Here and Gone – A Christmas Bitch Flash Fiction
By Jack Lelko
One hundred years ago, on a Christmas Eve night, at the Whisk and Key Bakery and Bar, in the city of Nollag, Mortimer Skelly stared into his drink, absentmindedly rotating the glass with his fingers. Today had not been his day. How could it have been? His afternoon involved being called into the boss’s office and informed today was his last day.
Being sacked had certainly melted away his holiday spirit. He kicked himself for deciding to wear a Santa hat to the office. A ridiculous idea. He had tucked the aforementioned hat into the right pocket of his suit jacket, currently slung on the back of his barstool.
“The money from the check they cut me will justcover my rent, and, well, I don’t know…”
Ami, the bartender, frowned. “I’m sorry, Mort. That’s quite the lump of coal that’s fallen into your lap.” She wiped the glass in her hand that much harder, feeling frustrated for her friend.“Just don’t try to drink away your problems. You don’t want a nose that will rival Rudolph’s. Also, you need to send that manuscript,” she said, putting a stern look on her face.
Mortimer shrugged off the encouragement that attempted to buoy his spirits. Ami's exercising of blind faith was an unspoken stipulation in the contract between friends.
“Manuscript?” a woman chirped from the other end of the bar.She had been so quiet that Mortimer and Ami had forgotten anyone else remained in the bar. It was late. Most patrons had already returned home to sleep off their holiday cocktails.
“You’re a writer? What’s it about? Hold on, I’m coming over.” She grabbed her coat and drink, an Earl Grey martini, and sashayed over. “I’m Ophelia, by the way,” she said in a loud and clear voice. She set her almost empty drink on the bar and took a seat, coat in her lap, next to Mortimer.
“I-I’m Mortimer,” he sputtered as he smoothed his red and white striped tie.
“Nice to meet you, Mortimer.” Ophelia grinned. Shepicked up her glass and drank the last bit of her martini. “May I have another one, please, Ami?” she asked, before turning her bright green eyes toward Mortimer’s pale blue ones.“So, this story. What’s it about?” She leaned on her elbows on the bar rested her chin on her hands.
“It’s, uh, about this man named Gerald. He…loses everything that was supposed to be a sure thing,” he began. (An irony not wasted on Mortimer.) “The story follows him through this journey of growth and self-discovery that, ultimately, leads him to the next chapter of life.” Mortimer punctuated his mini synopsis with a gulp of his eggnog with brandy and braced himself for Ophelia to scoff at his idea and throw her freshly made drink in his face.
That did not happen.
Instead, Ophelia thanked Ami for her drink, took a sip, and declared Ami had made yet another perfect cocktail before looking back at Mortimer.
“I hope Gerald’s next chapter has a happy ending,” Ophelia replied. “But don’t tell me. I want to be surprised. What’s the book called?” She swept dark brown hair behind her left ear and gave Mortimer another smile.
He exhaled, remembering how to breathe again, beamed back, basking in the relief that Ophelia thought his tale might be worth reading.
“It’s called Nothing is Something,” Ami chimed in, coming to her friend’s rescue. Mortimer nodded a silent ‘thank you’ in her direction.
“When’s it going to be published?” Ophelia asked. Her shoulders shimmied as if a chill had run up her spine. She looked from Mortimer to Ami to see who would be the first to answer.
“Well, I’m not sure,” Mortimer answered. He ran his fingers through his prematurely gray hair as if to comb out a definitive answer. “I’m only entering it into a contest. There’s no guarantee and—”
“Not with that attitude,” Ophelia giggled. “Look,” she pressed on before Mortimer could protest with his recent misfortune, “if you don’t think this book is going to win, why would you bother submitting it? You’re basically asking for the rejection. I mean, I know writers can be neurotic, but…” She let her thought go unfinished, choosing to sip her martini instead and look over her glass at Mortimer, challenging him to prove her wrong.
Ami grimaced at Ophelia. Who did this woman think she was?
“It doesn’t—I don’t think I should enter. Not now. I just lost my job and—” Fishing in the inside pocket of his coat, Mortimerpulled out his wallet. “I have just enough in here to cover my rent.”
“How much is the entry fee?” Ophelia inquired, unphased by the wallet Mortimer shook in front of her.
“I need a roof over my head,” Mortimer replied, looking to Ami for validation.
Ophelia waved her hand at the retort. “How much?”
Ophelia shrugged. “Ask your landlord if you can be short twenty dollars. I don’t know you that well, but you strike me as a good tenant.”
“I am, but that’s not how it works,” Mortimer said, feeling himself getting heated. He shoved his wallet into the outer left pocket of his coat in defeat.
“Nope. Sorry,” Ophelia countered. “That’s how you’re telling yourself it works.” She pointed an accusing finger at Mortimer.
A long silence passed before Ophelia spoke again.“Mortimer, I’m sorry life has dealt you a bad hand, and on Christmas and all, but if you choose not to submit your book, how can the hand change?” Not waiting for him to reply, she placed money for her drinks on the bar, thanking Ami again, stepped down from her stool, and cradled her coat in her arms. Passing Mortimer, she tripped, knocking his coat off his seat. “Oh, goodness,” she said, almost face-planting onto the floor.
