Closed Roads, Open Doors [Free Short Fiction]

Since there really is no time like the present, I wanted to get started on my newest challenge while it was fresh in my mind.

This post comes from my effort to write a Story a Day every (week)day in May. I’m not posting all of them, only those I think will be great for blog readers. They will all be tagged [Free Short Fiction] for easier browsing.

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For my first Story a Day May 2017 post, I chose a random prompt:

The Daily Post:

Control

Closed Roads, Open Doors

Cars stretched for blocks, some honking, others blaring music, and all of them pumping more noxious gases into the air to eat away at the already thin atmosphere that barely kept the sun from blistering them all where they sat. Clara squeezed the steering wheel and bit back the curse throbbing on her tongue. Every minute that passed tested her resolve to watch her language in deference to Adam’s innocence.

“Move, dust it!”

The latest attempt at changing her vocabulary brought a momentary smile to her face.

“Might as well say, ‘frak you, you frakking fraks,’” she said to the man in traffic beside her.

His blank stare reminded her of where she was. She adjusted the air conditioner up another notch, wary of its pull on the old engine. The car hummed along behind the others stuck dead stop behind a funeral procession.

“Who has a funeral in the middle of the afternoon in May?”

Her cell phone rang, and she snatched it from the cup holder.

“Yes?” she asked. She commended herself for not cursing.

“This is Marina again. I wondered if you were close.”

The motorcycle cop passed by, and Clara let out a breath. “I’ve been stuck behind a funeral procession, but I think I’ll be able to get moving again soon. I’m so sorry about this. The school didn’t tell anyone the bus was going to be early. Is he bothering you?”

“Oh, no, he’s been a very well-behaved guest. I only wondered because he’s asking for a snack, and I know some kids have crazy allergies.”

Clara could tell there was more, but her neighbor had stopped herself in the middle of her thought.

“He doesn’t, but don’t worry about it. I should be there in about 20 minutes. He won’t starve.” She tried to put a smile in her voice, but wasn’t sure the other woman would hear it.

“It’s no bother. If you don’t mind, I’m going to give him an apple. He’s been eyeing them since he got here, and really, I won’t be able to eat them all myself before they spoil.”

Traffic crawled forward over the hill so Clara could see the stoplight had gone red again. She groaned.

“If you don’t want me to give it to him, I won’t,” Marina said quickly.

Clara mouthed a swear, mentally chastised herself, then let out a shaky breath. “This traffic is killing me. I’m sure he would love the apple. Thank you so much for being there for him, and I’ll be there as soon as humanly possible.”

As it turned out, the soonest she could get there still left her away half an hour. By the time she pulled her car into her own driveway, she could see her son in the back yard, being pushed on a swing by a woman who looked every bit a kindergarten teacher. She rushed back with an apologetic smile.

“Adam, what are you doing home so early?” she asked him in a playful voice.

He leveled her with the kind of dirty look only the truly innocent can muster. “Why weren’t you home, Mamabear?”

Marina made puppy eyes at the little boy. “Oh, that’s a darling nickname for your mother.”

Adam made a face. “It’s not a nickname. It’s her name.”

Clara put her hands on her hips. “Is that any way for you to talk to the woman who took you in off the street and fed you apples?”

“Sorry,” the boy mumbled, looking everywhere but at Marina’s dark, round face.

“It’s no problem,” Marina said. “I’m sure you’re tired from your walk.”

“Walk?” Clara asked.

Marina glanced at Adam, then back at Clara. “Um, yes. It seems the road was closed, so they dropped him off on Fifth Street and let him walk.”

Clara’s head suddenly felt like it was stuffed with bees, but she put on her best smile and turned to Adam. “Gosh, buddy, you must be tired.” She pulled out her keys and handed them over. “Why don’t you go inside and wash your face? You can even have a juice box if you promise to drink it in the kitchen.”

The boy grabbed the keys and dashed to the back door without another look. Clara turned back to Marina in shock.

“Are you serious?” she whispered. “That’s six blocks!”

Marina nodded solemnly. “I don’t know what kind of drivers they hire, but I know I would never let a five-year-old walk that far alone.”

“Six,” Clara said offhand. She stared at the boy’s swing as it drifted lazily in the breeze. “They have all these rules in place about who can pick them up and when. Rules about sharing lunches and even the colors they can wear.” She shook her head and felt her throat constrict. “I can’t believe they let him out.”

Her neighbor put a hand on her arm. “You couldn’t have known. They didn’t call you. If they had, someone would have been here.”

Clara looked from the swing set across the yard to the road as a car passed by too quickly. “I would have called Ruth.”

“Ruth?” Marina asked, then let her hand drop. “Your wife?”

A truck passed on the road carrying signs she couldn’t read but knew would say ‘road closed’. It clanked over a pothole the county still hadn’t patched, and she wondered why she didn’t live closer to the city limits. If she did, Adam wouldn’t ride the bus. He would have to be picked up every day. Inconvenient, but safer.

Clara sucked in a breath when she realized she hadn’t been breathing, then turned to Marina. Her eyes focused. “What did you say?”

Marina studied her a moment. “Ruth. Is she your wife?”

“Yes.” Clara shook her head. “No, ex-wife. We separated last year.” She heard her mother’s reprimand in her head, then pointed a thumb over her shoulder. “Do you want to come in? I don’t know how I can repay you for taking care of Adam, but if you’d like a glass of iced tea, I have some I made this morning.”

“I’d like that,” Marina said.

“You don’t have plans?” Clara asked, then wanted to kick herself for opening her mouth.

Marina started walking to the back-door Adam had left open. “No. I work from home, so I tend to spend this part of the day with the windows drawn and a fan on me.”

“I can arrange that,” Clara answered as she followed the woman into her house.

When Marina opened the door, Adam called out for her in excitement. Clara had calls to make, and a scathing letter to the school board to write, but… those could wait.

 


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