For the final Flash Fiction Friday of 2011, the redoubtable Thomas Pluck challenges us to echo the great Tom Waits and create anatomically correct fiction, including a song, weather, the name of a town, and something to eat. Here's my contribution, "It's Raining In Baltimore". (Bonus points if you pick up the OTHER lyric included in the story.)
"It's raining in Baltimore," she said. Bits of her hair were hanging down in front of her face. She was looking down into the display of her phone. It was sitting next to a bowl of chicken soup, which was steaming up her glasses. She didn't pause to wipe them.
"That's poetic," I said.
"That's pathetic," she said. She looked out the window through the fogged up lenses. It was gray and blustery, with spitting, insignificant rain, what my friend Gordon calls "a good day for a murder."
I stirred my coffee aimlessly. She said she didn't feel like eating, but I needed coffee and I figured it would be less odd looking if we both had something.
"We can't keep running like this," she said. "We're going to run out of money."
"I don't even have any underwear with me," she said.
"I mean, I appreciate this. I do. I don't want you to think I'm not grateful."
"I understand," I said.
"But I can't stop thinking about it. Where are we going? What's the plan?"
"I'm not sure quite yet," I said. My Uncle Barry, the family member most accustomed to calamity, lived outside Salisbury. I didn't know anyone who could handle a crying, disheveled woman appearing at your door in the middle of the day, but he came the closest.
She sipped at the soup delicately. "Why are you doing this?," she asked carefully.
"I couldn't live with myself any more. Knowing you're with him, knowing he treats you like that- I couldn't stand it any longer."
"But he loves me," she said softly, almost in a whisper. The bruise mushrooming around her right eye looked almost green under the fluorescent lights inside the diner. The rain began to fall a little more determinedly, making a murmur of sound against the window.
"He might," I admitted. "Somewhere under there, he might. But the way he treats you, it's mixed up with anger and alcoholism and who knows what. You need to get away from him, and you know he'd find you if you stayed at my place."
"But what if he asks you where I am?"
"I'll tell him I don't know."
"But what if he insists?"
"I'll keep telling him I don't know."
"He can be very convincing," she said, looking down into her soup again.
"So can I," I said, trying to make it sound heroic.
The third time that I heard her in the hall, stumbling and moaning, I told her when I took her in to dress her wounds and listen to her tears that I wasn't going to let him keep doing that. The next time was about 4 hours ago. I grabbed the bag I had packed and took her down to my car. She stopped crying by the time we got to the interstate, but we hadn't really talked until we sat down at this roadside cafe. The waitress was hovering uncertainly, wanting to make sure we paid. I reached into my duffel bag and set a ten dollar bill where she could see it.
"So where are we going?," she asked.
"I'm going to wait a few more hours, then I'm going to call my uncle Barry. He lives in Maryland. He's had 4 kids, so he's used to taking in strays."
"I don't really know."
"You didn't think this through, did you?"
"Not really," I admitted. "I just couldn't breathe, knowing you were going to go back to him and get treated like that. I can't stand seeing someone so precious be treated so shabbily."
"I'm not precious," she said, looking down. She was quiet for a long time.
"Ready to go?," I suggested. I had sucked down all the coffee I could stand.
"No," she said. "But we'd better leave."
I stood up from the table, nodding at the waitress. The rain was falling lightly again, making spots on the window, turning the streetlights into blurred, fantastic visions.
She was still sitting at the table. "What am I going to do?," she said softly.
"I don't know," I said truthfully. "First we get you someplace safe. We'll figure out Step Two once we nail down Step One."
"That's not very reassuring."
"I know. But sometimes you just have to do the first right thing you see."