As she did every year, Amanda Kramer
opted to take the entire day off. At seven fifty-five, she entered
the waiting room of her doctor's office. A television blared from one
corner, tuned to The Today Show. On the opposite side of the
room, there was a large tank of fish lazily swimming. Amanda
approached the receptionist's desk and looked for the clipboard. The
receptionist—a different one from last year, Amanda thought—slid
open the glass door. Amanda smiled. “I'm trying to sign in. Is
there a …?”
“We have a new system.” The
receptionist gestured to a small device on the counter. It was about
the size of a computer mouse. Its center glowed red. “Name?”
“Put your finger there.” The
receptionist pointed to the device.
“Pardon?” Amanda said.
“Your index finger. Place it on
Amanda was accustomed to doing what the
medicine people told her to do. The button felt warm beneath her
“That's right. Now do that three more
times for me.”
Amanda pushed again. “What is this
doing?” She pushed a third time.
“Taking your fingerprint. So you
don't have to sign in next time.” The receptionist snapped her gum
and gave a smile. “Saves a bit of time that way. One last push for
Amanda's finger hovered over the
“Once more, please.”
“I don't know,” Amanda said. “This
feels like invasion of privacy.”
The receptionist glared. “You want
your exam done or not?”
From one of the waiting room chairs, a
woman laughed. “That's not exactly a fair question.”
“Look, you don't give me your print,
we're going to have to cancel your appointment.”
Amanda sighed and thought about the
piles of paperwork on her desk. She pressed her finger against the
button. She felt withered and dry and, well, she felt old this
morning. She wondered about the permanence of her fingerprint. “Who
will have access to this?”
“It's perfectly safe, Mrs. Kramer.”
Amanda doubted it. She pictured the
print being shared or sold or stolen. They had taken a piece of her.
She wanted to reclaim it.
“Fill out this form.” The
receptionist handed Amanda a red pen. “Doctor will be with you
Amanda found a seat near the woman. She
flashed her a smile and began filling out the same form she'd filled
out for the past fifteen years. Name. Date of birth. Social Security
Number. Address. “You think they'd keep this information on file,”
she whispered to the woman.
The woman looked up from the magazine
in her lap and shrugged. “Maybe they think it gives us something to
do while we're waiting.”
her attention to the form. Cups of coffee per day: Eight. Smoker? No.
Number of pregnancies: Five. Number of children: Her pen hovered over
the thin line. She bit her lip. Zero.
“What're you in for?”
“The usual,” Amanda replied,
responding to the questions about exercise and stress and diet.
“Yeah.” The woman flipped a page of
the magazine, studied a recipe for curried chicken. “Me, too.”
The door opened. A woman waddled in,
rubbing her swollen stomach, a faraway look in her eyes. She
approached the reception desk and pressed her index finger on the
button before finding a seat near the television.
Amanda rose and followed the nurse to a
room. Dutifully, she stepped onto the scale and watched the nurse
slide the weight further along the beam; her esteem falling in an odd
sort of inverse relationship with her weight. She presented her arm
for the blood pressure cuff. “Normal,” the nurse said, removing
the cuff and pressing a stethoscope against her chest. After the
nurse left the room, Amanda changed into a paper gown and waited for
the door to open.
When it was over, as she sat wrapped in
white paper, the doctor handed her a slip. “Time for your
mammogram,” he said, leaving her to fold herself back into her
* * *
Nine o'clock and the day belonged to
Amanda. She went to Starbucks. Bought herself a double latte before
heading home. “Hey, Brutus!” she said, as she entered the house.
“Want a walk?”
The dog barked once then spun in
circles, butt wagging, surprised, perhaps at this sudden fortuitous
change in his day.
The sky was ribboned with clouds. The
sun was warm. Yet the wind bore an icy chill.Except for the window
washers and the landscapers, the neighborhood was quiet and still. It
had a deserted feel to it. Balls of fertilizer popped beneath her
feet as she walked. Brutus chased a sweetgum fruit that had fallen
from the tree. Amanda's cell phone rang. She dug it from her back
pocket. Jack. “Hello?”
“How'd it go?”
She sighed and watched three squirrels
circle around the nubby bark of an ash tree. They hung there, upside
down, clinging. “I hate doctors.” In the garden, a fourth
squirrel held itself distant, observing.
“I know,” he said. And the silence
that filled the space between them felt impossibly large and
unbreachable. “Shall I bring Chinese?” He voice was gentle.
