Beating the Dead Horse

This week’s bit of flash fiction is a little late. Late enough, in fact, that it is actually last week’s. I’m working, once, again, off a prompt from the kids over at the 500 Club. It was a tough one.

I chose the following prompt: “Go pull one of your favorite books off the shelf. Flip around and blindly pluck out five lines at random. Write a flash fiction inspired by at least one of the lines.” I pulled Franny and Zooey (JD Salinger) off the shelf and found the following 5 lines:

1. Nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing. I like the tangerine.

2. Nobody’s touching your razor, young man.

3. Bessie, I’m warning you now, God damn it. I don’t care if he’s a very devout Buddhist veternerian.

4. It’s true, though. I’m a jinx. A horrible jinx.

5. The age differences in our family always seemed to add unnecessarily and perversely to our problems.

Initially, I wanted to try to work all 5 into the piece because, well, it sounded like fun. But it proved to be too darn challenging. In the end, I managed to squeeze 3 of them in, but that was not easy to do and the piece may have suffered a bit for it. I found myself wanted to write in a voice more fitting of the period Salinger wrote it and this, too, probably hurt the piece. I can write well enough to avoid embarrassing myself most of the time, but I’m no JD Salinger. 

Enough with the excuses. Here’s this week–or rather, last week’s–flash fiction.

beating the dead horse

Bessie had a way of wearing depression. On her it seemed as though it were a long, elegant coat woven of the finest, if inevitably tragic, material. There was elegance in it with just a touch of melodramatic flare.

“It’s true, though,” she was saying. “I’m a jinx. A horrible jinx.”

Robert made a concerted effort not to role his eyes. “Bessie, you are not. The situation is unfortunate, I’ll give you that, but it’s not your fault.”

Robert was four years younger but of much firmer stock. His sister’s lower lip quivered. “But he’s a veterinarian. And a Buddhist. He would never do such a thing.”

“Bessie, I’m warning you right now, God damn it. I don’t care if he’s a very devout Buddhist veterinarian. The goddam horse is dead and he was the only person in the stables when it happened. It didn’t shoot itself.”

“I should never have bought it. I shouldn’t have. It was a silly, childish dream–owning a race horse. I don’t know anything about horses and I put all my trust in that…that…that man.”

Robert sat on the couch beside his sister, placing his scotch gingerly on the coffee table. His tie was loose. His hair was ruffled. One of his cuff links had been lost in the chaos and he doubted he would ever find it. They had been his fathers.

“Bessie,” he said with tenderness, “there is nothing more to be done about it now. Most likely, we’re going to lose this suite. I shouldn’t be surprised if the steward is on his way now to ask us to leave. Quietly. I can talk to Mathers tomorrow, ask him what legal action we can take against the good doctor, but I suspect he’s going to press charges against me for assault.”

At that, Bessie began to cry.

“He had it coming.”

“Yes, but did you have to break his nose? His nose, Robert. Oh God, his nose.”

Robert sat up straight, pushing himself back away from his sister. “You’re not still entertaining notions of pursuing a courtship with him, are you?”

Bessie’s face flushed.

“Bessie, I swear.  The age differences in our family always seem to add unnecessarily and perversely to our problems. If I were the older brother instead of the younger I would forbid it and the laws of decency and civility would enforce my claim. As your younger brother I can only beg you to think about what you’re doing. You’ll look foolish.”

Robert stood, retrieving his drink and downing it in a single, smooth motion. Looking out the window he said, “He won’t have you now, anyway. I’d be surprised if he even speaks to you at church. No, wait–he’s a Buddhist. No matter. It’s over.”

Bessie wiped her eyes with her kerchief and stood as well. Just as she did, the steward knocked on the suite door.

“Mr. and Miss Caufield, if you please.”

Wearing now a shawl knit entirely of raw emotion and belligerent determination, Bessie Caufield marched out past her brother. On her way to beat the dead horse.