A coffee shop
After taking the plunge and participating in NYC Midnight’s Short Story Challenge earlier this year I decided to give the Flash Fiction variant a go too. It was a no-brainer really. The experience of being taken out of my comfort zone was a good writing exercise and it was great to see so many talented writers put their spin on the shared prompts.
This challenge differs from the Short Story in the way it’s scored. Firstly, it is actually determined by points, so the winner from each group gets 15, with points descending down to 1 for fifteenth place. There’s a second story phase in the first round, so if you score zero with the first entry you still have a chance to progress.
I’m viewing it as an F1 race. I probably won’t get on the podium because I’m in the equivalent of Jenson Button’s McLaren.
Also, as the name suggests, it’s the short form known as Flash Fiction. Every round limits the author to 1,000 words, with a time limit of 48 hours.
To the story itself, as you can see from the prompts above, I got the Drama category. The story below depicts an uncomfortable scene between two partners in a coffee house. It should be made clear nothing in there is gratuitous. Domestic violence and abuse, especially toward women, is something I’m strongly against. It bothers me that while these things aren’t seen as acceptable they have become accepted as a part of life. More effort needs to be made to combat this problem.
Due to the topic I went for a style that wasn’t wordy, the impact is in the real horror, not words failing to convey it. Which is handy because I’m never going to be a literary writer.
Zoe struggles to locate a missing fake eyelash as her overbearing partner, Trevor, continues with verbal abuse. His controlling behavior is acting as a catalyst for the disintegration of their relationship and Zoe’s will to live.
* * * * *
Zoe continues to rummage through her handbag. It is a vain attempt to appease Trevor. Just another futile effort to make him happy. It never occurs to her it is this – the panic and fear – that pleases Trevor. Her compliance with this matter is all he requires.
But Zoe is struggling to keep on top of ever-changing moods and rules.
“I don’t think it is here,” she says.
“A minute ago you said it was,” Trevor replies.
Zoe misses his smirk as her eyes are frantically scanning the same items praying this alone can bring into existence the lost article.
“I must have been mistaken,” she offers.
“Yes,” she says. “Wrong. I was wrong.”
Now she does catch his smile. The admittance excites him. It always does. If there’s one thing Trevor likes to be, it is right. Her being constantly at fault makes it the default setting.
“Wrong again,” he says. “Do you know how boring this is for me? Always having to point out your mistakes?”
“You will be. Now check that fucking bag and get that fucking-fake eyelash you made such a big fucking deal about.”
He hisses this. Each profanity a reminder of the poison within, hidden beneath each public smile. Zoe is worried the other patrons in the coffee shop will pick up on this. They don’t, they never do.
“You’re making a scene,” she says. Trevor has been hard at work breaking down Zoe’s confidence but she still has enough of a voice to offer this suggestion.
“A scene?” he says with mock surprise. “A scene? I’ll tell you what making a scene is. Leaning over me the minute my coffee gets here just to give me a kiss on the forehead like I’m some little boy. That’s a scene. Embarrassing me in front of all these people.”
The accusatory tone stings Zoe. She wonders now if the kiss was an impulsive act of love or a way to keep his anger at bay. If she hadn’t have offered some affection that could have been an error. Her wide blue eyes start to glisten, if it wasn’t for the defeated look of panic her face now wears, they would appear attractive.
It makes her look younger because nature has a strange sense of humor and her face sags without creases. Worry lines aren’t used to occupying the desolate lands of a once happy landscape.
Trevor continues, both with words and his relentless hounding, “You were positive it must have fallen out in the car. You remember the car? Another five minute wait while you messed around with makeup that didn’t need touching.”
“I wanted to look good for you, honey,” she says. What she thinks is she wanted to avoid a criticism. Trevor can be an expert on any subject within seconds of approaching it. Recently he has become as knowledgeable as the world’s leading fashion stylist on the subject of makeup.
“With one eyelash bigger than the other do you think you look good for anyone?”
“Probably not,” Zoe replies.
“Then find it.”
Her body judders down into wilt. She is defeated now. Whatever the consequences may be once they leave the coffee house (and her sore ribs give her a few ideas) she can’t cope with this little act any longer. She’ll take this cup of mocha as a timeout before the real game resumes.
She wonders how her life came to this. How love came to feel like this.
Trevor senses the passing of one phase and the start of the next. He takes her wrists by placing his much larger hands over them. To a casual observer it would look like an act of kindness. Only they wouldn’t be able to see what Zoe now feels.
His hands, acting like physical handcuffs to match the mental ones he has Zoe encased in, are gripping tight. Zoe is fixated on his better than natural white, porcelain teeth. As they slide into view by the widening grin she further braces herself.
Then his thumb and forefinger pinch the centre of her wrist. The same section Zoe has spent nights alone staring at, wondering if a quick slit there would be for the best. A pain courses through her arm but it is irrelevant, barely registering on the same scale as the torment her broken heart feels each day.
“Good girl,” Trevor says. It is said with the tone of a master, impressed with how he has housetrained a mongrel dog. “Now those eyes are looking a little watery, my dearest. So focus on not losing a drop from there or you’ll be losing a drop from elsewhere later.”
“I won’t cry,” she says. And she means it. He may be squeezing her wrist but it prompts a new level of determination.
“Good. When I let go let’s enjoy our drinks and head home and we’ll talk about this properly.”
The release of his hands only adds a further weight to Zoe’s worry. Tonight is going to be long and repetitive, she fears.
Trevor, smiling like he’s just won a prize, picks up his caramel shortbread. As always he uses this to scoop the top level of cream from his caramel latte. His perfect teeth take an aggressive snap out of the treat. Everything with Trevor is about reaffirming his dominance, even eating.
Zoe is frozen. She is unsure the proper way to even consume coffee now. She remains this way as Trevor’s face reddens, his arms swinging for an invisible object only he can see.
He is choking. An accidental, stray fake eyelash is lodged with shortbread in his throat, the viscosity of the liquid and caramel sauce combination acting as perfect cement to keep it there.
His control and power over Zoe slowly kills her. It is now killing him because she’s too scared to move.
Rigid with uncertainty, each gasp from across the table edges her closer to freedom.