A Flash Fiction

Published in Farside Review, 2021

Your grandfather could balance a checkbook for hours on end. For a man with skin like rice paper, he was indefatigable. When you told him that you had never done this, never balanced a checkbook before, he was incensed. So, you have to at least give it a try.

You’ve already made your coffee and booted up your computer. So, you pull out the plain black handbag that you carry with you everywhere. It’s filled with renegade lipstick tubes and crumpled receipts. The handle has begun to fray slightly. I should burn those loose threads, you think to yourself. Where’s the lighter? Too bad I don’t smoke. You raid the closet and find the silver Michael Kors handbag that your mother gave you last Christmas. You only use it when you’re going to see her. I’ve heard women who smoke get hungry less. Next, the red crossbody bag that you found at an import shop your friend Paula introduced you to. But I’d prefer to keep my teeth white.

You scour the contents of the bags, spilled breath mints and tossed out broken hair ties, until you have collected nearly fifty receipts from the last few months. Jesus, it’ll take too long to organize them by date, you think. So, you start from the top of the pile. The first receipt you pull reads:

                  Sultry Eyes 12 color palette….. $59.99

                  Makeup Blender, pnk………………… $19.99

                  GVY Bronzer, m…………………………. $64.99

                  Sales tax (8%)…………………………. $11.60

                  Total……………………………………….. $156.57

The receipt is from one of those pricey makeup shops that take up space in or beside malls. The ones that wrap your purchase in brightly colored tissue paper with care. Good thing, you think. For that price, the least they can do is give me a few sheets of tissue paper. You suck your teeth, thinking. You haven’t used the bronzer yet. It just looked a little too orange, a little too intimidating. You try not to blame yourself. Afterall, that Dutch blogger talked it up so much. What had she said? It makes you look chiseled, like a Greek statue. Something like that. You’ve used one of the twelve shades in the eyeshadow palette. A pale taupe that makes your eyes look sultry. At least, that’s what a man at the gas station said to you once over his steaming chili dog.

You type the number into your spreadsheet with apprehension. You haven’t used Excel since that Economics teacher in eleventh grade thought were going to become an accountant once you graduated. I told him that I didn’t even like math. You pull a new receipt out from the pile. I don’t think he listened to me. This one is dappled with oil. The ink is smeared, one long line of pale grey hanging above the sales tax like a foreboding cloud.

                  Double Chzburger….. $3.99

                  +XTRA pickle…………. $0.50

                  SML Fries……………… $1.99

                  MDM Soda………………. $1.99

                  =Cherry Cola

                  Tax (08%)…………..… $0.68

                  Total……………………. $9.15

You smile to yourself. This receipt is from only a week ago. You and Paula drove down the highway towards nowhere in particular, watching the walnut orchards blur beside you into nothing but hulking silhouettes of umber and green. There wasn’t much down some of those lonely roads but an old fast-food joint. The fries had been so crisp that the roof of your mouth throbbed. Your stomach churns eagerly with hunger now as you remember it. We should go back sometime. Maybe Tuesday. Afterall, that place is far enough from town that you and Paula are certain you would never run into anyone you knew. If my mom ran into us somewhere like that, you think, adding the total to your waiting spreadsheet, she’d be giving me Keto brochures for months. You stop smiling then.

You take a long swig of bitter coffee and pull out a third receipt. This one is crinkled into a stubborn ball. You pick at it until it unfolds. Your eyes scan the faded bit of paper. You pull your mug up to your mouth to take another drink but your hand stops. As you finish reading, you forget that you’re even holding the cup at all. This. This is the receipt from the pharmacy out of town. This.

                  RD Licorice, 8oz……… $1.99

                  Plan B, One Step……… $47.49

                  Sales Tax (8%)………… $3.96

                  Total……………………….. $53.44

You can remember the waxy taste of the off-brand licorice. The way it stuck in your teeth. How you paced the store for forty-five minutes, sweating through the prickling wool of your oversized pullover. I didn’t know where they were. How would I know where they kept them? You close your eyes tight, until the fireworks start. How would I know? You can feel him there still. You can feel the weight of him pressing the words right out of your lungs. His clumsy, blubbering tongue making it’s way past your sentinel teeth. No, no, no. Your head is bobbing, a balloon in the breeze. You’re dizzy.

You feel something wet hit your knee. A few drops of coffee slid down from the mug, now hanging loosely in your failing grip. You set the cup down beside your laptop and stand up.

The five steps to your bed are a challenge. You’re tired. Exhausted. Your body is closing tight and sure as a prison gate. And grandpa does this for hours. He never gets tired. You let nothing in. Never.

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