Flash: Small Fiddle

Image courtesy of nuchylee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net; Text added by Erin Penn

Rating: Mature (end of chapter three and going into chapter four)


Oliva sniffs, her lips pressing firm, before bustling over my way through the township festivities. “Rebecca, I can’t believe you were talking to THAT woman.”

“Who, Shanty?” I ask nonchalantly, knowing full well she was exactly the person involved in the interaction the forty-year-old prude busybody was disparaging.

“Yes, I mean Sharon.” The woman, who, I swear this is the God’s-honest-truth, is streaking her hair with gray to look more matronly, leans in to pretend-whisper, but projecting carefully so at least those nearest us hear, “You know she works for THAT place.”

I eye the woman walking away with shorts and top too tight and small for common decency with some envy; the fourth of July celebration’s brutal humidity wants me to pull the “too little clothing for body type” style as well, but for me, basically, that is stepping outside fully clothed in most people’s opinions. I passed pleasingly plump years ago and sunk into Titanic Tent size when my second husband dumped me with teenage kids from mine and HIS first marriages, plus our mutual preteen son, and I crawled into the refrigerator like a drunk crawls into the bottle. “You mean Top Titties, the big pink and florescent green business out by the highway?” My conversational voice carries further, me being taller than Oliva by five inches and a trained alto to her scratchy soprano. We attend the same church and sing in the same choir, which Oliva interprets as making us toxic gossip buddies.

“Yes,” she hisses, looking around, not expecting names and specifics to be brought out publically.

“Of course, I do. I deliver for the one business furniture company in town.” I push my way to the burgers. Not they are on my diet, but today, being a holiday, is a cheat day. As is most days ending in “y”. Since my youngest entered the military after May’s graduation, I been depressed and food fills the hole.

Why don’t I fill it with people? Witness person one following me; this is the type of person willing to hang out with a woman 5’10” and over three hundred pounds who can toss around two hundred pound furniture on her own and push five hundred pound pieces with a dolly. “I’ve been to their establishment a time or … two,” I hold up my thick fingers to the man working hard to keep his beer gut out of the grills randomly leaping flames as fat hit the hot coals.

“Ten bucks Becca.” Paulie says, flipping patties like the pro he is. He runs the food truck usually set up outside the little league games and the breakfast grill out on the railroad tracks, the only place around which serves at 5 am when I finish my first run, and the two donuts and coffee I pick up at the All-Night Convenience are no longer cutting it.

I toss a Hamilton to the teenage girl ringing up orders at the cash register and stuff a couple of singletons into the tip jar. Lucy smiles from behind her more serious twin, Valentina, “Hey Mrs. Hurt, each burger comes with a drink and fries. Instead of an extra drink, would you like cheese sauce or chili on one of those fries?”

“Cheese sauce sounds like just what the doctor ordered, hon.”

I hand the cheese fries and drink to Olivia to hold, hoping she will get some of the melting mess on her white summer outfit, leaving me to juggle the remaining food over to the condiments table setup outside the food booth where I coat the burgers and plain fries with the works.

“As a good Christian, you can’t just ignore what THAT woman does for a living. She wallows in SIN.”

I poke two oil-and-vinegar coated fries in my mouth to keep from answering that. And wander off, with my thin poisonous shadow following me as I seek a mostly unoccupied table since I will take up most of one side of the picnic bench if I can wedge myself in.

Each chew, I repeat in my head “I will not say anything. I will not say anything.” This is the one group of people that still pretends to like having me around even if they do talk about me “behind my back”. Really, they had to know how sounds carries from the choir box. After all it is made to do exactly that. “I will not say any—“

“And why did you go to THAT man’s booth when Matthew’s hot dog stand was next door.”

Aw heck. I am tired of this. The church is filled with bitter old spiteful haters, at least in our town. Lesbian – out you go. Trans – unnatural demon possessed. Black – your church is on the other side of town. Migrant workers who make good by becoming restaurant owners – shouldn’t be patronized since they steal jobs we wouldn’t work in a million years, and instead I should go to someone who BOILS their meat?

Aw H.E.double-hockey-sticks no.

“I like Paulie’s cooking.” I say, finally spotting a picnic table beside a raised garden bed with stone wall which could hold my weight. I plunk down my fries and burgers and pluck the cheese fries and oversized drink, the twins love me, from Olivia’s hands. “And I like Shanty.” I sit down, cautiously waiting a moment to see if anything gives, then arrange the food in the order I will enjoy it most.

“You like everyone’s cooking.” Olivia sneers.

