A long time ago I had a thing I called Friday Fiction on this here blog, where I’d post a random short story I’d written. No particular reason; just something other than the usual diary blah-blah, a good excuse to use a different set of muscles. It was fun, but I never kept it up.

In honor of the long-dead Friday Fiction effort, then:

——————

When the intercom crackled to life and the flight attendant began her bored lecture about returning seat backs to their full upright position, the man in 26-C sucked his teeth in disappointment. He’d been openly enjoying the view of the sleeping woman in 26-A, her lean angles and blouse that had been pulled slightly askew. With no wifi on this crappy flight and a laptop battery that was about dead anyway, he figured he might as well take in the scenery, such as it was. 26-A would do.

As the plane tipped and the descent got underway, the woman instantly sat upright, adjusting in her seat in order to raise the shade and squinting against the late afternoon sunlight. He cleared his throat and leaned over.

“Excuse me,” he said, “Can you see Mt. Rainier out there yet?”

The woman didn’t turn towards him. “No,” she said, focused somewhere in the distance. He could see they were starting to pass through dark cloud cover, the grid of the city barely visible below.

“Too bad,” he said easily. “It’s always my favorite part about flying here. You here for business or pleasure?”

The woman sighed and reached a hand down to massage her knees, flexing one jean-clad thigh at a time. “Neither,” she said, shifting a little further towards the window.

Okay, he thought. “Hey, I know this is stupid, but can I tell you something? Jesus, I feel like a jerk for saying this … but landings scare the crap out of me. Always have, I don’t know why. It’s not like I’ve ever been in a crash or anything, right? Anyway, it helps if I talk to someone. Do you mind? I swear I won’t bug you for long, just until we’re back on solid ground.” He widened his eyes in a practiced move that conveyed sincerity, nervousness, vulnerability.

She finally turned to look at him, and he smiled with what he hoped was a good mix of warmth and embarrassment. She had startling grey eyes, pale and fringed with long black lashes. A slight spray of freckles across her cheeks, faint lines here and there. Maybe not model material, but not half bad, either.

“You’re scared of landings,” she said. “Not takeoffs?”

“Right! I know, it’s ridiculous. But the landing is the hardest part, don’t you think? Hey, so my name’s Jason, you can call me Jay, everyone does. Nice to meet you …?”

“Devin,” she said, and leaned forward across the empty seat between them. Her seatbelt strained against her hip as she moved her body until they were nearly touching, and for a breathless moment he was sure she was going to kiss him.

“Can I tell you something now?”

“Absolutely,” he said. “Anything.”

Devin from 26-A grinned, her teeth inches from his face. “Go fuck yourself, Jay. Don’t stop until you see blood.”

+++++

Devin Briggs stepped off the north shuttle loop (“Main terminal … main terminal,” intoned the recorded voice, unchanged after all these years) and moved quickly towards the parking garage. She rode the escalator past baggage claim, where the automatic doors kept opening and closing on Seattle’s damp autumn chill, and Jason You-Can-Call-Me-Jay was standing near the slow rotation of a luggage conveyor belt. He glanced up from a passing tumble of suitcases and immediately saw her, his face darkening, and she briefly touched her fingers to her forehead in a mock salute.

Asshole.

She was less amused when she passed the young couple with their toddler, the family that had been in row 8 where she’d originally been seated. She’d immediately asked to be moved, and the parents had sat there blinking at each other. “She’s actually a pretty good traveler,” the father had offered, inclining his head towards his daughter, a tender-faced little girl clutching a grubby stuffed rabbit.

“Sorry,” Devin had said, pushing roughly past their legs, avoiding the toddler’s curious gaze. “Sorry.”

The mother looked at her now unsmilingly from where she stood near an elevator, her arms strained from holding her daughter’s weight. The father was occupied with unfolding a stroller. The little girl was asleep, her mouth a tiny cupid’s bow.

Above Devin’s head, a sign blinked EXIT TO PARKING, and she hurried through the doors into the cool evening air.

The rental was a dull silver Jetta, and it reeked of a pineapple-shaped air freshener that dangled from the rearview mirror. Like someone’s idea of a tropical suntan lotion, in a town that doesn’t know anything about suntans, Devin thought. She tossed it to the ground and sat for a moment with the windows down, pressing her back against the driver’s seat to stretch her legs. God, her knees ached. Five hours in a metal tube folded up like a piece of origami, breathing canned farts and feeling Call-Me-Jay’s eyes crawling all over her.

Not for the first time since she’d boarded the plane in Phoenix, Devin considered what it would take to abandon this trip altogether. It would be pretty easy, actually. Just turn around and walk back to the ticket counter, book the next returning flight, wait to go back home. Maybe have a drink or three in one of those shitty lounges that offers an extra shot for a dollar.

Home. Or wherever.

Somewhere in the recesses of her carryon, her phone buzzed, fell quiet, and buzzed again. Devin glanced at her bag, then exhaled. The car still smelled sickeningly sweet, a cheery Wish You Were Here! beach postcard, blackened and rotting at the edges. Outside, a light rain began to fall, gathering into drops on her windshield and turning the airport terminal lights into tiny glittering prisms.

Ignoring the insistent, insect-like hum from her bag, Devin started the car and pulled away.

Traveling the interstate into Seattle was like watching a half-remembered movie, the exits and landmarks unfamiliar at first glance, then revealing themselves in her memory moments later. The map she’d brought remained untouched and folded, and soon the city stretched before her in tones of grey against grey. The buildings—she used to be able to name them, but only the imposing black Columbia Center came to her now—reaching up to brush the ever-present clouds, the overpasses hanging thick with ivy. Water and glass and pine trees. She drove with a sense of dreamlike unreality, the little Jetta seeming to hold still as the scenery moved all around her.

