Fairy Tale, Perhaps

by Shellie Zacharia

He took the night shift at the convenience store because he wasn’t sleeping. He was numb. Love. Loss. He needed money. He had a dog to feed. An apartment with two small windows and chipped terrazzo floors.

He expected a certain type of customer: men with red-webbed eyes and shaky hands, their mumbles sounding like prayer when they paid for tallboys with coins and crumpled bills; loud teens craving burritos and barbeque chips; an ER nurse stopping for milk and chocolate and a can of cocktail peanuts before heading home.

He expected these people. He had even created nicknames for some. Dead Eye. Shuffle Dancer. Lottery Dude. Banana Lady. He assumed folks had nicknames for him. Stringbean. Mope. Poet. Fool.

What he hadn’t expected was her. Saturday night. A woman in an emerald green gown. Silky. Low cut. She was beautiful. Famous maybe. Someone. She roamed the aisles with an airy madness—a glide, her arm out at her side, a small silver purse dangling from her wrist.

Her hair was black. Or brown. Or red. She sang something he almost recognized but didn’t. He watched her and scribbled words in the notebook he kept at the counter. She came to the register and placed a pack of mint gum in front of him.

“One kiss will make it better,” she said.

He frowned. Was she talking to him?

“Yes, you,” she said. “Just one, and then I’ll go.” She leaned in, her eyes closed.

It was all too strange. But the strangeness—how fabulous! One kiss?

He kissed her, and she tasted like mint, as if she’d already opened the pack of gum.

“Thank you,” she said, and then she was gone. He watched her walk across the parking lot and into the darkness. He wrote in his notebook: Here are the grand themes: love, loss, hope.

It wasn’t a dream. It wasn’t! Not everything lovely and strange was a dream!

The proof was there on the counter: a small silver purse. He opened it. Two twenty dollar bills. A tube of lipstick. Nothing else.

He walked out of the store with her purse in his hand, and he stood in the empty parking lot staring up—up!—at the stars. He wouldn’t go back inside. He’d wait for her return.

Shellie Zacharia’s flash fiction stories have appeared in Sou’wester, Los Angeles Review, The Pinch, Weave, Trnsfr, and elsewhere. Her debut story collection, Now Playing, was published by Keyhole Press. She lives in Gainesville, Florida. Website: http://shelliezacharia.weebly.com.

What can you tell us about the “perhaps” of the title? I wanted to write a story with a fairy tale feel that was firmly grounded in the real world…and I wanted readers to consider a sense of wonder and possibility in everyday life. The ambiguities in the story hopefully give it an enchanting or magical quality. What color is the woman’s hair? What song is she singing? Who is she? And of course there’s the ending. Will she return? Perhaps.

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