Permanent Solution

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The front door opened with a bang. Stewart cursed softly. No one was supposed to come in that way. He didn’t have a sign out to say that, but his business was supposed to be low profile. Not breezing through the front door where anyone could see from the street.

He hurried to the front of his small house to intercept the client who hadn’t played by the rules, tucking a black shirt into black jeans. Liza was on his living room sofa, lighting up a cigarette and looking for the ashtray that hadn’t been offered in polite society for 30 years.

“Liza—” Stewart had to handle this carefully, but he couldn’t just let her violate him this way.

“Yes, get me an ashtray, would you? I’ve been thinking really hard, and I need this.”

“But Liza—”

“Just get me a bowl, or a glass, anything will be fine. No one has an ashtray these days, it’s like they want you to light the place on fire.” She took a long drag, blowing the smoke back out her nose, and tapped the ash into the carpet at her feet.

“Here,” Stewart said, handing her the cat’s dish. It was clean, chipped on the edge from the fight with Baldwin, but the cat was as gone as Baldwin. “I didn’t expect you for another thirty minutes, Liza, why so early?” It would do no good to chastise her about the front door.

“I made up my mind and you know I don’t wait. I just can’t take it anymore.” Liza tossed her head, not quite getting the effect she thought she was. Her hair was dyed within an inch of its life, rattling crow-colored broom straws she spent too much time arranging for it to look like it did.

“Let’s be careful here, Liza. Some decisions can’t be undone.” Stewart was dismayed, but not surprised. He’d been trying to walk this conversation back for months. This was a job he didn’t want. He didn’t do this anymore.

“I thought I could live with the way things are, but it’s just not working. I need you to fix it.”

Stewart felt his stomach turn over. Liza was used to pronouncing her wishes and watching people scurry to fulfill them, but she was going to be just as unhappy after.

“Alright, Liza, I hear you. Maybe we could talk about some alternatives, though? I can’t undo this. Things as you know them will be irretrievable.”

“Are you saying you won’t do it?” Liza’s voice had an edge to it, and Stewart knew threats were boiling up, ready to spill out. “Because you know I know everyone.” She raised one over-plucked eyebrow.

“No, no, no, I’m not saying that at all. If this is really what you want, I’ll do it.” I’ll do it, he thought, because if I don’t, you’ll do it yourself and blame me anyway when you don’t get away with it. “It’s just drastic, isn’t it? I don’t want you to regret anything.”

“I am not a woman with regrets,” Liza said. “I want to be a different person. I want out of this routine, all this time wasted every day. If you won’t do that for me, I’ll find someone else. I thought I’d come to you first because I know you need the money, but if my money isn’t good…?”

Stewart wanted to run. His mind raced, how was he going to do this without it getting traced back to him, especially when Liza barged in through his front door? She did have one thing pegged, he couldn’t afford to turn down the money after Baldwin’s sudden exit from his life, but he didn’t want to do something this criminal to survive.

“Oh, Liza, of course that’s not what I mean,” he rushed out, trying to defuse the tension. “You know I’ll do whatever you want. When do you want me to do it?” He’d push it into the future, as far as possible, and maybe she would rethink it between now and then and call it off.

“Right now.”

“Wha—you mean right this second? Today? There might be things I don’t have here, and the timing is important, too. It really would be better—”

Liza’s face closed in on itself, lips pressed together and eyes narrowed, like a baby about to caterwaul at being denied. Stewart looked away, not wanting to imagine the child that had become this impossible woman.

“Sorry,” he blurted, “of course you want to do it now. I can skip dinner, I guess, I’m not hungry anyway. Let me see if I have enough of what I need.” Stewart trotted back down the hallway, glimpsing a haunted man in his mirror, and slipped into his dimly lit utility room. The edges on his cutting tools were sharp, he had gloves and a mask, and the black vinyl apron was on its hook. He pulled the dusty box out from behind the bottles on the bottom shelf. He opened it, looking at things he hadn’t used in what—15 years? Something he thought he’d put behind him for more respectable work. Yet he’d held on to this, as if he knew.

His kit was in order. He arranged a few strands of his glossy brown hair back into place, pulling his confidence together. He was a professional, after all. He rolled the cart out of the back room and nearly into Liza, who’d followed him, noiseless and currently smokeless. She made a show of putting her hands up to protect herself, but her lips were twisted in the smirk of cruelty being rewarded.

“Go ahead and have a seat,” Stewart said, gesturing toward the hydraulic chair at the edge of the room, next to the door Liza should have used. Looking at Liza’s smug expression reflected in the large wall-length mirror, Stewart’s pride rebelled. He ran his fingers through what little bottle-black hair was on Liza’s head, calculating how much more would break and deciding he didn’t care. “Which rod size should we use? I think the blue ones?”