She nodded through her tears. “That
would be nice,” she said. “See you tonight.”
Someone had spray painted a series of
messages upon the sidewalk, little optimistic sayings in white
stenciled letters, each occupying its own square of concrete. Today's
your day, she read, and laughed a little to herself. Follow
your dreams. Well, she'd tried,
anyway. She and Jack had certainly tried. Find your
bliss and Spread the
increased her pace, wanting to discard the optimism sprayed upon the
sidewalk. Up ahead was a woman whose name she did not know. Every so
often, they'd meet walking their dogs, pausing to speak of the
weather or the neighborhood. The woman was raking leaves, her yellow
jacket discarded and thrown to the ground. She shielded her eyes.
“Hello.” She leaned against her rake.
The woman gestured to the bags lying on
the grass, the black piece of plastic that had once bound them
clipped. “I was going to rake until I ran out of bags, but...”
She pushed her hair from her face. She looked exhausted and spent.
“It never ends,” she said. “The cleaning. The cooking. The
Amanda found herself agreeing, to bring
the conversation to an end.
She walked on.
Three houses down,
Amanda noticed that, before they'd withered and curled, giant oak
leaves had pressed their bodies flat into the sidewalk, leaving
tannin stains—ghost images—behind.
Her phone rang again. She studied the
screen. Her secretary. “Hey.”
“Fred's looking for you,” Deanna
“Did you tell him I took a vacation
“Did you tell him it was my first day
in exactly one year?”
“Told him that too.”
“Did you tell him to screw himself?”
Deanna laughed. “No. Want me to?”
“Yes. No!” She rounded the
corner. Frowned. “That's weird.”
“There's a brown
stroller parked in the middle of the sidewalk.” She was surprised
to see that the stroller had not been parked at the house, pulled up
the black driveway cleanly dividing one property from the next;
folded and dragged to the stoop, its wheels bumping one-two-three up
“I guess I
would've taken it to the door.” She laughed. “It's a bright
orange door. Cheery.”
against your community's bylaws?”
“Good for them.”
“Deanna, do you know how much power we hand over to people?”
There was silence
on the other end.
Politicians. Neighborhood boards who are more concerned about the
height of the grass and the color of the doors than the lonely people
who live behind them.”
“Are you lonely,
Amanda?” Deanna whispered.
She gazed at the
orange door; a place through which one could choose whether or not to
admit the person standing upon the stoop: a salesman, for example,
hawking new windows or organic groceries; or the troops of religious
people that emerged like flowers in springtime, earnest nectar words
dripping Truth on concrete, trying to save your soul; or just a
friend, balancing a fat baby upon her hip.
lonely, Deanna.” Amanda cleared her throat. “Listen. Tell Fred
I'll call soon.” She disconnected and turned off her phone. The
dog, perhaps sensing home, hurried her forward, toenails clicking
upon the sidewalk. As she passed the stroller, she reached out her
hand and took hold of the rubber handle. She gave it a squeeze and
felt her heart constrict in response.
* * *
Amanda started a fire in the living
room and put on George Winston's Autumn. She curled up in a
wingback chair with a detective novel. Occasionally, she took a sip
of tea. Occasionally, she turned the page.
The dog's ears perked up. Amanda heard
the garage doors opening; heard the sound of Jack's Nissan idling.
Brutus leapt to his feet and rushed to the back door.
Jack entered, carrying two brown paper
bags. Enough food, Amanda figured, to feed them for the next week. He
set them on the cocktail table and kissed her. “Why do you listen
to this every fall?” He crossed to the CD player. “You get so
“I like it.”
He switched to something fast-paced;
something techno she didn't
recognize. He smiled. “That's better.” They moved to the
dining room and unloaded the contents of the bags: won ton soup and
egg roll; plastic packets of soy sauce and mustard. “Up for a
game?” Paul opened a styrofoam carton of beef and broccoli and
nodded at the Scrabble box.
She nodded and unfolded the board.
Their evenings were often spent sitting at the table, eating takeout,
talking about their respective days.
Jack drew an A to Amanda's R. He
studied his tiles for a moment before setting a word down with a
flourish. “Able. Double word score. Twelve points.” He squeezed
hot mustard onto the inside of a takeout container and dipped in an
Amanda made a note of Jack's score. She
examined her tiles, looking for a pattern:
A Y Q B E R L
She picked up the A, fingering its
square edge. She positioned it beneath the B, adding below it the
letters B and Y.
