FLASH Fiction by Barbara Byar
I followed the Hansel and Gretel trail of floor lights to a quiet corner of the slumbering car. Stared out the window at the star soup. Pulled out my notebook. There was no movement from under the blanket of your pea coat, so I jumped when you spoke.
What are you writing?
Could have told you about the ghost but didn’t. Don’t know why. It’s exactly the sort of thing strangers share in those hours between late and early. Instead, I called the crescent moon God’s banana and you laughed.
Where you coming from?
Santa Fe, I said.
New Orleans, you replied.
I’ve never been.
Well that’s something you’ll have to rectify.
You were running away and I was returning but neither of us wanted to be anywhere other than in that car—old man with rummy nose snoring, little girl peering from the crook of her mother’s arm, wide eyes galaxies full of future and no past—you and me somewhere in between.
Once, my father told me to join the army; said at least I’d learn how to fire a gun.
Your eyes straight at me but oh, so far away. Not worth it, you said.
We turned off the reading lights and reclined. Your coat slipped down. After a quick rub of your stubble, you lit us each a smoke. You were good-looking in the seen-some-shit, probably done-some-time and if not, should have, kind of way I was always drawn to.
It’s like a dream, isn’t it? Speeding cross the desert, train cradle rocking. Are you real? you said.
I laughed. Told you about my road trip—sleeping at the canyon and counting shooting stars, waking feet from the edge. One wrong step for a late-night piss and Wile e Coyote, Boom!
You don’t know the half of it.
So I did.
Then you told me of a woman with swamp light in her eyes. Took my hand and held it as dawn beheaded night to reveal dust, track-side homeless and chained dogs. And you asked me…
Do you believe in ghosts?
Barbara is a working-class, hearing-impaired, American writer living in Co. Kerry, Ireland with her two boys and two dogs. A recipient of a 2021 Literature Bursary from the Irish Arts Council, she was long-listed for An Post Irish Short Story of the Year 2020.
A previous Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair winner, her critically acclaimed, debut collection: Some Days Are Better Than Ours (Reflex Press) was short-listed for the 2020 Saboteur Awards. 2020 also saw Pushcart and Best Small Fictions nominations. Her novelette, Valley Fever is in the forthcoming Almost Home anthology from ELJ Editions. Her short fiction has been widely published and listed.