Meeting a flash fiction challenge
Marnie tried the third shirt on and glared at it in the mirror. Her hair hadn’t settled into her latest haircut and angled too much to the left, its bronze highlights over darker layers looking, she hoped, dramatic.
Determined not to be irritated by being the only single one at this gathering of old friends, she stuffed Trader Joes organic red wine into a carry-all, along with carrots and humus dip. She closed the door to her mother-in-law cottage, gently blocking Panda Cat’s exit with one boot. He had to stay inside and heal a cut.
Dinner went fine. Olive and Sam, Courteney and Sheila, Ernie and Doe reminisced with her about their years working at the camp for the disabled in the Yosemite foothills. But then the games came out. Ernie, who commonly pontificated after two glasses of wine, waxed enthusiastic about Elon Musk.
Clearly he and Doe had had this discussion before. They launched into a debate which had the tone of having gone in circles before.
“I watched the landing. It was cool,” he said, jamming French bread slathered with artichoke dip in his mouth.
Doe said, “Ahhhhhh! I feel freaked out about the Mars Rover. Colonization of Mars is a scary thought for me. #themarstrilogy.” She’d started saying hashtag before things she wanted to emphasize. Or maybe it was something she’d tweeted and wanted us to follow up on in social media.
“Especially in place of healing Earth,” Marnie mumbled, making a scrabble word that paralleled another for a score of seventy-five.
“Why not both?” Ernie countered, eyes boring into Marnie’s.
She felt tired suddenly. How to cover all the arguments about human nature and capitalism, about the fact that a paradigm shift was desperately needed yet none was in sight, with waste production and consumerism in full throttle.
Sheila came to her rescue. “I don’t trust we’ll do both.” Her dark hair, buzz-cut on one said, flicked out over her eyes. She chewed a fingernail down to the quick.
My thought exactly. Marnie gave her a solidarity gaze.
“So I’d rather not do Mars,” Sheila said, “at this point.”
“Yeah, I feel complicated about the resources that go into science exploration and how often BIPOC folks and the earth pay the price for others’ curiosity.” Sam, mixed Native American, African American and Filipino, put his eight-letter word on the board. “Tribades.”
“What the hell is that?” Olive growled.
“A female homosexual,” he responded as if quoting a dictionary entry.
“How do you know that word?” Courtenay asked. She had a peachy complexion pierced with nose and brow studs.
“Idiot savant, probably,” Olive said affectionately.
He pushed his glasses up and peered at her.
“Soooo, you know NASA is operating on a shoestring?” Ernie, grasping onto the former conversation, aimed his remark at Sam. “I have friends in aerospace and it’s like they are running a whole space operation on 1990s tech.”
“Is that true? Shoestring?” Marnie felt suspicious. Only months after a world pandemic, with millions starving, we were landing on Mars again. Yes, private funding was backing it but what about the military budget? It all seemed to end up entwined.
“I have strong feelings about this,” Ernie had a tight look, like he was the first to ever dream of space travel. “But I’m going to take a leap and guess I’m outnumbered.”
Sheila said, mollifying, “I believe it’s possible to do both. Just maybe not human nature, not the way people are now.”
Ernie perked up. “Because if actually funded, science’d be able to tackle climate change. Part of NASAs mission.”
Yeah, like the airlines that promise to invest in big vacuums in the sky, as long as they can keep on burning jet fuel. Throw taxpayer money at inventions. Don’t reduce carbon. But she hated conflict and held her tongue.
Ernie stuck a three-letter word on for twelve points.
“So how’s the play going?” Sheila asked Olive.
“Don’t ask.” Olive, middle school teacher, dropped her face to her hand, but came back up grinning. “Jojo learned all his lines. I can’t believe it.”
Marnie won scrabble; no big surprise. She played a few rounds online most nights. “I think I’ll head out.”
“Next one in a month?” Doe asked. It was her and Ernie’s home. They hosted most often.
Marnie groaned inwardly, smiled without committing.
At home, she pushed her way through the door, keeping Panda Cat in with a boot toe. She knelt and picked up his front paws. “Next month, I say no. Right, buddy? Ya gotta back me up on this.” She pulled boots off, set her share of leftovers on the sink. “I never say what I think. I just end up … rrrr … no one’s convinced, no one’s changed.” Panda Cat rubbed her leg.
Next month, she tried on six shirts, two skirts and overalls before deciding on nearly the same outfit as the month before, then headed to Ernie and Doe’s.