Here’s another flash fiction piece. This one was a little harder; I think I wrote three versions of this that were all completely different, and they didn’t work at all. I didn’t have the space for what I was trying to do, and I don’t think what I was trying to do was that interesting — never the easiest thing to admit. For a while there I was going to abandon this and go for another opening line altogether, but then I thought about it some more, killed some darlings and took another approach, and I’m glad I did.
The opening line came from my friend Tyler Smith. “Adeline had put out a cigarette on her own forehead when she was thirteen in order to build an endless repertoire of fantastical explanations for the scar.” You can tell he’s a writer, and I have no doubt that he realized right away that why someone would tell lies is much more interesting than the lies themselves. Took me a little longer to get there.
Adeline had put out a cigarette on her own forehead when she was thirteen in order to build an endless repertoire of fantastical explanations for the scar. Bianca had to admit it was the perfect scar for that – it was just above her right eyebrow, you couldn’t miss it; a mass of uneven tissue that always seemed a little lighter or darker than the surrounding skin, depending on how tan she was.
Bianca had worked with Adeline for almost a year. The scar gave her an air of mystery. Bianca’d wanted to ask about it for months. Now they were having drinks at the hotel bar on the last night of the big convention. It felt like they weren’t just co-workers anymore, so she’d worked up the courage. Now she wasn’t sure what to do with the answer.
“I’d make up all sorts of crazy shit,” Adeline said. “It was the best.”
“Yeah, but – you did that with a cigarette?” Bianca couldn’t wrap her head around it. “That’s crazy. Sorry! But it is.”
“Teenagers are always crazy,” Adeline said. “I know, I went above and beyond. But it made a weird kind of sense at the time.”
There was a pregnant silence. Bianca felt like she was expected to contribute somehow. “I shoplifted,” she finally said. She’d really done it just the once, on a dare, when she was thirteen. She’d gone back later to pay for them. Thirty years later, she still felt ashamed. She didn’t mention any of that.
Adeline seemed interested. She leaned closer, looked Bianca in the eye. “You ever get caught?”
“What’d you take?”
Bianca hesitated. “Snickers bars…”
Adeline nodded, and leaned back. Bianca could tell she’d hoped for something more interesting. She watched the bartender make a frozen Margarita, and it just popped out. “But this one time I stole a blender.” Adeline perked right up, and Bianca settled into the lie. “I put it in my backpack and walked out of the store. Nobody said anything.”
“You get scared?”
“Not really,” Bianca said, but that didn’t seem like the right answer. “I mean, not then. But later I was like, ‘What am I gonna do with a blender?’ I couldn’t take it home, what would my mom say? I ended up throwing it in the trash.”
Bianca hesitated, then added the ultimate lie: “But people thought I was kind of badass for a while.”
Adeline nodded and laughed, and put her hand on Bianca’s arm, her fingers warm.
“I knew I saw something like that in you,” Adeline said. Nobody had ever seen anything like that in Bianca. Adeline went on. “Teenagers want attention so bad. Everybody’s got something going – sometimes they just act out a little. Or steal something, like you. Others get tattoos. Or pregnant. What I did… I’m not gonna lie, stupid or not, I got a lot of mileage out of it.”
“Are you kidding? Something like this, you can tell any story you want. That gets you a lot of things.”
She didn’t get it. Adeline squeezed her arm again and left her hand there.
“Teachers? The other kids? ‘What happened to you?’ And you tell them something that changes the way they think about you. You know, ‘my dad did this’ – I mean, I didn’t say that, but I could have. God, I was such a little shit.”
“But you turned out okay, I guess,” Bianca said. Adeline’s fingertips traced a little pattern on her arm. Bianca thought she’d had one too many. She started to regret coming up with the story, even with Adeline opening up to her like this. Adeline had seniority over her; she was the district manager. She wasn’t Bianca’s boss, but she outranked Bianca. She’d confessed to being a thief. This could get out of hand.
“Well, you grow up,” Adeline said. “I mean, you don’t steal anymore, do you? You got other things in mind now.”
“I’ve got other things in mind, too.”
She’d definitely had one too many, and it was late. Bianca said she had to go to bed. Adeline raised an eyebrow, the scar winking at Bianca above it.
Bianca got up off the bar stool, and they hugged. Adeline smelled of perfume and sweat and cigarettes. They made eye contact. The moment stretched.
“Well,” Bianca said. “I’m really tired…”
Adeline smirked. “All right then.”
Bianca made her way up to her room. She got undressed and got in bed.
Sleep wouldn’t come. She couldn’t stop thinking about how she stood at the cash register, the pimple-faced young man behind it, saying she’d like to pay for four Snickers bars, the vaguely amused look on his face, and she suddenly wanted to die. She buried her face in the pillow.
The feeling passed. She was still alive, still awake.
She stared at the ceiling. She bit her lip. She made the decision. Why not? Her heart fluttering, she got back on her feet, got dressed. A few more drinks. Sit down with Adeline again.
But at the bar, Adeline was talking with another woman. Bianca hung back. Suddenly, she was intruding. She leaned against a column nearby – not hiding, not lurking, she thought, just waiting for an opening – close enough to catch a few words.
Adeline was telling the other woman about the time she’d been touring a steel foundry at the age of thirteen, and a vat of molten steel hanging from a crane had somehow burst open. Droplets sprayed the area, and one of them hit her forehead.
“Oh my God,” the other woman said. She was young and pretty.
She got lucky, Adeline said; one of the metalworkers had a splash of liquid steel hit his arm. Burned a hole right through it, she said. You could literally see through it. She showed the other woman where, touching her arm.
“Right here,” Adeline said.
“Wow,” the other woman said.
Adeline kept talking.
Bianca kept listening.
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