Flash Fiction Challenge
Writing prompt: “Weird things remind me of her. Cabbage, for instance.”
By Eilidh Thain
I first met Miss Maple in the hallway of the apartment building we lived in. She was in 201; I was in 202 across the hall. She had held out a bony, withered hand the temperature of chilled meat and introduced herself as Miss Maple and in the six years I lived there, I never learned her first name. At this first meeting, she looked me over and said, “You’re sure as shit better than that Oriental family who lived there before you. My cat went missing and I’m shittin’ sure she turned up in their noodles or rice or whatever those people eat.”
“I think they prefer to be called—“
“Don’t you take that shittin’ attitude with me mister. You can stuff your liberal gobbledygook straight up your ass.”
A normal person would have polity acknowledged that it was nice to meet her and kept their distance for the next six years. Instead I accepted an invitation for coffee that became a daily habit. Had I been in my right mind during that time, I would not have spent as much time with Miss Maple as I did. But I wasn’t and by 9 a.m. everyday, I was sitting at her rickety kitchen table drinking watery coffee and rolling cigarettes for her. By 11 a.m., juice glasses full to the brim with cheap peach cider replaced our coffee mugs. By 4 p.m., Miss Maple was passed out and I would stagger back to my apartment.
She must have lived in that apartment for sixty years. It over-looked the street. In the warmer months, she would sit at the window, smoking and overseeing the goings on below. Occasionally, she would bellow out the window at someone she saw doing something on her shit list. She had an actual list written in her shaky old-fashioned cursive that included: Farmer-honking snot onto sidewalk, yelling (ironic I know), littering, excessive ass-scratching, zig-zag walking, foreigners, brief cases, coffee in paper cups, scarves, gays, families, leather pants . . . It was a big list that grew daily.
In the cooler months, she would roam the hallways like a crazy person listening at people’s doors and then report her findings to me over cider. “You know that fat lady down the hall? You should hear her yelling at that toothpick she calls a husband. But he wouldn’t say shit to her if his mouth was full of it. Pussy. And did you happen to know the landlord plays the flute? What kind of a man plays the shittin’ flute? A queer one that’s who.” Over the years, I’d come to learn that it was best to just nod and change the subject.
Those years are long behind me now, but even to this day, weird things remind me of her. Take cabbage, for instance. I don’t ever recall Miss Maple cooking cabbage (or eating at all for that matter), but whenever the sewage-y scent of cabbage cooked within an inch of its life permeates my nostrils, I think of Miss Maple perched in her window seat all those years ago.