Mini Fiction Monday: If You Can’t Say Something Nice

Hello Readers, Writers, and Friends,

It’s Monday. The day of the week that demands you drink up your favorite get going beverage and get back to the grind. The day that declares the weekend over and insists we all get back to work, whatever form it may take. But lucky for us it also means fiction, a mini fiction. I’ve decided on “Mini” to describe our fictitious Mondays because the term “micro fiction” has specific definition, and tends to refer to fiction that is one to two sentences long. And that can be fun, but even the short fictions around here tend to run between five hundred and twelve hundred words long.

Does that classify as miniature? Maybe. But we are going to roll with it.

This week’s prompt is a flip on Fridays: You visit your younger self. What do you say to them?

This is one of my favorite pictures from our trip a few weeks back. The red rocks, the white snow, the green pine. Nature at its best is all about contrasts.

The smell of chicken fingers emerging from ancient fryer grease and bad coffee were the same, I just didn’t like them anymore. I stepped into the uneven lighting of the old diner and smiled at the way coming back still felt like home, even if the scent turned my stomach. I sat down at the counter and ordered a diet Coke. Time travel jet lag is the worst, and without the caffeine I could feel the hour creeping up on me.

I’d once stayed up all night working on a term paper, gone to breakfast with friends, gone to class and then done it all over again without more than a nap in-between. But now, despite having stepped through the wormhole at eleven a.m., I could feel two a.m. telling me it was past my bedtime.

I didn’t see my quarry anywhere, but I’d been assured I would dropped in the right place. The minutes ticked by and I realized I had almost no idea what I would actually say. So much of it boiled down to shaking her by the shoulders and screaming, “Quit screwing everything up!”

But then the doors opened and she walked in with a group I recognized immediately, and yet–

There were a few faces I knew, but couldn’t match a name to anymore. They had all been so important once. They had been my world. Now they were all so far away.

And her.

I could hardly look at her at first. Still thinking that more skin exposure meant more confidence. Still blaming her body for not fitting the clothes, instead of discarding the clothes as not being right for her. Still thinking she was a victim of a fast food culture. So much she didn’t know yet. No wonder she looked so lost, even as she smiled and laughed with her friends. She thought they were friends, and some of them were.

I heard her order and cringed. She was killing herself. Me, she was killing me, and she didn’t know it. Or maybe she did and thought she didn’t care. It was hard to remember. I watched as she went along with the conversation, as she did what she thought was flirting. It was all so painful, so painfully obvious, sitting here on the outside looking in.

And it wasn’t fair. Wasn’t fair for me to judge her based on years of experience she didn’t have. She was young, and she was stupid in many ways, but mostly she was doing the best with what she had.

She got up to use the restroom. I followed, still thinking I could fix it. Still thinking I could say something profound that would change it all. That would put us on a fast forward through the nonsense. There was no reason to think she would believe anything I had to say. And there were rules.

I couldn’t tell her who I was, or how I knew the things I knew. I couldn’t tell her to buy stock in Google or facebook. And though they hadn’t said it explicitly, it felt like a bad idea to try and touch her. Besides, who accepts hugs from a stranger in a bathroom diner?

I followed, and set my bag on the counter, got my makeup out like that’s what had brought me in here in the first place. i waited until she emerged from the stall to wash her hands.

“You have really pretty eyes,” i said, as she reached for a paper towel.

“What?” I could see all the things playing across her face- how do i respond? What does she mean by that? Is this woman hitting on me?

I tried to smile in a way that was reassuring, friendly. “Your eyes. They’re really lovely. You should where more jewel tones, that will bring them out.”

“Oh, ok. Thanks.” She tossed her towel in the trash and pushed her way out the heavy bathroom door.

I looked back at the mirror. Was I wasting this opportunity to put so many things right? Who was i doing this for?

Certainly not for her. She needed friends that would last and to discover who she really was and that sweaters were her preferred mode of dress. She needed to learn that she didn’t need to try so hard, to let herself be, and also to put int he work early rather than late in the day. But I couldn’t tell her any of that, not in a way that would make sense. She needed time.

And nothing I could say would give her that. Nothing I could do would speed up the process. It was a process. Each piece taking the time it took, no more, no less.

I sighed, packed up my baubles from the counter, and went back to my seat.

I handed the waitress a hundred dollar bill and told her that the table with the nerdy college kids was on me. “Maybe, suggest they order a salad?”

Then I left. Knowing that each moment had to play itself out, just as it had done, for me to be here.

We’d ok in the end, and that’s what mattered.

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