Well folks, looks like I made it into the next round at NYCMidnights’s Flash Fiction Challenge. I got 8 out of 15 points this last time, but that secured me a spot in the next round. The competition started out with around 1400 writers and is now down to 240 writers. That alone is an honor, but also a little stressful. This round only advances the top five out of each heat of thirty, so fingers crossed. As I said before, they assign the Genre, Location, and an Object to use within the story and I have 48 hours to churn out a story in 1000 words. I didn’t think too hard about what I would get this time around because there was no point. You really can’t prepare for anything as far as what you will write. As I say to my kids, you get what you get, so don’t throw a fit.
What you can prepare for is setting aside the time to do it. Unfortunately, because I work shift work, I was working all weekend. Just like I did the last two heats. Never fear. I looked at the prompt at midnight on Friday before going to bed, had weird dreams about the location and object, and when I woke up the next morning, I watched my son compete in a wrestling clinic tournament at 9am, (he lost, but persevered through it, so couldn’t be more proud of the little guy) and then went to work from 11am-11pm. Around noon, I had the first sentence cemented in my head, and I was off.
Thanks goodness for smartphone note apps, am I right? I had the first draft done by 12:50am that night, sent it to my beta readers, all women of course, as is my usual, and then worked out the kinks until 8:30pm on Sunday. Turned it in with 3 1/2 hours to spare. Anyway, here is the prompt: Drama, Dermatologist office, and Beer Bottle.
When I was writing, the idea in my mind was to work against stereotypes, writing women as more than objects, and professionals as human beings, subject to feelings and thoughts counterintuitive to the work environment. I know it’s not War and Peace, and only a thousand words, but I think it matters. Anyway, I hope you like it.
Bikinis and Biopsies
Two worlds collide in the glare of halogen lights.
By the time Shelby recognized him, Dinesh was already inches from her naked breasts, examining the dark spot next to her left nipple.
“You’re the guy who lives in 127, aren’t you?” she said, staring at the top of his head. His thick hair protruded in the crisscross design of his halogen headlamp.
Dinesh raised an eyebrow, and pushed the question aside. Gingerly, he pressed at the edges of the node. He would need to take a biopsy.
“You can button up,” he said, lifting his head and giving her the practiced, professional smile he reserved for patients in various stages of undress. He rolled backwards on his stool, pulled off the lamp, and brushed a hand through his hair.
“It is you,” she said, doing up her blouse. “I thought I’d seen you before.”
“Yes,” he said.
“You should step off your patio sometime,” she said, matter of factly. “You’re paying for that pool. You might as well put it to good use.”
Dinesh smiled. He’d recognized her the moment he stepped into the room. She was hard to miss, her lithe body lying poolside every Saturday, soaking up the sun, handing every manner of beer bottle, foreign or domestic, to the bevy of muscle-bound men she seemed to attract. The fact that her breasts had been exposed at the moment of her neighborly revelation just confirmed the unabashed persona he’d expected from someone who looked like she did. He’d never been to a strip club, but he imagined they were full of Shelby’s.
It’s why he’d never stepped off his patio to join them, ultraviolet rays notwithstanding. Tanning was for narcissists. He had no patience for self-obsession. But listening to her speak, here in his office, so self-possessed, he was somewhat caught off guard. Of course, he would have to refuse her invitation. Thanks, but no. But what a revelation she was.
“So,” she said, “what do you think?”
Dinesh was lost in thought, caught between the doctor and the man. He stared at her with confusion. She smiled again, her lips parted, and he saw the whiteness of her teeth.
“I can’t swim,” he blurted out.
Shelby turned her head; her lips thinning over her closed mouth, and laughed out loud. “No, Doc,” she said, cupping her breasts. “What’s the prognosis?”
“Right,” Dinesh said. “They look…well…I think we ought to take a biopsy to be sure. You said there’s no tenderness or itching?”
“Nope,” she said. “But, better safe than sorry.” She reached for her buttons again.
Dinesh held up his hands. “You can stay dressed for the moment. We have some things to set up first. Nurses, local anesthetic, all that.” Flustered as he was, he couldn’t help but smile at her determined acceptance. “I must say, you are handling this rather well.”
“It’s the cop in me, Doc. Nice on the outside, but with a plan to kill everyone I meet. Cancer’s no exception.”
Dinesh blanched, and she laughed.
“Don’t worry, Doc. I won’t kill the messenger.”
“I just never pictured you as a police officer,” Dinesh said.
“Said the profiling dermatologist,” she responded.
She smiled and pointed two imaginary guns at him. “Cop? Profiling?”
“Oh, right,” he said, smiling awkwardly.
“Most people guess stripper,” she added.
“No,” he stuttered. “I didn’t-”
“It’s okay, Doc. I’m used to it.” She put her hands on her waist and mimed a condescending drawl. “What’s a pretty little thang like you doing carrying a gun?”
“Of course,” he said, not knowing how else to respond. He wiped at a newly formed bead of sweat on his forehead.
“As for the pool, we can probably get you some lessons. You know, just to be safe.”
When he got home that evening, Dinesh realized he’d never told her no to the pool. Did it even matter? He shook his head and tried to put the thought of her out of his mind. He kept it clear the following day, as well, but on Thursday, it came screaming back to him when a stream of police cars raced past him on his drive in to work. Their frenzied sirens and speeding in and out of traffic bombarded his mind with conflicting images. Shelby in uniform. Shelby relaxing in the sun. Shelby half naked in his office. He couldn’t reconcile the police persona from the bikinied bombshell, or the small node just to the left of her nipple.
While working on the head of a sebaceous cyst on Friday, the television he had in the office for patients played a preview of some detective show, cops and robbers in high definition. He pictured Shelby kidding him with her trigger fingers. That night, his dreams converged poolside; gunbelt slung low on bikinied hips, unbuttoned uniforms, nipples and nodes. Her siren song kept calling to him, jolting him awake, his body covered in sweat.
Saturday was overcast, with weathermen threatening rain. But still, Dinesh watched the pool in the hopes of catching a glimpse.
When the biopsy results arrived on Monday, he instinctively reached for his phone and dialed her number. He got her voicemail instead.
“Officer Parker, this is Dinesh, I mean Dr. Daswani.” He paused, regained his composure, and hung up after asking her to call him back.
On Tuesday, he left another message.
On Thursday, he stopped by her apartment, but she never came to the door.
On Friday, he Googled her name. What he found in the newsfeed hit him like a gut punch. Police Officer Killed During Traffic Stop.
Sitting in the shade of his patio that Saturday, Dinesh watched his neighbors sunning themselves. Children played in the shallow end, and the men he thought were her boyfriends showed up with their kids. He wanted to reach out to them. Tell them how Shelby would have kicked Cancer’s ass. Instead, he walked off his patio and over to the deep end of the pool. It was time he learned how to swim.