Secret

Catherine was staring absent-minded at the magazine rack when she felt a touch on her arm. “I just have to say,” the stranger said, “I love your hair.”

“Oh,” Catherine brightened immediately. “Thank you so much.”

“It’s got such incredible texture,” the other woman continued. “What’s your secret?”

Catherine’s eyes narrowed. “Why are you asking?”

The other woman cocked her head, smile fading. “What?”

Catherine looked the intruder up and down. “I don’t know you. I’m not telling you anything.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” the other said, trying to lay a conciliatory hand on the shoulder of the woman who was flinching away from her. “I think you’re getting carried away. I was just saying,”

“I know what you were saying,” Catherine spat, “and you can forget about it. Nothing. You’re getting nothing out of me.” Then she turned sharply and marched away abandoning her groceries in the checkout line, barely looking over her shoulder to shout out one more time, “Nothing!”

She drove home at reckless speed, left the car running in the driveway and tumbled down the basement stairs to the safe. She pressed her ear to cold metal and heard the rhythmic heartbeat. “Good,” she whispered. “Still there.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox

Compliance

First Tony heard the bushes rustling. Then he heard breathing. “Is someone there?” he asked, beginning to turn around.

“Be cool, man,” came the reply.

“What?” Tony turned around completely to see who was standing in the bushes behind him.
The rebuke came immediately. “Are you kidding me with this? Don’t look at me.”

“Huh? Oh…”

“That’s right, turn around.” And as Tony complied, the stranger added, “Thanks, now just be cool. Thought I’d never get away from the old lady.”

Tony scanned the other park-goers. “Is that her? Tall woman, pink skirt?”

“You know it. And what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her. I tell ya, man. You think you have a handle on things. You think the world makes sense. Then all of the sudden all the rules change. You gotta figure out your own way.” Tony heard disconcerting noises behind him, along with a heavy sigh. “Been holding this one in all day.”

“Are you…” Confusion, disgust, shock, Tony felt it all. “You’re hiding behind me so you can pee? I’m your pee shield?”

“Potty training,” the toddler said with an embittered laugh. “They may have taken my diapers, but they’ll never make me use the potty.”

* * *

Story by Gregory M. Fox
Photo by m on Unsplash

Ring

Ring 

He always let the phone ring twice before answering, just to be sure it was a real call.

Ring …  

“Hello?”

“I hate you and I never want to see you,” a shrill voice rang out.

“Um … who is this?”

“Cheryl” the voice replied.

He paused a moment to reflect, his mind swimming through a sea of names and faces, but landed on nothing familiar. “I don’t know anyone named Cheryl.”

“Who is this?”
“Matt. Matt Reinhart.”

There was a pause. A gasp. A click. And he walked away from the phone.

Ring … 

Ring 

“Hello?”

“I want you to know that I hate you, and I never want to see you.”

He sighed. “Cheryl, this is Matt again. Goodbye.” The phone was barely out of his hand when he heard it.

Ring … 

Was it … ?

Ring … 

Should he … ?

Ring …

“Hello?”

“Don’t hang up” the now familiar voice squeaked.

“Cheryl?”

“Just let me explain …” He decided to let her. “Today has been very rough and filled with a lot of misdirected hostility. Then I heard your voice and your name, and something changed inside me. I knew. Matt Reinhart … do you believe it’s possible to hate someone you’ve never met?”

* * *

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Story by Gregory M. Fox
from A Breath of Fiction’s archives
originally published October 23, 2010