Robert Shelton

Issue 2: Flash Fiction

Privation and a Golden Dream

I dug up that old horse’s bones during the Spring plowing. I told them to bury him down further. I never should have let them put him there. He had such a good heart. That family didn’t deserve that animal. When he died they were heartbroken, like anyone would be, but that didn’t mean they were up to the task. They went about it all wrong and half-assed. Like everything else they did. Poor folks have poor ways. Now that three-ring circus of a family has pulled up stakes and moved on, and this poor old horse is mine to deal with. A goddamn dirtborne tragedy spread out along my South forty in femurs and sockets and teeth.

Your father warned me on our wedding day: Nothing good will come of them. Looking at their work I just felt sick. I lay down on the porch and slept. By the time I woke back up, three hours had gone.

I woke up dreaming I had met Joan Crawford. It was in a huge fancy hotel in some Eastern city, an expensive place with gold inlay in the woodwork. She was young yet, somewhere in her twenties. We were in the shower, a big common lavatory with rows of showerheads along tiled walls, all unpartitioned and shameless like in a prison, or a really old high school. She was showing me around, waving and pointing with her flask and telling me in between sips about how they had designed it, the choices they had made. Why they hadn’t just given every room its own private tub and faucet and drain.

I said it must have been to simplify the plumbing, but she said that wasn’t it. The builders had just come through the Depression and the War, so they knew that no one does anything alone. They built it this way to help the guests stay close. To force them together at their daily moment of humility. Because rich people have bad habits; they confuse themselves with comforts. They forget what unites us. But they do like to keep clean. Maybe even more so than poor people. So this was the way to their hearts.

I looked down and saw a glass in my hand. I took a sip but it wasn’t anything. Just ginger ale and a lemon peel. Joan laughed and poured her flask in it. She asked me what I thought about her work, some specific scene or character she’d played. I loved her movies. I’ve seen them all, so I recognized the markers she was giving me, the names, but I didn’t have the details in my head. So I couldn’t answer her. I just kept up these sad excuses, trying to put my admiration out front so she wouldn’t see the truth: That I didn’t admire her life’s work enough to commit it to memory.

You were at work. She asked me what I did for a living. I told her, and felt embarrassed.

Robert Shelton studied English in Northfield, Minnesota, dabbling in Linguistics and German Literature before moving to upstate New York to race motorcycles on road courses throughout the Northeast and Canada, where he earned a few minor trophies and several memorable concussions. Today he is a writer of automation in the machine-code genre, as well as of human stories. His writing is featured at Rochester Spoken Word’s Speak Easy events, and at the upcoming 2020 Listen To Your Mother show.

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