Not everyone’s, I bite into my burger. Your macaroni and cheese which you bring to every potluck is a congealed mess. How do you screw up mac and cheese? I take another bite, trying to keep tears and anger inside.

She pats my shoulder and sits her too thin behind on the bench end, not tipping it like my elbows do as I hold the second hamburger over a paper basket. “But that is one of the things we love about you.” She paused just long enough. “Liking everyone, I mean.”

Can we do less passive-aggressive bitch-slaps?

“But you really shouldn’t hang out with THOSE types of people. People will talk.”

Like you do all the time? Not even shoving fries down after the burgers can keep the words in anymore, so I speak around them. “Could you better define THOSE types? Is it hard-working entrepreneurial types like Paulie and his family? Or performing artists who work nights so they can then be up all day at home with their small children? Good, loving parents? Breadwinners for their families?” I jam the last cheese covered fry in my mouth. “Or is it just all single parents doing everything they can after losing their spouses to divorce or disease? People like me?”

“Well, I never.” Olivia huffs loudly so everyone around us quiets.

“That’s not what I remember from when we were in High School.” I say standing up, picking up my half liter drink, and walking away. The next table over, the pastor is choking on his hot dog; beside him, his wife, the choir director, has her mouth formed in the perfect “O” she tried to get us to master for the “O, Holy Night.”

Guess church and choir are canceled for me from now until forever.

My lard and me waddle away half in shame, half in despair, and half tremendously pleased with myself. There is a lot of me; I can have three halves.


Passing by the Fiddler’s Glen courtyard, a public area along Main Street, I hear a slow clap through sudden, aching silence. Looking up, I see a man dressed in a tailored three-piece pinstripe of black wool, way too much for the hundred degree heat, with a red silk handkerchief, an exact match for the stripes and his eyes and hooves. I glance up at the statue behind him depicting the most famous music competition in the South; the artist captured the devil’s face well. I guess the suit might not feel hot compared to where the guy normally hangs out.

“I’m impressed. That is not the way I thought you would break.”

I shrug shoulders underneath my floral homemade gown, since not even the super-store with the asterisk carries house dresses in the size of houses. “Abuse me, I take it. Abuse my friends…”

“You catch on fire.” The man gave the vest a sharp tug, outlying most of his muscles for just a second, creating the beauty worthy of his pride. A few steps closes the distance between us. “I like fire.”

“Good for you.” My voice carries easily in the silence. I know there is like ten thousand people in the streets around us, but I can’t even hear a pin drop.

Opening his jacket, the Fallen One pulls a bottle of water out. “For you.”

Curious, I take the offering gingerly. “Hell’s water.” I read and raise an eyebrow. “Vodka?”

“No.” His devilish smiles curls my toes, even though I know better.

Hadn’t felt a reaction like that since Barry pulled out of the drive with his convertible and bar fly. And to be honest, more likely haven’t had this strong a reaction since R.J. courted the chunky girl back in High School to win the “pop a cherry at prom” competition. Joke was on R.J. when I got knocked up Junior year, then the joke was on me when R.J.’s brain cancer destroyed what little decency the devoted church-goer had and he started beating me even when he wasn’t drunk. When I tried to escape, the church shamed me for leaving a fatally ill man. Before that, while R.J. was still healthy, the minister, same one who had been trying to stomach Matthew’s flaccid meat, encouraged me stay for the children when I talked to him about R.J. drinking problems. It took my first husband three years to die after the first time he broke one of my bones.

Satan takes a step back before motioning to the bottle in my hand. “Drink up, it brings what you really are to the surface.”

Thinking about all my self-hate, my failures, and the dead parts inside where everyone who has loved me left behind, “At the cost of my eternal soul?”

“Nope. I just like to fuck with people.”

And with that he faded away.

So, what, Satan is a mischief-making god knock-off? Makes sense after a fashion; about half of all the evil gods in all pantheons are more like random frat boys up to no good, than actually evil, unlike the church-going woman I just left.

I crack open the water and chug it down.


Sound rushed back, and I felt cool for the first time in days. The sweat dripping down my back and under my arms evaporates, and even the faint odor from the bacteria I can never quite clean between my folds, dissipates. For the first time in a long time, I don’t feel like I am dragging. Maybe even a little attractive, or at least, not repulsive.

I turn back to the street, give one slow breath in and out, like preparing for a solo. Of all the things about the church, singing is the one things I was going to miss. I toss the empty plastic bottle into one of the recycling bins lining the street, and go back to talk to the people who I run into on my route.

