#FridayFlash: Third Shift at McSweeny's

Third Shift at McSweeny’s

By Tony Noland

"This kind of thing was easier back when matches were made of wood."

"Were women just a little dumber back then, too?" she asked. "A little easier to impress?"

"Possibly," he said, "but you didn't meet women in bars. At least, not respectable women."

Kelly waited for him to look up from the matches he'd piled on the bar and give her a wink or a leer, some layered look of self-referential irony. One of those 'I know you know this is bullshit, but aren't I cute anyway?' kind of looks that every guy gives, usually sooner rather than later. But he didn't. He didn't even raise an eyebrow. He splayed the fingers of his right hand a bit more and wiggled them at the matches, entirely intent on them.

She let the silence hang. It was her turn to talk, but she felt like it was still his move. He wasn't cute, and he wasn't funny, but she'd gotten tired of cute, funny guys bringing their pearly white A-game to their flirtations. Her last boyfriend had run out of funny after five weeks. She was taking a break before taking on a new one. She'd been planning on just having a little R&R tonight, stringing a few guys along, maybe getting them to fight over her before going home alone.

However, this guy had blocked all the other action with his little stunt with the matches. She'd given him a light, then let him take a seat. When he said he had a bar trick she might like to see, she'd been a little annoyed at him wearing out his welcome, but let him have the book of matches.

On the other hand, she didn't really mind, not particularly. He was handsome enough to be good table decoration. Well, no, not handsome, she decided. More like interesting. The unfairness of that made her smile a bit. Millions of girls would cringe at being called 'interesting looking', but on an old guy, it was a half-compliment.

Old? She narrowed her eyes at him. No, not old either. That had been her first impression of him - old and rich. The rich part must have been from his shiny, black leather shoes and his watch, a big, scratched Rolex. Why old? His face was tanned, but not wrinkled. No gray hair, and none of those disgusting spots on his hands. His hands looked rather strong, in fact.

Without realizing it, she was licking her lips before every puff on her cigarette.

"Almost got it," he said. He was moving the fingers of both hands now.

"What exactly is supposed to happen?"

"The matches will spontaneously burst into flame, angels will sing, and you will fall in love."

She coughed, then scooped up her cigarette, cursing and slapping at the inside of her right thigh.

"Careful," he said, "that's lit." His eyes had remained fixed on the pile of matches.

"Fuck you! Who the fuck do you think you are? How dare you feed me a line of crap like that! You think I'm going to tumble for you, just because you set up a little parlor trick?"

"It's a bar trick, not a parlor trick. And I didn't say you'd fall in love with me. In fact, I can assure you that it won't be with me."

"Really. So this whole thing is to benefit some other lucky guy, but you go home to a cold shower?"

"I'm afraid so. Love isn't for me. Not anymore."

"What's that supposed to mean? Wait, never mind. I don't really care, OK? Why don't you just pack up and get out of my face, pal." She tapped her index finger hard on the bar, her shiny red nail flexing backwards. He didn't respond, but continued to move his fingers slowly.

She stubbed out her cigarette. "Fine, asshole, if you're the wingman, who's maverick? I might as well bust his balls and get this over with." She was looking around the bar, trying to spot the friend, but no one was paying them any attention.

"I don't know who he is. It doesn't matter, really. Look." His right hand clenched suddenly, scooping up the matches into a tight fist. He rapped his knuckles on the bar and opened his hand.

Within the ball of flame that he held, she saw herself. Her eyes, her hair, her long red nails, her high red heels, every burning reflection of herself glowing, welcoming, inviting. The flames in his hand licked upwards and inwards, moving within his palm, and she could feel them, hot and wet on her neck, on her lips, along her thighs, across her breasts. She heard a sound like music, like singing, like the beating of an angel's wings. She heard her own voice, calling, moaning, crying out with every touch, every caress, every act of passion and release that she had ever wanted. Folded into one towering moment was all of the attention and desire that her soul could withstand. The ball of light grew to a blinding intensity and she knew nothing but the song of love that rang through every part of her body, endlessly vibrating her to tiny, shimmering pieces.

When she opened her eyes, she was alone at the bar. She saw a small pile of ash on the bar next to her crushed cigarette. She blinked slowly as she looked around. Walking out the door was her man. She sat and watched the door close behind him.

Recognition took only a few seconds. She snapped out of her stupor and almost broke an ankle pushing through the crowd as she dashed for the door. She yanked hard and minced up the steps as fast as her shoes and skirt would allow. Up on the sidewalk, she looked left. Nothing. She looked right and saw him.

Not her drinking companion, not the old guy. She saw...

She swallowed hard as he walked towards her. He was cute and his friends were laughing at something he'd just said. He had brown hair and khaki slacks and he was perfect. He was perfect. He turned from them as he saw her approach. His eyes flicked up and down and he looked surprised for just an instant, then he had his game face on. He smiled a bright, pearly white smile.

Before he could speak, she held out her hand and said, "Hi. My name's Kelly. What's yours?"

Other #FridayFlash pieces can be found here


  1. I sneaked in two minutes between tasks to read this and it was well worth it :) Thanks for sharing, it's ace x

  2. So now she's going to fall in love with another one of the jerks she'd been so tired of...how cruel of you, Tony! :)

    This piece drew me in immediately and I forgot that I was reading flash. It felt like I sat down to be absorbed in a book. That doesn't happen very often. Great job!

