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Tutoring Services - Flash Fiction - April 2024

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Flash Fiction First Friday is an effort to publish something small and fun on the First Friday of every month. The goal is simply to write more and to share more, and not get completely bogged down in huge projects. These pieces can spawn from writing exercises, prompts, or just freewriting. I'd love to see your flash fictions pieces if you participate, too! Either use the tag #flashfictionfirstfriday or comment below with a link to your blog. 


 

This was based on a writing prompt called "Finish the Thought" from Caroline Sharp's A Writer's Workbook (bookshop.org affiliate link). 

Two women sit at a coffee shop in a busy city. One is amazingly beautiful; the other is not. The looker is agitated, distraught. She picks at her food, lights up cigarette after cigarette. She finally looks the other woman square and cold right in the face and says, "I want you to leave him alone."  What does she mean? Ten different writers would give ten different spins on this introduction. What happens NEXT? Is one a mother, another a lover? Are they talking about a husband, child, dog, employer, parent, grandfather, the president of the United States? Who is "him" and what does "him" have to be left alone from?  —Caroline Sharp, A Writer's Workbook, pg. 33-34

Tutoring Services


Photo of outdoor seating at a cafe.

“I want you to leave him alone,” she said from behind tortoise shell sunglasses. The embers of a cigarette reflected in the lenses, along with glare from the afternoon sun.

We were perched on delicate, white folding chairs outside a café in early spring. The world was just waking up after months of gray. And I was waking up, too.

“Why?” I asked.

“Don’t be coy, little girl,” said the older woman. Her bright red lipstick perfectly matched manicured fingernails. She was dressed smartly in a cream pencil skirt and blazer and carried an air of “this is my casual suit for interacting with you peasants.”

I looked frumpy next to her—a worn cardigan and dress slacks that had long lost their sharp creases.

“I’m not being coy.” I crossed my legs and leaned back, willing the chair’s spindly legs to hold. “I want you to say it out loud.”

One long drag on the cigarette later, the blonde woman finally said, “Fine. I want you to stop putting ideas in his head. I know what you’re trying to do.”

That, I did not doubt, but now I was being coy.

“And what is it that I am trying to do? You act like I’m trying to get him to join a cult. To brainwash—”

“Because you are.” Ah, so the woman did have emotions. “You’ve made me into the enemy here. I’m the one who has to tell him ‘no.’ You are teasing him by letting him think that he has options. It’s cruel. He does not.

“He’s a smart kid. With or without me, this wasn’t going to last. Do you think you can keep him in your walled garden forever—?”  

“How much?” asked the woman abruptly.

“What?”

“How much do you want? What will it take to get you to shut your mouth?”

My face flushed hot. I took a sip of my iced coffee to try to hide it. I didn’t have a price. I’d taken all those ethics courses, and I knew exactly what I was supposed to say. I could just stand up and walk away. No was a complete sentence.

The woman smiled with too many teeth, a gilt hyena. “I want him transferred out of your class and I’m going to pull him from your silly club. How does half a million dollars sound to ensure your cooperation?”

I choked on my coffee. The woman granted me the dignity of glancing at her phone while I spluttered. I couldn’t make the ‘no’ come out of my mouth.

The phrase “you have to put your own oxygen mask on first,” kept running through my head. I tried to fight that impulse—this wasn’t oxygen that she was offering—but I couldn’t take back that instinct to do what was best for myself rather than the kid. He’d just started learning that there was a world outside, where not everything revolved around his family.

“He’s never going to stop asking questions,” I said.

“You’re right,” said the woman, before pulling a leather checkbook from her clutch purse, “but there’s value to me in being the only one who’s around to answer. Consider this an earnest deposit.”

Photo of the lower half of a woman carrying an expensive-looking leather purse

She slid the check over to me. It had so many zeros already. I could pay off my student loans with this. I could pay off my car. I could pay off the hospital bills I’d been carrying for nearly a decade. I’d hardly made a dent in the balance.

The screaming voice of resistance, of moral character, got quieter and quieter as I imagined how this could change my life. The ethics courses faded in my memory, like I’d dreamed them.

Putting on my own oxygen mask. That’s all I was doing. It was the right choice. I couldn’t help anyone if I was struggling to make ends meet, after all.

Besides, the kid would be ok. He wanted for nothing.

Despite my justifications, guilt washed through me when I picked up the check in shaking hands. The memo read, “Tutoring Services.” That was the moment I truly knew I wasn’t going to fight her siren’s song. I’d been as easy to coerce as she’d been hoping, probably.

I gathered my things, folded the check into an inner pocket of my canvas backpack, and walked away without another word.

The real shame came when I could not drum up any regret about my decision. Not having to worry about paying my bills with my public-school teacher’s salary felt too good to regret. 


 

Copyright KR Holton, 2024

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