[Short Story] High Noon

I wrote this piece during NaNo17, between the hours of 12pm and 2am the day it was due for my local writing club’s annual short story contest. The prompt was “Snowbirds.” (They are everywhere in Florida, people from up north who come to live down here during the winter to escape the snow. For the record, as a whole they are terrible drivers.)  I was half-delirious when I wrote it, but I think it turned out okay. It’s pretty much a one-shot–not much editing involved except for a last-minute review just before I submitted it for judging.

HIGH NOON

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Leona, but our system seems to have glitched. The courtesy car we were planning to give you was double-booked with another appointment at the same time.”

On any other day, Maggie would have laughed it off and joined the other unfortunates lounging in the waiting room of the dealership. She might have gladly taken a break from life to sip at a hot mug of coffee, and even at that moment the aroma of a fresh brew wafted over her like country air.

But she had to be back at the Riverrun Country Club House at noon if she hoped to defend her HOA presidential nomination against Luanne Marcone, the one woman in the world she would relinquish even coffee to sabotage. A transplant from Chicago, Luanne called Florida her home from the first week of November through the last of March. Maggie, however, came down from the Adirondacks from October through April. Luanne’s greater absence alone should have been sufficient to lay the matter of the presidency to rest.

Maggie fixed the clerk—Becky, as her nametag read—with the kind of glare that had kept her husband faithful for thirty-four years.

“I must have that car. Is it still here? If it is, I was here first.”

“I—I think it is, but let me talk to my supervisor.”

Before Becky could skulk away, the glass double doors of the dealership’s service center swung open amid a torrent of dust kicked up by the autumn breeze, and there stood Luanne Marcone. She was tall, slender only because of it, her face long and eyes shrewd. She paused a step inside, her arms still stretched wide to hold the doors ajar as she narrowed her eyes at Maggie. Maggie stared back at her, her heart pounding against the jail of her ribs. Slowly, Luanne dropped her arms to her sides, and the doors swung closed behind her with a final thud.

“Maggie.”

“Luanne.”

“Ah, Mrs. Marcone,” Becky said, eyes wide with panic. “I’ll go see about that double-booked car.”

She ducked away as Luanne sauntered forward, flashing the monstrous diamond on her finger and the glittering tennis bracelet lassoed around her wrist. Luanne had stopped being a trophy wife about twenty years before, in spite of all the obvious Botox and the makeup so caked onto her face Maggie was inclined to sing happy birthday to her. The height of Luanne’s tennis skirt indicated she still thought of herself as a catch. Her hand drifted to the strap of her purse as she stopped a few paces shy of the service desk.

She looked Maggie up and down, obviously ruling out the Brooks Brothers shirt as an object of derision, but still deciding if Maggie’s risky choice of plaid dress pants were worth the trouble of her opinion. She met Maggie’s eyes.

“Problem?”

“Not for me.”

Luanne huffed a laugh, keeping her eyes fixed on Maggie’s face as she closed the distance to the counter and set her elephantine Hermes down. The bag slouched, and she dug her iPhone X out.

“I just came from a meeting with the girls—I mean, sorry, the community officers. We were discussing a proposal Janice shared last week. I’m not sure if anyone told you about it.”

“I’m well aware of the sprinkler system proposal,” Maggie shot back.

“Oh, not that silly thing,” Luanne said, chuckling as she texted. “Old news. We were just discussing the Christmas situation. You know, now that we’re all getting back here—well! Sarah Hathaway—she’s full-time on Burbling Brook Drive, not sure if you’ve met her yet; lovely lady, but a gaggle of children I fancy I can sometimes hear screaming in their backyard from my own house—well, she’s already put up some Christmas lights, the gaudy things. And it’s not even Thanksgiving yet. Janice called it in last week, but we couldn’t find anything on the books about early decorating, just failure to remove them in a timely fashion. So today, we—oh, I mean the girls, silly me—decided to add a restriction to the code.”

Maggie spent Luanne’s entire monologue staring at the back of her head and counting all the gray hairs sprouting at her roots.

Luanne laughed and turned the phone screen so Maggie could see the name of the Riverrun Homeowners Association’s outgoing president.

“Look here, Laura just texted me that they’re all planning a nice dinner at the Club after the elections.”

