by Fiona J. Mackintosh

That day when you see them through the restaurant window, the sky is a hazy blue and the air in your throat is sweet and fresh, exams are over, at last! and walking is a rapture that lingers in the muscles of your stride, happy! and in just one breath, you’ve dropped your guard and there they are, kissing behind the spotless glass.

Faltered, you look away and back, but it’s them for sure, heads too close, mouths greedy for the food and for each other. It’s your friend from the French club, the girl he’d call big-boned and shifty. She’s all right when you get to know her, you’d told him.

Your mother’s voice is in your head: Don’t tempt the fates, don’t be like me. They’ll snatch the hanging fruits away and leave you wanting. One swift boast that life was good, and they took your dad, and I was punished for my flaunting, for laughing in their face. You should have paid attention, but like a fool you let the light shine in and now the gig is up. At your feet, a man in a ragged parka sits cross-legged on a flattened box, holding up a palm. You envy him the blue tarp, the paperback cracked open on a shabby quilt, his simple dreams of hot soup, chips fresh from the fryer, and a nip of something that’ll warm him from the inside. From he who has nothing, surely nothing can be taken.

No one can look ahead in life but if you could, you’d see that you are destined to succeed in every way. If you knew that now, you’d colossus-stride across the street and loom above their avid eyes and laced fingers, you’d make them see you whole, your flesh, your face, your voice—This is me! Here I am! But you don’t know this yet, still doubting who you are and what you have, still listening to the loop track of your mother’s voice. Mind your step, my girl, and never let them see you smile. As the beggar looks up like you’re his best and only hope, you drop some coins into his grimy hand and turn away with acid leaking from your young, corroding heart.

Fiona J. Mackintosh (@fionajanemack) is a Scottish-American writer who won the Fish, Bath, and Reflex Flash Fiction Awards in 2018. Her work has been selected for Best Microfiction 2019, The Best Small Fictions 2019, and the 2018-19 BIFFY50 and listed in the Bristol, Galley Beggar, and Exeter Short Story Prizes. She is writing a five-novel series about 20th century Britain entitled Albion’s Millennium. You can read her work at www.fionajmackintosh.com