Congrats to Donna Thomas, who took home a bag of Mystery Writers of America prizes for her wonderful—and very quickly written!—story during our annual Printers Row Flash Fiction contest. Donna and her daughter stopped by our booth early on Saturday morning, and Donna’s daughter encouraged her to write a piece for the contest. By mid-afternoon, Donna was our winner!
MWA Midwest members Sara Paretsky and Lori Rader-Day served as judges, while Heather Ash was our moderator.
If you missed our Flash Fiction contest this year and all the other fun we have every year at Printers Row, watch for details for next year at this site.
Congrats to Donna, and thank you for letting us publish your story here!
No one tells Big Red to back down. And no one knows why he’s called Big Red – a mystery that spans well beyond the 32 years I’ve been living in my one bedroom hovel on Onion Grove. He isn’t big or red. And no one knows his age either. With Asians it’s hard to tell. His tanned skin seems wrinkle-proof and his jet black hair, slim physique and perfect posture had not changed as the decades rolled by. Meanwhile, my creaking old bones can be heard halfway down the hallway to my apartment.
Big Red never gets much mail, but once I glimpsed an envelope addressed to Mr. Sato Tanaka and it kind of jolted me – which was silly now that I think about it. I mean who would address a letter: “Dear Mr. Big Red…” but that’s what we know him by. And for some reason people around him, myself included can never say ‘no’ to the man. I don’t know what kind of Hoodoo he possesses, but I half expect he’s been living in the building rent-free. He wouldn’t tell me if I asked. But then we both have our secrets. He and I are the only current residents of the Onion Grove Apartments who were living here when JFK got shot.
Today, Big Red was in his usual spot leaning back in a rickety chair next to the back door, smoking a Camel. I pulled up a seat and we got to talking about some of the things the other tenants didn’t know about. Like the time Sal in 2E gutted his dog. Sal was a taxidermist of course, but still, he never said a word about the dog dying. One day little Kreedo was sniffing around, panting and wagging his tail. The next thing – he was stiff as a board, and Sal never batted an eyelash. He took Kreedo out for walks, only the dog had to be carried now. And once I caught a glimpse through Sal’s apartment door of fresh dog food and water in the pooch’s dog dish on the kitchen floor. Well, Sal has long since moved out.
An Indian couple with three kids moved in afterwards and they kept up a racket. Mostly we heard kids screaming and the man screaming – probably at the wife and kids. Even though I couldn’t understand what he was saying, there were times he sounded downright homicidal. Once in the middle of the night there was a single blood-curdling scream. I shot straight up in bed and debated whether or not to dial 9-1-1. But everything was quiet after that. No bullets flew up through the floorboards, so I went back to sleep. The next day they were gone. The whole family. Packed up and left and were never heard from again.
Across the hall in 2W, Mrs. Tate and her sickly husband Al must have been awfully glad to see them go. They liked things quiet. And by ‘they’ I mean her – Lucinda Tate. We only ever heard about Al Tate through her. Al was bed-ridden, you see, with a variety of ailments I could never keep track of when Mrs. Tate rattled them off in the course of showcasing her martyr-like devotion to the man. She would recite an oral catalogue of all her ministrations to poor, dear Al for anyone she could corner into listening. Near the end though, she probably did it more to keep track of her story. Or maybe she actually did continue to go through the motions after Al was gone. Maybe she loved him so much she just couldn’t let go. Or maybe it was Al’s social security check she couldn’t let go of. Turns out they weren’t legally married. I felt kind of sorry for her when they finally rolled Al’s rotting corpse out.
Throughout our discussions Big Red nodded and smiled in remembrance, and I felt a kind of a kinship as one of the only two curmudgeons in the building. I felt as if Mr. Sato Tanaka kind of owed me a little something. So I asked, “Why do people call you Big Red?” Big Red smiled and stubbed out his Camel. “I’ll tell you” he said through a lingering haze of smoke, “in another thirty two years.”
-(Copyright Donna Thomas)
Our prompts this year, from MWA Midwest members were:
After seventy years on the planet, you’d think …
Walking down the dark alley I stumbled over…
When the lights came back on…
No one tells Big Red to back down.
She did the one thing a writer never should do…
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.