I’m inside a big box that says “Menards” on it. It also says, “Dedicated to Service and Quality.” It’s my new spot, and I’m liking it. Tonight I brought in some of my favorite things: my Harry Potter pillow, an old bottle of sage/lavender shampoo that’s empty but still smells nice, some markers to draw on the box, and a mini-Hershey bar from last Halloween that I saved for just such an occasion.
She won’t look here when she starts her rampage after finishing the bottle. Peradventure (a new word I learned), I’ll be safe for the night. Jake, the landlord, pounded on the door at seven just before dinner (I mean her dinner – I didn’t get one – apparently, I didn’t make my bed right). Anyway, he said we have to clear out. People are complaining, and he’s sick of the screaming and her drinking and not paying the rent.
So I fled into the basement while she was at the corner store buying another fifth. The washer and dryer are here, shared by two other tenants. Maybe she’ll look here, but I doubt it because she hates coming down here. When I was seven, she taught me how to do all the wash. It’s now my job. I wonder if something bad happened to her in a basement?
The box is small for me but no one will notice my legs sticking out because they’re under a metal shelving unit. By the way, I’m near the furnace, so I’m nice and warm. I grabbed a little yellow flashlight on my way here so I can color on the inside of the box. Right now I’m drawing a man with a cowboy hat twirling a hula hoop. That would be my dad. He laughed when he taught me how to move my hips so the hoop wouldn’t fall down. I wish he hadn’t left, but I get why he did – she’s a monster. Still, I kind of blame him for leaving me here alone with her. My friend Zoe says that everything’s in God’s hands and He knows what He’s doing so we should trust Him. She says in the end, it all evens out. That’s still not fair, in my opinion.
Uh-oh, I hear steps on the stairs! I’m going to try to breathe into the pillow, which hopefully will muffle the sound.
It’s not her. It’s someone with heavier steps. Maybe that’s the guy who lives upstairs. He’s about 30, I think. He slowed down when he passed my box, probably because I forgot to turn off the flashlight. OK, well, he kept going. I think he’s just doing laundry.
He’s just started singing. Wow, it’s “Fireworks” by Katy Perry, one of my faves, but he’s not a very good singer. He is screeching out the high notes, and he’s doesn’t know some of the lyrics, so just burps whenever he forgets a word, so it’s “you just gotta ‘burp’ the light,” and “After a ‘burp’ comes a rainbow” and, of course, “Cause ‘burp’, you’re a firework!” He sure is giving it his all.
I try not to, but I kind of giggle into my pillow. I hope he can’t hear me. Well, up he goes again. I’m enjoying the chocolate bar, which is just delicious. Now I’m drawing a picture of a house, a house where I hope I’ll live someday. It’s got a big fireplace (it’s a drawing of the outside, but I added lots of smoke rising out of the chimney).
Somewhere after I did the house, and before I got to the flower garden, I must have fallen asleep for a while. I’m awake now because the man is getting his laundry out of the dryer. There’s another sound, too, like rapid clicking on the concrete floor and a kind of swishing sound. He’s talking to someone; maybe he’s talking on his cell phone? He’s saying, “yes, I know. I know you want to meet her. You will meet her soon, I promise.” I bet he has a new girlfriend. And then he’s humming, and I can hear him folding big things, like a sheet. I was never good at that because I’m too short. Well, now he’s walking towards the stairs, the clicking, swishing sound following him. He stops at the stairs and seems to have set down the basket (I really should have made eye holes in this box). Then he’s coming back. OMG, he’s right outside my box!
“Now, Opal, you’ve been very good, so I’m going to let you stay here with her tonight. You can keep each other warm. You promise to take good care of her? I’ll be back in the morning.”
And then there is a little bark, and a small tan dog scoots under the metal shelf and into my box and snuggles up on me. This Opal is the most adorable dog ever. We are kind of like the videos you see of the mamma sea otter and the baby sea otter, where they can’t stop nuzzling each other. I start crying, not because I’m sad, and Opal licks my tears. At some point, I fall asleep.
It’s morning, and the man is back by my box. “Good girl, Opal, you did a fabulous job. Now it’s time for your walk before I go to work.” Opal stands up, shakes herself, and shimmies under and out again.
“I would be thrilled to have someone take Opal for a short walk in the morning and the evening on weekdays. I’d pay them $30 a week for that. Do you know anyone who could do that?” he says out loud.
I realize that he’s talking to me. “Yes, I would really like to do that – can I?”
“That would be perfect. By the way, I’m Barry.”
“Hi Barry, I’m Krystal.”
“Do you want to show me your face so that I don’t give Opal to some maniac pretending to be you?”
I giggle and come out of the box. Barry has a kind face.
“Come by this evening, and I’ll get you a key. If you don’t mind, I’ll leave the money in a coffee can and put it in your box down here every week. That way, no one else will know about it.” He winks.
“That’s very smart,” I say, patting Opal. “By the way, I liked your song last night. You’re very funny.”
“I’m glad you liked it. I forgot some of the words.”
“ I noticed that, ‘Burpy Barry.’”
“Now, don’t you start calling me that, Miss Krystal. You will ruin my reputation.”
“I promise not to.”
“Alrighty then. You have a fantastic day, kiddo.”
“I will. Thank you.” And I made a loud burp and so did he.
Heather Robinson enjoys writing fiction that surprises the reader, but tugs at common emotions. Her stories tend to involve quirky characters in unusual situations, often with an ethical dilemma. She is the author of Dementions, a dark comedy about a young doctor trying to succeed at a clinic which shortens the suffering of dementia patients and their families. Her work has been accepted by Prometheus Dreaming, Door Is A Jar, Defenestration, Datura, Friday Flash Fiction, Bewildering Stories, ThornLit, Potato Soup Journal, Remington Review, and Fiction On The Web.
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