Patrick Dundon | Flash Fiction

I was moving to a new apartment, driving my parents’ Jeep, a few boxes in the back, wondering what I had forgotten, what I would need—a frying pan, an area rug, a chair (there was so little I already owned)—when I side-swiped a parked Buick in front of a bread factory, snapping off its side-view mirror. I pulled over, smelled yeast. The mirror hung limp, a few frayed wires holding it together. The door opened, and a woman holding a baby stepped out. She didn’t seem angry or concerned, but as if she had been united with an important thought and was still trying to think it. Hair hung over her face like a curtain that kept opening and closing. The baby couldn’t have been more than six months old, and crawled up her neck, trying to get to the sky. I got out, looked down as I approached her.

“I’m so sorry,” I said to her chin.

“Can you hold him while I write down my info?”

She handed me the child before I had a chance to reply. He grasped my shoulder like he was trying to take it off, his eyes unfocused, roving. He didn’t cry, though maybe he should have. She leaned over the hood of her car, writing on the back of a receipt. She kept writing and writing and after a while I couldn’t remember what it felt like to not be holding this baby. When she was done, I peeled him off. As I passed him to her, he splayed his limbs like a star fish someone had thrown into the ocean. She handed me the receipt.

“I’m so sorry,” I said again.

“No, no, it’s totally fine,” she said.

We got into our respective cars. I looked at myself in the rear view mirror, tried to glean what I was feeling, but couldn’t. Then I heard a horn. It was her, not a friendly honk, but a sustained cry. I got back out. My whole life seemed to be going back and forth between these two cars, neither of which were mine. She popped open the door. Her face was scrunched up.

“I just dislocated my knee, I need you to pop it back in,” she said. The baby chewed toothlessly on ribbon of seatbelt, made little cooing sounds.

“But I don’t know how,” I told her.

“You just need to twist and push.” She moved her hands in a terrible way to show me. “It’s happened before. I’ll scream but don’t let that stop you. Just keep pushing, harder than you think.” I was trying to decide if this was a dream or a test or both. The yeast smell was overwhelming and sweet. I could have thrown up if I thought too much about it. The world, my life, had revealed itself to be a conspiracy, forcing me to make a choice. I placed one hand on her calf, the other on her ankle, just like she showed me.

“On the count of three,” she said. “One. Two—”

I made the terrible motion. She screamed like she had promised. Then it was over, quiet. The dangling side-view mirror showed my parents’ shrunken car behind us.

“Thank you. Sorry about that,” she said.

I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do next. The baby was asleep, his head like a birthday balloon with a pinhole leak. The woman started the engine and I slammed her car door. That night, after I showered, I realized I’d forgotten towels. I let my body air dry.