Friday, September 5, 2014

Beyond the Happy Ending

This is my first work of flash fiction. I’d heard the term, and had an idea what it meant, but I had to look it up to be certain. A work of flash fiction is a story too short to be a short story. It’s an hors d'oeuvres of prose. Opinions vary about how long flash fiction can be. One thousand words or less is a limit commonly agreed on. I find it hard to put together a work that brief. I hate to think what that implies if brevity truly is the soul of wit.
Flash fiction is sometimes accused to pandering to the short attention span. I suppose there’s something to that. After all, it took the internet age to make flash fiction popular. I think there can be legitimate advantages to it though. For a reader, the advantages are obvious. Even if you have the attention span to read novels of banquet length, a bite of candy now and then isn’t such a bad thing. For a writer, it provides an opportunity. It allows me to use story ideas that I would otherwise discard. This story, for example. I don’t think I could have done any more with it than I have, but it was still worth doing.
Beyond the Happy Ending
“Honey, I don’t mind you bringing work home, but when you come to bed you’re a wife, not an editor.”
“Huhn? Oh! No, Michael, it’s not that. Look.” She handed him a page.
It was a series of numbered sentences. He read some aloud. “‘I can’t live without her.’ ‘He’s the only thing I live for.’ ‘I would do anything for her.’” He took his reading glasses back off. “What is this for?”
“They’re lines from books we’ve published. They show up all the time. You’ve read those lines again and again.”
“Not as often as you have.”
She laughed. “Not just from the stuff I have to dredge through. It’s in books and movies and everything. And it’s crap. God, I used to love that stuff. I still would if I didn’t have to read it for a living.”
“Okay.” He read a few more. “‘I can’t sleep; I can’t eat.’ You’re right. I have heard that again and again. ‘He’s the thing that gives my life meaning.’ ‘She’s my whole world.’ ‘Nothing seems real when he’s not with me.’ Did you mean to alternate these from man to woman?”
“Kind of. That’s not what’s important. You can substitute he and she in any of them.  Michael, I can do better than that.”
“You want to write now?”
“I want to write some romance that doesn’t have any of that in it. It’s not real. Look at us. Why can’t there be a romance novel that tells our story?”
“I don’t want our story in print for other people to read.”
“No, not us specifically. I mean real love. I want to write a story about a couple who’ve been together for years, not days.”
He wanted to tell her it was a bad idea, but he was too curious. “How serious are you about this?”
“You can’t tell?”
“Of course I can tell. I get it. You want to write about what happens beyond the happy ending.”
“Oh, that’d be a great title. You think it’s a good idea then?”
In the moment he needed to decide, his head tilted nervously. “You need help?”
“Are you serious? Oh yes!”
They went to work the next day, and it lasted. They made certain to spend time dismantling every cliché they could. Carol complained, “They can’t live without each other? I don’t want to write that. I want to write about love, not need.” They set the rule that the love story wouldn’t include dependence. With that, the characters started to form.
That was just a start. Carol flipped through her notes. “‘Nothing matters without her?’ Oh god. And this one, ‘There’s nothing in the world but him.’ That’s not the way it was with us. You didn’t make the rest of the world invisible, Michael. You made it more real, more important. I started feeling passion for my life.”
 “I guess I am inspiring, at that.”
She laughed, “Go ahead and make fun, smart ass, but it’s true.”
As they went on, the story felt like a reflection. They were agreed that they wouldn’t write themselves, but the relationship in the story, it was the way they felt.
Michael said, “The can’t eat, can’t sleep stuff. That’s not good either. I hate the way people talk about desperation like it’s romantic. You don’t make me a nervous wreck like that. I’m more satisfied because of you.”
Pages kept flowing and platitudes kept toppling. “You know what I hate?,” he asked. “I hate that ‘she’s all I live for’ crap. Or ‘she’s all I ever wanted’. It’s love in a microscope. The rest of the world is still there even when you’re in love.”
Carol knew it. “Mmmm. The women say that too. Who would want to live like that? Your entire life revolving around one person? Michael, you’re not the only thing I live for.”
“God, I couldn’t take that much of you, Carol.” Before she could smack him with a pillow, he offered, “Love inspired us to become more, not less. Your career. You really took off when we got together, and I love it. I love it that I’m not all you have.”
“Yes,” she said, “and that brings up another. ‘I’d do anything for you.’ Michael, would you really do anything for me?”
“Hell no. A lot of things come to mind. I’d do a lot. Not anything, though.”
She wasn’t comfortable admitting it, but, “You’ve given up more for me than I have for you.”
“Hey, I don’t keep score. You’ve done plenty too. Anyway, I’m not like the idiots in these books. I give what I have to when I have to. I don’t do it just because I can. You never asked any more than I would give.”
Now that was romance. “Mm. We can use that. Never ask for more than your lover can give.”
In the end, they had a short, but meaningful story of life faced through love. There was no insecurity, no struggle for understanding. The characters did not have to overcome doubt. They did not have to come together, because they were already there. They were not afraid of the future. Life provided challenges enough for the couple. They faced those challenges together, and that was their story.

Her boss was hardly apologetic. “I’m sorry, Carol. I just don’t think it will sell.”