Along the way, I wipe tears from a couple knee-biters’ eyes, talk with my ex’es children and waggle my sausage fingers at my grandchildren of the heart, and in general acted my normal self of acting like everything is fine. I got several people to laugh, and everyone around me to smile. Normally I do all this to hide the loneliness and self-hate inside. So people don’t know that I will go home and eat the fridge out once again in my slow suicide. This time the act is to hide the fact I just consorted with the Devil. And that made me feel sinful and dangerous, and a little sexy.

For that and actually being the one person on main street not drenched in sweat, when I returned to my car toward sunset and passed by the Fiddler’s Glen, I blew a kiss to the iron statute of the devil with a gold violin playing his heart out. “Thank you, you Old Rascal. Today was a good day.”

Not even my arches hurt when I got into the car, though my nipples were itchy. I rubbed them a couple of times, debating staying for the fireworks. Normally I head home to dive into whatever leftover takeout is in the fridge, today is the extra 20-piece bucket of chicken pieces I bought for last night’s dinner. I even prepped for my normal post-event depression bout by stocking up on ice cream and setting aside two net-flicks series to hide in for a few days. But today, I think I will watch the fireworks.

I drag one of the moving rugs from the back of my messy van. I normally do all the runs with the company van, but sometimes when I am out grabbing a meal, people send something back with me for repair so I keep a few of the brown-gray padded rugs and some order forms on a clipboard just in case.

Small Fiddle has a hillside overlooking the river, community owned. Officially a park, but without swings or walking trails, or even the little raised flower beds the Gardening Club has seeded up and down Main Street. It’s for nights like tonight, with fireworks, or a barge playing music for the Small Summer Saturdays. A natural amphitheater with amazing acoustic quality which always begged me to run down and join the jazz groups.

I love to sing. I had been in every jazz group, orchestral and madrigal group in elementary, junior, and high school which would have me. I had even been thinking about going to college for music until I had to drop out my senior year, blimping unmistakably with baby. Mr. Anwar, the furniture store owner who hired me after Barry left, encouraged me to get my GED. I didn’t think I had the brains; RJ and Barry constantly told me I didn’t. But Mr. Anwar made it a condition of employment. I had to go to adult school. Between raising five kids, fighting a losing battle for child support since Barry moved out-of-the-country, working full-time, and going to school, I didn’t sleep. I still can’t. Not well. Took three tries to pass the GED, but I finally got it.

I find a piece of grass not claimed and set down the blanket. The nipples continue to itch, and I could feel the temperature dropping, bringing them to points. Guess I am going to soon find out the downside of Satan’s little gift to “fuck with people.”

Fucking. You know, that sounds like fun.

Annnd, there it is. Ho, boy.


I’ve never had fun fucking. First R.J. popped my cherry hard. He got me half-drunk, got us both half-drunk, and ripped my clothes when I tried to back out. When I got pregnant, he did the right thing according to the pastor and married his “high school sweetheart”. He hated fat girls but had figured it was the fastest way to the locker-room win.

He never touched me to make lov… I can’t even say it. Love was never involved … he never touched me to satisfy his urges, unless he was plastered. And he always hit me when he was drunk.

After that, it took a lot to get a man near me. I padded myself with fat to keep people at a distance and took in babysitting to make ends meet, since I didn’t have a diploma and never had a job since I dropped-out pregnant. Barry’s kids were the same age as mine; I think he married me to save money. I couldn’t tell you why I married him; maybe I had hoped someone could love me? He fucked me when he was between girlfriends, hence the youngest of my crew. I don’t think I orgasmed once with him. After each episode, I would go into the bathroom, clean myself, and cry.

I never tried to leave him, because being with him was so much safer than RJ. Plus I knew how ostracized I would be after my one time of trying to leave my first husband, after he had broken my arm, cheek bone, and two ribs. When people say you need to stay after seeing you with two black eyes for over a month, I don’t want to even think about the reaction of leaving Barry. Based on the choir gossip they let me hear, they are positive I drove him away because I got fat, well, fatter.

The first rocket soared into the air and exploded against the night sky, a burst of white and gold. I laid down on my blanket to better watch the show. The next moment “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” starts pumping through the speakers on the water; our township has recorded a thirty-minute version for functions like today.

And the water in me vibrates with each beat.

Each explosion above me reflects in a new pleasure burst, like a rain of kisses and bites.

It starts in the stomach, with the four beat intro. Each bang on the drum skin, echoes through my overlarge belly, contracting it, making it feel fuller and fuller. The violin notes which follows run over my body like rough silk, feathers, and leather, scraping and dancing. Toning, tuning, and tempting.

(Words 2955, first published 12/30/2018)