She spun on the barstool like a little girl. Mundo leaned into his mop handle. He could smell the sour rot of kitchen grease and bathroom floors rising from the puddle of filthy strings at his feet. He had no socks and the insides of his leather shoes were slick with sweat and mop water. He stared at her. It was all he could do. He wore no shirt, just a singlet. It was white. Around his neck was a delicate gold chain with a cross. It sparked in the dim morning light as his chest rose and fell with his breathing. His dark slacks were belted and ironed to creases.
She stopped the spinning with her toes and stared at him. She slid off the stool. Mundo dropped his heavy ring of keys. They clattered on the edge of the old galvanized bucket and slid into the fetid water.
"You've dropped your keys." she said. She started toward him.
"Stop. Don't come any closer." he said.
Her pace was deliberate, measured, as if she were counting how many steps it would take to get to him. He was counting. One, Two, Three. She paused.
"I saw you last night." she said.
"And today you see me mopping floors." he said.
She took a step forward. He counted four.
"Did you see me?" she asked.
"I saw you." he said.
She took one step.
"Floor's slippery. You shouldn't come any closer." he said.
She strode toward him. Six, seven, eight, nine, and paused again. She was within his circle of wet floor. He could almost smell her. That was too close.
He could see her back in the mirror behind the bar. It was as perfect as her front. He swallowed. She took one more step and he propped the mop handle against the wall, and crossed the dance floor to the exit sign. His shoes belched air with each step, and he winced. He pushed open the metal door and a wedge of cold air and light cracked the room.
He stepped out onto the concrete. With his toe, he scooted an old red brick into place to hold the door. He turned back to her. He was flat and dark now, a cookie cutter man with no eyes or face. He spread his stance and slid his hands into his pockets. He felt for his keys, and found only a small hole. In this space between the inside and the outside of things, he recovered himself.
She stood watching him, her front blasted with light and cold air. She was pressed flat against the dark behind her. She bent down to the mop bucket and reached in, elbow deep, straight to the bottom and found his keys with her fingers. She straightened and held them up. They dangled dripping.
"What will you give me for these?" she asked.
During the summer of 2015, we held our second Flash Fiction Contest with
Amy Hempel serving as judge. This story is one of Amy's winning selections.
Gail Smith Reynolds lives and writes in Spokane, Washington. She celebrates "MUNDO" as her first published work.