Intersection, Late Afternoon
by Lili Flanders
Norman was a talker, which meant that Anita was, for the most part, a listener and, by extension, an observer; such as when Norman worked himself into a lather about digital billboards—their pervasiveness and invasiveness and wastefulness (energy-wise) and danger (driver-wise) and overall awfulness—all of which Anita agreed with but didn’t want to listen to again at high volume as they waited out a red light at the intersection of Barrington and Olympic, so instead she focused on the tiny globes—or would it be globules, she wondered—of saliva that launched from her husband’s mouth like micro-cannons and were briefly lit by the low sun before exploding against the dashboard, the steering wheel, the back of her left hand that rested on Norman’s right thigh and registered the subtle contractions of his quadriceps with each guttural sound he produced, leading her to wonder at the delicate web of cause and effect created by the digital billboard, Norman’s reaction to it, her desire to calm him (thus her hand on his thigh), the tiny rain of saliva on the back of her hand and the memory it summoned: of waking on a beach on the other side of the world, decades earlier, her face wet with dew and Norman’s face nosed up to hers, his breathing deep and vulnerable and his mouth quiet, even when he woke and smiled against her cheek and pulled on the belt loops of her jeans so that they were hip-to-hip, choosing instead of words a long, sour-tasting kiss that sweetened as it lasted and was powerful enough to make Anita’s mouth water, all those years later, as she waited for the light to change and listened to Norman spew his anger into the afternoon; therefore, instead of slapping him—and (she had to admit, if only to herself) her free hand itched to strike him, to startle him into one blessed moment of quiet—instead, she slowly lifted her left hand, the one on which a fine spray of Norman’s spittle had dried, and stroked the back of her fingers against his lined cheek, which caused him, if not to become silent, at least to speak more gently and to lean his large weary head against her hand and say, “Blah, blah, blah…anyway, despite the state of the world, I love you,” leaving Anita with the thought, just before the light turned green and they moved forward, that some day, decades hence, she might remember this moment in their stale car at an ugly intersection with the same vivid sense-memory that she recalled the sour-apple kiss on the beach in Java and, if that were the case—if minor magic could occur on a Thursday afternoon in rush hour traffic—then how could she not want more of the noisy, complicated, passionate life she had chosen with Norman, and which, as she opened the passenger door window to catch a breeze, she chose, quietly, once again.
Intersection, Late Afternoon by Lili Flanders from issue 40, 2011.
This is a one-sentence story with the energy of an astronomical explosion. The story juxtaposes two locations: the inside of a car, late afternoon, waiting at an intersection, and a holiday in Java. Only the narrator’s mind can contain the visceral sense of holiday whilst stranded in a car at an intersection, and the reader is transported. We experience the character’s love and life from one apple-laced kiss on a sunny beach, while she is being showered by spit and anger a decade later. The folding of time and clarity of emotional expression this story displays are, for me, the beating heart of flash fiction.