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Author: Gillian Webster

Death Watch

Silas sank down at the kitchen table and carefully placed the box in front of him. His finger joints shone like iris bulbs, papery skin tan and stretched as though it might tear.

“Ain’t a bomb, old man,” he said to the empty room. “Might as well be,” he replied to himself, before shaking his head. “Si, you’re definitely losin’ it,” he said, staring at the box. “Doubt you’ll outlive this here’s perdiction if you’re done talkin’ to yerself already.”

He tapped his neatly rounded nails on the cherry print oilcloth. Then he reached for the box.

The watch was pretty plain as watches go. The strap was black plastic, which seemed fitting, the black anyhow. The face was round with three rows of numbers. One of those digital screens. LCD, Silas recalled the young man at Sears calling it.

“Tick tock,” he said, touching the shiny face with a tar-brown fingertip.

The watch was called ‘Tikker.’ The colorful print on the box read: ‘The Happiness Watch.’ He’d had to fill out a questionnaire in the store—his age, medical history, lifestyle habits and the like.

Silas snorted. According to this ‘happy’ watch his death was due to occur in 00 years: 03 months: 27 days: 15 hours: 48 minutes: 35, 34, 33 seconds and counting. His life expectancy was shot. What the hell did he need with a death watch? Competition?

Stiffly, he rose from the table with the watch strapped to his desiccated wrist. The backdoor was open and an oblong of sunlight lay splayed across the floor, still as a corpse.

Silas struck a match and fumbled a cigarette between two gnarly fingers.

“Yeah, tick tock indeed,” he said to himself as he took a drag and held it for as long as he could. The smoke burned his lungs and he coughed. The coughing dissolved into laughter when he fought to catch his breath.

“Ought to measure my days in cigarettes,” he cackled to the cactus in the yard.

He looked back down at the watch. Three minutes already gone. “Race you,” he said to the death watch and took another drag on his Marlboro.


Flash Fiction by Gillian Webster
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Taking Its Toll

Like a Coney Island Circus sideshow, you stare at me. Trapped inside this glass box for hours at a time, I become an object to you. Of ridicule, of your pathetic pickup lines, of your sexual overtures: the flashed genitals I never wished to see. No perk of the job, believe me.

I cope. We don’t report, we stalwart band of female toll takers. Harassment comes with the job. For $12.59 an hour, your dirty mouth’s a perk to some rare souls who crave attention.

Yet I, with window barely cracked and headphones on, grind my way through eight-hour shifts, breathing your traffic fumes as you gawp and offer up obscenities while trying to stroke my hand.

At night, lit by red taillights, I am a whore from Amsterdam behind my Plexiglas screen. You, emboldened by the darkness, try it on, harder than before. I keep my eyes averted, drop filthy coins into your grubby open palm but will not touch. You may be lonely, but I am not your girlfriend or your therapist or your pay-to-play goodtime girl. I am a mom. I am a college girl. I work two jobs to feed my family.

Drive on. Sir. Please.


Flash Fiction by Gillian Webster
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