Flash Fiction

Domestic Duplicity

by Victoria Lynn Smith

The kitchen phone rang. Mary straddled a stool at the counter and lifted the receiver from its hook.

 

“Hello, I listen to fun-loving WOKY.” If it was the station, she’d win $92.

 

“Mary?” Her mother, a waitress, was calling from work. “Are you listening?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Go to the stereo and find the Petula Clark album. There’s a letter inside. Get it and come right back.” It had been there for weeks; now her mother had remembered. Mary wondered why her mother hadn’t sent it to Leo.

 

Mary set the phone down. She played that album when her parents went out. Her father never played it; he was a Johnny Cash, rebel-in-black kind of guy. But after last week, her mother was terrified.

 

*****

A week ago, her mother read a love letter from Leo while in bed with her father. She must’ve thought he was sleeping. Morning broke with her father roaring and her mother screeching. Mary waited for him to slap her mother. But he didn’t. Mary waited for him to yell, I want a divorce. He didn’t. Tit-for-tat. He’d had his flings and one-night stands. Still, even twelve-year-old Mary knew girls were sluts for things that boys could do without shame.

 

*****

“Okay.” Mary held the letter, six pages of her mother declaring undying love for another man. My Darling Leo, it began. Her sister stopped watching Gilligan’s Island and entered the kitchen. They both had radar for drama.

 

“Burn the letter in the basement stove. Don’t read it, and make sure it burns. Come right back to the phone when you’re done.”

 

“Okay.” Mary wanted to keep the letter. I dream of us marrying in a small white church. The two of us becoming one, her mother had written.

 

Mary’s sister followed her down the stairs. “Where are you going?”

 

“To burn a letter.”

 

“Why?”

 

Mary didn’t answer. In the letter, her mother was a tender woman whose heart was full of love. I feel your arms around me even when we’re apart. So different from the easy-to-anger woman who occupied the rooms of their run-down farmhouse. Mary wanted the tender-hearted woman to be her mother.

 

She entered the basement. How long would it take to pretend to burn a letter? If she returned to the phone too soon or too late, her mother would be suspicious. Experience had taught Mary her mother wasn’t easily fooled. Mary’s mother hadn’t learned that lesson about her. She’d known about the affair for months.

 

Her mother had to give up Leo. Hidden things get found. Mary could only keep one mother.

 

She opened the door of the pot belly stove, placed the letter inside, and struck a match. Flames nibbled the sides, then greedily gulped the letter in one mouthful.

 

Mary and her sister walked upstairs.

 

“It’s done,” Mary said into the phone.

 

“What took you so long? You better not have read it,” said the always-angry, ready-to-strike mother.

 

The other version of her mother was ashes.

Victoria Lynn Smith writes fiction and essays. “Domestic Duplicity,” won first place in Lake Superior Writers’ 2020 Contest. She recently had several pieces accepted by regional journals, including Minnesota’s The Talking Stick. Her writing appears on several blogs, including Brevity Blog.

Archive of Fiction by issue:

     September 2020     July 2020     

   May 2020     March 2020     January 2020     November 2019     September 2019     July 2019     May 2019   

  March 2019     January 2019     November 2018     September 2018     July 2018     June 2018     May 2018     April 2018   

  March 2018     February 2018     January 2018     December 2017     November 2017     October 2017     September 2017   

  August 2017     July 2017     June 2017     May 2017     April 2017     March 2017     February 2017     January 2017   

  December 2016     November 2016     October 2016    September 2016     August 2016     June 2016     May 2016

Archive of More Fiction by issue 

    March 2020     January 2020     November 2018     September 2018   

   July 2018     June 2018    May 2018     April 2018    March 2018     February 2018     January 2018     December 2017   

Archive of Flash Fiction by issue

     September 2020     July 2019     May 2020     March 2020     January 2020   

  November 2019     September 2019     July 2019     May 2019    March 2019      July 2018     June 2018     

More Flash & Micro Fiction

     May 2020    

International Fiction

     March 2019    

Archive of Better Than Fiction by issue

     September 2020     July 2020     May 2020     March 2020     January 2020     November 2019 

   September 2019     July 2019     May 2019     March 2019     January 2019     November 2018     September 2018 

   July 2018     June 2018     May 2018     April 2018     March 2018     February 2018     January 2018     December 2017 

   November 2017     October 2017     September 2017     August 2017     July 2017     June 2017     May 2017     April 2017