Jack stared at the word in silence. He
set down his egg roll.
“Everywhere I go, people—even
things—are leaving pieces of themselves behind,” she said.
“What do you mean?” He met her
“Seeds or children or messages
pressed and painted into the sidewalk. What will we leave behind,
Jack?” Her lower lip trembled.
He rose. Gathered her up in his arms.
“I'm taking you to the beach,” he said, rubbing her back.
“Tomorrow. Call Fred.” He handed her his cell.
“No, I need...”
“You need a break,” he insisted.
“If you don't call, I will.”
She took the phone. Jack folded the
Scrabble board and poured the tiles back into the bag.
* * *
Amanda looked out over the Atlantic,
watching the waves break thirty yards from shore. “A wave is most
beautiful the moment it breaks.”
“Why do you say that?”
“It's got everything under control.
And then...” She snapped her fingers. “Boom! Everything explodes
and falls apart in this flurry of white motion.” She smiled at her
husband. “We're not in really control of anything, are we?”
“I'm afraid not.”
A runner barefooted it along the beach.
An elderly couple walked, hand in hand. A toddler charged into the
waves, fearless and unaware of the power of the ocean. Mothers dozed
beneath beach umbrellas while children built complex castles of sand.
A boy crawled on his hands and knees carving a message into the
beach: Marry me, Ce...
Jack smiled. “Good luck.”
“Thank you.” The boy looked up for
a moment before returning to his work.
The waves tossed offerings onto the
beach then grabbed at them again, as if it could not bear to part
with a piece of itself. Amanda walked up, felt the spray on her face.
She pulled a bottle from her pocket and showed it to Jack.
He frowned. “Message in a bottle?”
“Making peace.” She threw it into
the ocean, surrendering forever all hopes and dreams and prayers.
Jack took Amanda's hand and led her
back to their beach chairs. He dug a deep hole; buried Amanda's feet,
patting cold sand up around her calves. She felt the tide pulling and
pulsing. “It's the earth's heartbeat,” she said, smiling. The
tide brought in a handful of bean clams. They burrowed beneath the
sand before the water could reclaim them.
The hours passed. The tide moved in,
flooding the moats, rubbing out the words of the boy.
Amanda smiled at her husband. “Thank
you for bringing me here, Jack.”
When the week was over, she was ready
to return home.
* * *
In the middle of the night, she woke,
eyes wide and staring into the dark. “Jack.” She nudged her
“Someone's at the door.” She
switched on her light and sat up.
Jack fumbled for his glasses on the
nightstand; slipped them onto his face, as if they were necessary to
his hearing the persistent knock at the door. The two of them held
completely still, staring at each other.
Jack frowned. “My mother?”
She shrugged. “I'll come with you.”
She belted her bathrobe around her waist and followed Jack to the
front door, knowing it wasn't a salesman or a religious fanatic or a
woman with a fat drooling baby upon her hip waiting on the other
Jack opened the door. Two police
officers stood there, hands upon the guns at their waists. One of
them, Amanda noticed, had a dark mole along his cheek. She wondered
if he'd been to see a doctor to have that checked. “Is this the
home of Amanda Kramer?”
“What's this about?” Jack said,
crossing his arms.
Amanda stepped in front of her husband.
“Amanda Kramer we need to take you in
“Wait...I just.” She glanced at
Jack. “We just...” She hadn't finished folding the laundry.
“What's going on, Officer?” Jack
took Amanda's hand.
“A baby was kidnapped last week,”
the officer with the mole explained. Just down the street from you.
Taken right from his stroller while his mother ran back to the house
for a bottle of milk.”
Amanda gasped. “A brown stroller?”
Jack stared at her. Gave her hand a
squeeze. “Why would you suspect my wife?”
“Fingerprints. Found on the
Jack narrowed his eyes. “Amanda's
never been fingerprinted.”
The officer nodded. “She was. At her
doctor's office just last week.” He looked at Amanda. “We got
Amanda felt her knees buckle. She
reached for the doorframe as she collapsed.
* * *
“What are you in for?”
“I honestly have no idea,” Amanda
“Yeah.” The woman's breath was dank
and dark. And as the door to the cell swung into place, she smiled.
“That's what they all say, honey.”
For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Lance gave me this prompt: Little hand says it's time to rock and roll..
I gave Talia this prompt: I keep looking backwards over my shoulder. I like what I see.
Labels: flash fiction, scriptic.org