So, I entered a writing competition a couple of weeks ago, but not your normal writing competition where you send them something you have poured your angst into, writing and rewriting, and sending to multiple places for possible publication. This contest, put out by NYCMidnight, sets the parameters for everything; genre, location, a special object to include, and most of all, how much time you get to write it. For this incarnation of Flash Fiction, they gave me 48 hours to write a 1000 word story about Romance in a public library with a soccer ball. The genre and location must play central roles, but the object can appear and disappear without fanfare. Romance, people. Not my forte. It is odd that the last story I brought you was in a library as well. Anyway, the contest gives each writer two shots at two different stories before you start losing. If all goes well, I will be writing four stories from now til December. If not, you will see another post later with the second story at least. Anyway, here is what I came up with in the first round. Tell me what you think.
The first time Jookie’s mother dropped him off at the library alone, he had just turned ten.
“You a man now,” she said. “You can mind yourself while mama works.” She dug into her purse for a lipstick, and the swoosh of automatic doors pulled him into the air-conditioning. “I’ll be back in an hour. Two, tops,” she said, and then stepped off the curb in the direction of evening traffic.
Jookie spent the next few hours walking through the stacks, pretending he was somewhere else, avoiding the homeless men who kept asking him where his mama was. He tried to stay hidden, but he liked pressing his hands against the wall of books as he walked, listening to the cadence of fingers on spines. That is how he met Althea Boone.
“Pickney,” she said in a rich, Jamaican accent, “Is dere someteen you need?”
“Excuse me?” Jookie said, turning around expecting to see a grandmother ready to scold him.
“You keep thumpin’ dem’ books like a reggae drum, me gwan have to kick you out.”
Jookie stared at Althea’s alabaster skin and blonde hair in confusion. She wore soft pastels that draped over curvy hips, and he marveled at her big, blue eyes, hearing little of what she said. He couldn’t help but stare.
Althea walked up to him, grabbed his shoulders, and gave him a little shake. “You heard me, pickney?” she said with a playful grin. “You want to stay inside, you treat dem books like your bredren.”
Jookie nodded his head and watched Althea as she walked back into the stacks. She was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.
“How do you make someone fall in love with you?” Jookie asked his mother the next night as she handed him a cheeseburger. They sat at a corner booth and she constantly tugged at the hem of her black miniskirt.
“You got a girlfriend already?” she asked, folding the wrapper like a placemat in front of her.
“No,” he said. “I just thought you would know, because, you know…”
She blanched at his implication, then recovered, and smiled. “I was always partial to candy, when I was your age,” she said, picking up her cheeseburger. “Just remember, little man, no one is ever gonna love you like I do.”
“You only love me because you have to.” Jookie said under his breath.
“What handsome?” she said, through a mouthful of food.
“Nothing,” he said. “Nevermind.”
Jookie didn’t wait this time when his mother left him at the door. He circled the stacks and wandered the halls until he found Althea. She was pushing a cart of returned books in the Young Adult section. Jookie stared at her as she slipped a lemon drop into her mouth, sucking on it as she made her rounds.
The next night, they stopped at a bodega so Jookie could eat something before being dropped off. His mother bought a pack of cigarettes and when the clerk’s back was turned, Jookie slipped a bag of lemon drops into his pocket.
That night, he followed Althea for two hours until she cornered him in the magazine section and asked him if he wanted a snack.
“What dem call you, pickney?” she asked him as they sat down together.
“Jookie,” he said. “Where you from?”
She pealed an orange and raised a single eyebrow at his question. “What you tink, pickney?”
“You don’t sound white,” he said, taking the orange slice she offered.
“What white sound like?” she asked, staring at his face. “You?” Jookie’s face reddened at her gaze and she smiled. “Me a yardie gyal.”
“What’s that mean?”
“Jamaica, pickney. Born and bred.”
“I thought Jamaicans were black.”
“And yet,” she said, putting her hands up to the heavens, “Me deh yah.” Jookie smiled and turned his head like a puppy trying to figure something out. His stomach did flips and he wanted to speak, but the words wouldn’t come. He slid his hands into his pocket and fingered the lemon drops in their wrapper. Her eyes sparkled, and he almost didn’t hear her speaking. “Maybe if me wore dreadlocks?” she asked.
“No,” he said, blushing again. He didn’t want her to change anything. “Why do you call me pickney?”
“It means child.”
“I’m not a child,” he said, sitting up.
“Sure. Sure,” she said, “You a grown man, far de eye can see.” She put her hand on his. “Pretty soon, you be like all the yardie in the street, making all the gyals swoon.”
Jookie closed his eyes and felt the warmth of her skin spread over him. He could almost taste the fresh lemon on her breath.
“You lie!” she said, startling him out of his reverie. He opened his eyes and found that she was no longer looking at him. “Tell me, me brain gwan fuzzy!”
Jookie turned to see a tall, black man walking up to them. His head was shaved close and he wore a shirt that screamed the word goal across the front with a soccer ball where the O should go.
Althea jumped up from her chair, spilling orange peal across the floor. “You lie!” she said again, her smile a mile wide. She ran to the man and kissed him hard and long. Jookie stood up abruptly and started towards the stairs.
“Jookie, dis here me man, Damon,” she said, turning back to him. “Wait! Where you gwan, pickney?”
“You still chasing that girl?” his mother asked when she saw him sitting on the stoop in front of the library.
“Can we just go?” Jookie asked.
“What’s the matter? She not the one for you?”
“I told you, there is no girl,” he said in a huff.
“Ok, handsome,” she said, and she grabbed his hand as they walked down the street.
“Here,” he said, pulling the lemon drops out of his pocket. “I got you these.”
“Where?” she asked, but then let the question die. “Well, aren’t you the little man?”