It was as though she’d never left, she thought. Or maybe more like part of her had always stayed behind.

In the gathering dusk Devin made her way through narrow surface streets, pulling aside to let oncoming cars pass not out of politeness but a growing desire to delay her arrival. Every block was a strange shock of nostalgia: the yellow house with the peeling fascia, the bulbous grey-green top of a water tower, the raised bladed arms of a monkey puzzle tree standing guard over a corner lot. The only real differences she saw in the neighborhood were the rows of locked cabinets that had replaced the battered metal mailboxes that used to sit at the end of each cramped driveway.

Their mailbox had read BRIGG. The S had fallen off and no one bothered to replace it, although rust had collected where the letter once was. Another ghost.

She made one last turn before the road abruptly ended—not a cul de sac, exactly, more that city planners had never bothered to push the street through—and Devin let the Jetta roll close to the curb before coming to a stop. She carefully switched off the ignition, tucked the rental-company key in her front pocket, and only then did she turn her head to look out at the house she grew up in.

The tiny once-white Cape Cod still had the crumbling blue trim around the windows, and as Devin rolled her suitcase up the uneven walkway she could see that the battered screen door had the exact same gaping tear in the netting it had twenty years ago. (A dropped bookbag, the sharp edge of her Social Studies text. Her father’s reddening face.) Weeds had overtaken the small front yard, an eruption of dandelions gone to damp silvery seed. Rain dripped steadily from the steep cottage roof.

Last chance, Devin thought to herself, and looked back to the Jetta. Twenty minutes and she’d be back at Sea-Tac. Thirty minutes and she’d be sitting behind a martini, extra olives, extra everything.

“Oh, fuck it,” she said, and pulled aside the screen, just as the front door opened. In the gloom of early evening an enormous shape was outlined in the entryway, backlit by a dim yellow hall light. The woman that stood there was wearing a ratty terrycloth bathrobe over her bulk, and in the brief shocked moment that followed, she raised a cigarette to her lips, inhaled, and coughed out a laugh.

“What’s the matter, Devin?” she asked, smoke curling from her grinning mouth. A dragon hissing out steam. “Don’t you recognize me?”

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shriek house
11 years ago

Holy hell, woman. You got good chops. Now gimme chapter 2. Pleez.

Kara
Kara
11 years ago

Fantastic. Seriously. Can we have a serial novel please? :)

devin
devin
11 years ago

Yes! Keep writing the story! :D

Faith
Faith
11 years ago

I feel like Devin is the uninhibited version of you. Like maybe someone you sometimes wish you could be. Also, i’d love to read more! Well written! You remember to write the details that bring a story to life.

caleal
caleal
11 years ago

Please tell me there’s more to this. I know it’s said here repeatedly, but oh, if you would write a book I’d buy it in a minute.

Meli
Meli
11 years ago

Have you sent this to an agent? Because I would pay to read the rest. Well done, but then, I’m not surprised. Your writing is always so good–even the everyday musings. Impressive!

Erika
Erika
11 years ago

Really good. I want more as well but maybe you should just send it to an agent.

kellie
kellie
11 years ago

You have real talent. I loved it. I sincerely hope you are making time for fiction writing and for trying to get published.

goingloopy
11 years ago

MORE PLEASE!

Jessica
Jessica
11 years ago

Delurking to say “wow!” Love it and hope you write more.

Megan
Megan
11 years ago

Had to click through from my reader to comment–I’m hooked! More please :-)

Ali
Ali
11 years ago

It’s like that potato chip tagline: can’t stop at just one! It’s a very captivating story, please post more! (You know, in all that spare time you have. :)

Sandra
Sandra
11 years ago

Wow, that was pretty awesome! I want to know more. Why is Devin being so bitchy? Who is the woman at her old home? Her mother? Grandmother? Why is she going back home? Is she a runner too? On and on and on! I loved it!

Kym
Kym
11 years ago

Love it! More please! Soon!

Kate
Kate
11 years ago

Fantastic!

nolita
11 years ago

Love it…more please!

laziza
laziza
11 years ago

Maybe before I add to the chorus of begging for more, you can tell us whether there WILL be more or whether this is intended to stand alone? I have my pride, you know. :)

Amy
Amy
11 years ago

Linda, please tell me this is a teaser of your first published book?? Please!

Veronica
Veronica
11 years ago

OK so i have a question. As your type out your story, do you know ahead of time what’s happening? Or do you just write as it comes to you. As in, do you know who the dragon lady is? As you write it out do you know why she’s returning home and what you plan to write next? I’m so intrigued by something as cool as this “short story.” It makes me wonder if the author even knows what happens next. cause the rest of us are like, “inquiring minds wanna know!” awesome!

sheilah
11 years ago

I hate to sound redundant, but I sure hope there is another installment. Great story!

Erin
Erin
11 years ago

“The car still smelled sickeningly sweet, a cheery Wish You Were Here! beach postcard, blackened and rotting at the edges.” I love that line. It’s awesome.

agirlandaboy
11 years ago

That’s the “it” all the kids are talking about.

Niki
Niki
11 years ago

….you did not just leave us ‘hangin’ like that!! Can you PLEEEEASE write a book so I can buy it and read it then read it again??!

GJR
GJR
11 years ago

This is very good!

Amanda
Amanda
11 years ago

Umm to second, third and fourth the above statements… more please!! That was really good and reminded me how much I enjoy sitting down with a good book. Thank you.

Jen W.
11 years ago

Will this be an installment? I need to know what happens… :)