Latest Flash

High Hopes

In the second installment of this week's paired flash pieces, Matthew C. Funk takes us from grade school on up in the Big and not so Easy.

Peer pressure like a vice grip. This week's heart-breaker. Only at FFO ...

High Hopes by Matthew C. Funk

Their dreams made them more than mere survivors. Anyone who lived in Desire had to survive it. The Core Four wanted to escape being just anyone.

Astronaut. Architect. Supermodel. Navy SEAL. To Sherman and Louise, Marla and Pook, the words held more value than a fist of cash. More security than a mortgage. Better sustenance than a French Quarter meal. The words were keys to a future that could lock away the present and past.

“Pain can’t touch you,” Marla would say, whenever another of the Four had been beaten, yelled down, written up, stolen from or graded a failure.

“It sure feels like it can,” they’d tell her.

“No. It belongs to someone else, somewhere else, some other time.”

Sherman drew space shuttles on the paper his older brother wrapped heroin in. Louise hid under her house, building cathedrals of rocks and grass and cat shit, on the frequent nights her father was swinging drunk. Marla practiced her strut in clothes stolen from the homeless shelter donation box. Pook benched dog-food bags and ran 6-minute miles. 

And when nights were warm, the Core Four would grill pork rib in the graffitied shadow of the abandoned technical college, and drink wine coolers, and talk of their future salaries. When nights were cold, they'd boil crawfish at Pook's, winding blown pot smoke with the rising steam, and talk of the trophies they'd win. And on mild nights, they'd sit on Marla's porch, under the tarp Katrina left of her roof, shooting dice, drinking Colt 45, telling each other how prepared they'd be tomorrow.

One tomorrow, Marla didn't come home. Her seat in Geometry sat empty with Sherman, Louise and Pook surrounding it like protective dogs. By science lab at noon, word reached them that she'd made her way to the police station.

Rumor up and down Desire's main drag, Louisa Street, was that a vagrant with a knife and a hard-on for tweens crossed Marla's path, pre-dawn at the homeless shelter. Sherman, Louisa and Pook tried to pry details out of her from the moment they picked her up at the 5th District Station, but she only held her elbows tighter. The only thing that came out of Marla's mouth about that night was swabbed out by a Special Victims nurse for evidence.

It made Marla quieter and made her dresses and makeup louder. Pook ducked bill collectors until he had enough to buy a gun. Louise gave up single-fist drinking. And Sherman escaped into his studies.

He turned D's into A's in his sophomore year. It made his teachers smile about him together on their cigarette breaks. It meant Marla, Louise and Pook had to drink Sherman's Colt 45s for him most nights.

He built an engine out of kitchen foil, car parts and under-the-sink cleaners. It made LSU recruiters write his name down enough times they'd remember it. It kept Marla, Louise and Pook outside the admiring circle that gathered at Sherman's science fair booth to pat his back.

He wrote a paper on hydrodynamics at the international space station. It posted on Gorbachev's blog, by way of Carver High School's principal. It went unread by Marla, Louisa and Pook.

They were focused on other projects:

Sending obscene texts to Sherman’s teachers from his stolen cell phone came first. Waiting until he went on his morning jog, then sneaking into his room and pouring Big Shot soda all over his computer and books, came next. Planting his brother’s heroin in his locker for tipped-off cops to find, capped it off.

By June, Sherman was back in the sandy waste inside the technical college courtyard. He sat among the Core Four, watching pork fumes escape the ring of derelict buildings toward the few stars that could be seen. His sixty days in jail had made him almost as quiet as Marla. He only spoke when everyone was soggy from Night Train.

"Why'd you fuck me up?" Sherman said, leaning back in his lawn chair. "I know you did it."

"It ain't like that," Louise said. They squinted in confusion at Sherman.

"You wrecked everything. It was my dream."

Pook laughed, patting his shoulder. "Come on, dog, we dream together. We dream together."

Matthew C. Funk is a social media consultant, professional marketing copywriter and writing mentor. He is an editor of Needle Magazine, editor of the Genre section of the critically acclaimed zine, FictionDaily, and a staff writer for Planet Fury and Criminal Complex. Winner of the 2010 Spinetingler Award for Best Short Story on the Web, Funk has work featured at numerous sites indexed on his Web domain and printed in Needle, Speedloader, Pulp Ink, Pulp Modern, Off the Record and D*CKED. He is represented by Stacia J. N. Decker of the Donald Maass Literary Agency.