Fiction: Neatness


Neatness published in Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine


Jacob Schroeder


Smoke waved from the end of her cigarette. The air in the kitchen turned into a gray haze.

‘It’s like a dream,’ she said.

Jennifer had stopped smoking when she was first with child. If there was a time to revive the habit, it was now. She leaned back against the sink and took a long drag. Her straight blonde hair was unwashed. Her halter top, moist with sweat, stuck to her chest.

‘I don’t believe this is real,’ she said.

Tony scrubbed at the granite counters with a sponge. He wore pressed slacks and a bright polo shirt. His dark hair was combed to the side.

‘I just want everything to go back,’ she said.

Tony grabbed the broom and swept the floor.

‘Back to when it was perfect.’

Tony swept under the kitchen table. He put the highchair by the door, next to filled trash bags.

Jennifer watched him, then lit another cigarette. ‘We did all we could, didn’t we?’

Tony started to empty the dishwasher. He opened a bottom cupboard. A stack of food containers fell out. ‘Jesus, why does it always come undone?’ he said. He got down on his knees and tried to quickly stack the little plastic boxes. He placed them back in the cupboard. Again, they tumbled out onto the floor.

‘Oh, leave it, Tony,’ she said.

The dark weight touched him now. He put his hands on his knees and began to weep. He used his shirt to wipe his eyes and nose.