(Yes, I know I could just call it Fiction Monday, but where’s the alliteration in that? If it helps, I wrote it Saturday)
This prompt is from February’s Writer’s Digest which I just subscribed to (so far, I’m quite liking it). It’s “Use the ‘un-moral’ [It’s best to count your chickens before they’re hatched] to conclude the flash story you are about to write…Start with: ‘She was not a…'”
She was not a rich woman. Brit wasn’t even middle class. She was poor, more appropriately working-herself-to-an early-grave poor. But her Tommy needed to be fed, needed a warmer coat, needed allergy medication that was only over-the-counter and therefore not paid by the state or anyone else but his mother. And it was never on sale. But Tommy needed to breathe and he couldn’t concentrate when he was stuffed up, so Brit worked and saved other places and, after she got Timmy to bed, collapsed onto the sofa and stared at the third-hand TV until she fell asleep.
All of that meant that Brit spent spare moments running numbers in her head. To keep getting her EBT, she needed to earn under $20,709 a year which she did scanning food she couldn’t afford, on her feet for hours everyday. EBT didn’t pay for much, but it kept food in their bellies for at least some of the month. Her job let her take home expired food once the manager had caught her in the dumpster. Half her paycheck for rent in someone’s basement that was never warm, never dry, never light. If the mushrooms in the bathroom got any bigger, she was going to see if they were edible. Utilities weren’t included, so that was another five hundred a month. She allowed herself basic cable because her television couldn’t pick up any stations otherwise.
Tommy had a scholarship to St. Francis Assi. Five hundred dollars a month after the scholarship and worth every penny. They weren’t Catholic, but Brit didn’t care if Tommy picked up some God with his miles-better-than-the-local-public school education. Since he’d gotten in, he’d started sleeping through the night again. His uniform was just as nice as everyone else’s and his teachers all knew his name. Enough money every month to keep the creditors off her back.
She’d been doing better, once. Before her parents died in the crash, she and Tommy had been able to live with them. The house was gone now, of course. She couldn’t afford the mortgage, let alone property taxes. Tommy’s dad had paid some child support before disappearing out west somewhere, starting another family like he was a franchiser. Her friends all disappeared because she wasn’t much fun any more.
Brit was walking to St. Francis’ library to pick up Tommy when a man wearing a suit stopped her. “Can I ask you a quick question? If you had a thousand dollars, what would you spend it on?”
Brit replied instantly. “I’d buy my son a parka, repair my car’s brakes, and pay off the doctor’s bill.”
“And how much would that be?”
“One thousand and four dollars and twenty-three cents.” Brit said this without hesitation.
The man looked at her, assessing. Then he nodded, reached into his coat pocket, and handed her two thousand dollars. “You have impressive math skills, my dear.”
Brit stared at the money in her hands, open mouthed. When she looked up, the man was gone. She stuffed the cash into the most secure pocket she had and kept walking.
When she entered the library, Tommy had cleared the area in front of him and was reading a thick book with a dragon on the cover. When she sat across from him, he looked up and his face blossomed into a grin. Brit returned the grin. “How about we go shopping and get you a new coat?”
Tommy put the dragon book into his book bag and pulled on the threadbare coat on. “I’m okay, Mom.” Tommy had already learned to sacrifice his comfort for their paltry budget.
“No, sir, I insist. And then we’ll eat out.”
Tommy’s face brightened. “We will?” He pulled his back pack on and they started walking out of the library to the bus stop. “Did you win the lottery?”
Brit thought about it. “More that I won something based on a skill I have.”
“Like sword fighting?”
“Like chicken counting.”