Gold Stars

Flash Fiction by Brett Biebel

They hang their flag out on the porch in May, and Nadine catches her husband spitting on it in June. She sees him out the window. He’s just finished mowing the lawn, and there’s grass stuck all up and down his legs, and maybe he sees her seeing him. Maybe he doesn’t. Either way, they find each other through the window, and distant engines cover the birdsong floating in from trees, and she isn’t angry. He isn’t ashamed. When she opens the door, all they do is sit on the porch for a while as phlegm drips onto the wood. Phlegm mixed with sweat. The flag ripples slightly, and, “I thought it was bird shit,” she says. “First time I saw it.”

He laughs at this. Eyes across the street. The neighbor, they know, has a security camera, and both wonder if it can see them. Pick up their words. Could be this is why Nadine’s husband only shrugs. Why he whispers when he says, staring off somewhere unfixed, that he finds it hard to look. Waving or still, furled or unfurled, he wishes it would just get the fuck away and then never come back, and, “Would that hurt you?” he says. “If, one day,” except he doesn’t finish. A dog barks from somewhere. The street is otherwise deserted. 

“Depends,” she says. “Who took it?  And where did it go?”

“I don’t know, Nadine, anywhere. Somewhere else,” and he spits again, and she watches it. How it spreads out like some kind of firework, and 4th of July, she tells him, after a deep breath. That’s when they’ll turn it loose. Roll it up and send it arcing through the air inside one of them M-80s or something, and there will be fire. Smoke. There will be the smell of burning cloth and maybe burnt hair, and she pictures it forming a little brown puddle on the grass. This dead spot he’ll never have to mow again, and she can tell he doesn’t believe her, so she grabs his chin and forces eye contact.

“I promise,” she says, and points at the camera while it watches. Rotates slightly. It grabs a plate number from a passing car and thinks about the day the flag showed up and how the delivery guy didn’t even knock. Just left the box to sit there in the rain, and some teenager almost stole it. Parked. Got out of his car. Stood there glancing around all shifty and broken, and the radio blasted something country and maybe a little western, and, when he finally peeled out, the whole scene was covered with a film of navy-blue exhaust. 

Brett Biebel teaches writing and literature at Augustana College in Rock Island, IL. His (mostly very) short fiction has appeared in Hobart, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Masters Review, Wigleaf, and elsewhere. It’s also been chosen for Best Small Fictions and as part of Wigleaf’s annual Top 50 Very Short Stories. 48 Blitz, his debut story collection, is available from Split/Lip Press. You can follow him on Twitter @bbl_brett.

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