During the summer of 2016 we’re bringing back our flash fiction prompt series, inviting authors to respond to three different picture prompts. You can read more about the series here. Round 1 submissions responded to the photo prompt found here.
Round 1 finalist: “The Good Neighbors of Green Bay” by Jan Elman Stout
Jerry Henkelman spooked Mrs. Schmidt so bad she figured her pacemaker went on the fritz the day he came by to offer to shovel. Six inches of fat, wet snow fell during the night and was starting to glaze over. Jerry lived only four houses up the block and had never before rung her bell. Nobody living on Hillside Lane had rung it in the twelve years since Mr. Schmidt passed.
Mrs. Schmidt opened the front door, saw Jerry and slammed it, pausing only to scream. She leaned against the door with all the muscle her elderly, ninety-pound frame could muster. Not because Jerry was a sight, hidden inside a blaze orange full-face ski mask, wearing only one glove despite the frigid cold. Not because he wore a Vikings football jacket, his fuck you to this, his Green Bay, Wisconsin hometown (only one reason the neighbors thought Jerry was a few peas shy of a casserole). No, she screamed simply because none of her neighbors were worth a damn.
The neighbors were not really unkind. They carried her Milwaukee Journal to her front stoop. Dropped cheese curds and broasted chicken dinners by the front door. Mrs. Tappa even had her boy, Lionel, drop off a cherry Kringle, knock on the storm door and run. Not until Jerry did anyone stay put on that porch.
“Whaddya want?” said Mrs. Schmidt through the door, mechanical heartbeat now stable.
“Shovel your walk.”
“If you’re lookin’ for money, forget it.”
“No, no money,” Jerry said, picking up the shovel propped against the aluminum siding.
Not one to bother with hearing aids, Mrs. Schmidt couldn’t hear the crunch of Jerry’s boots as he dug into the snow, the shuush, shuush of the shovel or the scraping noise once it hit cement. She might have felt the tap of the shovel when Jerry let it fall against the side of the house, assuming she was standing by the door or in the newspapered window, but probably missed the slap slap slap of his gloved hand against the other, the whheeeshh as he rubbed his sore arm and clutched his gripping chest and stumbled to the ground. But even a nearly deaf old lady would hear the sirens when they came to pick up Jerry, stabilized him on her snow-covered lawn and carted him away.
“See, she saw him,” said Mrs. Tappa, pointing to the jagged rip in the newspaper in Mrs. Schmidt’s front window.
“Nasty ol’ bitty only got even meaner after Karl died,” said Mrs. Debaker.
“Some people.” Mrs. Tappa clucked and shook her head, and with the tip of her pointed boot, nudged Mrs. Schmidt’s newspaper closer to the freshly cleaned curb.
Jan Elman Stout is a native Chicagoan who lives with her husband in Washington, D.C. Her work is published or forthcoming in Pure Slush, Literary Orphans, the Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Flash Flood Journal and Vestal Review. Jan is an Assistant Fiction Editor at Indianola Review.