Friday flash: Gruel


Martha stirred the thin gruel that simmered on top of the camp stove, wishing that Jack had brought the groceries so it would be a heartier meal. Some of the gruel had, improbably, stuck to the bottom, and she scraped at the pan to loosen it. The stove wasn’t really against the rules, but only because the landlord hadn’t thought about it. Who would be crazy enough to cook with open flame in a bamboo home with no ventilation?

Pretty much anyone who was forced to live in these apartments, partitioned on the inside of an old warehouse, that’s who. Martha wasn’t the only one cooking right now, and the mix of cabbage and chicken and beets and onions and four-day-old fish, plus a few things that smelled like they’d already turned, would have turned her stomach in better times. Now, she did her best to ignore it. Her neighbors, like her, just wanted to survive, and if they were all eating, she wouldn’t have any more visitors dropping in to ask her yet again how she was doing. Sirena hadn’t even knocked!

Outside, traffic rumbled in the heat of the day, and Martha wondered whether today would be the day they cleared the bridge. No one had expected one of the alien ships to go down in the Carquinez Strait, not with so much empty space in the Bay. Jack’s bad luck to be out there, stuck in his truck when he wanted to be up in the skies, shooting at the bugs before they shot at him.

Her bad luck, too, with no money for food on hand, the power out, and no way to get news except listening to gossip.

She stirred the gruel again. No point in waiting any longer. It was cooked; she might as well eat, keep up her strength for when Jack did make it home. She spooned it into a bowl and sat cross-legged on the floor, listening to snippets of conversations from her neighbors, the Garcias’ baby wailing again, the reassuring flow of engines in the street that said the world was getting back to normal, at least for now.

Martha sighed and closed her eyes. There was always hope.

The bamboo shook as a neighbor slammed a door downstairs. She opened her eyes and picked up her spoon. The gruel in the bowl sloshed back and forth, shaken by footsteps elsewhere. She took a bite and grimaced at the scorched undertone. Still, it was what she had. She took another bite.

The door opened behind her, and she whirled, ready to yell at Sirena again, but it wasn’t Sirena. Jack held the door open, swaying unsteadily, covered with dirt and grease.

“I hope you made enough to share,” he said. “I had to leave the groceries in the truck when I climbed out.”

Her first smile in days touched her face, warming her. She held out the bowl. “You can have it. We’ll worry about the groceries later.”

Jack was home.

— The End —

501 words

My blog is participating in the Forward Motion Flash Friday Blog Group, a weekly flash fiction exercise (not that I’m managing weekly!). Check out the other participating blogs for more flash.

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  1. Love it! When I grow up I want to be as good a writer as you. lol!

  2. Kathleen Hammond

    Very touching. I love a happy ending!!

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