“How am I supposed to know?” Liza barked. “Just give me the tightest perm you can, I don’t want to have to come back in two weeks because it all fell out.”

Oh, there’s going to be fallout, Stewart thought, but it’s not going to be my fault.


Copyright 2019© by Rebecka Ratcliffe, All Rights Reserved

The Story: I received this suggestion from a writing seminar with Alisa Kwitney, a terrific coach and writer (most recently publishing Corpse and Crown, the second in the “Cadaver and Queen” series.) The request was a dialogue that doesn’t reveal its true nature until the end. I’m interested to know if you guessed it before the salon was revealed. I see this sort of thing as a long-form joke–and it’s tricky to write it in a way that makes the reader feel “in” on the twist, rather than duped.

I have a really great piece ready for next time–erm–so great that I sent it to a magazine. If it comes crawling back before mid-March, I’ll be able to share it here. If not, I have an idea in the hopper about magnetic eyelashes/eyeliner. *wink*

Glitter and BOOM

Audiophiles, Listen Here:

The target’s name was Sheila Hamspelter, codename “SHELIA.” We let Brian come up with the codename, and you get what you get with Brian. My plan for infiltration was simple. We would ride in on flowers and disperse from there, achieving maximum coverage over several days. Brian fell on his flat face during the briefing, volunteering an unsolicited suggestion about macramé plant hangers, and we left him there until Darla helped him up. Darla can’t resist his damn twinkle and everyone knows it. If he wasn’t part of my lot, he’d still be stuck on the kids’ table.

I had the team count off, but I got a little dozy around 24,000. I thought my lack of nerves was a good sign. Regina, my second-in-command, shook me toward the end and hissed, “Julie!” I fluttered awake. Pep talk time.

“We are going into the field today. Some of you will shine. Some of you will be consigned to the garbage dumps of history. Know that, no matter what, you have made the world a brighter place, if only for a moment.” Brian started bawling. I glared at him until he quieted down enough for me to continue. “Let’s get into it!” I yelled, but the moment was lost.

The camouflaging process was simple but unpleasant. A bunch of Gerbera daisies, dyed impossibly multi-hued neon, were dipped in glue, then dipped in us. The suffocating chemical gunk would secure most of us to the petals long enough to get inside, but just barely. I tried not to move as I felt the bond tightening. Regina was next to me, just close enough to talk without overlapping at the corners.

“Julie?” she asked.

“Yeah?”

“I don’t think we should have brought Brian. Look at him.” I looked, and she was right. There he was, barely secured and flapping already. Leave it to Brian to compromise a mission just by existing.

“BRIAN!” I yelled, and he nearly fell off right then. “Secure yourself!” He tried, smearing hapless blotches of glue all over himself. Crap. I had to hope he made it to the front door at this rate.

On the way to the location, some of my troops flaked. It’s inevitable, but it always makes me sad. They feel the call of Brownian motion like a siren’s song, and there’s nothing to be done about it. Someday, we may meet again, such is the nature of diffusion, but for now they will shine alone and mostly unnoticed. I checked on Brian. He was still flapping away on a neon green petal like a kite stuck in a tree.

The house was big, two bright yellow stories with a garage. Mission SHELIA was residence only. The mission’s namesake, Sheila, was a thin, blade-faced woman with graying brown hair rubber-banded into a puny, untidy bun. She was wearing a brown, shapeless dress with an inexplicable tiny pocket on one pancake-thin breast. She opened the door with a tight smile and accepted the vase of flowers with a few polite words. Once the door was shut, she looked at the daisies and sniffed loudly, holding them, and us, at arms-length.

“Why did he think I’d like these? Gaudy nonsense,” she muttered. With an attitude like that, Sheila was going to be very unpleasantly surprised by the results of SHELIA. She marched into her kitchen and set the vase on the white laminated table. White everything, actually, including a white tile floor. She left the room, still berating the sender. Lucky guy.

“Julie, look at the floor!” Regina whispered.

“I know, I know. I don’t know how we missed that in the briefing. We’re just going to have to deal with it.”

“Deal with it? How? By getting half the troops ‘cuumed?”

“If that’s all we can do, yes, that’s what we’ll do. Let’s try being smart first, though.” I glared at her and she averted her eyes. Regina wasn’t queen. I was in command.

I sent a whisper order through the ranks—no movement until the hausfrau was down for the night. I really need to rethink the whole “whisper order” thing. By the time it got to Brian, clearly something had been lost in translation. With an anemic battle cry, Brian launched himself off his lucky petal and into the air. One solitary square of pink glitter, falling onto the bright white tabletop and sitting there, sparkling and exposed. Darla screamed.

