Found by Cezarija Abartis

Caroline was in Key West for the Conference of Advertising Agencies, searching for something–what? Truth, goodness, beauty, more clients and projects? The rose-patterned wallpaper was the meaty pink of the insides of things. Hot light streamed in through the window, and palm fronds waved green in the yard, though it was late October. Back home, kids would be planning their Halloween costumes, pretending they were superheroes or witches. Outside her open window the hues were as bright as a Gauguin painting. The sounds too were coming to her in flat, broad colors, swaths of wind, of palm fronds brushing, whispering to her. When she first saw Gauguin’s paintings, she thought his characters averted their eyes, as if they had secrets to keep. Were the secrets full of doom? She shook her head at the exaggerated thought. On the wall hung the predictable print of ocean and beach to calm the mind of the weary traveler: no pounding surf and thunderous sky, only even, golden light.

She had dropped her ring and found it under the bed. When Caroline thought about all the things she’d found (and, of course, lost first), she remembered, most importantly, a sketchbook with her drawings, including a drawing of when she first met Eric. She had searched on her desk and in among her parents’ magazines and in the piles of paper to throw away. She had not known then that she would marry Eric years later, {after she graduated from college}; what she wanted was her drawings of cats and copies of Andy Warhol illustrations. Even then she knew she was not old enough yet to lose important mementos–everybody she loved was still alive. No great disaster could befall her, no great loss. And she did find her sketchbook the next day, in her bookbag, where she had left it.

She put the ring on, sank into the armchair, and sketched an idea for the bourbon ad based on Warhol’s Coca-Cola bottles. She called home. She wanted to tell Eric about the flight. The middle-aged woman in the seat next to her had tears in her eyes: she was going to her father’s funeral, and there was so much the woman had left unsaid. Caroline’s own father was in his fifties. Caroline knew she was lucky–some fathers died younger than that. She resolved to spend more time with her parents when she flew home. The woman on the plane had been fearful about the possibility of hurricanes, but hurricane Giovanni veered toward the ocean. “Trouble has been avoided,” the woman said and smiled weakly. Caroline thought the woman was trying to make sense of her life.

After four rings the answering machine picked up. Caroline raised the pitch of her voice, so it wasn’t disappointed. “Hello, dear. The plane got in early. Can you imagine? I suppose you’re still at work. Give me a call when you’re home.”

Eric picked up as she was about to put the phone down. “I just got out of the shower, baby. I got in early too.” Caroline could hear the shower still running in the background and something else–a radio? a woman’s voice reading the news? Eric clapped himself wetly and laughed. “Hey! I saw the kittens. They’re in the garage. There are four of them, crawling all over Mama Cat. Cute as–kittens.”

She wondered if he’d been drinking already. “Everybody healthy?”
“Nobody’s helping. She doesn’t need help.”

“The kittens, are they healthy?”

“I thought she’d run away, but she came back. There was such a racket next door, when they were repairing the porch.” He giggled. “She carried her kittens back. She’s watchful. She’s a good mama.”

“She seems healthy?”

“Oh yeah.” He sneezed.

“Do you have a cold?”

“It’s not cold, considering it’s October. The next door neighbor kid is running around in his Superman costume. His brother is wearing a devil costume.”

“No, I meant are you coming down with a cold?”

“Probably an allergy.” He was silent for a jittery second. “I’m going to hang up now. I’m kind of tired.”

“Just to remind you. I’ll be having dinner with Ellen. You remember. My friend from college?”

“Oh yeah. I never met her.”

“She moved to Key West a few years ago. Right after graduation. She got a job with a design firm.”

“Lucky.”

“Last I heard, she was afraid she might be losing her job.”

“Not so lucky.” His line was quiet for a second.  “Your job is safe, I think.”

“Yes.” She heard him turning off the water and the woman on the radio laughing. Or maybe it was the TV in the next room. Caroline’s forehead prickled with sweat. She was tired. “How did the trial go? How were your closing remarks?”

“Difficult to know. The poor guy was exhausted and signed a confession. He has a sixth-grade education.”

Eric’s voice was hard to hear; she held the unfamiliar phone more tightly against her ear. It felt bulky and unwieldy. “Your sense of justice is what I’ve always admired about you.” The remark sounded like a eulogy.

“Oh, yeah, I’m a knight in shining armor.”

“You are. You battle for the poor and the oppressed.” Outside the window and across the street, a couple, clasping hands, strolled on the sidewalk. The woman wore a pink swingy sundress, the man khaki shorts.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free after a night of robbery and homicide. And then kittens.”

“What’s the matter, Eric?”

“I think I’ll lose this one.”

The man and woman stopped under a palm tree. The fronds striped them darkly in the gilded light. The woman wrapped her arms around his shoulders and he leaned in for a long kiss. Caroline and Eric didn’t take walks together anymore. Too busy, too tired, too something. Maybe Eric would lose this one. “You said yourself it’s always hard to tell.”

“Maybe I’ll win.” But his voice sounded unbelieving.

She wanted to give him hope. “And there are always appeals.” Outside the window, the man put his arms around the woman’s waist and kissed her again. The diagonal light was golden. Anything was possible.

“I’m tired,” he said. “I have to finish my shower.”

“Of course. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“Call me a little later when you call tomorrow.”

“Yes.” On the radio, the woman’s voice took on substance and then retreated.

Caroline heard the water come on again. She felt as if she were in the shower. The day had been hot and she was sweating. She had lost her ring and found it. Eric worried that he lost the case. Perhaps he would win it. Outside, the man and woman had strolled away. The pink roses on the wallpaper buzzed. Caroline heard the water running  in the shower and the woman’s laugh, idle and weightless as if she were flying.


Cezarija Abartis’ Nice Girls and Other Stories was published by New Rivers Press. Her stories have appeared in Drunk Monkeys, Per Contra, Waccamaw, and New York Tyrant, among others. One of her flashes was included in Wigleaf’s Top 50 list of flash fiction. Recently she completed a novel, a thriller. She teaches at St. Cloud State University. Her website is http://magicmasterminds.com/cezarija/