I admit right now that this is not “flash” fiction. At 1727 words, it’s definitely a short story. Clarissa Ryan asked for one that included a lot of cute and happiness-inducing things, and when I’d finished drafting it, there was nothing I wanted to cut out. So, a short story it is, and I hope you enjoy it.
Tomorrow Can Be A Better Day
Jana stroked the kitten’s soft, calico fur as the elevator rose slowly. She left it cling to her shirt, held tight to her chest, as its tiny claws extended and retracted happily. The elevator stopped at the 7th floor, and Jana carefully reached down for her bags with her free hand.
“Time for you to go to your new home, honey,” Jana said to the kitten as she searched the recipient’s apartment. Spotting the right number on the door, she stopped, and set her bags down to one side. She pulled out square pink box large enough to hold the kitten, gently unhooked its little paws from her shirt, and placed it inside. “Now, shh,” she whispered. “You’re a surprise.” She grabbed a shiny bow from the bag, set it atop the box (careful not to cover up any of the air holes) and knocked on the door.
Just as Jana was about to knock again, the door finally opened a crack. An older woman, her graying hair up in a loose bun, clutched her bathrobe tightly with wrinkled pink hands. Her sandy blue eyes were red and her eyelids were puffy.
“Mrs. Margorie Hanta? Happiness Delivery Service,” Jana said in her bubbliest voice.
“I don’t want whatever it is,” Mrs. Hanta said softly. “Thanks anyway.” She started to close the door.
“Oh, but wait,” Jana said. “You’re the only one who can take this.” She held the box up.
The other woman sighed, but let the door stay open.
The kitten in the box mewed softly.
“No,” Mrs. Hanta said to the box, shaking her head. “I am not ready.”
“Our system indicated that you are, ma’am.” Jana smiled, and pushed the box toward the other woman, who took it with trembling hands.
The top of the box popped off, and the kitten raised its head. Mrs. Hanta softened, pulling the box to her and carefully lifting the kitten out. “She looks just like my Varna!”
Jana pulled her tablet from one of the bags and tapped it on. “This kitten is descended from the same line as the mother of your kitty, Varna. She’s a couple of generations removed, of course, but she’s a close as the system could find.” Jana paused and put on a sympathetic look. “You took such care of Varna, Mrs. Hanta. It’s been three months since she passed away, and you have been so sad. This kitty is all alone, too.”
Mrs. Hanta nodded. “Thank you,” she said. “Let’s get you something to eat,” she said to the kitten, and shut the door behind them.
Jana grabbed her bags, checked her tablet for her next delivery, and ran to the elevator. Downstairs, she made her way out to the bustling sidewalk, moving as quickly as she could without bumping anyone. She caught up to the 32 bus just as it was about to pull away, and delivered a contoured support pillow for the driver’s bad back. A few stops later, she got off the bus in front of a row of buildings that had once been houses but now were split into apartments. She walked past a few before finding a young black boy sitting alone on a crumbling stoop.
“Are you Bobby Whitmore?” she asked.
The boy bit his lip before answering. “Why?”
“I’m Jana. I’m here from Happiness Delivery Service.” She showed him the ID badge hanging around her neck.
“I’m Bobby,” he admitted. “I’m just waiting for my mom to get home.”
“I know,” Jana said with a smile. “I’m here to wait with you.” She opened one of the bags and tilted it so Bobby could see inside. “I have sandwiches and comic books and couple of those cherry sodas your grandma used to keep in her fridge for you. So, is it okay if I hang out?”
They sat together as the sun drifted toward the horizon. Bobby talked about his favorite comics, and ate both sandwiches; he let Jana have one of the sodas, though. “My grandma used to buy these for my dad, and after he died, she bought them for me,” he said. “My mom didn’t want me to have too much sugar but Grams would sneak me one whenever I helped her wash up after dinner.”
“You miss her, don’t you?”
“Yeah. I went to her house after school sometimes. Now I don’t have to anywhere to go, and Mom worries.” He looked down at his feet. “I’m supposed to have a key but these kids keep hassling me at school, and last week they took my backpack.” He kicked at the step with the toe of his worn sneakers.
“Bobby, who is this?” a woman’s voice said loudly. Bobby and Jana both looked up.
“Hey, Mom, this is the Happiness lady,” Bobby said.
“Hi,” Jana said, holding up her ID. “I’m one of the Delivery agents. I’m just here hanging out with Bobby while he waited for you.”
“Yeah, well I’m here now, so you can go,” Bobby’s mother said to Jana with a frown. “Here, baby, I got you a new key made,” she told him. “Take your things and go upstairs now.”
He gathered up the comic books. “Bye Jana,” he said. “Thank you.”
