This story won second place in the MAYDAY 2022 Flash Fiction Contest.
I can see his whole face. He strolls toward me, grin wide, eyes shaded by blue Bruin cap.
Minty fresh breath fills my mask. Sweat forms on my upper lip. I adjust my sunglasses to lessen fog, turn away from him, and lift my bike off the rack.
He hurries closer. “Let me help you.”
“Stay back.” The bike bounces on tires between us. “I got it.”
“Seriously?” His smile disappears. “I haven’t seen you for months.” He stretches his arms. “No hug?”
“No mask?” I strap on my helmet, get on my bike, and pedal away.
He pedals faster, catches me before I turn on Westchester Parkway.
I struggle to breathe. “Stay behind me.”
“Why are you tripping? We’re outside.” His tone like the first time we had sex without a condom.
The last time we had sex. Four months ago. Before the pandemic. Before he left to work on a film in Atlanta. Before two missed periods and a procedure that was none of his business.
I pedal harder, lower the gear to climb the slight incline.
He cruises up next to me like it’s flat ground.
I slow my pace and watch him roll by, sweat line down the middle of his broad back dripping into parts I know. I stop.
He stops ahead and twists around.
I take off my mask and glasses, pour water on my face. It drips down my purple V-neck tee into parts he knows.
I wait. Tighten my helmet, put mask and glasses back in place.
He drinks from his bottle and licks his lips, holds the bottom one in for a second like he does. He takes a mask out his pocket and puts it on. He waits.
I take a deep breath and pedal to meet him.
“I’m back for good,” he says. “I’ll get tested.” He holds his flat palm toward me.
I stretch out my arm, touch my fingertips to his. “And buy some condoms.”
He grins behind his mask.
I stand up and pedal my hardest to reach the top of the grade before he does.
Chicana Feminist and former Rodeo Queen, TISHA MARIE REICHLE-AGUILERA (she/her) writes so the desert landscape of her childhood can be heard as loudly as the urban chaos of her adulthood. She is obsessed with food. A former high school teacher, she earned an MFA at Antioch University Los Angeles and is an Annenberg Fellow at University of Southern California. She is a Macondista and works for literary equity through Women Who Submit.
ANNA BARONSKY is an artist, UX UI designer, and freelance graphic designer from Manhattan Beach, California. She is a recent graduate of Connecticut College, where she majored in Art and received a certificate of honors from the Ammerman Center for Arts and Technology. While attending college she explored her creativity through charcoal and graphite as well as graphic design, data visualization, and augmented reality. Her culminating college thesis, Visualizing Online Activism, investigated “slacktivism” and data gathered from online petitions. Anna currently works full-time as a User Experience and User Interface Designer and part-time as a freelance designer. Her most recent projects include a poster for Manuel the Band for their Joshua Tree concert as well as a truck design for “Hows Your Meat,” a BBQ food truck located in West Roxbury, MA. Her creative process, when working in graphite and charcoal, is best described as meditative and therapeutic—she hopes viewers feel a loving familiarity and nostalgia (with a hint of spookiness) from her work “Boots.” See more of her work here.