A bit of flash fiction for Chuck Wendig‘s challenge: There is no exit. 1,000 words. Mine is 983 words.
“Oh, what in the hell!” A scream then follows from the back room.
“Aunt Fran just saw the new sign.” He says, lowering my peach pie into the bright pink box.
“Did Phil do it?” I say and he nods, chuckling.
“Of course.” He says.
“What was it supposed to say this time?”
“Not an Exit. Folks keep wandering through the side door here,” he points with his chin, “looking for a bathroom. She didn’t want to sound rude, we don’t have a public bathroom. She figures this will work.” The swinging doors behind him burst open with a kick.
“Look at this shit,” she says, slamming a beautifully carved oak sign on the glass counter. I read it upside down. THERE IS NO EXIT it says. “This is a friendly bakery establishment, not goddamned Hotel California.” We both work at not laughing.
“Call him. Tell him the sign I ordered better be in my hands by this afternoon. Oh, hi hon,” she says to me, “Let me get you a coffee.” She gets two of the heavy, white vintage mugs from the shelf, fills each with decaf and slides one across the counter to me. “Today, tell him it better be here today, Paul. Sarah, nice seeing you.” I smile and nod as she kicks the doors to the back open.
Paul dials up Phil on the wall phone I hear it ringing, stretches the cord to the end of its curl, dumps the decaf, pours the coffee of the day, a French roast and slides it across the counter to me. He puts a glazed donut that he made this morning on a matching vintage plate, and slides it next to the coffee. The phone is still ringing. I’m sure Phil is waiting for this call, probably with his feet up on the desk and sipping an Irish coffee watching the phone ring. I take my coffee, balance the donut plate on the pie box and have a seat by the window under the neon Friendly Fanny sign. Days like this it’s the best entertainment in this little seaside village.
Friendly Fanny’s Pies and Such started out with a normal name, simply Fran’s Bakery and Coffee Roaster. Paul roasts all the coffee himself each morning. A week before the opening Fran and Phil broke up, again. Phil, the only sign man in town was in the middle of making her sign. He installed it early opening day, a modest painted sign in a pretty font, Fanny’s Pies. She pitched a fit, he took it down. It came back just as it is now Friendly Fanny’s Pies and Such in motion neon with a cartoon Fran in a cheesecake pose, wearing pink Daisy May short shorts and a big behind that wiggles back and forth. She wanted to hate it, but there you go, it’s still here wiggling today for the whole world to enjoy. Even the town council considers it a landmark now, and I laugh to think of it. Paul said, ‘I think they had wild hmm-hmm that night’ and remembering that makes me laugh too. I open my notebook.
“Hey Phil, you old coot.” Paul says, then holds the phone out for me to hear him laughing. “Good one. She wants her real sign by this afternoon and you can pick this one up.” More laughing, “See you this afternoon Phil.” He rolls his eyes and hangs up.
The door bells jingle, Emma Jean pushes a doggy stroller through. Her dog, Alice has that built in smile that all Pugs do. They are wearing the same polka dot dress. Paul slides the new sign under the counter, meets my eyes and we work at not giggling.
“Morning Sarah, how are you coming on that novel, dear? Can’t wait to read it.” She drags a chair to the corner table, then adds two more. “Morning Paul, the book club will be along shortly.”
He is already on his way with a coffee carafe and a tray of donuts. They are here for the show. They usually meet at the diner across the street. On slow mornings, Paul and I have coffee together. ‘Here come the biddies,’ he’d say as they strolled up the street in their fancy book club meeting dresses, and here they come.
Phil’s ’49 Ford truck pulls up, tips his faded baseball cap to the ladies, I’m a Fanny man, it says. They giggle. He holds the door for them, the new sign is under his arm wrapped in brown paper.
“Here you go, Paul.” He says handing him the package. “I’ll have two coffees to go, and heck give me a bag of your best glazed.” The ladies in the corner giggle and fan themselves with menus.
Paul fills his order, places the coffee and bag of donuts in a cardboard tray, picks up the bill on the counter.
“Keep the change,” Phil says as he turns, nods to the ladies in the corner and winks at me.
Paul takes the package to the backroom, comes out, wipes down the counter and I swear I hear the Jeopardy jingle. And now we wait.
“What in the hell!” Fran plunges through the swinging doors, sees the old truck out front and slams through the glass door, one of the bells flies off and rolls down the sidewalk. She flings herself at the passenger window, slapping her hands against the glass. “God damn you Phil,” she screams. He leans over opens the door, she gets in and one long stream of curse words follow them down the street.
Paul already has the step ladder in the doorway of the side room, tacks up the sign and steps back to make sure it’s straight.
THERE IS NO EXIT, Y’ALL, it says. Silence in the bakery, a nervous giggle and then we all laugh. I want to clap. Good one, Phil.