The Iron Writer Challenge #181
2017 Spring Equinox Challenge #2
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
Playing with fire
Beneath the Glove
Despite the agony of her chronic pain, Ally Chase felt relieved as Web scurried ahead of her to the piano. He would be her last student, this her last lesson. As she sat beside him, Web handed her a wrapped gift.
“For you, Miss Chase. Go ahead and open it.”
She hadn’t told the students the lessons were ending. “It’s not my birthday.”
For some tasks she needed to remove one of her characteristic long velvet gloves, but a gap in the wrapping made opening the package easy. Inside were three packages of strawberry bubble gum.
Web beamed a radiant smile at her. “You said strawberry was your favorite.”
The boy was right, but she had no memory of telling him. “Uh, thanks. But why are you giving me a gift?
“Because I love you, Miss Chase.”
His eyes held steady on her, earnest and bright.
She believed he meant it, but where was this coming from? She couldn’t possibly be the object of this boy’s puppy love.
She was a 39 year old former music teacher, her position eliminated at the elementary school during a slew of budgetary cuts. Unmarried. Childless. She hadn’t even been especially nice to Web, her least promising student. After months he still fumbled over the tune to “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”
“You can’t mean it. I’m fat, old, and mean.”
“I think you’re beautiful, Miss Chase.”
She made a scoffing sound in the back of her throat. “Now you’re just being silly. Let’s get the lesson over with.”
“Really you are.”
Enough. She would disprove it.
“Ever wonder why I always wear these gloves?” She peeled off the right glove to show him. “When I was about your age, I thought poking logs in the fireplace was fun. I’d move them around to see them flare up, but one rolled out on me.”
She showed him the back of her hand and forearm where dark red skin surrounded puckered ridges of scar tissue which looked like melted plastic. She expected him to cringe or run for the door.
Instead he gently placed his small hands around her hand, lifted it to his lips, and planted a kiss. She trembled inside as she withdrew her hand and slid on the glove.
“Web, go ahead and play what you’ve been practicing, please.”
He plucked through the melody of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “Home on the Range.” She could tell he had been practicing. His tempo was a crawl, but he hit all the right notes. She dabbed at the corner of her eye with a velvet knuckle.
“Web simply adores you, Miss Chase,” Web’s mother said when she arrived to pick him up. “He’s hoping you can come have dinner with us. Maybe Saturday?”
After they left, Ally carried the packs of gum to her bedroom and laid them on her night stand. She went on into her bathroom where, at the medicine cabinet, she fished out two pain capsules and gulped them down with water. She then proceeded to flush the pills she had horded, four bottles of them, down the toilet.
C. Rose Lange
110 pounds of girl-power heaves against the widening hole in the chain link fence. Puppy love she called it. My bubblegum bubble pops. I lick the rubber shrapnel back into my mouth and chew out my anger. The fence gives and I stumble back, nearly choking on the half-formed wad. How dare she call it puppy love.
I blow another bubble, pinch it, and hold it gently with my fingers.
I knew she’d disapprove, of course. Mother always does. But ‘puppy love’? For anything else – a sleepover with high schoolers, a roadtrip with Elise, a later bedtime – she’d say “play with fire, you’ll get burned”. And “because she loves me” I can’t do anything that might get me burned.
My hole in the fence has reached two foot by one foot dimensions: wide enough to squeeze through at quarter to midnight when Elise will be waiting down the block. I’ve thought of everything. Even told Elise to not crank up her radio, just this once.
I dig my nails into the bubble till it bursts. Then I dab bits of gum on the sharpest places, a necessary sacrifice. Mother doesn’t suspect a thing when I skulk inside for dinner.
Done with my vegetables, I shove my plate forward. My cup careens into Tony’s. An unpleasant mixer of cranberry juice and two percent floods Mother’s plate.
“Bed.” Her wrathful tone in stark contrast with the quiet order.
I snag a potato wedge from Tony’s plate and gallop up the stairs: three long strides per flight. I flop backwards across my bed. My Mickey Mouse alarm clock glows in the corner. Five hours fifteen minutes until midnight. Five hours until Elise pulls up with the radio low. Four and a half hours until I’ll risk getting out of bed.
I startle awake at ten to eleven. My anger with myself for having fallen asleep keeps me awake for a few minutes, until anticipation takes over and rockets through my stomach for the remainder. Silent as a daughter who isn’t sneaking out, I ghost down the steps and float to the back door.
The spare key sits on the end table, next to mother’s velvet gloves. I remember the touch of her gloves – on my knee when I scraped it, on my cheek when Goldy the goldfish, on wrist when father left.
The door knob looks sharp and far away. I trudge back to bed. It was only puppy love.
“You’re getting too close, Dave.”
Dave ignored Mac’s voice in his ear bud and continued walking, just a few feet behind the target.
“You’re playing with fire, you’re gonna get burned.”
“I know what I’m doing.” Dave uttered, almost imperceptibly.
The light ahead changed, forcing all the pedestrians to come to a stop and wait for the “ok to walk” signal. The shift in foot traffic presented a natural opportunity for Dave to stand closer to his target. He pulled his cell phone out of his jacket pocket, pretending to scroll through Facebook like everyone else on the sidewalk, oblivious to their surroundings.
To his left the target reached into her purse, digging around for some hidden object. When her hand finally emerged, it held a piece of bubble gum; Dave recognized the wrapper as the cheap kind he used to see thrown out at parades in his hometown. He was surprised by the wave of nostalgia and admiration that someone still enjoyed that simple treat in a world with so many options.
The girl popped the gum into her mouth just as the light changed and the crowd started moving. Dave slowed his pace slightly; he had to be sure she was going into the record store.
“What the hell are you doing Dave? Your little crush is going to get us spotted.”
“What are you talking about Mac?” he whispered.
“Give me a break, you’ve had puppy love written all over your face for days. Just stick to the plan, ok? This isn’t the freaking dating game.”
For a week, they’d been tacking this girl, a suspected player in a large hacking circuit. Mac and Dave were responsible for collecting the evidence, and bringing her in. Today was supposed to be a simple observation assignment, to determine if she logged onto the record store’s server with the computer in question.
“She’s going in.” Dave stalled, pretending to look at his phone as the girl walked into the store.
“Ok you know the plan.” Mac said- a warning, not a question.
When Dave finally went into the record store, the lighting was low, the space was filled with rows of records, tables and couches off to the side. The store included a beverage counter – they seemed to enjoy loitering customers.
Dave walked through the rows pretending to look for some particular albums, but continued to glance around trying to spot the girl.
“Help you find something man?” a young kid in black t-shirt sporting a band he’d never heard of was eyeing him like the newbie he was.
“Uh yeah, I’m looking for the Neil Diamond album, Velvet Gloves and Spit. Think you guys have that?”
“Yeah man, it’s gonna be over here in the classic rock section…”
Dave scanned the room – she wasn’t at any of the tables. But just as they were moving to the classic rock area he looked out the window and saw the girl, blowing a bubble with her gum and holding her middle finger up at Dave.
“What’s the status, Dave?” He might as well have said “I told you so.”
Dave sighed his response “Burned.”