This is a piece of flash (women's) fiction for a charity anthology. It has to be less than a thousand words and currently weighs in at 974. I would love some feedback...and maybe a title. I'm thinking the Tail End. Thanks,
With a pocket full of shrimp tails, Madeleine dashed across the quiet, tree-lined street where she had once lived. Skirting past the front walk, she headed for the back door. Her fingers shook as she slipped the key into the lock and her breath escaped in a quick sigh when the knob turned.
The kitchen, her kitchen, still wore the cheery floral curtains over the windows, but the withering herbs on the sill told the real story. She moved past the temptation to save the rosemary and thyme and hurried up the backstairs to the master bedroom.
She paused in the doorway. Her breath caught at the sight of a purple bra lounging on the rumpled sheets of the unmade bed. The bed she had once shared with Calvin. They had found the headboard at an antique mall in Maine. After wrapping it up in a sleeping bag, they tied it on top of their Jeep, and drove it home to Connecticut. Despite the rain and passing years, it still looked beautiful. It hurt to leave it behind.
Madeleine fingered the baggy of shrimp tails. She needed to stay focused.
Gravel crunched as a car turned into the drive. Outside, doors slammed. Madeleine cast a wild glance around the room, searching for a hiding place. Beneath the bed? In the shower? She dashed into the closet and pulled the doors closed. Slits of light from the louvered doors penetrated the darkness, revealing the stark emptiness of what had once been her side. Last week, she could have easily hid behind coats and dresses, but now with only suit jackets, and Oxford cotton shirts to offer protection, she hunkered in a dark corner and prayed that Calvin wouldn’t need a change of clothes.
The kitchen door creaked open.
Pressing against the wall, Madeleine wished to disappear, that heaven or hell, she didn’t care which, would open a portal and suck her into another realm, a place of peace, void of tears, threats, and broken promises.
Footsteps climbed the stairs. Madeleine sucked in a deep breath as she recognized the voices.
“But I don’t want to bring a dessert!” Carly whined. “I don’t even eat desserts. You know that.”
“Yeah, but my mom doesn’t.” Calvin sounded tired.
Madeleine thought of the bed and the bra. What if they…
Oh, please, no.
She shimmied behind the shirts and suits, inhaling Calvin’s familiar scent.
“I want to bring my signature salad,” Carly’s voice turned from wheedling to annoying. “I know your mom will love it.”
“My mom doesn’t love salad. She loves bowling and bulldogs—in that order.”
Keys jangled as someone, probably Calvin, dropped them onto the dresser. In her mind, Madeleine could see him emptying out his pockets, a ritual he had practiced every day of their twenty-two year marriage.
But it wasn’t the end of the day—it was two o’clock in the afternoon. What was he doing here? She thought again of the bed.
Oh, please, no.
She fingered the baggy of shrimp tails in her pocket. It felt cold and slightly wet. Maybe if Calvin and Carly got…preoccupied, she could slip out unnoticed. Not likely.
And what about the shrimp?
She had planned to leave them in the drapery rods. Calvin would never look there. Since she had hung the curtains herself, he probably didn’t even know the rods could be disassembled. But now, here she was, skulking in the closet, yards away from the rods.
“I can’t serve up bulldogs or bowling balls,” Carly said.
“My mom won’t care what you bring.”
“Then I should bring my signature salad.”
In a beat of silence, Madeleine imagined Calvin rolling his eyes as he said, “We’ll pick up a pie at a bakery.”
“A store bought pie?”
“From a bak-er-y.” Calvin enunciated all three syllables—a sure sign of annoyance.
Madeleine shifted her feet and paper crackled beneath her shoe. She caught her breath, expecting exposure, closet doors flung open, daylight illuminating all the dark corners, shrimp popping from her pockets, but the argument continued as if she didn’t exist.
“I am not going to meet your family carrying a pie from the Stop and Shop!” Carly took a deep breath. “Especially since I don’t even eat sweets!”
Madeleine focused on the paper beneath her shoe. A drawing of a horse. Her knees buckled as she recognized the childish scrawl. For Daddy.
Her knees gave way, and Madeleine silently sunk to the floor. Sitting crisscross-applesauce, Madeleine picked up her daughter’s drawing. In the soupy half-light, her vision blurred with tears as she remembered Lily showering Calvin with her art. He had to have received thousands. How many had he kept?
Lily had been gone for more than ten years and the carpet had been shampooed and vacuumed dozens of times since her death. In fact, Madeleine didn’t remember seeing the drawing when she cleaned out her things…which meant what?
She smoothed out the drawing, trying to press out the wrinkles caused by her own shoe. A tear fell, smudging the pencil lines. She shook the paper, and the voices on the other side of the door hushed.
Someone scooped up the keys. They jangled for a moment before sliding into a pocket. A door creaked. Footsteps padded down the stairs.
Madeleine stayed in the closet until the back door slammed closed, the car engine roared and the gravel in the drive crunched. Holding the drawing as if it was fragile and capable of shattering, she slipped from the closet. Silently, she crept down the stairs. In the kitchen, she paused to water the dying herbs before passing through the back door. She double checked the lock, and said a silent goodbye to the cheery drapery she had made.
Somewhere, on her way to anywhere else, she found a dumpster for the shrimp tails.