Tom Andes, a contributor and reviewer to Mystery Tribune, has published short fiction with Guernica and Akashic Books among others. A resident of New Orleans, his writing has appeared in Best American Mystery Short Stories 2012.
“Like Left Doesn’t Mean Left” is a new flash fiction by the author for Mystery Tribune digital edition.
It’s all Frank’s fault, Abigail thinks. Frank’s fault that after 42 years of marriage and two kids, they’re trapped in a condominium in Old Orchard Beach, having sold Daddy’s house on King’s Highway in Kennebunkport: Frank’s failed travel agency, Seacoast Travel, and his stupid gambling debts, those G-D horses he used to play at Scarborough Downs. The thought sets Abigail’s teeth on edge, but that isn’t what works her last nerve. No, it’s the way he slops each bite of filet in catsup and chews, slack-jawed like an ape. Daddy’s mahogany mantel clock hangs on the wall behind him. Shows the wrong time, always.
After all the times she’s told Frank don’t eat with his mouth open.
“Close it,” she says. He knows what’s good for him, he will.
He swallows, buttoning his lip. “Sorry.” Half a minute later he’s doing it again.
Feels like someone else’s hand hurls her wine glass. It bounces off his forehead and shatters on the floor.
How many times has she told him, Abigail asks, not to chew with his G-D mouth open?
Her husband holds his eye. Retired, but he dresses like he’s got someplace to go: checked shirt, khakis. Like he’s so all-fired important. The pendulum of Daddy’s clock swings. Daddy wouldn’t have lost that house, or blown that money playing the horses.
Abigail’s hands shake. Chardonnay spilled, one of her best crystal wineglasses broken, and that’s his fault, the SOB, having ruined their meal. She spent all afternoon cooking while he was watching the Sox. Waits on him hand and foot, like a slave-girl.
“Abigail,” he says, “I didn’t mean anything.”
He’s fine, or anyway, there’s no blood.
He will never be sorry enough to make up for the fact of their reduced circumstances: two bedrooms in a split-level, hardly enough space to watch their shows in separate rooms.
“Look what you made me do.” She sweeps up glass. Frank slinks from the room like a puppy that messed on the floor.
Next day he’s at it again, gulping his coffee like he knows she can’t stand, doing it at her. That hand wings her keys at him. He ducks, and they clatter in the corner. The so-and-so. She’s holding the spatula. Bacon splatters on the stove.
“Please.” He looks like a fourth grader, Abigail towering over him, trapping him in that chair. Who kept her from being what she wanted to be? Might’ve stayed in Paris after her junior year abroad at Dartmouth, been an artist, anyway, a muse, riding a Vespa around Montmartre. Her fault girls didn’t do that back then, and Daddy wanted her close to home?
“You know I can’t stand when you slurp like that,” she says.
The clock shows 3:30—broken. Daddy, good with his hands like Frank never was, could’ve fixed it.
Frank’s sorry, he says.
Sorry, sorry, sorry.
She doesn’t care if his father was a friend of the Bushes. Frank never did right by her.
The spatula, still hot with grease, smacks his hand. He yelps.
“That hurts,” he says.
Abigail says, “You never took care of me.”
She’s unpacking, hanging football pennants at the top of the stairs: their son Todd, who never listened to his mother and played for Bridgton Academy, next to a photograph of their daughter Miranda at a cello recital. Abigail tells Frank hand her the box on the left.
“That one?” He points, the imbecile, like left doesn’t mean left.
“Stop being a jerk,” she says.
He stoops, picks up the one on his left.
“Goddammit.” The word slips out, may the Lord forgive her.
Someone else’s hands seem to shove Frank. He drops the box, which splits, spilling a glossy stack of Kodak three-by-fives: the kids beaming in front the Grand Canyon South Rim Souvenir Shop.
Frank grabs for the newel post, misses. With a dumb look on his face, he loses his balance and tumbles down the stairs. He lies at the bottom, head crooked.
“Get up.” She leans over the banister, mad enough to spit. “Frank.”
In the kitchen, Daddy’s clock chimes. It isn’t even the hour.
Frank doesn’t move. She starts down, fists balled. He’s really done it now.
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