of lunch entree (veggie burger without the bun, because she is on a diet) and her cataract surgery (which is why she was wearing sunglasses, too much concealer and a big bandage under her left eye). I decided that the accent was definitely Persian but opted not to ask her about it, and couldn’t have gotten a word in edgewise to do so anyway. We exchanged a few pleasantries and she had a loud cell phone conversation with someone about when and where to pick her up at the Van Nuys station when the water glass she was holding slipped out of her hand and spilled all over the table and between my husband and my son. She began to exclaim and apologize and beg our forgiveness and call for the server, saying “Oh my God, I am so sorry. It was an accident. I will do anything to make it up to you.” I just grabbed the extra napkins and started sopping up the water, telling her it was okay, the guys hadn’t gotten wet, nothing was damaged, they weren’t going to melt, etc., but when I said the words, “I know it was an accident. I forgive you,” her entire demeanor and attitude changed. She stopped mid-sentence, turned to face me, patted my arm and said, “You’re water.” I didn’t know what to say and I wasn’t even sure I’d heard her correctly, so I just smiled. For the rest of the meal, she told us about how her husband had died recently and that she finally had a chance to travel, but had had to come back to the states when her daughter, who was married with two children, had fallen into drug addiction. She kept asking me questions about what she should do about her daughter, but not really wanting answers, so I took that as a sign that I needed to listen. I made sympathetic noises and she just kept patting my arm and saying, “You’re water. You are water.”