Flash Fiction: Woman in the black trench coat
My best friend
My childhood best friend’s name was Janice, and, like me, she had a vivid imagination. We used to sit and make up stories by the hour, and sometimes we would write them down. Then we would burn them before anyone read them. She died in 1985. I named the woman in my story “Janice” in her memory.
What began as a writing exercise
This actually started out as a writing exercise. Our writer friend and teacher, Bill Holland has suggested that we do writing exercises for both practice and inspiration. He suggested that we pick out someone on the street or at a public event and observe them. Then we were to picture that person and let our imaginations run.
Up until now, I had not taken his suggestion because I spend my workday correcting other people’s work, including rewriting some of their most creative sentences. That in itself comprises daily writing exercises. I will admit that is not very inspiring, but I have never really felt the need for writing exercises. I got enough of that in college.
But then one day while driving to work, I spied a woman who piqued my curiosity. She seemed out of place and I simply could not put my finger on where she belonged. She did not look like a businesswoman, neither did she look like a homeless person. She was not a housewife running an errand. What was she? I started speculating and decided it would be fun to do a writing exercise on her. Then my muse took over. You know, the one who looks like Johnny Depp and talks like Keith Richards? One of these days I'm going to have to tell you about my muse, but not today. Back to business. The writing exercise morphed into flash fiction.
This is a very simplistic story, and I will let it tell itself.
The Amtrak station on a gloomy day
Officer Lanny Dunbar spotted the woman pulling her load down the sidewalk. There was not anything suspicious about her, but a little voice in his head told him to stop and inquire. On this street business professionals and the homeless passed wordlessly by. Very few others had business here. City hall and the police station were located at one end of the street, and a mile away, the other end passed the Salvation Army and dead-ended at the train station. The woman in the black trench coat looked neither homeless nor professional. There were no houses in this part of town, only businesses. What was she doing here?
Her gray hair had been neatly combed that morning but now was windblown, She had a warm scarf tied around her neck and comfortable walking shoes on her feet. Her luggage, if one could call it that, was too large for computer storage, but too small for conventional suitcases. She had two black fabric bags stacked one atop the other on the little wheeled rack. Nah, she couldn’t be a terrorist, he thought, but his mind still nagged at him.
The officer shot a U in the middle of the block and pulled up in front of her, no lights or siren, and got out of the police car. “Excuse me, ma’m, could I help you with something?” he said friendly like, but still approached her cautiously.
When she looked at him, a flicker of relief crossed her blue eyes. She answered "maybe." She told him that she was Janice Davis from Chicago. She explained that she had gotten off the train in the middle of the night, and her brother was to have picked her up at the train station. He didn’t show, and a little worried, she had spent the night on a bench at the station. However, George had a night job, and she expected that he could not get off work and would be there when morning came.
The previous morning, Janice’s brother, George, had called her with the news that their 92-year-old mother had died suddenly and she must come home. She had packed her small wardrobe and everything of value she owned in the two cases and turned her dingy apartment back to the landlord. Then after using most of her money to buy the train ticket, she had tucked what little was left from her Social Security check into her bag. When George failed to arrive that morning, she discovered it was not enough for a meal and a cab. Then the nice ticket agent suggested that she have breakfast at the Salvation Army just up the block, which she gratefully did.
After breakfast, and still not hearing from George, she was becoming very worried. This was not like him. She struck out on her own, hoping someone could tell her which buses would take her to the modest home that her mother had shared with her brother. During their telephone conversation, George asked her to come live with him. He said that, after all, the house was now half hers.
Officer Dunbar nodded pleasantly. “Yes ma’m,” he said sympathetically. “But may I please see some ID.”
She handed him her drivers license from an old red leather wallet that had once been stylish. He looked at the name, Janice Fillmore Davis, and something sounded familiar. “Mrs. Davis, would your brother be George Malcom Fillmore?” he asked.
“Yes, do you know George,” she replied hopefully.
He looked at her sympathetically. “I’m so sorry, Mrs. Davis, I’m afraid I have some bad news. George Fillmore died last night.
Janice went numb. “How did he die?” She mumbled.
“He was shot in a holdup at the store where he worked. He died on the way to the hospital. I'm so sorry. We are holding his body pending notification of next of kin. Can you come down to the station and claim his body?”