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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 4: July 2020
Flash Fiction: 942 words
By Linda Saldaña

Mental Distancing in the Time of Quink

 

Neighborhood denizens drift by my window in twos and threes, letting their dogs sniff other butts as they themselves keep a polite and clustered distance.

“Quink,” I say. “Quink quink quink.” Then louder with more vehemence: “Quink!”

I cannot help myself. I no longer want to. They never cast a glance at me, still dressed in my all-day pajamas.

Sitting on the couch smirking, my housemate doesn’t ask but wants to know, so I tell her: “They look like ducks in those masks. Look at them! Quink!”

“You sound more like a goose.”

My mask—not an N-95, mind you, but a homemade job with little style or substance—is on the chair next to the door in case someone drops by, which won’t happen, and even if it did, I’d have to keep them standing outside where their breath wouldn’t contaminate any surfaces or float inside my house in search of passageways to my lungs. I have delicate lungs, or so I’ve been told, which I attribute to years of inhaling smog, micro-plastic pollens, and smoke of all kinds.

I turn back to my housemate, who hasn’t moved an inch. Not even the smirk on her face has budged. “I need a quink,” she says without moving her lips. “I know it’s early, but the days are tedious. Could you stop acting like an isolation idiot and get me one, pretty please?”

She means for me to once again tap the tequila which is approaching dangerously low levels. I suppose she wants a straw again, and for me to hold it. Last time, even that didn’t work and I had to finish the drink myself, not that I minded.

“If you’re tired of my company, why don’t you go outside and mingle with the masses?” she calls in to the kitchen, where I am searching for a shot glass and a straw, sighing as I remember that I had pledged to give up straws to save turtles. “I’ll watch from here and get vicarious pleasure from watching you hone your flagging social skills.”

The truth is, I am disillusioned with the human species, including myself, and satisfied in my shelter, so I tell her, “You would be lost without me. Who would you annoy?”

“You think I wouldn’t benefit from alone time?” she says. “I could do something stimulating, like study up on quinks. I’d become a veritable quink quink.” She is blathering now, I know it. Making no sense. Mocking me. “You don’t know what I’m talking about? Google it!” Now she is reading my mind. “You think I’m incapable of understanding physics?” she says.

Bothered that she can now peer inside my brain, I lift her off the couch and carry her to the kitchen, arranging her in the chair opposite mine, the Cuervo glistening between us, catching the spark of the afternoon sun. The smirk on her skeletal face is unchanged, her eyeless sockets humorless. “You know I bought you for half price last Halloween,” I say, trying not to sound cruel but nevertheless longing to draw some emotion out of her.

I offer her a sip, which she ignores. “You got a good deal,” she says. “Too good. And if you want me to stick around for this entire pandemic, you should give me a name. Show respect!” She starts to tilt, and I right her.

:::

The phone rings: a friend no doubt going through her list of People Most Likely to Never Be Heard From Again Unless She Calls. Once a month, she worries about me being all alone, poor me, too bad I’m not a couple like she is, but then her husband can be irritating, so maybe it’s a blessing that lets me get into my creativity, though I seemed a bit off last time she called, and she’d come over now that things are supposedly opening up, but, you know, the Spike in Cases, and she’s already in three Social Bubbles, which is already two too many and....

I stop listening.

“You’re not listening,” she accuses. Another damned mind reader. “I worry about you becoming one of those bubble-less loners.”

“No need. I have a housemate—a decent conversationalist.”

My friend pauses, gathers her thoughts. “What? Who?”

“Her name is Quink,” I say.

The clink and whir of brain matter is audible even on the phone. “Don’t take this wrong, but you’re not referring to that dummy skeleton thing that you dressed up for Los Muertos, are you?”

I look at my housemate, festooned in party regalia, still smirking at the shot glass, her bony white hand barely keeping her balanced on the chair. “Did your so-called friend just call me a dummy?” she says. “Did you just call me Quink?”

“I gotta run,” I say to the phone, which prattles something about being between Zoom calls anyway, just checking in, see ya later.

“You can’t call me Quink,” says my housemate.

“Why not?”

“It’s trademarked,” she says evenly. “And tiresome.”

“What about Queen Something. Queenk?”

She is listing again, and once more I adjust her position. “There you go, your majesty,” I say. “Happy now?”

“I need chocolate.” Maybe she is smiling, or perhaps it’s still that damned frozen smirk.

I tell her we’re out of chocolate, but of course she knows where it’s hidden and of course I’ll have to eat it when she complains it’s not the kind she likes, and then it will be me who puts on more pounds, not Her Royal Bitchess of Skinny.

“Oink,” she will say when she notices my added poundage. “Oink oink oink oink oink.”

 

—Winner of MacQ’s Quink Writing Challenge

Linda Saldaña
Issue 4, July 2020

is an escaped tech writer now finding truth in fiction round and about the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work has been published, performed, and yes, rejected by some excellent literary venues. She has recently honed her social distancing skills with some colorful and opinionated imaginary companions.

 
 
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