Flash Fiction: for writers, readers, editors, publishers, & fans



In a booth, with his back to the door, a clown is eat­ing a bowl of phở. He is between birth­day par­ties and hasn’t both­ered to remove his white make­up or round red nose. An over­sized red hat is on the seat next to him.

As he leaves the restau­rant, swing­ing the hat back onto his head, kids start squeal­ing at near­by tables. He smiles and waves.

After work, the clown goes back to his apart­ment. He puts the hat on a high shelf in the clos­et and wipes off the make­up.

He show­ers. He puts on a three-piece suit. He combs his hair.

Out­side, he grabs a taxi and goes down­town. He gets to the opera just before the cur­tain.

At inter­mis­sion, he pass­es a severe-look­ing woman stand­ing in line for the restroom. She has slash­es of dark lip­stick across her mouth, high heels, a rope of dia­monds around her neck. He catch­es her eye, and she looks away.

Now he is play­ing the role of Man at Bus Stop. The bench is cold after the buzz of the the­atre.

In the dis­tance, he thinks he sees lights. He stands, antic­i­pat­ing the hiss of air as the dri­ver leans over and opens the door.

Instead, he feels a knife at his back. A man’s mus­cled arm has snaked around his tor­so, hold­ing him tight­ly from arm to arm, a ges­ture that could be mis­tak­en for affec­tion.

Come on,” the girl says, hold­ing out her hand.

She’s shak­ing, look­ing around.

What do they want with him? He’s a man wait­ing for a bus, a cut-rate clown wear­ing an expen­sive suit. The blade press­es hard­er against his back. The guy hold­ing the knife wants to make sure he can feel it.

The girl’s arm is ruined: drugs, he can tell just by look­ing at the veins. Her face, too. Under a thick lay­er of pan­cake make­up, he can see the scabs.

His wal­let is in his pock­et. Bus fare, opera tick­et, a few bucks in cash. Not a lot, but prob­a­bly enough to sat­is­fy them.

He has to reach for it.

Cor­rec­tion: He has to tell them he’s reach­ing for it. Then, slow­ly, he has to get out his wal­let and give them the mon­ey. He needs to be at a kid’s par­ty in the morn­ing.

He can’t stop look­ing at the girl. Girl? Woman? She’s so thin—stringy, even. It’s hard to tell how old she is.

His friend was attacked, once, as he was leav­ing a job. A group of col­lege kids threw him on the side­walk and beat and kicked him. They stole his pay­ment and his wig. He said he had nev­er thought of him­self as a vic­tim.

Come on, man, just give us the mon­ey.” The girl is plead­ing now.

Her voice is a head­light burn­ing through fog.

It’s too late at night, he real­izes. The bus isn’t com­ing.

They all stand motion­less. It’s per­for­mance art now, a med­i­ta­tion: three peo­ple in the mid­dle of things.

What Are You Wait­ing For?” was first pub­lished in Orchard City, a chap­book of short fic­tion by Leah Brown­ing (Jef­fer­son Hills, PA: Hyacinth Girl Press, 2017), pp. 17–18.


Author’s Note:
At the time I wrote this sto­ry, I think I was pre­oc­cu­pied with the idea that we are some­times dra­mat­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent peo­ple in dif­fer­ent set­tings. Pro­fes­sion­al actors are expect­ed to change depend­ing on the role, and a dif­fer­ent set, wardrobe, and props are used to height­en the illu­sion. But every­one does this to some degree. Code-switch­ing is prob­a­bly the most obvi­ous exam­ple, but there are many ways that we at least sub­tly use cloth­ing, speech, body lan­guage, and oth­er ele­ments to trans­form our­selves, both in real life and using oth­er forms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Each per­son in “What Are You Wait­ing For?” (the woman at the opera, the woman at the bus stop) has many facets that are miss­ing here, at least at this par­tic­u­lar moment.


Leah Brown­ing is the author of three short non­fic­tion books and six chap­books. Her sec­ond chap­book of flash fic­tion, Orchard City, was pub­lished by Hyacinth Girl Press in 2017. Browning’s fic­tion and poet­ry have recent­ly appeared in The Forge Lit­er­ary Mag­a­zine, The Three­pen­ny Review, Water­shed Review, Val­paraiso Fic­tion Review, Dime Show Review, Ran­dom Sam­ple Review, Super­sti­tion Review, New­found, The Home­stead Review, Sliv­er of Stone Mag­a­zine, San­ta Fe Lit­er­ary Review, Poet­ry South, The Still­wa­ter Review, Cold­noon, Clemen­tine Unbound, and else­where. Her work has also appeared in sev­er­al antholo­gies includ­ing Noth­ing to Declare: A Guide to the Flash Sequence, a col­lec­tion from White Pine Press.

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