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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 23: 28 April 2024
Flash Fiction: 546 words
By Joanna Theiss

A Screw


Jane finds herself in the fasteners aisle, though she is looking for glass cleaner. She is about to wheel her cart around when she sees him. Tom.

Tom, whom she met in the basement bathroom of Avalon after accidentally spilling a beer down his back.

Tom, whose fingers were grooved from the steel strings of his bass, who made art out of plastic water bottles, whose roommate was the lead singer of a punk band called the Runs.

Tom, who brushed aside her apologies for the spilled beer, saying he was looking for an excuse to talk to her anyway. Tom, who kept his lips smooth with dabs from a miniature jar of Vaseline, who ever-so-gently ground his pelvis into Jane on the dance floor then asked permission to stick his hand down her pants in the taxi on the way to her dorm, where Jane’s friends gawked at his sleeve of tattoos and sighed in corners about Jane’s new townie boyfriend.

Tom, whose clothes haven’t changed—Converse, black jeans, band t-shirt—who still smells like smoked cigarettes, whose right earlobe bears the mark of a long-ago piercing.

Tom, who is inspecting the thread on a six-inch screw.

“Tom,” Jane says.

Tom turns around, only he’s not smiling. He’s saying, “Sorry.” Sorry, perhaps, for how they broke up in a crowded Chinese restaurant on New Year’s Eve five minutes before 2002 for reasons Jane can’t remember now.

“It’s okay,” Jane promises. She came to the hardware store for glass cleaner but she needs Tom more than Windex. In her apartment, they will reenact the night they met, only in reverse. It will be Tom pouring a beer down Jane’s back, pouring it so it soaks her bra and wets her waistband and drips into her socks, and they will tumble into their old rhythms, only this new thing will be better than before because Jane will no longer treat Tom like he is a diversion from the white-collar dirtballs who are her destiny. Jane will introduce Tom to her two tabbies which will press their noses into Tom’s naked torso and Jane will call into work to spend all of tomorrow and the next day just like this, with Tom, as if the last twenty-two years never happened.

“No, it’s not. My name’s Jason and I don’t know you,” he says, and Tom, Jane’s Tom, dissolves. In his place there is another middle-aged guy in a Misfits t-shirt. This one has blue eyes instead of Tom’s brown, and now that she’s noticing, a hairier neck, thinner lips, and not a single tattoo.

Back in her apartment, Jane opens her laptop, ignoring the cats’ impatience for their dinners. “If Tom had been Tom,” she tells them, “you’d have to wait a lot longer.”

Jane looks for Tom the way nature intended: in the privacy of her living room, in the anonymity of a Google search, fumbling around in her memory to come up with Tom’s last name and any details that might increase her chances of locating the right one this time. Once she’s reasonably sure she has, she’ll send him a message. She wants to know if he remembers her and if he, like Jason from the hardware store, is looking for a screw.

Joanna Theiss
Issue 23 (April 2024)

is a writer living in Washington, DC. Her stories have appeared in Chautauqua, Milk Candy Review, and Peatsmoke Journal, among others, and she is an associate editor at Five South. In a past life, Joanna worked as a lawyer, practicing criminal defense and international trade law.

Author’s website, where you can find book reviews, links to her published works, and her mosaic collages: https://joannatheiss.com

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