Micro Fiction Contest 2019
It might be impractical to seek out a new romance at a funeral, but at seventy-three Maggie can’t be bothered with propriety. She spends an hour on makeup, two on hair. Mrs. Pak, the Korean woman from across the hall, helps her squeeze into a girdle, and then her Aphratti dress. She hasn’t worn it since her own husband died. She takes one final look in the common room mirror. Yes, she thinks, running a merlot-colored fake nail down her curves. Ralph Carmichael will never know what hit him.
Ralph straightens his tie, parts his hair. He doesn’t want to do this. He wants to stay in bed. No, that’s a lie. He wants to walk into traffic. He wants to get the shotgun out of the attic and slide his toothless gums around the barrel. He wants to drink up all of Velma’s wine and slide under the water of the tub, and stare at the ceiling until she comes for him.
His grandson’s voice pulls him back. “Daddy wants to know if you’re ready.”
He heads to the front porch where his daughter-in-law takes his arm. The sun is blinding. How many days has it been? He lets her guide him to the car. He’s still in good health, all things considered, but he doesn’t mind playing the old man today.
Maggie makes sure she is outside when the Carmichaels arrive, though it means humoring the pastor as he chides her about her church attendance. It is worth it, to be first.
Gladys is at the punch bowl, ready to shed an empathetic tear. Regina has taken it upon herself to distribute programs. Selina, the trollop, has perched herself behind the reserved section, so she might place a hand on Ralph’s shoulder should he break down. They are incorrigible, the lot of them. Ralph is vulnerable, and Maggie knows any of them might prove the balm his broken heart needs. His very soul in peril, she moves to intercept.
Ralph almost doesn’t recognize her. It’s only after she grips his wrist and detaches him from his daughter-in-law that he realizes she’s the widow of his late business partner, Ted.
At the church window, the other widows gather like hungry cats, but Ralph doesn’t see them. He catches a whiff of Maggie’s perfume—the same Estée Lauder scent that Velma wore—and looks up into her cerulean eyes. She smiles, bittersweet, and he allows himself to be led inside.
The wedding happens fast. Gold digger, the other widows whisper. They talk of how they might have spent Ralph’s money. Of the grandkids they’d have put through college.
Across town, Maggie rubs Ralph’s back as he sobs himself to sleep and her thoughts drift to Teddy. He’d been so ashamed that she’d die alone in a home. All those unpaid bills and bad investments; she’d been ashamed of him too. As she sinks into the lavender-scented linens, she absolves him. I have found my own way, she thinks, and eases into sleep.
I am an emerging writer from Boise, Idaho, and an undergraduate at Boise State, where I am currently a slush pile reader on The Idaho Review. My microfiction has been published in the Boise Weekly and College of Western Idaho's former literary journal, Basalt, now called Stonecrop Magazine.