My guest today is Janna Qualman from Something She Wrote with a piece of flash fiction that is dear to my heart. You’ll understand why when you finish reading! Settle back with your favorite summertime treat and enjoy Janna’s piece.
She’d been nine miles out when her check engine light came on; five when she felt The Beast—her extra-large, ’06 SUV, a definitive beast—shudder. She’d heard a whine. Pop. Hisssssssssss. (That’s how she would describe it to Sal, at the garage, whenever she saw him.) And she’d coasted, speed slowing, feeling a new notch of panic as each second ticked by.
Now she sat on the shoulder. The engine wouldn’t start, wouldn’t turn over. She’d looked under the hood, but for what, she didn’t know. Her eyes had seen nothing.
The air, it was so hot-awful still, in the car and out. Sweat was a string of beads along her hairline, and inside the fabric of her bra. Her thirty-two ounce iced tea, gone already and no solace. The tree line out to the west was too far for shady relief.
She thumbed the keypad on her cell. She hadn’t noticed its battery was so low, or she’d have grabbed the charger, there on the counter as she left the house. Some good it did to imagine it different, though, with the phone dead in her hand.
She considered the route she’d yet to travel. It was what, two miles? Rural area, little traffic. Gravel. She’d just have to take it by foot. Forget the heat. Forget that she wore sandals, and not the walking kind. What other choice did she have? She had somewhere to be.
She loaded her purse and the two wrapped packages into a canvas grocery tote, anchored it over her shoulder, locked The Beast, and set out.
Her calf muscles burned. She’d been walking mindful and quick, toes up, so her sandals wouldn’t slide off the ends of her feet. Lord, she needed a masseuse. And a cold shower. And a nap. She was too old for this.
There it was! The mailbox and a few balloons floated above tall grasses, maybe another quarter-mile down the road. She shifted the tote to the opposite shoulder, breathed deep, used the back of her hand to fling the wet from her brow.
I can do this. Her legs moved, pumping harder as motivation kicked her from behind. Her focus was those balloons, as they danced in a breeze. A breeze, she noted, that would have been delicious twenty minutes ago.
She cut around the mailbox and into the drive. Propelled herself the last several feet, past her son’s car, climbed the four steps. She just needed to find her breath, and so she paused at the door. Through its glass, she saw down the hall and into the kitchen. A cake, heavily iced with blue, lay waiting on the island.
As she lifted her hand to knock, a small body barreled into sight. In his grip was a plastic airplane, and when it rose in his hand, his eyes rose to the door.
“Gamma, Gamma!” The airplane crashed to the floor, and his trunky legs carried him forward. “You here for my bird day!” He pushed the door open, letting a gust of conditioned air welcome her.
She stepped in, kicked off the dust-caked sandals. Laid the tote aside. Shook her hair, and then her shirt, so the coolness of indoors could spread.
“Hello, little lovey.” She stooped low, from exhaustion, yes, but also so she could get a better view of her grandson. His towhead, the bow lips. That tiny freckle on his nose. Three today, she thought. Impossible. She opened her arms, wide as they could go, and he jumped right in. “I’m here.”
Janna is a freelance and women’s fiction writer. She lives with her family in the Midwest, where she captures life through writing. Janna’s fiction and essays have appeared both in print and online, and she’s working on revisions of her second novel.