Her First Miasma
Eve’s next-door neighbor Mr. Frances yelled to her from his cinderblock front porch with no railing and a six-foot drop to the flower beds, “Hey Little Miss, do you want to come with us? We’ve got some things to get at the mall!”His family was impulsive while Eve’s was reticent, anguishing over plans, and Mr. Frances invited Eve to outings on the spot. Their car was warming up and three of his five children were already climbing into it. Eve nodded and signaled frantically to Mr. Frances with her index finger to wait for her.In seeming celebration of their roughness, Mr. Frances called every young girl with ratty hair, blood dried a shade of deep rust over stubbed toes with feet hardened from running barefoot over limestone paths and dirt fields ‘Little Miss’. Sometimes he whistled through his teeth to a group wandering past his home mimicking a shooting star soaring over their heads, and they straightened their postures, their pride elevated.Mr. Frances spent hours sitting in the folding chair on his porch surveying the neighborhood and breathing in the stultifying summer air so openly Eve could see his nostrils pinch. Eve rode her bike up and down her driveway just as often. Both were awkward, with uncomfortable interior lives. Outside grounded them and dampened their natural loneliness.
Eve glimpsed Mr. Frances’ son Frank climbing into their car. From her front yard, she squinted painfully at him, searching dumbfoundedly over his statuesque physique certain it was a mistake that he lived in their ramshackle neighborhood. In his proximity she looked downward; his physical perfection accentuated her dirty appearance.
With a shout goodbye to her mother, Eve ran to their driveway and jumped into the waiting car, happening to sit next to Frank in the sliver of space left by the window. Except for Frank, who was the oldest and most reserved, Mr. Frances’ children enlivened the car with their raucous voices and fitful movements, with those in the back seat kicking at the front seat and those in the front seat singing and laughing in bravado.
They sped along the interstate. Mr. Frances drove fast even when running short errands in town. The destination, not the journey, was always his focus. He quickly put events and outings behind him so that he could return to breathing in and perceiving his neighborhood from the vantage of his front porch. To Eve his presence was safe, like a perpetually glowing streetlight.
On the ride to the mall, Frank lounged his arm over the back of the seat behind Eve’s head. He tapped his fingers so close to her hair they drowned out the Motown song playing on the radio. Eve concentrated on Mr. Frances’s thoughtful profile in the driver’s seat. She noticed him studying intently the flat, monochromatic environment all along the freeway.
Then Eve felt Frank’s fingers circling the pointed ends of her shoulder blades and his palm graze then press firmly on her knotty backbone as though trying to make it malleable to smooth it out. Eve sat, frozen with shame. A few seconds later he returned his hand to the seat behind her head and resumed drumming along with the radio. For Eve the mall was a blurred mosaic of faces and garish lighting, with the contrasting odors of sugar cooking and perfume contributing to the noxiousness of Frank’s hand judging her bumpy back.
On the ride home Eve sat in the middle of the front seat next to Mr. Frances. He winked, “You look tired Little Miss. Did the mall do you in?”
She winked back at him and they hummed with the radio. Eve glanced in the rearview mirror at Frank. His gray eyes looked vacantly out the window at the freeway and the span of flat fields beyond it. She thought how different Frank was from his sharp-eyed lonely father who never looked at anything like it was empty.
About the author
Susan Jean DeFelice lives with her family in Georgia and graduated from Sonoma State University. Her stories have been published in Flash Fiction Magazine and Literally Stories. She works in social services and aspires to write fiction full time.
Other work by Susan deFelice on Flashes:
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