Flash Fiction: Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here

 Every day is market day.

 #

It was a key. A brass key. It was old-fashioned. Probably antique. I ran my fingers over the intricate inscription along its length. The writing was tiny, far too small to read. “What does it say?”

The stallholder was watching me. The fingers of his left hand beat a staccato rhythm on his thigh. His eyes darted away when I looked up. “Wish you were here,” he said, his voice rough as sandpaper.

I ran the tip of my finger along the cool metal. “Wish you were here?”

He nodded gruffly and waved a dismissive hand at another customer trying to get his attention. “That’s what it says.”

It was perfect. “I’ll take it.”

#

Today is market day. Every day is market day. But today could be my last. I no longer believe in Gods. But if I did… If I did believe? Then I would pray that today is my day. Just like I would every day.

#

The Lady Eloise de Marco was not to be won over by sweet words and pretty flowers. She demanded something special from her suitors. Something exquisite. Something expensive.

Her other suitors had money, and land, and prospects. I had nothing but the purity of my love and a near-empty purse. But I was determined to win her hand nonetheless. So I made my way to the Market of Fleas. I would find her something unique.

And I did. I found a brass key that fit no lock, but bore a sweet inscription.

It was perfect. I would give her the key to my heart.

#

I scan the crowd. I am always looking; hoping. Once, I had a chance. I could have walked away. But my sense of honour betrayed me. There is no fear of that now. My honour has long since died, along with my love and my faith.

#

“I’ll take it.”

The old man fought back cough. His gaze locked with mine for a moment, and then he looked away. “You’ll take it?” he repeated, his voice cracking halfway through the question.

“Yes, “I said. “How much?”

He licked his lips, his eyes darting left and right as though he didn’t know what to say next. Had he never made a sale before? I jingled my purse to hurry him along, and he coughed again as he looked back at me. He named a figure, a mere few francs, and then held out his hand.

As I placed the coins in his palm, I realised he was crying.

#

Sal works the stall next to mine. Her voice is often raised. Sometimes in jest, often in anger. But today is different.

“What did you say?” she yells above the noise.

I don’t hear the response, but I hear the catch in Sal’s voice when she answers. “Wish you were here.”

I turn to look. So does everyone else. Not the customers, mind. Just us.

“Yes,” Sal says, her voice more shrill than normal. “That’s what it says.”

I sense her eagerness to close the deal, but she waits. She has to. Asking is against the rules.

“You do?” she asks. “Um. Two dollars.”

I look away. I can’t bear to see the tears I can hear in her voice. I can’t bear for it to be her last day instead of mine.

#

The coins fell into his outstretched hand. His tears fell to the ground. The world moved. I fell into the market.

#

“Hey, dude.”

A teenage boy tries to get my attention. He has long hair, a pink shirt, and a stupid expression. I wave him away with a gesture. I’m watching the new guy in the stall next door. I’m watching him try to understand what happened.

#

I had no idea what had happened. One minute I was paying for a key, the next I was behind the stall.

“Do not try to flee,” said a strange voice that seemed to come from the inside of my head. “You are in the market.”

 “What?”

The woman in the next booth called, “Welcome aboard. My name’s Sal. Wish you were here?”

I looked at her stupidly. “What?” I said again.

She pointed to the key in my hands. “Wish you were here?”

I looked down at the key—the key I was going to give to Eloise—and then back to Sal. “Yes,” I said.

She gave me a wry smile. “You’re here until someone else wishes the same thing, sugar. You may as well get used to it.”

#

“Hey!” I call to the guy at the next stall. “Welcome aboard. My name’s Pierre.”

#

The girl couldn’t have been more than fifteen. “What does this say?” she asked, looking up at me through her lashes.

I stared at her. She was so young. So very young. But she reminded me of Eloise. “Wish you were here,” I said. I could barely breathe.

She breaks into a grin. “Wish you were here?” she repeats.

I nod. My chest was tight. “That’s what it says.”

“It’s perf—”

“No.” I reached out and grabbed it from her hand. “No. You’re too young. Go away.”

She did, taking my chance for freedom with her.

#

The long-haired boy is still trying to get my attention. He can’t be more than fifteen. “Hey, dude! What does this say?”

My breath catches. “Wish you were here.”

“Wish you were here?” he repeats.

I nod. “That’s what it says.”

He grins. “Cool! It’s perfect. How much?”

I open and shut my mouth a few times, trying to make the words come out. “Two dollars.”

The boy sticks his hand in a pocket and then offers me his money. My hand is shaking. Tears fall like coins.

I’m free.

The world has changed. My sweet Eloise is long gone. But I’m free.

Market day is over.

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29 Comments

Filed under Flash Fiction

29 responses to “Flash Fiction: Wish You Were Here

  1. Very interesting! You had my attention all the way through.

    I feel sorry for the boy, but he’ll get out soon I’m sure!

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  3. Good story. Great concept, well written : )

  4. yowza! what a curse!
    great imagination!

  5. That was an interesting story; I liked it. The scene shifts were a little confusing at times – I wasn’t always sure whose head I was in. After a while, though, the rapid transition started to form a kind of rhythm to the story.

  6. I’ll echo Stephen’s comment; the scene shifts were jarring. I had to read it twice to figure out what happened. Once I got the hang of it, though, it was a nice story. I especially liked the part about giving Eloise “the key to my heart” – I was hoping to see her reaction when she got the gift. 🙂

  7. Jarring scene shifts? Shift happens, bitches. Sine I live in the here and now as well as the then and there, it makes and made perfect sense.
    So–so you think you can tell..
    Heaven from hell…
    Blue skies from pain.
    Can you tell a green field
    From a cold steel rail?
    A smile from a vail?
    Do you think you can tell?

  8. Zombie Chimp

    Nice story, and now we know why there’s always that look of desperation on a stall-owners face when you walk past their stall…

    Brilliant!

  9. Very nice indeed. Very atmospheric, and I for one liked the scene shifts (or perspective shifts… or… shifts).

  10. Absolutely fantastic! You’ve got my vote for sure…I wanna delete mine now.

  11. Katherine Tomlinson

    I loved what you did with POV here. This has the ring of a modern fairy tale.

  12. Nice. The structure seemed curiously disjointed, but the essentials were there and strong.

  13. Neat idea. Creepy key. Good job!

  14. Hey Jo –
    Really good, strong story. You were on my short list for this week’s voting. Keep it up!

  15. This is wonderful. I thought the shifts weren’t jarring at all.

  16. Thanks to everyone who’s left a comment. I really appreciate hearing that you liked the story, and the different takes on whether the time-shifts were too jarring or not.

    I found it challenging to write this story. It was tricky telling it from two time-perspectives simultaneously in only 1000 words, and I wasn’t sure whether I’d succeeded or not. Thanks so much for all your thoughts and feedback. 🙂

  17. Congrats on the win!! 😀

  18. Wow, that was a really great story. I really liked the jump cuts and it’s always fun to read when writers experiment. Awesome job, awesome story!

  19. Jo-

    Absolutely incredible. I’ve been reading some Borges, and this totally reminded me of him.

    A jewel, perfect in every way.

  20. Jo, I am so sorry I didn’t put in my vote for this story, you definitely have it.

    Wow, just wow.

    You are a very humbling logophile

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  23. Hey Jo, completely out of the blue – but I am putting out a flash fiction mag in Brisbane (although there are people in the US/UK writing and distributing.) Come and check it out if you’re interested, here’s the linky:

    http://chriswhitewrites.wordpress.com/2012/04/19/national-flash-fiction-day/

    Anyway, if you are interested but don’t want to write something new could I publish this? I love this story so much…

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