Red Sweater (Flash Fiction)

Brian snatched his sandwich from the crowded counter of the shop, elbowing a good portion of Pepsi from a teenager’s cup, and fled from frenzy of the lunch time rush. He moved quickly down the street, ignoring the half-hearted yells from the angry teenager, and came upon a small park. He jogged across the street and found a small bench that was unoccupied. It was there he decided to enjoy his lunch.

He forced himself to take slow bites and savored the fresh meats of his sub. The air was warm, and Brian saw that the trees were dressing themselves in leaves once again. Ducks idled about in a small pond, only darting for the occasional bread piece, and small animals busied themselves in the freshness of another spring. Along the edge of the pond, Brian saw a couple sitting together on a white blanket. They looked to be in their forties, the same age as him, and they chatted and laughed in the bright sun. The woman, a trim thing with dark brown hair, was wearing a tight red sweater that was short in the sleeves and gave a small peek of her waist. The top buttons were undone, and Brian could tell she was enjoying the affection of both weather and friend. He smiled at her laugh and her mannerisms, the way she waved her hand around while speaking and—

And then he realized it was his wife.

He set his sandwich down and stared. For a moment, he refused to believe. It was just another woman, someone who had the same sweater and hair and laugh. But the laugh came with a smile, and the smile came with a touch of the hand, and the signs coalesced into hard truth.

As Brian watched them, unable to leave or react in his stunned state, more truths rolled his way. He saw the man listen and respond to her side of the conversation. He saw questions being asked. When the meal was presented, a simple soup poured from a thermos and a bottle of white wine, Brian saw the simplicity of thoughtfulness. He tried to remember when he had last attempted to make a meal for his wife; he couldn’t. When the man plucked a dandelion from the grass and tucked it behind her ear, he saw a smile that truly said thank you. Brian watched and waited, hoping for a moment of passion between them that would justify a bout of anger, but it never came. Instead, it was the simple love of companionship that was shared beside the pond, next to the darting ducks.

Brian left and returned to work.

When he got home that evening, Catherine was busy with dinner in the kitchen. She was still wearing the red sweater. He gave her a kiss on the cheek and said hello. She mentioned that there was mail on his desk for him to read. Brian saw the yellow flower still tuckered in her hair. He asked how her day was and she said it was fine, nothing fancy. He stood there and watched her cut celery. She was making soup, and on the counter was a bottle of white wine.

Brian sat at the dining room table and watched her as she cooked silence. It was several minutes before she realized he was still there.

“Something wrong?” she asked, not bothering to stop on her trip from the refrigerator.

“I’ve always loved that sweater,” he said. “You’re so beautiful in it.”

“Thanks,” she said, as she tossed the celery in. She was drinking her white wine, and the soup was coming along nicely.

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