She patted him on the arm and then turned to face his mother with a big smile. “Mrs. Whitmore, our system identified you as needing a little Happiness.”
“What I need is to not have to worry about Bobby being alone after school but I can’t very well take off work to be with him, can I?” She crossed her arms. “What is the system going to do about that?”
Jana dug around in her bag until she found the bright yellow envelope with Amelia Constance Whitmore written on it. She handed it over, and Bobby’s mother took it. “In there is all of the information for a young artists’ afterchool program. Bobby can take the school bus there every day, and it’s a block over from your office, so you can pick him when you’re off work, without any extra trouble.”
“How much does it cost?”
“There’s no fee. We deliver solutions, not problems. Bobby can stay in that program as long as he likes.” Jana checked her tablet. “Oh, and they have a summer art intensive, too.”
“I’ll talk to him about it. See if that’s something he wants to do.” Bobby’s mother relaxed her arms. “This is really what your company does? You’re nice to people who need it, and there’s no strings attached?”
“The world is hard enough, Mrs. Whitmore. Making everyone a little happier seems like the least we could do.” Her tablet beeped, and Jana checked her next appointment. “Oh, I have to go. It was nice meeting you!” She grabbed her bags and ran up the street.
She stopped at a diner for a cup of tea to go, and left the waiter – a film-school dropout who’d been thinking about going back – a pair of tickets to the French Film festival at the theater near his apartment. A few blocks away, she picked up a takeout order of Korean food that the system had placed for her, and went into the park across the street. By now, night had fallen, and the park was mostly empty, but she found her target sleeping on a bench.
“David,” she said softly. He shivered but didn’t open his eyes. “David Hyun?” she tried again, louder.
The man opened his eyes and sat up, startled. “I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said quickly.
“No, David, you didn’t do anything wrong. I have a few things for you.”
“I don’t want any medicine.”
“I know, David. That’s okay. I’m not here to make you take your medication.” She held out the food. “This is from the place across the street. Your mom used to bring you there for dinner, with your sisters.”
He took the bag and set it on the bench beside him, but didn’t open it.
Jana took a red blanket from her bag, now almost empty, and held it up. “This is so you aren’t so cold at night,” she told him. “Until you’re ready to go home.”
“They don’t need me at home,” David said quietly. “I scare them.”
“They love you. I promise you, it would make your family very happy if you came home.” She showed him her ID. “I work for Happiness Delivery Services, so I know.”
David took the blanket and set it beside the bag. “I’ll think about it.”
She left him in the park, and, her list almost cleared, headed home. Outside the park, a yellow cab stopped in front of her, and the passenger window rolled down. “Jana Agosti?” the driver called out.
“Yes, that’s me!” Jana got into the back seat, and gave him the address. At her apartment, she gave him the yellow envelope with his name on it, and a tip. She climbed three flights of stairs, each one harder than the last. Her hand barely got the key into the locks, and she dropped her empty bags just inside of the door, before collapsing on the couch.
A minute later, someone knocked on her door. Jana struggled to her feet, shuffling over to open the door. Her coworker Pamela was standing in the hallway, holding several large bags.
“Sausage pizza, and a box of those Spanish pastries you love,” Pamela said.
“I’ve had such a long day,” Jana said, leaning against the door. “How did you know?”
“The system did,” Pamela said with a grin. “I’m on nights this week, and you’re my first stop.”
Jana took the food with one arm and gave Pamela half a hug with the other. “I made the list?” she asked.
“Everyone deserves Happiness, Jana. Even the people who’s job it is to make everyone else happy.” Pamela smiled again, not the practiced smile of a Delivery agent, but something soft and real. “You go eat, and sleep, and I’ll see you at work in the morning.”
With her door locked behind her, Jana put the pizza in the fridge for breakfast, and opened the pink bakery box. Inside were half a dozen sugar-coated buñuelos, the kind her mother used to buy on Sundays. She bit into one. It was still warm.
It tasted like home.
I’ve been taking prompts from friends and fans who contribute to my rent and expenses, and writing them into flash length fiction stories. So far in this round, I’ve posted five other tales:
- “The Scent of Food is Memory and Love” thanks to Ignacio Gallup-Diaz
- “A Revised History of Earth” thanks to Greg Bennett
- “Breakfast on the Moon” thanks to Anthony Jutz
- “The Roaring Silence” thanks to Richard Baron
- “Mrs. Lesley and the Campers of Troop 83 Vs The Giant Blacklegged Tick of Contrary Knob” thanks to Jason Sizemore
If you want to inspire your own story, you can get on the list by donating any amount via my PayPal, HERE. (Seriously, any amount. I appreciate the help.) You don’t need a PayPal account to use that link.