I entered a short story competition and did not win, so I'm letting you read it. I'd love to hear from you if you have any thoughts about it.
Doll fell exhausted into the wooden chair, minute flicks of paint dislodged from the aging piece of furniture and floated silent to the cracked black-and-white tile floor beneath. The joints connecting the now ill-fitting wooden sections of the chair creaked as they supported Doll’s weight obediently, dutifully, trustingly.
The small room where Doll collapsed and surrendered the daily fight engulfed the 56-year old, the aroma of humanity still hung in the air long after the carriers left the room, returning to their lives after leaving smells of tobacco, body odor, alcohol and diesel fuel dancing in the empty spaces surrounding the tired woman, reminding her of the world outside her skin.
Doll exhaled mixing her essence with the ghosts of those already gone. As the air escaped her lungs every muscle in her body screamed in silent opposition to the tasks that lie ahead. The kitchen in her diner still needed cleaning. Thank God tomorrow was Sunday and she and Rick could recover from the marathon day the two survived.
The swinging door separating the small building’s two main rooms opened and Rick entered. Doll barely looked up as her husband approached the small table draped in a spaghetti sauce-stained red-and-white checkered tablecloth where his wife rested. He stopped at the table’s edge with two regrets consuming his heart, the first—his wish that they could afford to hire another employee to give Doll the much-deserve help running the small diner the married couple operated, and the second regret—that the two coffee cans didn’t weigh more.
“Let’s pray for a miracle,” said the 57-year old bearded man who looked more at home on the back of a Harley cursing than using words meant for church. Rick turned and walked to the kitchen door. “Don’t worry about the kitchen; I got it,” Rick, a man as tired as his wife, said leaving the room’s sole occupant even more grateful for her husband, a man she met years ago as he drove his motorcycle through Moab, Utah, on his way from Denver to Phoenix. One look at Doll and Rick’s dreams of a new life in Arizona vanished like the brilliant colors of a desert sunset.
The woman whose name adorned the building’s exterior watched Rick leave then turned her attention to the coffee cans that sat like stones marking an ancient grave. The cans, fading, rusting, and long denied their original contents sat demanding recognition, begging acknowledgement. Yet, the unmistakable power of the object’s attraction also repelled the woman with an emotion stronger than her overwhelming fatigue. Fear.
From Doll’s vantage point the paper taped to one coffee can was hidden, but the paper on the second can shown partially, a portion of white covered with words produced by Doll’s hand and a Sharpie, the reason for the fear came not from the black bold letters, but from a smile, a smile on the face of a little girl, a girl whose picture adorned both coffee cans, a smile on a girl that Doll loved more than life itself.
The half smile brought haunting memories that made Doll’s stomach leap, which, in turn, awakened her weary brain to the reason the cans came to sit before her in the first place. Doll stretched her arm, an arm tattooed with words and scenes and Chinese characters, and slowly, lovingly rotated the can so the picture of the smiling child came into view and Doll found herself peering into the eyes of a picture of her niece and above the picture the words: Please help our little angel, Hope, who needs a bone marrow transplant—anything will help—God Bless made the purpose of the cans painstakingly clear.
Doll drew the closest can to her; the movement caused the faded tablecloth to shift. Moving the second can brought the cloth even closer until Doll sat alone, two cans and crumpled fabric before her. Doll dared not move for any movement might destroy all the hard work she and Rick put in, the planning and extra hours the diner stayed open that day, the story in the local paper announcing their plans to raise money to save her sister’s only child.
“Deloris?” Rick asked, his head levitating in the open doorway. “How’d we do?” Doll looked from Rick to the cans and placed her shaking hand inside the first can and withdrew the first piece of paper she touched.