Flash fiction by L.N. Holmes
Maria, who liked to wear dresses with the mottled colors of a crow’s egg, asked me to coffee on Independence Day, when we knew she was asking for more than coffee, like we knew the holiday was no longer politically passé. It was evening when we paid for our brewed beans at a café and walked down to the riverside. We sat on a bench near a concrete path overlooking the water. The lights of the Davenport Centennial Bridge cast a russet hue on the Mississippi River below, which churned and gurgled with filth.
We were promised fireworks but received the cacophony of car horns on the highway instead. Maria sipped her latte in silence, staring at nothing in particular. I placed my hand on her leg, felt the warmth of her thigh under her dress. She turned to look at me and raised an eyebrow, but she didn’t smile. I retracted my hand. It was not usual for her to act like a lady in public.
“Maybe they were canceled for some reason,” she said.
I watched her mouth move in the dim light cast by the street lamp. She was wearing red lipstick. I wasn’t accustomed to this. Pinkish hues or brown, like suede, usually coated her lips. Her new choice in makeup reminded me of a housewife from the fifties—a real American beauty.
“You are so gorgeous,” I said. It was my job to set the mood and I played my part well. Maria liked to pretend I was a gentleman until we got to her apartment.
“I always look beautiful,” she said.
“Yes, you do,” I agreed. This was also new—this sense of self worth. Suddenly I had the feeling she didn’t call me here for a quick chat and a long night.
A night jogger ran along the footpath in front of us. She huffed loudly, her girth jiggling like gelatin, and waved as she passed. She did not look in our direction but kept her eyes forward. Maria waved back, but I continued to watch, impressed by her ability to keep moving.
“There’s something I need to tell you,” Maria said.
Red lipstick encircled the hole of the lid on her coffee cup. I tried not to think about the words that would come next. Was she pregnant? Was she moving? Was she really the girlfriend of a mafia boss and I needed to make myself scarce? I at least wanted one more night with her. Her breasts were popping out of her dress like white bread from a toaster oven.
“I’ve found Jesus,” she said.
I swallowed my coffee and pondered this. Did that mean no more sex? Was Jesus a cock blocker? I had a vague notion that the Catholics agreed with me. I knew from a high school history book that the Shakers were celibate. But I’d seen one of my coworkers canoodling with a girl wearing a cross necklace at a bar one time, so I wasn’t sure.
I decided to ask. “Is it true Christians hate premarital sex?”
“I think that’s the wrong way to put it.” Maria stood and walked to a trashcan a few feet away where she deposited her empty cup. She turned and looked at me, then winked. “I obviously don’t dislike it.”
“Then why does it matter if you’ve found Jesus?” I asked.
I felt like a husband that caught his wife in bed with a rich old geezer. Maria was something I could lose. Maybe it was the lipstick, or the jogger, or the idea of the inside of a church, but it was messing up my thoughts, like a robotic arm in an assembly line throwing things off the belt.
I stood and walked over to her, pulling her into an embrace. She stared up at me, her dark eyes scanning my features, her lips pursed in a way that indicated she was thinking. The silkiness of her black hair aroused me and I petted her like I would a cat—firmly and with attention to detail. She liked it when I cupped the back of her head in my palm. It was something she never had to tell me, I knew it by the way she lowered her eyelids slightly.
“Let’s go to your apartment.” It was not a question. This was my time to be bold. She would play her part later.
“I think,” she said, her voice soft, “that I’ve found something more meaningful.”
If I were a vampire, her words would have repelled me like garlic breath. I removed my arms from around her. What did she mean “meaningful?” Wasn’t mind-blowing sex meaningful? It was to me. Without her, I’d have to date people again.
An explosion caused me to look up. The tendrils of a firework streaked the black sky. After a moment, it was gone, quickly replaced by another, and another.
“I’ll call you,” Maria said.
Then she turned and walked away from me, her body briefly illuminated by the fireworks.
L. N. Holmes is an Ohio native living in Nebraska. Her fiction, poetry, and nonfiction have appeared in Newfound (web), Vestal Review, F(r)iction, Obra, STARK, Garbanzo Literary Journal, and other publications. Graduating this past spring, she was also a half-fellow in the Creighton University MFA Creative Writing program, where she served as fiction co-editor for Blue River.