Flash Fiction: Old Flames

Marion turned the knobs on the radio in search of a program that could entertain her while she cooked. She often listened on Sunday afternoons to radio shows while she chopped onions and vegetables for the various soups and casseroles she made in preparation for the upcoming work week. She prided herself on being organized, particularly around meal preparation, so this was her regular routine. One of her favorite radio shows was “The Moth” radio hour, where people told real stories about their lives. She often found herself crying while she cooked, not because of the onions she had chopped, but because of the depth of emotion, the various stories evoked.

One of the stories that afternoon struck a deep chord. The story, told by the daughter of an elderly man, described how she had discovered that her father had deeply loved another woman before he ever met and married her mother. In fact, her dad had kept the woman’s photo hidden in his wallet during his entire married life and had requested before his death to have his ashes spread near where “Norma” had lived in his hometown in Kansas. When the daughter asked, “Who’s Norma?” her father’s only response was, “A dear friend.” He died only a few days later. The daughter went to his hometown and discovered that Norma had been killed in a car accident three years before her dad married her mother. Her parents had been married for 51 years, happily, she thought, at least until she discovered the photo.

Marion sighed as she stirred the vegetable soup that was bubbling on the stove. How similar this story was to her own mother’s. She talked longingly about her old college boyfriend, Charles, as if he would have been a much better choice than her dad. Mother occasionally opened a scrapbook and gazed down at a picture of Charles, often muttering, “I wonder how he fared in life.”

Marion brushed away a tear. Was she destined to have yet one more of the certainties in her life – her parents’ love and devotion – wiped away? She could hardly stand the thought of that, particularly since her own marriage had shattered in a dozen directions. But that was different. That was not because of some old, haunting love, but rather a new floozy of a girl who had brazenly stolen her husband away right under her nose. The babysitter, for God’s sake! How did she not see the obvious? How could she have been so ignorant?

The doorbell rang in the middle of Marion’s cooking and radio listening. She wiped her hands on her apron and stepped over children’s toys on the way to the front door. She was alone in the house since her now ex-husband had the kids for the weekend. She peered through the window in the door and felt her stomach do a somersault. There standing on her front porch was her high school boyfriend, the one who she had left behind when she had headed for college in another state, the one that she had never quite stopped loving. Slipping out of her apron and smoothing her hair, Marion opened the door. “John, what a nice surprise.”

John Sullivan, with salt and pepper hair and taller than she remembered, smiled and said, “Marion, uh, hello. I hope you don’t mind me coming by. I heard you were divorced and I…uh…well, I wanted to at least say hello.”

Marion sighed as she thought of the elderly man who had loved his old flame, Norma, and then of her own mother, as well. Holding someone from your youth close to your heart didn’t mean you didn’t have the capacity to love someone else, too. She herself had loved her husband very much until he had betrayed her trust. Love made room for more love, not less.

“Please come in,” Marion said, opening the door wide. “It’s not that often I see someone from the old days, and I have to say it’s a treat.”

John’s blue eyes brightened. “Well, thank you, Marion. I thought I’d just take a chance on you being home.”

“Yes, I am home and I’m cooking. Are you hungry?”

He nodded, shyly. “A little.”

“Come with me to the kitchen then,” Marion said, heading back across the living room with a new spring in her step. “There’s been a lot of life since we last saw each other. We have some serious catching up to do.”


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