Short Prose Contest 2017 Runner Up:
by Claire Polders
They come for coffee when it rains and overstay their welcome. They come alone or in pairs, leaving mud trails on the floor. They come with earbuds, attitudes, and hard mouths. She knows by now: rudeness travels with power.
Today, one officer sits across from her at the kitchen table, his hands more nicked than the wood. He eyes the cans on her counter. “That’s a lot of beans.”
She nods. “For the food bank. The church put out a call.”
Although she knew him when he wetted his bed—he and her son painted dragons together—she does not know him now.
He rubs his sweaty neck. “Hope they’re not doling that stuff out to the wrong people.”
She shrugs, denying responsibility. Most officers consider her a Friend of the State, because of her war-hero son, her voting record, but suspicions can turn into facts overnight. One accusation, and she’s under surveillance.
“More?” She lifts the carafe. Kindness, true or fake, is never wasted.
He holds out his cup as though their meeting is normal. Ever since the eleventh order was issued, and citizens threatened with arrest went missing overnight, officers have been patrolling the neighborhood. Rumors circulate that even conservatives have opened their doors and turned homes into shelters.
She pours coffee and testifies: no suspicious behavior, no confidences overheard, nothing to report. His microphone buzzes like a dying fly. At times she confesses things, vague yet of interest, just to prove she’s playing ball. Privacy is a peacetime luxury.
After the officer leaves, she locks the door, draws the curtains, warms up the soup, and prepares the tray. She hums a made-up tune. Headaches belong to her past. She can write to her co-conspirators all night and still be up at six to bake bread. Old friends have remarked she looks less angry. “You’ve buried your grief,” they say.
The family of refugees awaits her in the basement. A woman and her two girls. A brother-in-law. The basement is gloomy and damp but not unfriendly. In an ideal world, it would have become her grandchildren’s playground.
Once a week, on Sunday morning, she takes the family out into the yard, where they sit with their faces like sunflowers turned to the light. In a defiant stroke of foresight, weeks before he was killed, her son built the shed that protects them all from view.
Claire Polders is a Dutch author of four novels with a debut in English on the way. Her short prose appeared in TriQuarterly, Tin House online, Denver Quarterly, Green Mountains Review, New World Writing, Okey-Panky, SmokeLong Quarterly, Connotation Press, Hobart, and elsewhere. You can find her at @clairepolders or www.clairepolders.com.