ACROSS THE STREET • by John S. Skinner, Jr.

Ignoring her burning tongue, she sipped her hot coffee.

The open window of the coffee shop gave her an unobstructed view of the street. They sat there, across the street—holding hands—out in public—for the world to see, no doubt celebrating. That’s what she would be doing if she was with him, right? Birthdays need to be celebrated, and he always enjoyed going out to eat on his birthday. Somewhere in the back of her mind she wondered if they knew what they looked like as they sat there dining al fresco. This rare occasion with no traffic left very little to speculation—they knew how they looked.

She took another sip and absently slid her teeth over the tip of her blistered tongue.

How would that happy couple react if they knew she was in the coffee shop across the street? It would be easy. All she had to do was stand up, throw some money on the table and step outside. A slight smile danced in her eyes, then vanished. She wouldn’t even look in their direction. It would be perfect. The quiet street held no distractions. Their gaze would unlock for a moment because they saw movement and they would see her walking away from them on the other side of the street. She would round a corner—maybe into that alleyway just a block away.

A waiter approached and offered more coffee to warm up what she had left.

“No, thank you, but let me ask you a question.”

“Of course.”

She gestured towards the window. “I was just looking at that couple across the street.”

The waiter allowed his eyes to venture in that direction. “Yes, ma’am?”

“I was thinking about how happy they look. Maybe they’re celebrating a birthday or something.” Her voice held all of the warmth that her eyes did not. “Don’t you think?”

Looking at the couple again, the waiter shrugged. “I suppose so.”

“I see.” She looked away from him.

Just as the waiter turned to leave she said, “Please bring me a fresh cup of hot coffee. This one is too cold.” She faced the waiter and looked into his eyes. “A warm-up won’t cut it.”

The waiter furrowed his brow, nodded and left.

She continued to look out the window and watch the happy couple enjoy their late morning together. When her coffee arrived, she didn’t acknowledge the waiter.

She just picked up the mug and took a large drink.

She slowly and firmly rubbed her teeth across the blister on her tongue and ignored the feeling of tearing skin as she watched. If she stepped into that alley a block up the street, who would get up first and follow her? Probably him. Why wouldn’t he? He knew her best. He had pushed her buttons for years. He would follow her down the street. He would even call out to her. Of course, he would call out to her. That’s what he did. He’d been calling out to her since they’d met—especially on his birthday.

Another long swallow of coffee followed by a firm bite on the blister of her tongue.

What about her, though? Would she follow her lover as he chased the first woman in his life? Probably. Her insecurity wouldn’t allow her to be alone at a table when her lover-stud was calling out to another woman. Oh yes. She would follow. And together, they would go into the alley…

She stood up and walked into the ladies’ room. She took a brush out of her handbag and ran it through her lightly graying hair. Next, she leaned forward and pretended that the wrinkles around her eyes didn’t bother her. They were called laugh lines, after all. Didn’t that mean they were good? One final look in the mirror; a deep breath in through her nose and out through her mouth, then back out into the coffee shop.

She stopped at her table and tossed twenty dollars on it as she bit down—hard.

She looked at the waiter. “The coffee here could be hotter.”

She stepped out into the bright daylight. She began to walk up the street toward the alley—biting her tongue harder with each step. When she heard him call, it took every effort to not slow down or speed up. She walked as if she heard nothing.

And she ignored the taste of blood.

After rounding the corner into the alley, she fumbled in her handbag and pulled out a small double-barrel derringer pistol. Her handbag fell to the ground. She held the gift from her husband in her right hand as she placed both hands into her jacket pocket, turned, and faced the entryway of the alley.

He came into view first and, just as she predicted, was followed by the woman. God forbid she let her lover get too far ahead.

She began to grind her teeth against the blister and then swallow.

He actually smiled as he held out his hands and looked at her.

“Didn’t you hear me calling?” he asked.

She swallowed again and shook her head. “No. I guess not. How are you?”

He looked at her and then at his lover. “We’re happy.”

The pain on her tongue continued to go unnoticed as she nodded. “Good. I’m glad.”

He took a step forward. “Are you? I miss you.”

She pulled her hand out of her pocket and he saw the pistol.

She spat blood on the ground as she leveled the pistol at him.

“Then you shouldn’t have left me.” She pivoted her body to the right, and pulled the first trigger on the double-barreled weapon. His young lover’s head went back and she collapsed to the ground.

She spat blood again and pivoted back to him.

He looked at her and screamed, “Mom? What are you doing?”

“Happy birthday.” She bent her elbow, brought the gun to her head and pulled the trigger.


John S. Skinner, Jr. lives in the state of Maine, has four daughters, two dogs and a cat. Sometimes he thinks the dogs are plotting on making the cat “disappear.” He writes because he loves the written word. He swears because he needs to.


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Rate this story:
 average 3.2 stars • 12 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • I love stories that begin with a tongue on fire 🙂

  • Ed Kratz

    I loved it. First off, I like dark stories, maybe because I write them myself. I thought the ending was perfect. The twist worked well because we had hints of her age, but it was a surprise though not unexpected. As far as being over the top, well, that’s what dark is, and while I’m not a psychologist, I believe that behavior fits with a certain sick, very sick, personality.
    Great.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    Sorry. I almost never give a vote as low as one star, but I couldn’t find any justification for more. The repeated tooth-sliding–as opposed to a more physically-likely tongue-sliding–made this story ridiculous to me. It was a one-trick sleight-of-hand stretched out interminably.