by Nicholas Gustavson

Honorable Mention: Flash 405 November 2015, “Roots”

I’m concealed behind a discounted sewing cabinet, recording Delores Kempsell while she shops at Jo-Ann Fabrics. She picks up paper patterns and half-priced patriotic flannel. Boring video, and I’m sure Donny won’t bother watching. Donny wants claim-busting footage; forty-five minutes of Delores Kempsell BASE jumping, hiking Runyon Canyon, or at least salsa dancing on her bad knee. It’s been three months since Delores fell down in her cubicle and Donny’s sick of cutting wage replacement checks.

Delores queues up to pay. A shopper yells because the cashier won’t accept her expired quilting fabric coupon. Delores looks worried. In the viewfinder Delores could be my mother—same lollipop-stick legs, same L.L. Bean house dress. I zoom in and see my mother’s frown from that day I announced I was moving to Los Angeles. “But they riot there,” she said. “Didn’t they burn the campus?”

I’m touching the discounted sewing cabinet now—I wasn’t allowed to touch Mother’s, that ancient transformer, with the sewing machine swinging out from the depths on a hinge. I can hear it humming outside her bedroom, and I come upon her foot-pedaling, sewing me a jacket for Father’s funeral. I wore it when the color guard handed her Father’s flag, and I watched her trace the stars, inspecting the canvas for proper stitching. I knew then I could never replace him, and I had to leave.

“If anyone burns the campus,” I told her, “it’ll be me.”

A backup cashier arrives. The line halves and Delores follows the new stream. I reposition behind a holiday display of patriotic burlap. A nametag for MARTA fills the
viewfinder. “Can I help you, sir?” Marta’s suspicious—here’s a strange male with a cam-bag and no shopping basket.

“Got Fourth of July fabric?” Marta taps the display as I rubberneck around her. There’s a third cashier now, and no Delores.

I rush forward. Delores is outside, crossing the parking lot. She’s limping. It won’t make good video. I slip outside, into the heat. Pico Rivera in July. I run towards her, but stumble on a fallen shopping bag, kicking fabric across the asphalt—fireworks of red, white, and blue.

Delores limps back towards me, arms empty.

“Thank you, my son,” she says as I gather up her fabric.

I stop recording. Delores’ll make me now, at Denny’s, the laundromat, or her doctor’s office. I’m her Monday morning ghost, her forgotten son, and I can’t come home.

Nicholas Gustavson‘s fiction recently won the grand prize in Easy Reader Magazine’s 45th Anniversary writing contest, and third place in a recent Writer’s Digest fiction contest. He currently works as a private investigator and is cofounder of Corra Group, a background screening firm. He lives in Redondo Beach with his wife and two children. Visit him at

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