Flash Fiction Project: The Offer

Welcome to the Flash Fiction Project! I thought I’d try something new here, and challenge myself to do a little more writing. I’m currently preparing a two-book set of fantasy novels for publication, trying the indy route, and since I had a rather large cast of characters with some unseen backstory, it seemed like good material for short fiction. I’ve been seeing a lot of short-form fiction circulating the internet, and as a long-time fan of short fiction I’m delighted.

Stay tuned for news about the Gbahn and Archipelago novels as they move closer to reality (yes, with much better cover art than the placeholders on my bibliography page).

The Offer
A Gbahn and Archipelago story

“Another one. Every time a ship comes in, I get another one.”

Bronwin fussed with the jars of herbs and bottles of tinctures, sorting them in their cabinet, turning their labels outward. She complained without turning to look at whoever stood behind her: probably her sister, though it was unlike Jennete to be so quiet.

“Is that you, Jennete?” Bronwin pulled the jars out to reorder them by name. “An officer this time. Oh, they’re the worst. Put them in a blue jacket with insignia on their shoulders and they think they own the world. Imagine his surprise when I told him I didn’t intend to marry him. And I don’t intend to marry anyone. Can you imagine? Waiting around on shore for a man to come home?”

“Well, perhaps he’ll take you to sea with him.”

Her hand tightened on the jar, a reflex at the unexpected voice. Then she smiled. Tomas. “To sea? And what will I do at sea? Sleep between the great guns, and when they’re hot from firing shall I wrap my hair around the barrels to curl it?”

It took Tomas a minute to answer, almost as if he’d forgotten the joke. “No, you’ll sleep in your husband’s cabin, of course.”

“Oh, and have a baby on board! The crying will scare the Easterners, will it? Better than gunnery and smoke.” Then Bronwin stopped, giving a puzzled look to the bottles and jars. You’ll sleep in your husband’s hammock – that was the way he usually said it. The glass reflected bits of blue at her. She turned to face Tomas. Blue jacket. Insignia on his shoulders. “Tomas. You’ve made lieutenant.”

“Oh no,” he murmured. “They’re the worst. They think they own the world.”

What had she heard in his voice, Bronwin wondered. Just a tinge of something that didn’t belong with the joke. She didn’t have time to ask him. In the next instant Jennete burst through the door, crying out about the news. “Did you, Tomas? Did you really make lieutenant?” Then it was only a matter of time before Jennete’s husband Hal came in, and Bronwin’s father, and it was all booming voices and congratulations and a bottle of wine opened and toasts all around. Bronwin couldn’t get a word in edgewise through all that. Even when Hal told the story of her patient that morning, slurring his words a little as the bottle was emptied, Bronwin didn’t get a chance to interrupt his account. “And who was is, Bronwin? Lieutenant Waters? Watson? Witson? Whats-his-name? Had a pistol ball lodged in his leg – or was it his arm? Scared to death to go to his ship’s own surgeon, half in fever by the time he gets to shore, and our Bronwin has the ball out in a minute. He’s so grateful, falling over himself, he offers her marriage right on the spot.”

“Idiot,” Bronwin managed to mutter, but she didn’t think anyone but Tomas heard her.

Only later, when Jennete and Hal and their father left, when Bronwin was finally free to clean up the surgery and rearrange the bottles one more time, did she have an opportunity to elaborate. “I just don’t understand it. And navy men – you’d think they’d be more familiar with the thought of their own mortality, but still they lose their minds when they get shot or stuck with a sword. Someone saves their life and they turn into fools, thinking themselves in love. At least you never did that. Not when I cleaned you up after that fight you were in, the first time we met. Not after your first action when you had that sword wound. You never fell in love and acted like a fool. I asked you if you were going to offer marriage and you said no, of course not.”

Tomas took so long to answer that she ran out of ways to organize the medicine cabinet and had to turn to look at him. His head tilted a little downward, and a very faint smile lingered on his face, like an echo about to fade. “Well. Maybe I lied a little.”

If she’d had a jar in her hand then, she surely would have dropped it. “What? No, no I can’t…” She couldn’t remember any of their routine. No, I can’t go to sea, because… No I can’t marry you, because… Tomas wouldn’t give her any of his lines. He only stood there, his smile slowly departing.

Was it his melancholy returning? Was that the tinge she had heard in his voice? It had to be, and that wasn’t her fault. There was no way she could treat that, no preparation that would right his humors. But if she was wrong? If she had hurt him? Oh, she would rather his humors had turned the other way, even if he had become enraged in a choler, even if he had swept her up and carried her away. Now she could only watch him, standing on her calm shore, waiting, wondering if he would come home from the waves that tossed him.

© 2013 Michelle M. Welch


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