“Brian!” I yelled. “Get moving!” He wasn’t the fastest flake, but maybe he could make it to the slightly less obvious floor before Sheila returned. He started crawling across the table top, so sluggish that it seemed like slow-motion. “Double time!” I screamed, making him lose his grip and flatten again. My foil started to peel as I realized he wasn’t going to make it off the table in time.

Sheila came back into the room with her phone up to one ear. Her voice was incongruous against her wicked witch casual outfit, almost melodious.

“Yes, Arthur, I got the flowers. It’s so very sweet of you to remember…” There was more. It was sickening, but it was a distraction we sorely needed.

I kept chanting encouragement to Brian. “C’mon buddy, you can do it.” Regina was quivering next to me, ready for orders and not sure what they were going to be. Sheila was doing busywork with one hand while she fawned over Arthur. When she grabbed a dishcloth and started wiping the already spotless counters, I knew it was only a matter of time. Brian was going to be wiped right in front of me by this monster.

 “Hmmph.” Sheila didn’t miss that something was amiss in her psychotically clean kitchen. Damn it. I expected her to wipe him with the dishcloth, but instead she turned her back to walk over to the sink, reaching under it for a canister of cleaning wipes. Brian was dumb, and he’d practically done this to himself, but he didn’t deserve to get wiped. He was my lot number, another Rose Gold Holographic #457, and I couldn’t abandon him.

“Julie, what are you thinking?” Regina whispered. She could always tell when I’d made up my mind.

“We are going to save Brian. Strength in numbers, Regina. We are going full assault mode.”

“But Julie—”

“No. Brian named this operation. SHELIA is a go. TROOPS, READY GLITTER BOMB!” I yelled. Regina nodded, the doubt on her shiny gold face replaced by sharp determination. She turned and barked orders.

Sheila pulled a wipe from the canister and frowned at the flowers. “I don’t know why he thought I’d like these damn things.” Arthur did not know what he was getting into.

I turned to Regina. It was our best chance. Not today, Sheila. You will not win today.

“FOR GLITTER AND GLORY!” I screamed.

“WE WILL SHINE FOREVER!” she screamed back, thousands of voices joining her. I peeled myself from the glue, feeling the familiar gut-wrenching fear of that final pull and free-fall, swirling down toward Brian and the battle that was about to commence. All at once, thousands of flakes of glitter rained down around me, a sparkling storm of rage and fury, covering the table and a good circle of the floor.

Sheila frowned again and flinched back slightly, unsure what she was looking at. Well, she should be. GLITTER BOMB was the nuclear option. BOOM. I managed to land close to Brian and started pushing him off the table. “Well, for chrissakes,” Sheila muttered and stepped to the table. Her first swipe took out a whole sparkling swath. Troops jumped off the disinfecting cloth if they could, but we lost at least a battalion.

“Go, go, GO!” I yelled at Brian, getting him to speed up slightly. I had my eye on the carpeting through the kitchen doorway, but it was impossibly far. We used the slight air movement from Sheila’s aggressive wiping to bump across the table a few inches, nearly to the edge.

The gigantic hand came down again, and I felt the shadow of the disinfecting wipe on my dull side. I didn’t scream, because Brian had that covered, high-pitched as a bat. The cloth came down on us and I felt its suffocating weight, its sticky, viscous liquid sucking us into the chaos of captured troops. “BRIAN!” I screamed, as I tried not to let go of him, tried to use the glue he’d smeared on himself to hold on.

The dizzying ascent on the cloth made it hard to orient myself, was I on the top or the bottom of the wipe, could I jump? I still had a tiny corner of Brian, I’d managed that much, but it wasn’t going to last. The movement stopped and we were face to face with Sheila as she stared at the wipe in disgust. “Damn stuff just all fell off at once,” she mused. I hoped she’d laugh, or scream, or launch into an opera—anything to create air movement, but she turned to walk to the trash can and casually murder thousands of flakes of glitter. Regina was trapped in a fold. She winked out as I watched. This was all going sideways.

I saw my chance, though. Sheila was brisk, efficient, and that meant her arms were moving. I timed the jump perfectly. Just before the endpoint of the swing of her arm, I used the momentum to tear both of us off the wipe. I could see a few other flakes doing the same, perfectly timed to use physics to our advantage. We fluttered through the air further out from the table than most of the others, though I could see a few using Sheila’s slippers to hitchhike already.

We landed gently and skidded a few more inches toward the kitchen doorway. Sheila took the canister of wipes over to the table and continued her busy massacre. The troops on the floor were all headed to the same place we were. Beyond the kitchen door was carpeting, not thick shag, but some kind of Berber that was even better. She’d never get us out of that.

