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January 24, 2013 / Bika

The Check

I have a creative writing class this term, hooray! So far it’s been interesting to learn the difference between literary fiction and genre fiction. The book we’re using is expensive but really good, if you find yourself with wads of money to throw around, here’s an excerpt with the author’s name and title. Every week we practice what we’ve learned in our readings–themes, setting, characterization etc–by writing flash fiction. Um, yay? Seriously, a class where I get to write fiction for my grade is mind-boggling.

Anyway. Here’s something I’ve been working on.

_____________________________________________________________

The Check

They say time isn’t linear at all, that all events are unique and happening at once, and the appearance of a logical flow between them is an illusion. I know this is true, because I revisit you every day of my life.

________

“Hey, sugar. Found an old check in the file cabinet. Were you ever planning to cash it?”

I stiffened and snatched the slip of paper out of Bo’s hand. Too late, I composed myself.

“What’s that look? The devil write it to you or something?” Bo’s expression sobered when he saw my face and the haste with which I stuffed the check into my back pocket. “Might call whoever, get you a new one.”

“No.” My fingers sought the tiny divot at the edge of my scalp and swept over it. Even now I can’t remember which came first, the habit or the dent.

Bo gently took my hand away from its worrying and held it, pulling me into a backwards embrace-slash-restraining hold, his chin resting on the top of my head. Just a few layers of frayed denim separated his body from my check. I squirmed away.

“I don’t need your touchy-feely bullshit right now.” My back pocket felt like it was on fire. “And stay out of my papers.”

“Jesus, Ell?” He sounded hurt. The check now felt heavier than it had any right to be. I didn’t respond, and I didn’t look up. If I looked up, I’d have to stay. I needed air.

I woke up in Atlanta with a hangover and a cheap, scratchy motel coverlet over my face. My first thought was that this must be how time travelers felt, gross and reeling with carsickness, unsure of what day it is; my second thought was of the check. I swiped my pocket, but it wasn’t there. The muscles in my chest tightened for a moment and I felt like I might puke after all, then I remembered stowing it somewhere for safekeeping the night before. I checked the usual spots. Behind the mirror, taped under a dresser drawer or the underside of the sink, plastic-wrapped and stowed in the toilet tank. It was difficult to remember the last place I’d put it—my brain felt plastic-wrapped. Finally I found what I was looking for, wedged between the pages of the Gideon Bible.

I always told myself I’d get rid of it. I had fantasies where I’d shred it, burn it, piss on the ashes, and throw it in a river so it couldn’t keep popping up anymore. But I never did any of that. When I mustered the courage to return home, the check came with me.

At every pit stop, I reevaluated the security of its hiding place. Would it be safe there? Could I easily find it again? Would someone else find it before I did? I changed it each time, just to be sure. Time travelers can’t be too careful, I thought, and snorted quietly at my own joke. Back at our place, heart kicking, I fumbled with keys until Bo opened the door. He just stood there looking at me, an absurdly sorrowful look spread across the width of his face. The check was warm inside my sock.

“I’m sorry, Bo,” I said, and meant it. “You’d be right to hate me for running off.”

“Ellie. I could never hate you.” His arms were around me again, evidence of his forgiveness, Exhibit A in the case of his love for me. He was not my first husband or my last, but he was by far the most demonstrative. I neither appreciated nor deserved him, probably. “I was worried sick,” he said into my hair, and held me until even my socks no longer felt safe.

That house never held a good hiding place again, though god knows I tried. And Bo never stopped snooping. I could see in the way his eyes flicked over my mail, how they seemed drawn to the ugly metal file cabinet I now kept locked, that he no longer trusted me. Every innocent “what’ve you been up to?” was a pointed accusation that put me on the defensive and distanced me further from him. After a time, I gave him back his ring. He didn’t want to take it, said it was mine to keep. I told him no.

“It’s yours, you paid for it,” I said, and dropped it into the breast pocket of his old flannel shirt with fingers that were careful not to touch any more than they had to. My old car, packed and running, waited to take me to parts unknown; under the visor the check also waited, for a suitable time to be found. “Life’s too long for keepsakes.”

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