2021 Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up
“I didn’t make New Year’s resolutions,” Ed told Candice. Then he paused and said, “Well. I did decide that I’m not taking pictures of food ever again. But that was more than a resolution. That’s a permanent change that I’m definitely making.”
Candice laughed. “Pictures of food?”
“Yeah. I looked at the pictures stored in my phone and too many of them were of meals. A few years from now, am I really going to want to look back on some lunch I had by myself? I deleted all of it, and I’m not taking any more pictures like those.”
Candice nodded, her smile wry, and released a white puff of breath. The two of them were waiting for their subway train on an outdoor platform. It was cold but not as bitterly cold as a Boston January evening sometimes was.
“Were you sending them to people?” she asked.
Ed nodded. “At least I’m consciously stopping, right?”
“There are worse things,” Candice replied.
Ed shrugged. “Gotta start making changes somewhere.”
Ed and Candice worked in the same office, handling data processing and some over-the-phone customer service for a mail-order company that had recently expanded its operations online. Ed didn’t love the work, but he always enjoyed the chance to lunch or commute with Candice. Today she had come to work with a little star under one of her eyes – she’d drawn it there with eyeliner, inspired by an actress in an old movie. Ed liked that Candice was the kind of person who came to work with a star drawn under one of her eyes, but not the kind of person who thought that that action, in itself, made her interesting. It was difficult to articulate exactly. But he liked her.
She was married with two kids. Her husband Richard was incredibly kind and quite handsome – Ed had met him at various office holiday parties – and he had been with Candice for over a decade. They met in college. Ed knew this information, and he reminded himself of it often. Still, he sometimes wondered what his life would be like if Richard and Candice had never met.
In the last few years he had been dating off and on, but eventually he would end it or she would, because at least one of them would suspect that there were greater loves out there. He had a secret worry that many people were not as in love as they said they were, because they didn’t believe the kind of love they really wanted actually existed. He also worried that he had obsessed himself with an unattainable romantic ideal and would die alone.
“Well,” Candice said. “My new year’s resolution was about food too. I’m cutting out high fructose corn syrup.”
Ed shook his head. “You are going to get frustrated with that very quickly. And then I will catch you in the break room double-fisting cans of Mountain Dew.”
“Resolutions have to be a little challenging,” Candice said.
An automated announcement informed them that their train was approaching. Ed asked Candice if she and Richard and the kids had plans for the weekend. He hoped that this came off as friendly and not weird and creepy and romantically jealous.
As they stepped onto the train, Candice started telling Ed about taking the kids – a boy and a girl – to some new animated movie where a family of platypuses were deposited in the American suburbs and hilarity ensued. Ed said he didn’t have firm plans for the weekend, but the platypus movie was definitely out. He clutched a subway pole and his eyes wandered along the advertisements inside their car.
One of them said: “DO MORE WITH YOUR PHONE. GET THINGS DONE. STAY CONNECTED. HAVE FUN. BE ALL YOU CAN. LIVE 25/7.”
Another of them said: “NO TIME TO COOK? TOO BUSY TO EAT WELL? GIVE US A CALL!”
And another said: “ANXIOUS? DEPRESSED? UNMEDICATED AND OVER 21? YOU MAY BE ELIGIBLE FOR OUR NEW STUDY.”
Ed sometimes wondered if he should phone up one of those studies. He sometimes thought about how much easier it would be if everything stopped. Like what if there was some malfunction within him. An organ that would shut down and there would be nothing they could do. He imagined if right this moment he sank to the ground and Candice was the one to catch him and she cradled him while his head lolled as the last of his life slipped away and there was no saving him and it was nobody’s fault.
That probably wasn’t an okay thing to be thinking. His head was hurting now and he wished he was already home.
Candice was talking about a new Thai restaurant that she wanted to try.
“Maybe that’s what I’ll do this weekend,” Ed said. “But no pictures.”
He scanned the advertisement for the depression study. Are you experiencing… Feelings of hopelessness? Loss of interest in activities you once loved? Loss of appetite?
His head was throbbing now and distracting him from what Candice was saying.
Yet, strangely, the pain in his head was also what assured him that love and its aches were real things, possibilities that he shouldn’t give up on. At least not yet.
Because when, standing here on the subway, he traced the shape of Candice’s eyes, or that little star that she had penciled beneath one of them, he could somehow believe that if he could feel this bad about not being with her and wanting to be with her and not wanting to want to be with her, then he might also be able to feel this way about someone who loved him and who he loved. He might still find someone’s arms to die in.
Victoria Large holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College. Her short fiction has appeared in various print and online publications, including Carve Magazine, Crack the Spine, Monkeybicycle, and Painted Bride Quarterly.