Ta-da! Today is the second Monday of October, which means today is the deadline for the Flash Fiction Draw challenge that Jeffrey Ricker drew a week ago. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you can catch up here, but the short version is he uses a deck of cards to randomly select three variables (in this case, romance as the genre, a farm field as the setting, and a fountain pen as the object) and anyone who wants to take part has a week to come up with a thousand-word flash fiction piece. I’m under the word count! I also didn’t go the spec-fic route this time, as a real diversion of the usual. And given it’s (Canadian) Thanksgiving and National Coming Out Day, I rolled those in there, too.
Dot Your I Love Yous
Henry stood at the edge of the field, eyeing the waving corn, and took a deep breath. Farm air—with all the various scents, not all of which were particularly enjoyable—still felt familiar, tangled up in the whole notion of “home” in a way he wasn’t sure he’d ever unknot entirely.
He was just about to take a walk into the field when his mother called his name. He pushed off from the fence and met her at on the porch, where she was holding two bags of groceries in paper bags and trying to open the front door at the same time.
He took a bag from her, and she gave him a single twist of her lips. In another home, it could have passed for a smile.
“Thanks,” she said. “There’s a postcard for you, too. From that friend of yours.”
And there it was. That friend.
“Hm.” Another twist of the lips.
He helped her unload the groceries and after, she handed him the postcard from the inside pocket of her jacket.
“He’s in Hawai’i now,” his mother said. “Must be nice to gallivant around without any consideration for others.”
Count to three, Henry told himself. “He’s working there, I think.” He looked at the card, which showed a place called ‘The Waipio Valley Lookout.’ A gorgeous view of the ocean, with mountainous, vibrant green land jutting out almost to the very edge of the water, with only a thin strip of beach between.
“Wow,” he said, smiling. He could picture Jacob there. Easy.
“Your father will be back soon. Dinner in an hour,” his mother said, and then, in a less than subtle segue, she added, “I imagine that friend of yours isn’t heading home at all for the summer?”
“Scholarships only cover so much. He needs to work, and he’s doing manual labour mom, not taking a holiday.” Henry said, trying not to bristle.
“That’s not what that says,” she said.
Henry knew better than to engage. He picked up the pace, though, putting the last of the groceries away, then waved the postcard at her. “Thanks. I’m going to take a walk around the field.”
“In an hour. I know.” He forced a smile, and was off.
Outside, he paused for a moment in his car, opening the glove compartment and pulling out a small box and then headed off to the cornfield.
He paused at his usual spot, mid-way down the path between the cornfields, where his father had put together a small shelter—a bench with a covered overhang—where he’d sit an eat on days when it was raining. Henry sat, pulled out the postcard, and read it.
Henry; Love Hawai’i. You were right: I don’t miss anything about university, really. You are probably thinking I’m barely working and also getting a tan—not like your farmer tan, a real one. Anyway, need to get my butt to the beach—I mean work! Can’t remember the last time I had to wait for a nice day. September is going to come too soon. Jacob.
As always, he’d scribbled and doodled little dots around the edge.
Henry sighed, pulling out the box from his pocket and opening it. Inside, the fountain pen Jacob had given him. As always, he enjoyed the weight of it in his hand, and couldn’t help but remember the night Jacob had passed it to him, just before they parted after Thanksgiving.
A Thanksgiving he’d spent at Jacob’s house, with his family, and had cemented Jacob’s status as “That Friend of Yours” in his parents’ vernacular the moment Henry had told them he wouldn’t be making the seven hour drive back home for the weekend in question.
It didn’t matter he’d come home for Christmas and New Year’s and every other holiday since. Nope. He’d be paying that debt off for the rest of the summer, too.
But man it had been worth it.
Henry eyed the postcard again, pulling out a small spiral notepad from his pocket, then started counting the dots around the edge of the postcard, starting in the bottom right and heading counter-clockwise, and noting on the notepad every time the style of the symbols on the postcard changed. Two dots. Four dots. Nine dots. Fourteen dots. By the time he got all the way around the postcard, he’d counted fifty-nine as the last time the dots changed.
Two, four, nine… Second word, fourth word, ninth word…
“Love,” he said, counting, “you.” He smiled. Aw. “Miss…” He flipped back and forth writing down the words that went with the numbers until he was done.
Love you. Miss you. Also your butt. Can’t wait for September.
Henry looked up at the fields of corn, waving now in the wind, and let the same wind steal away some of the wetness gathering in his eyes, even though he loved Jacob’s postcard. He still had time, but he really needed to get back to the house for dinner. He’d write his own postcard tomorrow, using the same system, and if he could, he’d work “That Friend of Yours” into it, just for kicks—that would make Jacob laugh.
It wasn’t perfect, their postcards, but what was? Henry’s parents always read them, and letters would draw too much attention, and Jacob had zero service where he was—Henry’s parents’ house being not much better. They had one more year left of school, and they’d both been saving every dime they could from their jobs; Henry coming home every summer to stay on the farm meant he had no rent to pay and could pick up the same summer job he’d had since he was a high school senior.
One more year. When they graduated, they could find a place. Find jobs. Start their lives.
Henry screwed the cap back on the fountain pen and tucked it back into the box, which snapped closed with such a satisfying thunk.