Honorable Mention – Flash 405, June 2020: “International Travel”
I’ve gotten a little dim from the beatings I took. We boarded a train in Glasgow and I was sharp enough to know my wife Janey, who couldn’t stand me after two weeks of hard travel, had slipped off to the seats behind us to sit with a young bearded Scottish man in a kilt. I heard their ripples of giggling until I could bear it no more.
I stood and twisted to the seats behind. I’m only five foot three but I used to box, so I said, Mister, hitch down your kilt. Janey, get your hand off his leg.
The bearded man said, I don’t know who Janey is, mate, but this is my wife Lilly and I’ll thank you to let us be in peace.
I squinted and I saw now that indeed Lilly was a good forty years younger than Janey and with blonde hair instead of gray and without the mad anger Janey gets in her eyes. I got very confused looking about with no Janey in sight, and when I am confused I get snarly, so I swung a right hook at him, swung the swing of all time, for all the battered souls, for the lightweights against the heavies, for the boxers pounded to the canvas past their prime. But my arm was too short and I only cut the air over Lilly’s head. I started back with the left, but Lilly stood an grasped my elbow and in her eyes was all the kindness in the world. My legs went puddly on me and I wheezed air out of my mouth, and she steered me back to my seat.
Soon I was off the train and I’ve yet to find Janey.
I’ve joined the wild campers on the West Highland Way, though the tents are cold and I’m tired of all the green lands and the rain and the water that rises over the path. I’ve crossed these rivers before, but I was younger then.
I thought I spotted Janey and the young Scotsman ahead on the trail as we went up a high pass with the moor ahead. I called after them, but they ran away with skipping steps through the fog and rain. I fear I won’t be going home again.
Lost on the West Highland Way stood out for many reasons but mostly because it created tension so quickly. When that tension vanished, in a breathtaking moment of such pathetic sadness, I immediately empathized with the pugilistic protagonist—not something I’d ordinarily be inclined to do. I also liked the action and movement, which I found lacking in many contest entries. I never found out what happened to the narrator’s wife or how his story ends but I couldn’t help fearing the worst. Memory, aging, insecurity, bravado, shame, and mental health are among the themes the narrator examines in a heartbreaking way.
Robert Garner McBrearty is the author of five books of fiction, most recently the flash fiction collection When I Can’t Sleep, published by Matter Press. His stories, both long and short, have appeared in many places including the Pushcart Prize, Missouri Review, New Flash Fiction Review, and Fiction Southeast.
Photo credit: Jamie Street