Flash Fiction Round 2 Finalist: “A Tender Place” by Katherine Gehan

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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 2 submissions responded to the photo prompt found here.

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Round 2 Finalist: “A Tender Place” by Katherine Gehan

Proximity to other failed institutions gave him a familiar satisfaction now that his marriage was over, so he now stumbled through Detroit’s abandoned schools with his camera. The No Trespassing signs were faded and he’d never seen another person, but he felt badass snapping shots of the dilapidation and posting them to his blog—even if his audience was mainly stay-at-home mothers eager to tsk-tsk the pictorial metaphor of the current state of American education.

Admittedly, this was a far healthier pastime than the pathetic gestures he’d made in the months after he and Sarah separated. Desperate for connection, he’d carried flower bouquets everywhere, cheap geraniums or chrysanthemums, and people he passed on the streets projected their stories onto him—men winked knowingly and women blushed hopefully. When asked about the occasion, he talked about a friend at rehab, his grandmother at The Home, or his very lucky lady. On days he particularly wanted a metaphor for all he’d lost, he wore a black patch over his left eye. He told those brave enough to inquire that a man named Red had gouged it out with a fork, a jealous lover had doused him with acid, or he’d just been born without it.

During his marriage, he and Sarah had made a pact to keep the contents of their bedside tables private. Neither opened the other’s drawers and for years this agreement was sufficient until one day, to him, it simply wasn’t. While she was out walking the dog, he hooked a finger around the brass handle of her top drawer and tugged. Inside was everything he’d ever wanted from her.

He thumbed through a stack of withheld nightly kisses—they were moist and perky, some promising sex, but most just chaste. A little box emitted a smoky moan when he opened the latch—morning lovemaking locked up tight. Beneath a backpacking trip to Montana and a fat envelope of weekend football games, he discovered a dusty tray of simple, dull compliments about haircuts and his biceps. None of it was revolutionary—mostly she’d kept kindness in the drawer, and the yeasty, bread-like smell of it made him weep as he realized its lack for so long.

Sarah had refused to view the contents of his bedside table when he admitted the privacy breach and that was more than he could bear. With all of it crammed into a shoebox, he walked through the grand hallways of a 104 year-old high school and searched for the perfect peeling, forgotten drawer. Then he spotted a room where an oak sapling pushed through a hill of geometry textbooks and ceiling tiles, its baby leaves reaching for the brightest squares of light through broken windows. He dug through the slipperiness and placed his box deep among the detritus, wondering if the best parts of his marriage would nourish or weaken the tree. He snapped a photo and decided he wouldn’t come back to look.

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Katherine Gehan’s writing has appeared in McSweeny’s Internet Tendency, Literary Mama,The Stockholm Review, Sundog Lit, Pithead Chapel, Split Lip Magazine, People Holding, Whiskey Paper and others. Find her work at www.kategehan.wordpress.com and say hello @StateofKate.

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