The 234th Time

Note: All writing on this blog has not be edited or line edited by an editor. I do my best to catch mistakes and give you a clean copy. When I published books to be sold, the book will have had multiple edits and a line-edit. Thanks for reading and comments.

He was like paint chips, and not the fun brain addling and shaky hands lead kind, he was straight white latex. Boring and safe, like me. Every day, I sat at the same cafe table noticing the same people who strolled down the sidewalk. Today was the 234th time I regarded him walking by my spot with the same brief case, wearing the same khaki pants, white shirt and tie with no jacket. It was as if he and I existed in a loop of utter sameness and our survival depended on it not changing.

The only changes were the seasons marked by the small sidewalk tree and its leaves. The fall  leaves were golden, and the light was soft. I sipped my coffee, looked at my watch, and waited for him to walk by.

As I scouted the street, I saw him but he was not walking. He ran towards me and slammed into my table; the coffee spilled. I started to stand, but he shoved me into my seat pushing the briefcase into my chest.
“Take it,” he said and ran off. Just as he crossed the street a red jeep sped past and careened down the road.

I sat and stared at the now empty street with the briefcase in my lap. The spilled coffee dripped onto my shoe making a dull thud with each drop. Sharply inhaling, I stood and walked home to my third floor apartment. It was decorated with found discarded furniture and always smelled of the city streets. Its decor reflected the blandness of my clothes.

I slipped off my shoes as I crossed to the three legged coffee table held up by stack of never read economic books, placed the case on the table, put my thumbs on the latched and pushed. Click. The sound echoed. I opened it expecting to see papers, pens, business cards, and an envelope marked top secret. Empty. Exploring every inch of it and not finding even a dusty corner, I put my nose in it and sniffed. The scent of leather, glue, and newness entered my nose.

Not having another moment to spare on an empty brief case, I left for work. My work is on the 45th floor of a glass office building where I enter data. I am in cubicle 52. The stink of disappointment lingers above every cubicle and the gaze of a waisted education crosses our faces as the workers pass each other. Today was different, for me, as will be tomorrow.

In the morning, I sat at the same table, surveyed the same street, and sipped my block coffee. His briefcase placed on the ground beside me. I waited and three leaves fell to the ground. He appeared and walked toward me in the same pants, shirt and tie.

When he reached my table, he smiled and reached for the briefcase. “Thanks,” he said.
Compelled to participate and not just observe the scene, I touch his arm and said, “Why is it empty?”


“Yes, empty. I looked. It wasn’t locked.”

“It wasn’t locked,” he repeated.

“No,” I stood and stared into his sharp green eyes.

He sat, placed the briefcase on the table shoving my coffee to edge, and opened it. I sat.

“Empty,” I said.

“Empty,” he echoed as his fingers explored every crevice as I had.

“It’s new,” I said. He sniffed its interior. He grabbed my hand and peered at my face.  In the corner of my eye, I saw a red jeep. I removed my hand from under his and closed the briefcase with a calm, even motion. “Don’t move, don’t look. The jeep will pass; we are invisible.”

The jeep drove by without slowing. His eyes reflected the red of the jeep as it rounded the corner.

“Why,” I started to say but didn’t continue.

“Why do I walk this street every day carrying a briefcase? Why was I running yesterday with that jeep following me. May I ask, why do you sit here, every day, drinking coffee?”

“It's good coffee. I have coffee before work.”

“Before work on Saturday, Sunday?”

“No, but, I drink coffee, here.”

Silence. I picked up my coffee and sipped. Easily, I slipped into familiar gestures to keep hold of sameness having not participated in life for so long. What now, I thought during my second sip.

He looked at his shoes and said, “It’s pointless.”

“Like white latex paint,” I replied. Four more leaves fell to the ground.

*The first sentence and the first half of the second sentence was provided by another participant -Chris Sm(@poorstruggler) Thank you, Chris


  1. That's awesome. I liked the use of all the numbers to set the mood and the theme. All the details in the struggle to find significance in random things.

  2. Finally had a little time to look through your blog. I must say, you have a real knack for flash fiction, Alice. I love this one in particular. Everyone can relate to a story like this. The small things you work in are terrific. In some ways, it reminds me of some of Haruki Murakami's short stories. Great stuff.

  3. Thank you, Crispian. I'm blushing. If I had a little warning, I might have quickly cleaned up the site which I'm doing today. I have been ignoring the blog mostly in the push to publish my first book. I added back -Tie Fling Ranger Who Suffers From Nosebleeds - you might like it.

    I just read Norweigan Wood. When I write flash fiction, I try to think of an underlying meaning and then hope that it comes across in some small way. Critiquers of my writing have said that it lacks emotion. Others have said it is subtle. Thank you for the compliment because it really pushes me to work harder.

    1. Lacks emotion? Oh no, not at all! Some of the best stories have a subtleness that might not strike you right away, but sits with you after you finish and then seeps in as you mull over the words while you're sat on the bus or tube. These small fragments would be great in a collection at some point.


  4. Alice E. KeyesSeptember 7, 2015 at 10:23 PM
    This bit of flash fiction is one of my favorites too. Sometimes the ones one struggles with the most ring with the most truth. This one endwithout hint of more story though I could create a rich world around this mundane life of coffee and watching the leaves being born and then dying in glorious orange...zen and the maintenance of minutiae.

  5. Alice, this story is stunning. I think it is among the best you've written. All of life reduced to such a little story. Phenomenal.