Monday, 24 June 2013

FLASH FICTION AT FIVE: Harriet by Madeleine McLaughlin

Whoever they send will be here soon.
Harriet's hands jiggle. She fusses, turns her hair ornament around, and re-arranges it. For a moment, she considers a wink at herself in the mirror to practice a greeting, but how immature.
So ridiculous; can a forty year old like me really be adjusting a yellow ribbon in my hair? Foolish. As if I am a young beauty. Yet, it looks so perky at the side of my head.
The butterfly stomach she'd had on the phone to order supper had subsided. She'd imagined the men at the pizza parlor could tell she was not really hungry, just a single female wishing for a pleasing human face at her door.Dressing up for the pizza boy, she thinks with contempt. What would people think if they knew I wanted to please a stranger?
Harriet spies the flowers as she turns from her reflection. Only a couple of days old and dead already. A curse falls from her lips about her bad luck with plants. They never grow well.
Everything in my life dies, including my beliefs, how stupid to cut off all men. How could I have been so offended by their egos? Why did I want everything to be so perfectly safe for women. So resentful I have been over men treating me with kindness I supposed to be prejudice.
There is no response in her mind, as if her inner world has been stripped from her. I don't even like my own companionship. Turning back to the mirror, she adjusts her fancy dress. Straightens it, brushes it and pulls it into shape.
I hope he likes this, she thinks, and immediately feels silly, of course he won't know I went to all this trouble for him. He'll think I've just come home from a date.
She flashes a smile at herself and excoriates the anger that led her to this. I'm so lonely. Is it too late to pick up a life? Maybe I should have ordered one of those instead of pizza.
Harriet cringes at the image she has of her other life, how years ago, she would have given the cold shoulder to this pizza boy. A 'chauvinist pig' she would have labeled him if he had treated her nicer than he treated men. Him and all other males who she thought looked down on her.
How could I have been so foolish? As if women will look after one another. I only wanted to live without sexism of any kind.
She used to call out 'women unite' at rallies and marches. Where did all her sacrifice go to? Right into a solitary life. She recalls the marriage of her best friend a couple of decades ago. Picking up the phone and hearing that friend say, 'Don't come, there's going to be lots of men coming.' People turning away from her dogma and starting families instead of making the world a palace of justice. The bickering and paternalism of the other feminists over policy.
Harriet's stomach flutters as the doorbell chimes.
He's here, the pizza boy is here! Maybe he'll tell me I look good.
Her footsteps thump down the stairs, she grabs the doorknob and, turns it, expecting a rush of air from the cold snow outside. In the open doorway she stands back and gasps.
“Hi,” the young woman smiled at Harriet, “here's your pizza,” She hands over the order. Harriet's mouth gapes open; she passes over the money, plus a tip.
“Bye, now,” says the pizza gal.
Harriet closes the door. Suddenly tired, she walks upstairs.
A girl.
How could I have been so right in my philosophy and yet so wrong?


  1. This is so true. I've almost been that woman, but grabbed a chance just in time. Happy I did. Good job, Madeleine!

    1. I'm glad you met a companion. There's nothing like having company and you have kids to be proud of, too.