We were about a foot and a half away from this nirvana when Sheila finished up the table and noticed the floor. Three more steps and she had a broom and dustpan on a long handle out from beside the refrigerator.

“BRIAN. You have to hurry up or we’re going to get swept.”

“Sure, Julie, okay,” the dim-witted flake said back, “but I don’t think I can go any faster. I keep gluing to the floor.”

I sighed. Of course, that’s what was slowing him down. “Brian, I’m going to tell you to do something, and I don’t want you to get the wrong idea, but it might save you. Glue yourself to me.”

“Wha….?” Brian looked shocked.

“Just shut up and do it. We’ll figure out how to undo it later.” Brian was staring at me, wide-eyed. “DO IT,” I commanded, and he finally got the idea that I was serious.

I felt the glue first, then a claustrophobic sensation of being covered. It was a good thing we were the same lot, or he might have had overhang. I started moving again, hampered only slightly by the extra weight. I made it another three inches, all the while listening to Brian chatter happily as if this were a carnival ride.

His inane monologue turned screamy and I looked up. The broom hit the floor between me and the carpeting with a swishy rustle, the straws spreading and deflecting to create the maximum sweeping area. I studied the broom, looking for an opening, anything. There was none. I was going to have to do something I’d only heard of, but never seen. I was going to have to swurf my way around this monster.

I faced the broom, raising my surface up off the floor so that only my four corners touched, trying to create maximum surface for lift. I had to hope Sheila was a vigorous sweeper. I needed maximum airflow to create the difference in pressure to transform me into a sail. I’d studied the equations, hell, I’d even lectured on it, but doing it in the field was a whole new level.

Sheila didn’t disappoint. She gave the broom an angry pull, creating an awesome wave of air in front of it. I adjusted slightly and when it reached me, I pushed off the ground. Brian squealed, fear or excitement, I don’t know, and we were airborne in a swirling current. It took all my strength to maintain the right shape and flex. The air pushed in front of the broom rushed violently backwards, filling the vacuum left in its wake, and we rode that current in a dizzying circle. I saw others pushed in front of the broom, some attempting to swurf to no avail. I closed my eyes as we headed for the floor behind the broom, hitting and skidding toward the carpeting.

My exhilaration at being closer was short-lived, as the broom came for us again. I went cornertips and rode the next air current out the same way. Brian was whooping, now, and I wished he’d shut up and let me concentrate. I bobbled the landing and we were Brian-side-down.

“Brian! You’re going to have to get us there!” I screamed, afraid that he wouldn’t realize until it was too late. “BRIAN! GET MOVING!”

Slowly, I felt motion toward the carpet. We were only a few inches away. Maybe, for once in his shiny existence, Brian could do this. I kept urging him on, telling him he was doing great, and he was. I dared to hope.

The barrier that came down between us and the edge of the carpet was an aged corduroy house slipper, brown and full of Sheila’s foot. I admit, I screamed this time, causing Brian to fall flat on the floor. “Be still,” I whispered. It was all we had. I prayed for poor eyesight, for a distraction, for a tiger to leap out of the living room and eat the old lady. None of those things happened. Sheila bent down to the white tile and poked me with her pointer finger. It was slightly sticky from the wipes, and we were lifted, captive and helpless.

Brian was sobbing now, convinced he’d doomed both of us with his failure. It got to me. He’d tried so hard at the end. I had to do something. I worked a corner free from Sheila’s skin, enough so that I could see as she lifted us, straightening. That’s when I saw it. Her pocket, the stupid useless little pocket on her dress, was gaping open as she moved. It was our only chance, and it wasn’t the carpet, but it was still damn good.

I used every last bit of my strength and went completely rigid. Sheila’s fingertip was ridged and slightly curved, and it was just enough to break the seal. We fell in a miraculous straight line, gravity unchallenged by air currents or Sheila’s momentum, and landed right in the old lady’s pocket. She finished standing, and everything went dark.

“Well, where did it go? That stuff gets everywhere and you never get rid of it.”

You have no idea, Sheila, how true that is.


Copyright 2019© by Rebecka Ratcliffe, All Rights Reserved

The Story: This story was suggested by faithful reader Katie Lee. A vase of glittery flowers on her table seemed a little more ominous than cheery on a cold day in Minnesota. Rather than tell the standard “creepy admirer” type story, I decided to look at things from the glitter’s point of view. Did it work? Let me know what you think!

PS. If anyone knows how to get WordPress to use proper indentation without a bunch of HTML, please let me know. I don’t write in blocks and I have no idea why I can’t format here the way 99% of writers format all the time. Frustrating.