“You okay?” Ami asked, quickly coming around the bar. Mortimer hopped from his seat to assist Ophelia back on her feet.
“I’m fine,” Ophelia said through embarrassed laughter. “The coats broke my fall.” She quickly stood up, wearing a big grin, and handed Mortimer his coat.
There was a glint in her eye that he could only categorize as mischievous.
“Merry Christmas,” she said in salutation, wrapping herself in her red coat and stepping out into the December night.
Mortimer remained at the Whisk and Key until closing, discussing with Ami howbrazen and naïve Ophelia’s life advice had been.
“Uh…oh, no,” Mortimer moaned.
Ami found him turning out his pockets. “What?” she asked, not needing an answer.
“She stole my wallet! My-my check! What am I gonna do?” His hand dove into the left pocket where his wallet had been, only retrieving a crumpled twenty-dollar bill.
Ami exhaled. “Well, I guess the drinks are on the house, but I’m taking back your Christmas present. It’s a joke,” she amended, noticing the corners of Mortimer’s mouth pull further south. “Sorry. Clearly too soon. Second, I wasn’t going to mention this because I know how you are about asking for help, butI have a room you can rent.”
Mortimer made to protest. A futile endeavor, really. When Ami made up her mind, especially when it came to helping a friend, her resolve was stronger than any decade-old fruitcake.
“You can pay me when you can. Maybe after you win that contest? Or I could use a hand here. How are you with making donuts?”
Mortimer nodded. What did he have left to lose, honestly? “I have just enough time to do one more edit.”
“It will work out,” Ami reassured Mortimer.
“I know it will,” he said,actually believing himself.
Given that it was Christmas, the season of magic and wonderment, Ami couldn’t help but recall the stories about an angel that lived in the city, saving people from their misfortunes.As a little girl, her grandfather would regale her with these stories at bedtime.“Wouldn’t it be something if Ophelia was actually the Angel of Nollag?”
Mortimer laughed. “I don’t think angels commit petty theft, but I guess anything is possible.”
* * *
Ophelia returned from the bar to her apartment at the posher north end of Nollag. After hanging up her coat, she plucked the wallet from her pocket, moving it to a spot beneath a floorboard in her living room. She included a brief note on top of it that read, “Told ya!”
She knew Mortimer would find the wallet and note years later after his writing career took off, and he would move into this same space. Ophelia took a moment to marvel at her apartment. She’d be leaving it all behind, probably shortly after the New Year. Once she found a new soul that needed a little jolt to set them back on a journey toward self-actualization, she would shed this identity, returning to Nollag as a completely different person, at least on the outside. That was what angels do.
Unfortunately, Nothing is Something would garner very little attention. Mortimer’s second novel, Angels Among Us, inspired by the time a woman with some very sage and scary advice pickpocketed him, would place Mortimer squarely in the spotlight. His subsequent stories of inconvenience to hope would offer the citizens of Nollag solace during difficult moments, reminding them to never give up on their dreams, even when all seems dire.
Author’s Note: You can read more about Ophelia in the novel Christmas Bitch
A little wisp of a woman was power walking towards Ophelia. Her pristine white gym shoes outshone the snow that crunched beneath their soles. Her hair was in loose curls of a pale yellow. She was decked out in a cranberry jogging suit with the word “DUPA” stitched and bedazzled in large baby pink letters across the backside of her pants.
She was hard to miss. She was Mrs. Fulgencia Wick, a prominent figure in the community as one of the three founders of Nollag’s thriving business association. There was also Mrs. Vitla Slaughter who opened a butcher shop and later expanded her business into a full-fledged grocery store complete with farmer’s market from May to October. Mrs. Forina Baker was the owner of Salty N. Sweets: Sweets and Baked Goods before she turned the business over to her daughter, Cookie, upon her retirement. Mrs. Wick opened and still operated a successful taxidermy shop on the east side of the city and tried her hand at writing bestselling octogenarian erotica novels. Such titles included Past Visiting Hours, That’s Not Rigor Mortis, and The Breath of Life.
Ophelia had played muse to Mrs. Wick nineteen years ago, back when Ophelia was Jucinda Jorgenson. Since her foresight had left her after helping Delaney last year, Ophelia could not read the futures of new prospects. However, she couldn’t help but wonder if she could see into the fates of past clients. Doubtful, she said to herself pessimistically.
She stared intently at the powerwalking elderly woman, who had caught sight of her and was now excitedly waving to her in salutation. An abrupt, and somewhat unexpected, thought jumped into Ophelia’s head like an attention starved Kindergartener. The thought was an image of something that had not yet happened but could: a flash of yellow hair and a floating rectangular sheet of ice. She stopped in her tracks, placing a hand in the air as if to ask time to hold on for a minute, which Mrs. Wick took as a subdued hello.
The flashes of what could be did not used to knock her for a loop. I was pretty sure these weren’t going to happen anymore, she puzzled.
Apparently, unbeknownst to Ophelia, she had one more task to complete.
Her premonition told her that she had a brief meeting only eight feet away from the café in front of Auntie Pasta’s Negozio di SpecialitáItaliane. Don’t worry, though. She reviewed the now fleeting portent. It’ll happen forty-eight seconds after 11:35, or in approximately one minute and twenty-eight seconds…I hope, she added, her intuition, after all, not being what it used to be.