Short Short Fiction

Making a Long Story Short

Author's Note: This story began at 2500 words. When I accepted a contest challenge to write a short-short (one complete story on a single page) I was able to reduce it to 600. It can be done without losing a thing (except 1900 extraneous words).


Unreachable You

by Kathy Coogan

I couldn’t reach him in time. I might have been trudging against a rip tide, my body too heavy, the usual quickness of my movements abandoning me. All my life I have darted, bustled and dashed. Adrenalin has been my friend, galvanizing me to action. Once, seeing a toddler overbalance on a sloping sidewalk, I grabbed her snowsuit hood, rescuing her from a dangerous downhill tumble. But, when I might have saved him, I blinked.

It was a normal day. I rose silently from our bed, protecting my precious bubble of private morning time from the barbs that would surely burst it, if he awoke. I would enjoy my over-sized mug of timer-brewed coffee without encountering the anxious, hostile moods and paranoia that began in his dreams and trespassed into every day. Perhaps his new meds would disarm his dreams and give us peace.

I tiptoed from the bedroom. In the kitchen, I filled my familiar coffee-stained mug and walked to the balcony door, sliding it silently open, wide enough to slip through. I walked to the balcony wall, which came to just under my breasts and rested my forearms there. The mug, clasped in both hands, overhung the courtyard five stories below. I experienced the tantalizing impulse to let the mug fall just to see what would happen, but the potential loss of my precious mug allayed the temptation. He, on the other hand, would have let it fall. Impulse was all. Consequences—like joy—were too far away.

I leaned over the wall and looked down, feeling my breasts through my nightgown flatten against the cool slate ledge. My hair blew softly across my face and I fluttered my hand in the cool breeze as if I were riding in a red convertible.

“Who are you waving to?” he said.

I gasped and jumped a little, spilling a drop of coffee. I hadn’t heard the door slide open. “Good morning,” I said, moving away from the wall toward where he stood.

“I said: who were you waving to?”

“Oh. I wasn’t waving,” I said. “I was just playing with the wind.” I smiled to break the tension.

“Don’t lie to me. I saw you waving. You didn’t know I was here,” he said. It was important to ignore it. I said, “Would you like some coffee? I’ll get it and bring it out. It’s a beautiful morning.”

He said, “You think you’re so smart. You sneak out here and signal to him and think I don’t know. But I know.” He walked as close to the wall as he dared, reaching out to peer over.

He said, “Is he still there? Is he?”

I said, “Honey, there’s no one there. Come on, let’s get that coffee,” stepping toward the door.

“You think I’m afraid, don’t you? You think I won’t get closer. He’s down there laughing at me, isn’t he? You told him I’d be afraid to get too close, didn’t you? I’ll show you both.” He boosted himself onto the wall, sitting, his back to the horizon, shaking only slightly.

He said, “You should see your face.”

I tried to relax my frozen features and felt my lips quiver apace with my racing heart.

He said, “I could lean back and fall at his feet. Wouldn’t that take the grin off his face? You think I’m afraid. Watch this,” he said.

He leaned back and his impulse carried him away.

I reached for him but he was gone.

I heard only the impact of my coffee mug crashing to the floor. When I looked down, the shattered pieces were scattered at my feet.

Art by Mo created on computer using Paint program.

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