“Wonderful,” Maggie said, her fist tightening around her keys. “I’ll look forward to it.”

“Oh, darling, it’s an officers-only party.”

“I’ll let you know how it goes, then.”

Luanne’s poison smile eroded like sandstone in a windy desert. The two women squinted at each other, each daring the other to blink, to look away, to surrender. Maggie thought the scowl was a good look on Luanne. It brought out her crows’ feet.

At that moment, a servicemember opened the door to the mechanic shop in the back of the dealership and asked one of the office supervisors to wheel a sample tire from the showroom. The tire rolled, unnoticed, behind the two women as they faced off. At the coffee counter, the barista stared at them, while the blustering winds outside howled against the storefront windows.

“Ladies, I think we might have a solution,” Becky murmured as she rounded the corner. She was met by two pairs of murderous eyes, and she swallowed and cleared her throat. “The shuttle is on its way. It will take about thirty minutes, but we’re offering a complimentary oil change to whoever takes it.”

“Obviously,” Luanne said, hefting her bag over her shoulder, “I’m the one who has to get changed before the HOA meeting, so I’ll take the car. Is that it outside the door there? Do you need my license?”

“The meeting starts at noon,” Maggie snapped. “That’s in half an hour. I have to be there.”

“That’s a shame.”

“Yes, it is. For you,” Maggie said.

“Ladies, our shuttle is not too far away if you—”

Luanne turned to Becky, digging out her wallet.

“I’ll pay a premium,” she said. Maggie snatched out her own wallet as Luanne lifted out a wad of twenties. “I must have that car.”

“I think you’ll find this more compelling,” Maggie said, bumping Luanne’s hand away from the counter and smacking down an Amex Black Card. The titanium rang like a gunshot against the granite.

“Ladies, we don’t—”

“I have to be at the Club House for the election,” Maggie growled.

“So do I.”

“Ladies!” Becky flashed a desperate grin as she searched for something behind the counter. “If you’re going to the same location at the same time, why not simply take the same car?”

The two women looked at the clerk, then at the car sitting outside, then back at each other. Luanne dropped her hands to her sides and lowered her chin.

“That car isn’t big enough for the two of us.”

“If you would stop eating out for every meal,” said Maggie, the teeth of her keys digging into her palm, “we wouldn’t have that problem.”

“How dare—”

“Which key is it?” Becky muttered to herself, frowning at the ID cards on two identical key chains in her hand. She looked up at the women. “While you sort it out, I’ll figure out which one—”

Luanne snatched one of the keys from her hand, trying to grab both, but Becky, startled, pulled away. That gave Maggie the opportunity to rip the other from Becky’s hand.

Maggie hadn’t run in forty years, but she bolted for the doors like a posse pursued her. She slammed through the doors and spun to face Luanne, ten paces behind her. Luanne stopped just outside the service center, and, as if to hold each other back or erase each other from existence, both women aimed the key fobs at each other. With a last, menacing glare, they clicked the buttons.

And clicked again. Maggie jerked her head to look at the car, aiming the remote away from Luanne and straight at the vehicle’s dash. It did nothing.

Luanne’s similarly was unsuccessful. The diamond-studded woman reached for the driver-side door and yanked on the handle. Nothing. Meanwhile, Maggie’s thumb grew sore with clicking the unlock button on the remote, and still nothing happened.

The two women shared a look of utter and complete blankness before, with a last attempt at slamming the buttons, they slunk back into the service center and up to the desk. Wordlessly, they handed the keys to Becky, who set them back down behind the counter.

“My apologies,” Becky said. “That is a client car. I’ve just been informed that the last loaner is itself in the shop for new tires. The shuttle will be here shortly to take you both to your destination.”

She gestured to the waiting area.

“We have a nice coffee bar, and Lisa over there makes a mean macchiato. I apologize for the wait, but we’ll let you know when the shuttle gets here.” Almost as an afterthought, she added, “Good luck in your community elections.”

“Yes, good luck,” Luanne rasped as she and Maggie trudged into the waiting room and sat in opposing leather armchairs. Maggie chuckled and picked up a Southern Living magazine from the glass table beside her as they waited for their shuttle.

“To you, too. You’re going to need it.”

1,580 words

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