Overture in Red
by Andrew Stancek
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His smile is crooked and his eyes dazzle as he says, “It’s George.” We both know it’s likelier to be Rumpelstiltskin than George. I nod. “Bob,” I answer. I’ve never been Bob before, and it’s just as good as Ivan, or Kieran, or Jose.
The air in the apartment building laundry is oppressive. Six washing machines, six dryers, twelfth day of a heat wave. Aleesa will be waking up soon. I fold her daisy-splashed summer dress, pile six pink panties. George watches. I pretended not to stare when he threw his jeans, overalls, boxers and towels in the washer—a single man’s load.
“How old?” he nods at my pink pile.
“Six,” I say. “Her mother left us forty-seven days ago.”
“Been there,” he says. “Though I’ve been on my own now for oh, a while. ‘But, truly, I have wept too much! The Dawns are heartbreaking,’” he mutters and my mouth falls open.
“I don’t look like a Rimbaud man, do I?” he laughs. “Someone I…was with, used to quote that.”
I ache to touch his cheek. “Gotta go, give my daughter her cereal and milk,” I exhale.
He jiggles quarters in his hand. “Later, Bob.”
Upstairs Aleesa is sleeping in the fetal position and the cheeks appear tear-stained. Nightmare? Crying out for her mother? I feel like crying myself. I gasp for breath—third panic attack of the day. I cannot do this. The world is upside-down. George’s grin flashes in front of my eyes, the rippling muscles, the moist lips.
In the kitchen I see a fat pigeon peck-pecking at the window. He grunts scornfully. He fluffs up a feather, hops on the ledge, coos, “Fly. It’s easy. Like this,” spreads the wings and soars.
Aleesa moans, “Is Mommy going to be here for supper?”
“Not today, Punkin. But we can do McDonald’s.”
She rubs her eyes. “But tomorrow Mommy’s coming?” I want to smash my head against the wall. Aleesa skips away, chanting under her breath. I don’t need to hear it— it’s been the same sing-song for weeks. “Cinderella, dressed in yella, went upstairs to kiss her fella. Made a mistake, kissed a snake….”
Aleesa has poured Fruit Loops over her place mat and is hopping them, like checkers or manic frogs. The air shimmers and I see wings flutter. “Like this, like this, flyyyyyy…”
I drag her through the door to the parking lot, clutching my briefcase and her backpack in my other hand, drop the briefcase, swear, look up and he’s beside us, scooping up my papers, grinning.
“Hi Aleesa,” he says. “That sure is a pretty dress.”
She squints. “What’s your name?”
“Boris. Like it?”
I grab her hand. “We’re both late, Boris. You wanna have dinner with us tonight?”
He snaps my briefcase shut. “Bottle of red? Nice Cabernet Sauvignon?”
“Apartment 12-B,” I say. “Around six.” I can see through his shirt. He has a tattoo on his back—eagle, wings outspread.
Andrew Stancek entertains Muses in southwestern Ontario. His work has appeared in Tin House online, Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Vestal Press, Necessary Fiction, Every Day Fiction, fwriction, Pure Slush and Camroc Press Review, among others. He’s been a winner in the Flash Fiction Chronicles and Gemini Fiction Magazine contests and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.