Flash Fiction: Flipping Houses

It’s 1:30 AM and I can’t sleep. Probably because it’s 100 degrees in my bedroom and my parents refuse to turn the air conditioner any lower. That, and for some reason I keep thinking about ghosts. I mean, it’s too hot in my room to sleep with more than one blanket, but one blanket is too light and leaves me feeling exposed to all of the bogeymen. And, yeah, I know I’m way too old to be thinking like this, but I am not about to be one of those people in a horror film who has their leg sticking out and gets grabbed by a ghost. I am well-versed in horror and I am not about to be one of those dumb hats. No, thanks. I’m good.

So, instead, I thought this would be a good time to share more writing from class. Because why not?!

~~~~~

Flipping Houses

Five plastic cruise ship keycards, “Miss Beatrice Stills” scrawled across a picturesque view of the ocean—to remind you what you paid three year’s rent for. And to keep reminding you long after. Three postcards from Bluegrass hills and thoroughbred racers, flicking their tales absentmindedly in the summer heat, million-dollar-foals suckling in their mothers’ shade. One old schoolroom photograph, disinterested children, half smiling, and four student ID’s; each marking the passage of another year in faded smiles and purple and gold letters: Yellow jacket pride. A beaded snake, a participation medal, a name tag—years of summer camp memories in three easy pieces. They do not smell like horse manure or sulfur water or old leather tack. They do not taste like bonfires or s’mores or hot dog eat-outs on the Great Lawn. They do not sound like laughter or horse whinnies or whistle calls hidden in the thicket of the woods, calling all riders to attention. They are plastic, paper, disposable. There are three abused homecoming tickets, but only one of them cliché: “This is where your story begins, Homecoming 2009.” Ink and stale sweat. One old movie ticket to Horton Hears a Who in AMC salmon with fading type—Horto Hears a Wo—complete with a butter residue fingerprint on the upper right corner. Two senior wallet-sized photographs: mementos of friendships severed by diplomas and Pomp and Circumstance. Only one of them still speaks to me, only one of them is worth keeping, but I place them both in the box anyway.

My room smells of dusty cardboard, of the backroom at FedEx where these boxes must have been waiting, accumulating dust mites and false hopes for a set of contents worth the battering of the U.S. Postal Service. I feel sorry to disappoint them.

One tarnished star necklace with “forever” and a pale pink gemstone on its sickly green-gold exterior. A metallic smell rubs off on my thumb with some of the discolor. I remember the day I first put it on ten years ago; it gave me a rash.

The trash can is two feet away, cold, black plastic and a fresh-linen Febreze lining.

I slide the chain into a corner of the cardboard box.

A pair of lime-green mirror-dice go in next. Several of the white pips have ripped away from the fuzzy flesh over the years, forming a pair of unique five-and-a-half-sided die. I’ve owned a car for six years and they’ve never made it to their predestined place on the dashboard. I put them in the box too.

Then goes the pin—National Junior Honors Society—another participation medal, but this one means something: 10 hours of community service, one meeting per month for two years, and 20 hours of 7 a.m. boredom, of eye-tearing yawns, of monotonous voices, of passive participation. But it was all worth it: I got a pin.

The trash can leers at me. On the television, the overly enthusiastic announcer for HGTV is narrating a frightening turn of events on “Flip or Flop.” With over $50,000 sunk into a house renovation in Palm Springs and no money left to fix the pool, will this house be a flop?

The houses never flop. What’s a flop for a couple of millionaires anyway?

There is an award for studying French: a ribbon and a pin that both say “Je parle français!” These are for gratitude, not participation. For sticking it out when no one else would. Bon effort et bon chance avec ta vie! Even the students whose greatest achievement was the ability to make the correct choking sound when pronouncing their r’s received a ribbon.

I try not to put this one in the box.

I slide the trashcan forward and its plastic bottom skips over the surface of the wood, skidding with a thunk-thunk-thunk until it bounces against my knee. It would be so easy to make the mocking gold ribbon disappear in a hollow void of Febreze darkness. So easy to remove it from sight—to forget.

I slide it into the cardboard box when I am not looking.

On the television, the host looks relieved. “After three weeks on the market we finally received an offer on the house,” he says. “If this deal goes through, we stand to make a profit of over $73,000. Time to find another house to flip.”

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