  3. @Emma Glad you liked it!

    @Laura Kill your darlings...

  4. I was really into this as well. I loved the way you got into her mind. I think it was brave of you to expose human nature, our tendency to judge. I really expected a surprise at the end, though. I thought the new guy was going to judge her and tell her to get lost or something :)

  5. @Jentropy I loved the way you got into her mind.

    Thanks. Part of this was an exercise in writing from the POV of a young woman, a bit of writing-the-other. I think it worked pretty well, but I will defer to my female readers to tell me if I got a female perspective believably.

    I really expected a surprise at the end, though.

    Geez, what a tough crowd! "Cast a magic spell to give her the orgasm of her life and make her fall in love against her will with the first pretty boy she sees" isn't a surprise? I've got start reading up on this genre more!

  6. Really awesome work. I don't think you need to study up on this genre, you have it pretty well pegged.

  7. Such a harsh and unforgiving lady, hope the boytoy turns out to be just as harsh and unforgiving. Great story! Thank you :)

  8. You did do a nice job of capturing the woman's point of view in this piece - i love exercises like this that force a writer to stretch! Only one nit-pick from a woman's point of view - hitting her nails on the bar hard enough to bend them back would 1) be tough with nail polish on (makes them thicker), and 2) would hurt like a son-of-a-gun

    Well done!

  9. Nice job of creating a character that I loved to hate in such a short time frame. I'm glad she's fawning over another jerk with pearly whites, she deserves it...lol. So, got me all worked up!lol.

  10. Tony,
    I thought you got the female perspective down just fine.
    Great story.
    It's fun to write an unlikeable character now and again.
    Karen :0)

  11. Who was that guy? The anti-Cupid, making people fall for people they don't want too? The p.o.v. really worked for me, particular where you move between third-person action and pulling focus a little tighter onto your character's thoughts. Great stuff

  12. Hmmm, I'm not sure women slap the inside of their thighs, not even the obnoxious ball breakers! More of a guy thing...

    Loved the 'pearly white A game' refs!

  13. @ everyone So many great comments! I'm glad this POV was working, not only since it's female, but also since it's from such an unpleasant person. I usually try to make my characters likable, and this time I wanted to try something different.

    I'd also like to thank that one among you (you know who you are!) who e.mailed me about the typo!

    A few thoughts...

    I see your point about the nail, PJ. My original take on that line was "She tapped her index finger hard on the bar, her shiny red nail flexing backwards hard enough to crack the glue." In the end, I decided that having her crack a nail would be distracting, and telling everyone she wears fake nails would be too much detail. She's already bitchy and unpleasant; glue-on nails bump up the trashy quotient to farce. The funny thing is, I know she wears fake nails, so when she stabbed the bar with them, I know it didn't hurt. I probably should have re-done that whole line.

    This might be TMI, but since I'm talking about my own work(always dangerous), Cascade Lily's point about the thigh-slapping as a guy thing is well taken. In this case, though, she just dropped her lit cigarette onto her right thigh. That's enough to interrupt anyone's A-game! ;-)

    As Dan Powell asks, who was that guy? I know who he is, but I don't want to compromise anyone else's interpretation. E.mail me if you want to know, otherwise I'll just let it be one of those Dumbledore-is-gay backstory issues.

  14. Well-written piece, this. I enjoyed the POV as well as the storyline. Some endings are appropriate to the set-up, and this one was appropriately justified. Thank you for sharing.

  15. I enjoyed this - good job. Great characterisation.

  16. I had the same reaction as Laura Eno. The way you set up the story was immediately engrossing, and, in Laura's words, "it felt like I sat down to be absorbed in a book."

    Lovely work. :)

  17. I think the POV is fine. The only issue that pulled me out was tapping her nail and having it flex backward. Fake nails (at least the acrylic ones) don't flex at all.

    I think we can infer they're fake from the way she's characterized.

    Very good work, and entertaining. I love pieces that don't spell it all out and trusts the reader.

  18. @Stephen, Alan, Stef & Netta Thanks reading the piece, and for your great comments. I love it when a story has legs enough to move past the Friday-Sunday reading period.

    Ah, Stef and Laura Eno... was there ever a truer path to an aspiring novelist's good side than "it felt like I was absorbed in a book"?

    Netta, I'm glad Kelly came through as the sort of person who would have fake nails (although she is actually a natural blonde, strangely enough). I'll defer on the flexibility of glue-on nails, as my personal experience with them is vicarious only.

  19. You balanced physical and behavioral description well, bringing the characters to life.

    What really worked for me was the fumbling of the man with the matches. Destiny, magic, fate - whatever - as less than perfect has great appeal.

  20. As a man I'd say you did a great job of characterizing a woman. Uh, that's probably not a big help to you though. ;)

    I did love to hate this woman.

    It is not apparent that she dropped her cigarette (at least to me) thus causing the thigh slapping, but that's not what bothered me. From the description of her going up the steps as fast as her shoes and skirt would allow implies a tight skirt, so I think it would be very hard to slap at the inside of a thigh - right or left handed. But that's a real nit in an otherwise very well done characterization.

    I hope the guy she fell in love with is a real jerk. She deserves no less.

    Also, sorry I'm late to the game.


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