Shawn’s tiny blade saws at the tulip stems – tougher to cut than he anticipated. He chalks it up to not sharpening his Swiss Army knife since he bought it back from that pawn shop three years ago.
He scans the area for lookie-loos. No one in sight except his wife Janelle. Weak daylight struggles through the blanket of clouds overhead, casting a pallor across the town. Sunday. The town hall stands vacant. Built a hundred years ago when Vista was a fledgling city, the building boasts sculpted sandstone and the town motto carved above the glass double doors. The motto is ominous if you know what it means: Pulvis et umbra sumus. The glass doors are new.
“Hurry up.” Janelle shuffles her feet in the dirt. “Some birthday it’ll be if we get arrested.”
Shawn passes her the six flowers he has cut so far. “Two more.”
In a minute he’s done. Janelle wraps the eight flame-hued tulips in pink wrapping paper.
Why does it have to be pink?
Shawn keeps this thought to himself. No need to start a fight. They can talk about gender stereotypes later.
As they skulk away, he looks over his shoulder at the city’s flowerbeds. “You can’t even tell they’re gone.”
“It’s our tax money anyway.” Janelle holds the flowers in both hands like a sword.
Half an hour later, they walk up a cobblestone pathway to a Tudor house. It fronts the river that slices Vista into a good side and a bad side, the right one and the wrong. The home’s gables and brick exterior breathe money. Shawn’s toes curl in his battered sneakers.
He rings the bell. A silvery chime sounds inside, an initial note that forks and splits into obvoluted overtones. Moments later, the door swings open. Shawn’s heart skips as he kneels down to engulf their daughter in a hug.
“Happy birthday!” Janelle thrusts the flowers into the girl’s arms. “We picked these special just for you!” There’s a tremble in her smile.
Shawn reaches for his daughter’s hand, her fingers warm and damp in his gentle grip. “Come on, Claire.” He leads her down the front steps, trying not to hurry her. His heart hammers and his breath comes in short gasps. He forces himself not to look back. “Today’s your special day!”
They’re almost at the end of the cobblestones, about to step onto asphalt, when a voice shouts from the doorway. “Hey! No! You bring her back here right now or I’m calling the police!”
Claire hops along as if she hasn’t heard.
What should we do? Janelle mouths over the girl’s head.
“On the count of three,” Shawn says. “One, two, three!” Making a game of it, they swing their daughter around and head back towards the open door.
Marion Lougheed grew up in Canada, Benin, Belgium, and Germany. She’s pretty sure her family wasn’t running from the cops. Her flash fiction was shortlisted for the Sunlight Press Flash Fiction Contest and long-listed for Furious Fiction and the Fish Publishing Short Story Prize. She won the Prime 53 Poem Summer Challenge and the Poem In Your Pocket Day Contest (2021, League of Canadian Poets). Her words are included in anthologies by Guernica Editions and Sweetycat Press and have appeared at The Arcanist, Reflex Press, and elsewhere. She is editor-in-chief at Off Topic Publishing and continues to live a nomadic life.
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