Welcome to Flash Fiction Friday and the forty-second piece in this series. This week’s is an 871-worder by DJ Paterson.
Fourth of July
I worked my way to the front of the crowd without raising a single murmur of annoyance from those I pushed past. Deceptively nimble. That’s what everyone used to say. Seems I still am.
I stopped at the kerb, and found myself in front of a cop. She was standing a few steps into the road, facing back towards me. I watched as she shifted from one foot to another and I guessed it wasn’t just the oppressive heat of a New York summer’s day that was making her uncomfortable. I realised she’d been tracking my progress, and I gripped the heavy metal object in my pants’ pocket a little tighter. I held my gaze, but she lost interest and looked away, scanning the rest of the crowd.
“That’s right, lady,” I muttered. “Just look past me. Everyone else does. You’re right, I’m no trouble.”
And then my own attention turned to the sound of music; a base drum echoing off the tall buildings, and then trumpets and tambourines. The crowd whooped and hollered as a marching band rounded the corner a block and a half away. And it was the majorette that brought a smile to my face – the first for a week, maybe even a month. I’ve always loved majorettes. Not in any kind of sexual way, mind, but since I was a kid, knee high to nothing, I just thought they were fantastic. Leading a marching band, and sometimes, like today, a whole parade. And I guess that’s never left me. Through good times and bad, a majorette has always made me smile. Sometimes even laugh. No laughing today, though. A smile was pretty good bearing in mind what I was about to do. My hand squeezed harder still, and I felt a niggle of doubt trying to make itself heard.
As the parade drew closer, I breathed in heavily and caught the smells of the fairground: cotton candy, hot dogs and mustard, candy apples, and donuts. I looked ’round, but couldn’t see any food stands. But the smells were real enough. I wasn’t imagining anything this time. I turned back and the parade was nearly upon us. I watched the baton as it spun through the air, thrown to almost impossible heights by the majorette, and then caught again with ease. She was seventeen or eighteen, beautiful, and had her whole life to live. I hoped it would turn out better than mine. She had long, tanned legs and was wearing a blue outfit, trimmed with white. The band she was leading was decked out in matching blue uniforms, and following them was a group of men dressed as the Founding Fathers, led by their own Benjamin Franklin lookalike. And that’s when I realised; it was the Fourth of July. Independence Day.
I looked uptown towards where Macy’s would be. I remember taking my kids to watch their Fourth of July fireworks show… oh, must be thirty years back. A lifetime ago. And I had a different life then. America was different. I tried to think about what Independence Day meant to me back in the seventies and eighties. It sure wasn’t what it means now. Independence Day. Celebrating when America became the land of the free. Yeah, right. Free my ass. Nothing’s free in this country. Medical, dental. Everything’s about money. And if you ain’t got it, you ain’t got nothing.
As the last of the parade passed, the crowd stopped being a crowd and became just people again, some milling about, but most wandering off in different directions, chatting, smiling, laughing. I looked for the cop, but she too had gone. Maybe she was following the parade, or maybe she’d gone off in search of the donuts I could still smell. Didn’t matter to me.
I crossed the road before they let the traffic through again, and before that niggle got louder. I found myself standing outside the place I’d been trying to find the courage to visit for a week. Somewhere where I knew they’d have plenty of ready cash. I pushed open the door to the imaginatively named N.Y. Pawnbrokers, Inc. with my left hand and realised that my right hadn’t left my pocket since I set off for here an hour ago. That was about to change. The counter was at the back of the store, with an overweight guy hunched over it, concentrating hard on a Stephen King novel. I marched towards him and he looked up. He must have seen something in my eyes he didn’t like. He dropped the book and shot a hand beneath the counter, but I was fast, faster than him. I whipped my hand from my pocket and he stumbled back a step, not having reached whatever it was he was after.
He looked down at my outstretched arm as I uncurled my fingers.
“What the…?” asked the pawnbroker.
I hesitated, and then looked myself.
“Montréal, nineteen seventy-six. Olympic gold medal. Must be worth some.”
I saw the corner of a green slip of paper poking out from beneath the heavy, oversized medal. I pulled it out and slipped it back into my pocket.
“And a coupon for the shelter. I still need that.”
I asked DJ what prompted this piece and he said… the story came from his regular amazement that many rich first world countries struggle to adequately look after their poorest and most vulnerable citizens.
That was really moving, and a wonderful twist, thank you, DJ.
DJ approached his writing with a 20-year run up, which ended on a moment of inspiration and produced a short story called Vampire. This was published on his local BBC website, and in the nine or so years that followed, he has tackled his writing with sporadic enthusiasm.
He has written a number of short stories, flash fiction pieces and completed a YA novel which was ranked in the A&C Black Writers’and Artists’ Yearbook 100th Edition Novel Writing competition to find the best 100 unpublished novels. He has recently started a crime fiction novel, and is a month into his first ever writing group.
He moved from England to New Zealand at the end of 2011, and is pretty sure that one day, he may start thinking about approaching literary agents. DJ is a little guarded about his day job, and says that whilst his hobby is all about being creative, his is paid to ensure that clients are not.
He can be found on Twitter @djpaterson and maintains a random blog at www.djpaterson.com. Oh, and if you’re wondering about the profile photo, he won a writing competition and appeared as a character in Meg Gardiner’s The Memory Collector. The photo shows his pleasant surprise when realising his character perhaps had something that DJ could never possess in real life – an Afro!
If you’d like to submit your 1,000-word max. stories for consideration for Flash Fiction Friday take a look here.
The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with multi-elemented thriller novelist David McGowan – the four hundred and twenty-third of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.
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Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.