Flash Fiction: “The One I Love”

For years, I’ve been writing but haven’t showed what I’ve written to more than two people. I used to enjoy sitting down, setting a random iTunes track on repeat and seeing what happens. And then tonight, there this.

Here’s a short piece inspired by “The One I Love” by Buddy Tate and Humphrey Lyttelton. Fair warning: a bit of rough language. I hope you’ll still respect me in the morning.

******

It wasn’t her kind of music. The slow, lumbering piano. The shuffling drums. The smoky horns.

It was shuffling, ungrateful music. The kind of music that couldn’t look you in the eye, couldn’t tell you what it wanted.

And then there was Billy, sitting across the table from her, not exactly smoking his cigarette but playing with it endlessly, rolling it between his fingers, pressing it against his lips, clutching with this teeth, a drag, two drags and it was out again.

“Have another whiskey,” she told him.

He jumped a little when she spoke, realizing that he had drifted off yet again and that she had caught him wandering. He smiled. It made her want to smack him.

“Did you say something, doll?”

Impossible to believe she had actually fucked this man. Had let him grasp her hair, grunting into her face. That ridiculous mustache that made her want to scream.

“Did I?” She shrugged.

“Yes,” he said, his voice trailing off before he could capture another thought. His mind was a caged bird, frantic, stupid with fright and the tedium of its small, comfortable cage.

“Another whiskey,” she offered, already pouring the glass.

He watched her pour the amber into his glass, eyes squinting weak with indecision. “Yes,” he said finally after she had finished pouring. “Thanks.”

He sipped gently. She looked away. It made her feel sick, men who sipped their whiskey.

“What do we do now?” she asked, knowing there would be no answer.

Billy fumbled in his jacket pocket for the pack of cigarettes, shook one out.

“Last one,” he said, offering the last smoke. She took it even though she didn’t want to smoke. She set it on fire, just to spare herself from having to watch him fumble his way with it. She took a drag, heavy and deep, comforted by the swirl of heat gathering in her throat and lungs. The smoke was a nesting dragon, a baby beast settling into its mother’s safety. Then, she breathed out and felt herself relax into the world.

Things weren’t that bad. They couldn’t be that bad. So maybe things had gotten a little out of hand back at the store. That couldn’t be helped. Life rose up and grabbed you when you were not ready. Situations escalated. People panicked. Guns went off. It happened everyday.

Every goddam day of her miserable life.

“Well?” she said.

“Well what?” He seemed genuinely stumped. How could he be stumped?

“What do we do now?” she asked.

“What do we do now?”

There was a long moment when she understood what the music was about – the long, lingering flourishes, the small embellishments. She understood the music and believed the music understood her. It was jazz and it was her life and it was improvised and it was always ending but never over.

“What do we do now?” she asked again.

Billy just stared at her, looking very much the child. Except for that mustache of his. That rude, whispery mustache. His mouth opened, then closed again. There were no words. There was nothing to be said.

“Never mind,” she said, standing. She laid a twenty on the table, paying for his drinks and hers.

“Where are you going?” he stammered.

“To do what needs to be done,” she told him. She was going to bury the bodies.

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