FLASH FICTION CONTEST
by Nancy Ludmerer
I ducked into the alley after I saw him. He looked the same as fifteen years earlier, the last time I’d seen him, and I wondered if I was mistaken. Was it an apparition? Or simply wishful thinking? But what I saw, what I noted clearly, were his distinct, indelibly imprinted features—the faraway look, the slightly sad smile, the cheeks round and flushed as a boy’s even though by now he was forty.
He sat at the corner table, what used to be our table, across from a young boy—his own son?—or possibly a girl. I didn’t linger long enough to tell. When his eyes suddenly focused, bearing upon mine with a direct gaze of recognition, I stepped into the alley behind the restaurant to escape.
Why escape? At 7:30 Sunday morning I was headed for the gym to sweat off my night and the sticky aroma of loveless sex that permeated my skin. The person I’d been with was mean in the original sense: stingy with his money, his love-making, his regard—so unlike the man sitting at the table. The man at the table knew when to embrace and when to let go. Years after we parted, another man, overly romantic, put on a Thelonious Monk CD and held out his arms. My eyes filled with tears in spite of myself. The music reminded me of the one who wasn’t there.
Now I ran the three blocks home, reasoning that the early hour and the coffee cups on the table meant they were beginning their meal. Hair damp, but clean and fresh-smelling, I raced back to the restaurant.
The table was empty. I stood outside for a while and went in. I sat at their table, ordered coffee, read the Times he’d left behind.
That was five years ago. Now I go every Sunday. First I stand outside, looking in. Always I am clean and well-rested; my Saturday nights are spent in anticipation. I go in, sit at our table, or if it’s not available, the one nearest, always with a view of the door. Always he does not come.
Inexplicably, hope has taken root in my heart. All week I harbor it.
It will not let me go.
Nancy Ludmerer’s fiction and non-fiction have appeared in The Kenyon Review, North American Review, Cimarron Review, Green Mountains Review, Literal Latte and other magazines. Her flash fiction has won awards from Southeast Review, Grain, Night Train, and River Styx, and recently appeared in Vestal Review and Fish Anthology 2015 (published in Ireland). Nancy practices law and lives in New York City with her husband Malcolm and cat Sandy, a brave survivor of Hurricane Sandy.