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3’s a Crowd – Flash Fiction

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Andrena Zawinski has two previous books: Something About (a PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award) and Traveling in Reflected Light (a Kenneth Patchen Poetry Prize). “3’s a Crowd” first appeared in Panoplyzine in 2016

3’s a Crowd

The strapping young man sporting a neatly-trimmed anchor beard, felt Stetson and freshly pressed black-on-black, slams down a bargain-priced bouquet onto the supermarket conveyer belt and broadcasts, “The third time this month she kicked me out; the third time I have to buy my way back in with flowers.”

The woman in front of him, fourth-deep in line for the cashier—arms brimming with celery, carrots, and kale, hastily picked up in a quick jaunt in to the produce bins—rolls her eyes at the Lucky Supermarket’s “3’s a Crowd” banner above their heads, trying to ignore him in a quick scan of the rack of the scandal rags with their celebrity downward spirals, the wives laying down laws, Hollywood’s worst boozers. All she wants is another promised line to open. “3’s a Crowd,” after all.

He continues to ramble, as if she’s at all interested, proposing that maybe jealousy is a compliment and asserting that he really did forget to wear his ring out with the guys last night. “Why me?” she thinks as she peruses the sweet Skittles and Snickers, almost breaking her New Year’s resolution for fitness, decked out in her new Total Woman Spa yoga hoodie, as she considers pulling an edition off the rack on women who lost half their size and the latest slurry of politicians snagged by infidelity rumors.

“Ever notice,” she says instead, meeting his glassy eyes straight on, “those hammy Lucky Supermarket ‘3’s a Crowd’ banners, the false commitments taunting us as we stand five-deep in line and growing while we wait out another register error?”

He stays fixed in his own impending melodrama, leans into her apprehensively and asks, like he really wants to know, “So what do you think of jealousy?”

He reaches for a Diet Coke and Mentos, sliding the roses with their nearly spent blooms up closer to her produce.

“What I think,” she replies with some confidence, “is that the line’s long enough that you have time to grab a bottle of Prosecco and box of Godivas from the aisle behind you to go with that bunch.”

She is reluctant to enter the conversation further, annoyed he should think she could care to be drawn into it all like some Dear Abby of the Checkout. He laughs that he’s the one that needs a drink, a double shot of Johnny Walker, as he clumsily picks up a Cosmo and thumbs to “Ten Surefire Sexy Relationship Fixes.”

When she gets into the car, her cell phone rings. It’s her sister, Rosie, crying again about her latest live-in boyfriend— the one she didn’t have to meet online; the one that chased after her and not the other usual way around; the one who only leaves to keep up his live-aboard sloop docked in Ballena Bay; the one who brings home roses on a regular basis; roses, he tells her each time, that never are as beautiful as she is, his one and only Rosie. She whines on about his having gone out again all night with the guys, the star-studded promise ring she gave him still in the soap dish at the sink, glaring up at her like some telltale sign, like some other woman lurking backstage about to be discovered. Her sister on the phone starts to tell her in an excited chatter that she just met a guy in line who—

Rose quickly snaps back that she hasn’t time to hear about her escapades, cutting their connection. Alone in the apartment, Rose reminisces the first time they got together under an unusually warm and starry California sky mid-January and realizes how impetuous and optimistic she was about this one, this swarthy cowboy with a sailboat.

Just as she begins to wax melancholic, he lets himself into the apartment, plastic-wrapped bouquet in hand, red clearance tag still affixed to the preservative packet, humming the Waylon Jenning’s “Rose in Paradise” tune that played for the first dance they had barefoot onboard the Bronco’s deck beneath a perfect fingernail moon. She yanks off the plastic sleeve and plunges the roses headfirst down the Insinkerator, loose petals flying up at her flushed cheeks, and then shoves him out the door. Since she had already visited Pagano’s Hardware earlier in the day for instructions from the flirty clerk there on how to switch out her door knob lock cylinder in her Park Central apartment, she ignored his “please don’t do this” from the hallway.

Ignoring his timid tapping at the door—after all, this is the third time this month she has been expected to accept his apologies in flowers—she digs through the childhood cedar chest at the foot of the bed, “Hope Chest” her mother called it, for a screwdriver to change the lock. Until then, she jams a dining room chair up tight against the shaft of the knob, determined not to let him in.

“What a Hope Chest,” she broods, “nothing more than a giant junk drawer for all the things that just might come in handy.”

She roots through it down to the bottom and pulls up a crazy quilt her grandmother made so many years ago from swatches of family rites—the various weddings, births, communions, and graduations, all the little stories having taken their backseats in time. She swaddles herself in the quilt, breathing in the long, woody scent fixed in it, flops onto the rumpled bed, thinking maybe three times really is a charm, roses filling her head, the crack and smack of their stems inside in the disposal drain, the whir of their leaves spinning, spinning in a deliriously wild and final beautiful noise.

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Andrena Zawinski’s poetry has received accolades for lyricism, form, spirituality, and social concern and has appeared in Aeloian Harp, Blue Collar Review, Dallas Review, Progressive Magazine, Verse Daily, and elsewhere. Her latest collection of poetry is Landings. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area where she founded and runs a Women’s Poetry Salon. She is also Features Editor at Poetry Magazine.

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