On the Run, May 2023
Lisa never spoke. She sat motionless at her desk all day, staring off somewhere, moving only when it was time for the class to go somewhere.
The other kids bullied her at recess. They tried to get her to talk, but she always refused. One day, Martin threw a pebble at her and hit her in the head.
“Leave her alone!” Angus exclaimed.
Martin, then the other boys, started throwing pebbles at Angus.
* * *
Angus was in the car with his mother when he saw Lisa in a backyard walking towards an old wooden playhouse. She didn’t see him.
* * *
The following afternoon, he rode his bike past her house. The yard was empty and there wasn’t a car in the driveway. He stopped at the corner and waited, then backtracked past on the other side of the street, but it was still the same.
* * *
He rode past her house again the next afternoon, and the next, with the same result.
* * *
He went again Saturday morning. The yard was empty, but there was a rusted, wood-paneled Dodge Aspen station wagon in the driveway. He rode past on the near sidewalk, then hit the brakes when someone called his name.
She was at the playhouse window. She motioned with her index finger for him to come over. He leaned his bike against a tree next to the sidewalk.
She was waiting at the door. Her hair was in the usual pigtails with the gumball rubber bands, and she was wearing pink shorts and a white tank top with a sunflower stitched on the front. The inside of the house was nicer than the outside, with a small table and chair that looked more like miniaturized versions of real furniture than playhouse décor. There were curtains on the windows.
She kissed him on the cheek, then turned away.
“It’s okay,” he said. “Can I kiss you?”
She moved to the corner and buried her face in her hands. She was trembling.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
She nodded. Eventually she peeked at him. He stepped to her and tried to kiss the side of her forehead, but she moved away.
In the middle of the room, facing him, she pulled down her shorts, revealing a pair of white boys’ briefs. She then pulled those down.
“Do you still want to kiss me?” she asked.
Angus looked down at the floorboards and nodded.
She leaned over, offering her cheek. He kissed her, close to her mouth.
“I gotta go,” he said.
She pulled up her underwear and shorts, then retreated to the corner and started crying.
“I won’t tell anyone,” he said.
She started crying harder.
Angus stepped closer.
“I’m like you,” he said. ▪
This story was originally written on a Brother Word Processor when I was in college in the early 1990s. I submitted and revised it over and over again for years and, this being back in the day of snail mail and SASEs, I’d occasionally get a handwritten note saying they liked it but, regretfully, they didn’t like it enough. I even got a handwritten note from Zoetrope, which was like a badge of honor:
The Editors were right. The original ending had Angus arriving at Lisa’s house and witnessing her stepfather yelling at her mother and calling her a “little freak” or some such thing as they’re getting into their car, then as he’s riding his bike home, Lisa sees him from the back seat of the car. The rest of the story was a also a mess, as I used to write most of these stories like mini-novels with a lot of background and backstory instead of just capturing the moment. Thank you, Raymond Carver.
I revisited it in 2022. Thirty years earlier I couldn’t have conceived the new ending I’d come up with, and wouldn’t have had the courage to send such an ending out into the world. But the world had changed, and I can see a lot more now than I did back then, and these factors led me to create the ending the story needed, and it was published by On the Run in May 2023.
Read “Silence” at On the Run
About On the Run: We understand the overwhelming nature of technology, labor, social media, entertainment, self-care, and nearly every other facet of contemporary life. We know that readers don’t always have the time or capacity to digest novels or even traditional short stories, but still want to be moved and entertained by a good story. So, we’ve dedicated this outlet solely to flash fiction in the hopes of reaching readers on the run.