I am a sweet thang. That’s what the song on the radio keeps repeating. Sweet thang, sweet thang, sweet thang. And with this sun trickling in, I do kind of feel it, yes. I’m a sweet thang about to take the garbage to the can, about to drag the dresser across the hallway. I’m a sweet thang scrubbing out the crisper drawer of the fridge. Sugar baby, yeah.
Later, I am not so sweet. All good must come to an end. Sugar baby, sugar baby. I wait in the foyer. It strikes me as odd that I once had a foyer. In fact, it strikes me as odd that I now pronounce it correctly. I never thought it would come to this, of course. But I wait here, slumped a bit against the wall, looking at the dwindling light and how it plays off the mirror. The house is quiet. Only the radio trickling a dull pop music hangover.
Roger looks frazzled when he jiggles in through the front door. The lock has always stuck, always. His black hair, still black after all these years, looks lush, and he looks good in a suit, always has. He barges into his own home and stops short when he sees me, slunched as I am against his wall. He stops short, like a movie. Here is when I pull out a gun and shoot him, in the movie version, that is. In this version, I sigh. I say, “Roger.”
He looks up expectantly, looks behind him, as if this might not be his name.
“We need to talk,” I say.
He composes himself. It’s like a re-materialization on the spot, the way he pulls himself together. “Oh, I don’t think that’s necessary,” he says. “After all, you’ve done so much talking. Isn’t it time to give it a rest?”
He sticks a leg out, taps his shoe, mocking what impatience really is.
“I have cleaned your house, which used to be my house,” I say. “I have thought of myself as a sweet thang all morning and afternoon. I have moved furniture that I cannot live without into the living room–all into one place so you can see it and go ballistic. I have used the key you had hidden in the flower pot for your new lover. So unimaginative in your hiding, Roger. Sugar baby, sugar baby.”
“What was that last part?” he asks, still not giving ground.
“Nothing. Just a refrain,” I say. I eye Roger, daring him to read into it, as he always read into what I said when we were together for twenty years. I dare him to be predictable.
“I don’t own a gun,” I say. “In case you wondered about those kinds of things. My anger has boundaries. I did go to the shooting range once, and I will admit a certain pleasure there when that bang-pow happened. When I hit the target. When I hit the target, every time, Roger.”
“Are you,” he sidles up to me now. “Are you threatening me?” He hunches down as if to give sporting advice to a child. His finger stiff on the floor, about to map out a play, a plan of action. “Because if you’re threatening me,” he says, “I can also talk about hitting targets, sweet thang. I can talk about aiming, shooting.”
I smile then, swiping at the hair that limits my vision, keeping him in my sights. So close. I can smell him, that aftershave musty-thing that always set my heart going. It doesn’t go away, does it? It being certain compulsive behaviors. For fun, I ask if this is the moment we have that makeup sex we never seemed to have when we were married.
He snorts. “I don’t think we’re there, baby cakes. Let’s go look and see what you’d like to steal from me today, okay?”
It’s civil, his tone. We’ve fucked with each other so long it’s comfortable, our simmering hostility.
“I cleaned your fridge,” I say. He stops mid-stride.
“Why would you do that?”
“Good question,” I say. “You know, I felt a kind of lightness today. I mean, I’ve raged for so long and when I started moving my stuff, to centralize it, as it were, I just thought, ‘Wow, this place could use a good scrubbing.’ And, I don’t know, I felt a kind of pity for you and your kind. I did, honestly. So I scrubbed the fridge.”
He switches his course and I can hear the soft suction of opening and closing in the kitchen. I hear a tap. A tink. He walks back down the hallway carrying two micro-brews, newly opened. He has a look of earnest freedom to him. So lovely that I remember for the last time the first time I saw him, walking across the lawn at Suzy’s infamous BBQ. Walking so fluidly, like he could be, would be, a man in love with me someday.
Sherrie Flick is the author of the flash fiction chapbook I Call This Flirting (Flume) and the novel Reconsidering Happiness (Bison Books, University of Nebraska), which was a semi-finalist for the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award. Her flash fiction appears in many anthologies including Norton’s Flash Fiction Forward and New Sudden Fiction. Her stories have been published in North American Review, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, and Booth Journal, among others. Dan Chaon recently selected her flash story “Gravity” for Wigleaf’s 50 Very Short Stories 2011. She has received grants and fellowships from Sewanee Writers’ Conference, PA Council on the Arts, PA Partners in the Arts, and the Heinz and Pittsburgh foundations. Her essay “The Tam-o-Shanter, Lincoln, Nebraska” will appear in the anthology Fried Walleye and Cherry Pie: Midwestern Writers on Food in Fall 2013. She is co-founder of Braddock, PA’s “Into the Furnace” writing residency and teaches at Chatham University’s Low- and Full-residency programs.
The cover image is from the David Rumsey map collection.