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Daisies On the Side

In September of 2016, Writer's Digest ran the following short story contest:
"Write a short story, of 700 words or fewer, based on this prompt: When a man takes lunch to his wife's office, he's told that she hasn't worked there in weeks."
This is my entry: (No, I didn't win. I didn't even place in the Top 5. Oh well.)

The restless customer touched the shoulder of the man in front of him. "Hey," he said. Startled, Phil looked back. "Your order's ready," said the man brusquely. "Sorry about that," Phil replied, "I guess I zoned out there." "Whatever," the man said, shrugging his shoulders.

Phil turned back around. He was standing at the counter of Lou's Lunches. The woman behind the counter stared at him with a bemused look on her face. "Hello," Phil said. "I don't mind if you pay with flowers," said the woman, nodding at the bunch of daisies in his hand. "But I don't think Lou would go for it!" A groan erupted from the man working the grill behind her. "I don't think so!" he called out.

"They're for my wife," Phil said as he handed her a twenty, "They're her favorite." "Nice!" she replied, "Are you Number 73? Two chicken and egg salad sandwiches?" "That's me," Phil replied, looking at the white paper bag on the counter in front of him, closed with a crisp fold.

"And that's her favorite sandwich," he said, tapping the bag. The woman looked at Phil as she worked the register. "Our favorite, I mean," Phil added, "A friend of ours brought us a couple of these from here several years ago. We both loved 'em. I said they were chicken salad, but she insisted they were egg salad." Phil paused, and quietly said, "We almost got into an argument over it." He brightened as she handed him his change, and exclaimed "Our friend said 'You're both right!' We had a good laugh over that." The waitress smiled. "Well, she'll enjoy this." "Yeah" Phil replied and headed for the door.

It was a sunny day, so Phil decided to walk. After all, he was only a couple blocks from Laurie's office. But lunch hours fly by quickly, so he picked up his pace. Soon, his reflection looked out at him from the plate glass windows of the offices of Southside Titles.

A woman at a reception desk stood as he walked in. "Hello Fran," Phil said. "Hi Phil," she replied. She glanced at what he was carrying and then, with a concerned look on her face, looked to her right. Phil's eyes followed hers, till they rested on a man walking toward them. It was the office manager. "Phil..." the man started. "I know, Don," Phil interrupted. "We've talked about this," the manager continued. "I know we have, Don," Phil replied, "It's just..." he trailed off, looking down at his full hands.

Don placed his hand on Phil's shoulder, and said "C'mon". He led Phil to a nearby cubicle, empty except for a picture frame on the desk. The manager motioned for Phil to sit at the desk, while he sat in the chair alongside. "It's been five weeks, Phil," Don said, "I'm going to have to put someone in here." "I know," Phil replied, "I just figured one last lunch with her here, okay?" He motioned to the picture. It was a photo of a lovely young woman, smiling at the world.

"I can't go to the cemetery," Phil said, "I just can't. I guess her mom put a little cross and some flowers out where…out at that intersection." "Okay Phil" Don said. Phil grimaced and said "I can't go near there either. She was happy here, Don." Don stood up and placed a hand on Phil's shoulder. "This was her little space" Phil continued, "It's empty now, but it was always full - and alive - with folders, and papers, and post-it notes, but also with photos, and mementoes..." "And flowers in a vase," Don added, "I remember." Turning to go, the manager said, "Okay Phil, I won't put anyone in here yet. You take your time." "Thanks," replied Phil.

Phil laid the daisies down in front of the picture. "Hi Laurie," he sighed, as he gently touched the photo. Then he stirred, opened the bag, and said briskly, "I've got your usual, miss! Chicken salad," he said, playfully emphasizing the word 'chicken', "with daisies on the side!" And as Phil sat quietly eating his sandwich, somewhere down the hallway, a phone rang.

© Matthew Schilling September 2016

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