Lit/South Awards 2022
Flash Competition – Third Place

Michael Banks

Troubles No More

Only reason I’d stopped was to fill my stomach and settle my nerves. And now, here on some nowhere patch of blacktop, some fool is waving a gun and saying he don’t mean no harm.

Damn shame, dying due to me craving a pack of Ho Hos.

I glance out the window. Nothing stirring except for gypsy moths hovering beneath a street lamp. 

The gun waves and her fingers fumble in the cash drawer. 

“Don’t put the gun in my face,” she says. “It makes me nervous.”

The pistol waves again. I notice a twitch under her left eye, but the blue mascara doesn’t run for tears. Blush in her cheeks from cheap rouge, not fear. 

“We all got troubles.”

Don’t I know it?

I’d gotten Deborah Ann a pistol when she started working nights and doing the cash drops. It wasn’t right; a man should be the provider. She’d laughed. “I don’t see no ring on my finger.” She said the money, and the insurance, was needed since she had the cancer in her lungs.

I figured the gun would keep her safe. I didn’t figure the cancer would take Deborah Ann after four months. Now, I carried her gun. Maybe it was for sentimental reasons or maybe it was the off-chance I’d find some desperate fool.

Damn if that fool isn’t staring, his reflection in the mirror, above the cartons of Camels. Cancer sticks. Coffin nails.

I know a cashier, especially one working the late shift, learns to read faces. She’d run a poker table at Tunica if only she could afford the $50 buy-in. I figure the face she’s studying is one who’s stepped over the edge.

I feel the metal of the gun, its weight heavy. Dryness in my mouth.

No witnesses.

“I got kids, mister. I’m all they got.”

I think of my own boy. He stays with Deborah Ann’s parents. They say I can’t keep a job. He needs stability. “We’re not even sure you’re his daddy,” the most painful.

It can’t be this easy. Just coming in and taking cash like that.

He grabs the bag and starts for the door.

It’s funny when death comes calling—how everything slows and all senses are magnified. I sat beside Deborah Ann those final days, watching her chest rise, me counting the seconds, silently pleading, praying, then grateful for the whisper of her breath on my cheek.

I see the gypsy moths as they dance before I hear the metallic click. I swivel and see the double barrels, the clerk pulling the shotgun from beneath the counter.

“I told you we all got troubles.”

My ears ring and I smell the black powder.

And there’s the hurt. A claw plunging and removing the heart, holding it high, and it pumps and pours and blood surrounds you.

Then there’s the quiet. And you think of Deborah Ann and the silence when her breath stopped and her kiss turned cold.

Then the black comes.

Then you got troubles no more.

Flash judge Tara Campbell writes: This author has demonstrated a knack for voice, crafting a character with a distinct personality even in this very brief space. The protagonist’s backstory is woven into the present narrative at just the right pace, without losing momentum or suspense.