Doorsteps (Flash Fiction)

She sighs and takes another long drink from her Seagram’s and seven. Ice clinks in the glass as she presses it to her lips and swallows and swallows and swallows. It’s another mix almost gone in one simple session, and they both pretend not to notice. “Tonight?” she asks. “Really?”

He doesn’t look up. His elbows are planted on his knees, bare arms from a t-shirt stabbing through holes in denim jeans. With the weight of his world, his chin presses onto his hands. “Tonight,” he says again, wondering how many ways he’ll have to tell the same story. “I gotta get out of here. It’s just how it goes, ya know? This fuckin’ city,” he says, not looking at her, not looking at the skyline or the beaten avenue or anything his mind would bother to blame for his misery. “I just gotta get out of this town. Haven’t you ever felt that way?”

“No,” she lies, crunching ice in the back of her mouth. It’s her third mix, and the whiskey has finally found its place. “I love this place. Always have. Where the hell else could you consider home? And what the fuck do you expect to find in California?”

His feet twist on the concrete. Small pebbles grind beneath worn sneakers. “I just gotta go,” he says again, his heart unable to conjure the real truth, his lips unwilling to release the words that would let this young woman know that it’s her, that it’s her absurd attitude, her unrelenting needs, her continual demands that drive him from one shore in pursuit of another. “I feel like if I never take this chance, I’ll never take a chance at all.”

“Chance,” she scoffs. “Fuck that. It’s too expensive over there. Everyone knows that. You’re just gonna bury yourself. And for what? The chance to ‘escape?'” she says, quoting the air around her head.

Which is exactly why I have to leave, he thinks. This shit, this garbage weight strapped around my waist. You and my friends and everyone else. There’s no freedom here. There’s no release. “It isn’t about trying to escape,” he lies. “It’s about opportunity. Ya know? It’s about seeing what else is out there. How can I see the world from the same window?”

She tilts her head fully back, draining whiskey and soda and ice in one. It all goes down, all free of consideration or understanding. “Jesus,” she says, laying on her accusations as thick as she can. “You sound like my mother. See the world, travel,” she scoffs. “Bullshit. Just admit it. You’re quitting. You don’t love this town. You never did.”

Admit it he won’t. It’s a fight he has no interest in winning, let alone engaging. “I just wanna see what’s out there, that’s all. It isn’t personal,” he says in a tired tone, though he knows her words ring true. The further he can get from her, the better off he’ll be.

“They’re gonna turn you into some kind of liberal idiot, you know that right?” she says, pulling a cigarette from her rear pocket and giving it a light. “You’ll be wanting to kill unborn babies before Thanksgiving.”

He sighs, his heart sinking with the realization that the conversation is pointless, that no explanation exists to justify his exit. “It isn’t a big deal,” he says in a desperate effort to end the discussion.

And to his surprise, the words work. She leans back against the steps, cigarette between her full lips, her lungs pulling in and out, bringing an orange ember at the end of her mouth to life. Cars pass by, some strolling in search for parking, others honking in demand for more space, and they watch in collective silence. Their path together has come to an end despite the lies they say, despite the promises they share. He knows she’ll find someone else and she knows he’ll never return.

“Are you staying over?” she asks, ignoring the situation that’s come to pass. The whiskey has gotten to her, and she’s ready for more company, ready for comfort from her departing friend.

His elbows dig into his knees. His feet grind on the stairs. Turning, he looks back at her and the concrete steps leading to her door. “Sure,” he says, disappointed by his own relenting. “I guess I can stay.”

Their eyes lock, and she smiles. “Come on,” she says with a tilt of her head. “Let me make you another drink.”

He agrees, though the beverage in his hand is untouched. Together, in tired unison, they step inside.

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