- She licked the buffalo sauce off her fingers after her teeth worked the meat from the last wing. Gil always ordered extra hot even though he knew it burned her gums, but since hot sauce and hostility somehow go down easier after it’s cold and late, she ate his leftovers anyway, the second to last thing she would take from him. She dropped the container into the sink and it twanged against the sour mouths of empties. Greasy bones tumbled into the bowl half-filled with bloated cereal and pink colored milk as she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.
- She looked past her blurry reflection into the dark middle distance knowing nothing rational gets decided at 3:23AM, but also nothing gets done if you wait until later.
- She left the car idling and unlocked outside the smoke shop with only four miles left in the gas tank and his dry cleaning ticket pressed to the bottom of the cup holder. She knew the repo man would eventually track it down but left it up to the nicotine god to decide whether it would happen before Gil bought his tin of wintergreen dip.
- She walked the five miles at a good clip but still showed up late for her crappy job at the supermarket. Not that it mattered. No one in her life considered her a “real” florist but she knew better than anyone how to make cheap flowers lie to overbearing mothers in chemo and grandmothers wasting away in nursing homes and wives remembered at the last minute. After exactly eighty-six minutes, she set the watering can next to the potted hyacinths and sprinted to the employee bathroom. Twelve minutes later the shift manager knocked on the door and told her to hurry up and restock the buckets near the checkout lines because they were low on red tulips. Without looking him in the eye, she opened the door a crack and asked if she could have her paycheck because she felt sick to her stomach.
- She watched the bank teller count out $307.10 in tens and fives. She shoved the money into her red leather wallet but tucked the extra dime and two ones into the cheerleaders’ coffee can outside the bank because she used to smile like that too.
- She bought a one-way bus ticket to wherever $152.50 would get her west of the city.
- Somewhere near Albany she made amends with the ghosts of her parents, the taste of diesel and tears dancing on her lower lip as she whispered regrets through the greasy window of the fourth row.
- Somewhere outside Louisville she made amends with her sister’s voicemail before hiding her phone and three candy wrappers in a sweatshirt under her seat, the rush of caramel still gritty on her teeth.
- She removed the folded slip of paper from behind her license to confirm the address, wondering if the house was still painted light blue, if his bedroom was still second on the left, if he’d kept her ripped Def Leppard t-shirt after all these years.
- She told herself it will still be better than nothing, that they’d had something halfway decent once already.
- She looked at the ring on her left hand—knuckle bulging against the tight, thin curve of gold and a broken promise—and hawked it for $172 before the pawn shop owner crashed the security gate down for the night, her mother’s ruby studs still in her ears, at least until she needed to leave again.
- She ran her finger along the dusty packages of gum in the gas station, stopping for a moment on wintergreen before fingering out a dented pack of cinnamon and asking for a bus schedule and a box of condoms.
Kristen M. Ploetz is a writer and former land use attorney living in Massachusetts. Her work has been published with Random Sample Review, Atlas & Alice, Hypertext Magazine, Harpoon Review, Washington Post, (b)OINK, The Hopper, Gravel, Maudlin House, Cognoscenti, and elsewhere. She is currently working on a collection of essays and short stories. You can find her on the web (www.kristenploetz.com) and Twitter (@KristenPloetz).
Image: Dan Bøțan