July 9th (Flash Fiction)

Another flash fiction from the #writerstowriterschallenge that is hosted on Instagram! The main point being to capture the aesthetic of ‘summer noir’. (All of this is a work of fiction).

I notice her immediately. She’s the only person in the street, standing under the only working streetlight.

Normally, I’d be asleep right now, as it’s 2am, but I woke up craving tea and came downstairs to make some. The kettle hasn’t started to boil, so I go outside. No one should be left outside in the middle of the night, especially not in this neighborhood.

“Excuse me,” she flinches. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to startle you, but I wondered if you’re okay.”

She turns to me, the streetlight giving her a glowing aura. She’s beautiful. High cheekbones, doe eyes, perfectly curled short blonde hair, and cherry-red lips.

“Are you okay?” I ask when she only stares at me.

It strikes me that she looks like a 1920’s movie star. She’s even dressed like one, including a fur wrap. Which is crazy, because it’s the middle of July in Louisiana. Even at 2am, it’s in the high 70’s. 

“Ma’am, are you alright?”

She moves then, reaching into the matching fur clutch and pulling out a cigarette. She keeps her eyes on me, barely blinking as she lights the cigarette and places it in her mouth. 

I’m about to ask again if she needs help when she pulls the cigarette out of her mouth and says huskily, “Am I alive?” 

Now it’s my turn to stare at her. “I’m sorry, did you ask if you’re alive?”

“Where am I?” She ignores me.

“New Orleans.”

“New Orleans? Wow, I haven’t been here since…” she trails off, staring past me.

“Ma’am, who are you?” I try to get her attention.

She fixes her eyes on me. “Who are you?”

I sigh. She obviously doesn’t want to tell me anything about herself. “Helen Keys. I live right there,” I point at my house. “Why don’t you come inside and have tea?”

“Helen…” she’s gazing around the street again. “What is today’s date?”

It hits me that she may be on drugs. But she seems harmless, so I answer.

“Today is July 9th, 1985.”

“When were you born?”

“1923, but I don’t see-”

“What was your maiden name?”

I glare at her. “Elliot. Why?”

Her lips tremble. “I see.” Snapping her clutch shut, she looks around the street again. “I must go. It was wonderful to meet you, Helen.”

“Wait, who are you?” I reach for her arm, but she thrusts something into my hand instead. 

I look down at the photograph that she’s given me. It’s a picture of her, holding a squishy-faced baby. My heart is in my throat. I know this picture. I flip it over. On the back is written, Lillian Elliot and daughter Helen.

A newspaper clipping is taped under the words. The same headline that I’ve read so many times says, Lillian Elliot killed in car wreck, July 9th, 1924. 

My head jerks up and I frantically search the empty street.

All I can manage is a whisper that somehow I hope she will hear. “I love you, Mom.”

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