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"Chauffeur" by John Riley

On the way to the airport on the edge of the city, he had asked the driver to pull over. He needed a break, just a moment, from so much flashing past. Outside his tinted window, the roadside ditch was covered with Queen Anne's Lace and its spring whiteness reminded him of a sneaky boy's sugary mouth. “Out of the sugar bowl,” she'd snap, and turn her head away so he could scoop a final mouthful. Other flowers had seized the small field beyond the ditch; what he thought were morning glories and some types he didn't recognize. He knew little about flowers. Everything else was covered with red dust.

He was alone in the backseat of the big car. His ex-wife and children had gathered without comment in the second, identical car idling at the graveyard and hadn't waited to join the procession back to the funeral parlor. He had asked his driver to take him to the airport. It was the least the driver could do for the money the undertakers had squeezed out of him. Now he asked the driver to pull over. He looked at the back of the man's well-manicured head and sensed his impatience. It angered him for a few seconds.

In the city he will never return to much had died. Factory whistles he once thought of as pressure screams were silent, the sirens racing to drunken Friday night paycheck fights had moved on. None of the noises and rhythms that once filled the old mill town remained. There were dandelions, he noticed. Somehow he had missed them.

The sky was turning red, and he had a plane to catch. There were never flowers, little excess of life of any type, in that old house he only slightly remembered. Feet stomping, lamps hurried off, sidelong glances, spite for its own sake, but never lilies or mums or even a Valentine rose. For a sharp second, he thought of pushing open the car's big door and picking a bunch of Queen Anne's Lace to leave in her room, then realized with a roll of his stomach that surprised him with its force that he was being a fool. The hospital room was three days cleared of her, the next human already rolled in, an oxygen mask attached while the body finished emptying. Today had been too full of flowers. He still tasted their stink on his tongue. The driver shifted his weight, adjusted his backbone. Poor man no doubt wanted to get home, out of his funeral suit. I hope he has children to welcome him, the single man thought, and said, “Thanks for stopping. We can go now.” Then he lied and said, “I needed a moment alone.”

John Riley is a former teacher. He has published poetry and fiction in Smokelong Quarterly, Eclectica, Banyan Review, and many other journals and anthologies. EXOT Books will publish a volume of 100 of his 100-word prose poems in the fall of 2022. He has published over forty books of nonfiction for young readers.

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