I’m hanging the wash out back, hair in curlers, cigar between my teeth though I don’t recall when I picked up the habit. I remember the Panthers in Paris, but the hand-rolled Havanas were my dad’s thing, not mine.
I’m counting the hours until my lover pulls up in his Mustang as the sun sizzles on the back of my neck.
“Are you ready?” she calls from inside, and I realize it’s nearly time for the command performance.
Why on Earth did I agree to participate in a Google Chat – and why here?
I pin the last towel and steel myself.
Two hours. Maybe three. Then he’ll meet me in my room, we’ll lock the door, and he’ll have me purring in no time. Maybe we’ll grab a blanket for the next round, then head to the meadow beyond the edge of the property. He promised the entire afternoon, the evening if possible.
I make my way through the overgrown grass, up the concrete steps to the back porch, and into the parlor. I settle on the couch, the cigar still dangling from my mouth as I take down the curlers, one by one.
I glance up, catching a glimpse of a figure. He moves quickly. He’s familiar somehow.
The woman hosting the hangout is a media savvy Aunt Bea, matronly and modern at the same time, with a thicket of flaming red hair and oversize black glasses.
“Put out that damn cancer stick,” she says.
“It’s only occasional,” I reply, drawing deeply before tamping its tip into an ash tray on the coffee table.
“I don’t care. I don’t want to see it. Better a hookah these days than a damn cigarette or smelly cigar. This isn’t even about your health. It’s bad for your online reputation.”
My online reputation. I smile at that. On line. Off line. Clothes lines. Phone lines. Pick up lines. Words, arranged into lines.
We’ve always had our lines – on and off, off and on. We’ve always had our reputations – though they’re easier to make or break these days, no matter how or where we happen to be hanging.
She adds: “I didn’t know your husband was planning on joining us. You could have told me so I might have changed my questions, but I suppose it’s fine. It is a segment on marriage after all.”
I ask my hostess if I still have a few minutes, and she nods. I’m shaking out my hair, and hurrying from the parlor out into the corridor. I pad up the stairs and there he is: a tall man with piercing eyes. He stops cold when he sees me.
“What are you doing here?” I ask.
She was right. It is him – as he looked nearly twenty years ago. His hair is fuller, his belly trimmer, his expression open – but only for a moment. Then he faces me squarely, gaze fixed, the veil descended. Now I recognize him. Inscrutable as ever.
“Where’s your wife?” I say.
He doesn’t respond.
A thirtyish woman in a floral robe steps out of a room and then, she pauses.
“Honey?” she asks.
That single word hangs in the air. Like the clothes on the line. Like the Havanna from my lip.
She isn’t his wife.
My hostess calls from the foot of the stairs: “You can both come down here now. We’re nearly ready.”
Her voice is notably sweeter since she assumes she’s also talking to a man. She’s solicitous. Deferential. She reminds me of my mother, and I don’t like the sensation.
“Thank you,” I say, heading in her direction. “He won’t be joining us. We’ll keep things as originally planned.”
I look back. The specter is gone. So is the woman who called him “honey.”
“All that we see or seem… is but a dream within a dream.”
I glance at my watch. I’m due for the latest performance.
I check my hair in a mirror over the fireplace, touch up my lipstick, and wipe a smudge from my pearly whites. I’m younger too it seems, but relieved somehow that it’s only by a few years.
Funny thing about dreams, or nightmares. They play with perception and tangle up time. Like marriage itself — moves, moments, a series of lines.
Flash fiction is a very short story of anywhere from 100 to 1,000 words. This is a writing exercise from dream, closing the eyes and letting the words flow for a little flashing fun in 30 minutes.
*quote from Edgar Allen Poe, Dream Within a Dream