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Flash Fiction
999 words
SHJ Issue 12
Spring 2015


by Charles Hansmann

The beach was out of the question today because of the sun, because of the rash that had spread on my cheeks like butterfly wings. I looked it up on the Internet and found it most common in teenage girls with red hair and fair skin. This described her to a T.

Her letters were coming addressed to a name that only sounded like mine: Nick Knocked. I’d been getting them all week in envelopes the color of a bruised peach. Today’s had a Liberty Bell Forever Stamp angled to the corner, and humidity blurred the red ink of the postmark. But I knew it was local, like all the others, a privacy envelope with the flap loosely sealed, as if all she could spare were a dab of saliva and a passing lick. I slipped a finger inside to open it. Her message hadn’t changed, but today she tacked on the suspense of ellipsis: “I’m still waiting...”

She recounted a night exactly like the one I remembered, an almost hostile ardor, fierce and impersonal, Hessians just doing their job. She even got in the identifying marks: two linked rings, “in epidermal blue,” tattooed above my sternum.

The page ended on an ominous note: “As and for a first cause of action, Nick Nacht knocked me up.” The first part of that sentence was obviously cribbed from papers she had seen in some lawsuit. The second explained her little pun.

It was one of those parties where without even speaking we went out the side door to the sand. A few weeks later as I was walking down the street she hailed me from a table on the sidewalk. “Sixteen candles!” she called, putting a finger to her lips, “but I’m willing to hush.” She was sitting with friends deceptively young, tilted back in their chairs and flagrantly smoking. As I turned to walk away I heard one of them shout, “We know where you live!”

I was possibly the target of attempted extortion, possibly the perpetrator of a statutory crime. But shame was not my immediate worry. My muscles were knotting both sides of my spine, and I set the letter down for a cathartic backbend, steadying my pelvis for maximum tilt, and with my back to the window I kept on going until the sun was in my eyes.

This glare was what convinced me. According to my table the tide was running out. I could picture the shore getting bigger by the minute. Rash or no, I had to get some sun.

I took a bus to the beach north of town. The bus was painted environmental green, and to emphasize the benefits of public transportation the fare was set at the cost of a pint of gas. The road traced the shore, and past the low dunes I could see the long breakers glittering far out, and the white film of air, like a promise of solitude, hanging above them.

The drop-off point was not much more than a widened shoulder with extra gravel. I walked over the dune and continued down to the hard sloping sand. The surf was gentle close in, and the terns kept chasing the trickling ebb, darting away from the flow.

I waded to my knees and bent down to the water to soak a red handkerchief. Tied over my rash for protection, it looked like a bandit’s bandana. The rash had been healing but still felt sore. The saltwater gave me a quick little sting.

I kicked my sandals to shore and followed them in, unbuttoned my shirt and lay down on the beach. The air felt hot and heavy on my skin, and I let it press down and pin me to the sand.

But the tide had turned and within a few minutes wavelets were flooding my ankles. I grabbed my sandals and tossed them up the beach. They landed near a boy who kept throwing a boomerang that would go only straight. A young woman was wading through the shallows to fetch it. Out of natural curiosity or childhood drift the boy wandered close and was soon standing next to me. I lowered my bandana as he looked at my chest.

“Mama! Der Mann hat Handschellen auf der Brust!”

“Speak English, Klaus. He is not driftwood.”

She had a voice of conflicted allegiance, and not just because of her accent. She spoke with a kind of dalliance, as if she were cheating on her father tongue.

I tried out my German. “Hallo.”

“Guten Morgen.”

I looked at my watch. She laughed. “Correction,” she said: “Guten Tag. We have been here a long time.” She gestured toward her son. “He thinks your chain tattoo is handcuffs.”

She took the boy by the shoulders and turned him away from the shore. Her hair went from wheat to lemon as she tilted her head. “Throw it that way,” she said, “that way.” She looked back toward the dune with her hands on her hips. A strap had slipped on her swimsuit, and I could tell by her tan she didn’t always wear a top.

“Not a chain,” I said, “zwei Ringe.”

“Ein und dasselbe.”

Klaus threw his boomerang as straight as a spear. It punched into the dune as a cormorant took off from a tuft of tall grass with a lizard in its bill. Dodging the spray as the boomerang skidded, the bird bobbled its grip and the lizard plopped back to the sand.

The boy charged over.

“He wants to be a hunter,” the woman said, “but look at him now.”

He was waving his weapon with wild menace, shouting and keeping the cormorant at bay while the lizard scampered back to the grass.

“The boomerang’s supposed to come back,” she said.

“What goes round comes round,” I said as a private joke at my own expense.

“It’s supposed to come back,” she repeated, “but not if you hit what you’re aiming for.”


SHJ Issue 12
Spring 2015

Charles Hansmann

is the author of five poetry chapbooks, most recently Apostasy of the Wayless Poet (Tebot Bach, 2013) and Poem of the Ahead Places (Kattywompus, 2013). His haiku and haibun have been published in numerous haikai magazines and anthologies, and his recent fiction appears in KYSO Flash and Star 82 Review. He lives with his wife in Sea Cliff, New York.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury