Below is my submission for NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction Challenge 2018 round 1.
The brief for my heat in the first round was:
Location: A wedding
Object: An oven mitt
Length: 1,000 words
Time limit: 48 hours.
My submission, The Jilted Lover, is below.
I am three and half days late for the five day leadership course. I asked if there was any point still attending but my boss insisted, “It’s an opportunity to expand your network and meet people from the global group”. So I am at the hotel stood outside the training room, double-checking my print out of the invitation. It reads, “Volga-Don Energy Leadership Training, bring something that is old, new, borrowed or blue. Something with a story.” I look down at the oven glove in my hand. A silly choice. Too late now. I enter.
At one end of the room it looks like a wedding altar has been constructed out of boxes. All the seats in the room have been rearranged in front of the altar as if in preparation for guests.
Twelve people are gathered at the other side of the room around two flip-charts. The groups are split into men and women. One flip-chart is titled “Stag Do Plans”. On the other it says “Wedding Planner”. Everyone turns to me.
“Hello everyone. Sorry I’m late. I’m…”
“Stop,” a woman who looks like the trainer interrupts me. “We know who you are. But to facilitate learning we aren’t using our names, we’re using our roles.” She has short, bleached hair and is wearing a frumpy tie-dye dress. A hippie-cum-corporate consultant.
“Well my role…”
“No,” she interrupts again. “Your wedding role.” To the group she announces, “Impromptu campfire everyone.” The other members of the group immediately arrange candles, turn off the lights and sit in a circle cross legged, with eyes closed. The trainer gestures for me to sit.
“This is the Volga-Don training course right?” I ask. She just smiles at me.
“You must be fully on-boarded with the spirit of the session,” says the trainer. “To decide your role we have to talk about your biggest weakness and the item you brought.” She gestures to the oven glove in my hand. “Everyone else has their roles, the bride, the groom, the bridesmaid, the vicar, best man…” she gestures to different delegates in the group. “There aren’t any obvious roles left, but we’ll find something. Tell us your biggest weakness?”
I hate this question. But being in a corporate culture for so long I have developed a standard answer for appraisals and whatnot, “My biggest weakness is probably that I struggle to let go.”
As soon as I finish the sentence there is a collective sucking through teeth from all the attendees.
“That’s not a weakness, that’s a personality trait,” she says, smiling gently. There is a humming of agreement from the group. “What is your biggest weakness?”
I try again, a little taken aback, “My biggest weakness is I try too hard to be liked.” Some of the group groan.
“That’s an ego deficiency,” She says. Everyone mumbles in agreement, eyes still shut.
I look around the group, they’re serious. “How about mathematics?” I ask.
“That’s not a weakness, it’s a… let’s move on. What did you bring to share with the group?”
Bemused I simply continue, “It’s an oven glove.”
“What does it mean to you?” she asks.
“This oven mitt is from my wife. We met just after I moved into my first flat. I had nothing. I cooked her a pizza then realised I couldn’t get it out of the oven. So she bought an oven glove. We just separated.”
“How does it make you feel?” she asks.
“He could be the jilted lover,” interrupts one of the delegates.
“Perfect,” says the trainer. They turn on the lights, blow out the candles and restart their work as if nothing had happened.
I try to involve myself in the activities but both groups tell me that the jilted lover shouldn’t be involved. So I watch in silence.
“Are you taking this seriously?” asks the trainer. Still smiling, but clearly frustrated.
“Yes,” I say exasperated. “But I am the jilted lover, what can I do?”
“Where do you think you should be?”
“Not here?” I ask.
She nods a long slow nod, “The jilted lover might interrupt the wedding tomorrow.”
“So, I should go?”
She nods again. I slowly back out of the training room and go to my hotel room.
I lay on my bed and turnover the oven glove in my hands. “It makes me feel sad.” I say to nobody.
I wonder if anyone will tell me when the wedding I am supposed to interrupt starts. Should I join them for dinner tonight? Will they all be in character?
With nothing else to do I snooze on the bed until a knock on my door disturbs me. It’s the bride. Some sanity perhaps.
“Hello. What time does… ” She pushes me into the room, onto the bed and tries to get on top of me.
“I still want you,” she breaths into my ear.
“What the hell?” I try to wriggle from underneath her.
“You don’t want me anymore?”
“Is this… the training?” She bursts into tears and leaves, trying to slam the hotel room door on the way out.
I’ve had enough. I decide to email the course organiser for advice. Halfway through the email there is another knock at the door. It’s the trainer, “What happened with the bride?”
“She tried to…”
“What would the jilted lover do?”
“I don’t know. Fuck her?” I yell. She says nothing. “Are you serious?”
She puts her hands on my shoulders and gently says, “I want you to play the role.”
“And this is leadership training?”
She sighs, “I don’t think you’re fitting into this course. I know it’s difficult to join late, but I can’t have you jeopardising the others’ progress. We’re going to have to reschedule you. Try to bring something more meaningful than an oven glove next time. Something that will make the group care more.” She smiles one last time, then turns and walks away.