Thursday, May 10, 2012


It sure has been awhile since I've written a #fridayflash. Jon Strother inspired me this week, by including a previous flash piece of mine in the next BOFF.  Since my last time here, I've had a couple more published pieces. Check out Dead Calm: Best New England Crime Stories, a yearly anthology published by Level Best Books, and Uncle John's Bathroom Reader presents Flush Fiction, which includes a story that originally appeared on this blog as a #fridayflash. I'll be seeing you around, as I try to catch up on some flash reading.


Midwife Sarah deftly cleaned, swaddled and then laid the newborn on the new mom's chest. The new dad sniffled and wiped his eyes. Sarah loved those first moments of a new family; the expressions of sheer joy and wonder. She'd be attending to another birth when the expression of oh-shit-what-do-we-do-now paralyzed the new parents smiles.

"She's here now," Sarah said. "Do you have a name?" 

The new father smiled at his wife. "Whatever you decide, Laurel. Isn't she beautiful?"

Laurel returned her husband's smile. "Jane. Let's call her Jane."

"You've got to be kidding." Sarah slapped both hands over her mouth, embarrassed she'd blurted out her first thought.

"Yes, Jane," Laurel said. "She can be whomever she wants to be, without any prejudice. She'll stand out from the Courtneys and Kaitlyns and Brittanys and Megs.

"Huh. Original," Sarah said.

"We think so." The new dad kissed the newborn's head. "Welcome to the world, Little Jane Doe."

Both parents "aww"-ed at the infant's first cries.  

Baby Jane Doe was inconsolable for two full days.

# # #

Kevin didn't know how to get rid of the young mother and her shrieking daughter. He felt for the woman—she had steamer trunks under her eyes. Lack of sleep messed with people. That probably explained her blouse—inside out and buttoned wrong. He didn't know if he should point that out or let her next encounter with a mirror show her. Hell, between finals and this morgue internship, he was surprised he found the right buttonholes.

The tyke hit that pitch that made Kevin's toes curl. One more Tigger, god help him, he'd spank the brat. "Mrs. Doe, I can't let your daughter near the bodies."

"I don't want her in there either. But I don't know what else to do! She's not going to stop until we figure out who your Jane Doe is. I know you think we're crazy, but...but, my Jane...." Laurel stopped and swiped her cheek. "Jane! Stop screeching."

Laurel looked at Kevin. He squirmed under her intense gaze. She said, "Maybe your Jane Doe has a tattoo, or an earing or...."

"Lady, the body is naked. And she's not in, how shall I say, viewing condition."

"Something. Anything. Please."

Kevin shook his head.

"Do you want to find out who that woman is or not? Someone is missing their daughter, or sister, or, or...." Laurel stopped. "Something to do with Tigger is on that body. My daughter has done this before."

"Really." Kevin couldn't help the sarcasm. A two-year-old identified Jane Does. Next, someone would tell him beer regenerated brain cells.

"Jane Doe was brought here with nothing. A permanent retainer on her bottom teeth, a callus on her lip, and that's it." He stared pointedly at Mrs. Doe. "We'll get an orthodontist's opinion, not a child's."

The little Jane screeched louder and hopped. "Tigger! Shirt!"

"Go home, get some sleep." Kevin picked up the phone. "Or I'm calling security."  

The child stilled. She pointed at Kevin's hand. "School," she said.

Kevin looked at his class ring. "Yes, school."

"Tigger school."

"No, Cornell." Kevin dialed.

"Idiot," Laurel said to Kevin. "She means your Jane Doe. Tigger school...wait." Laurel tapped her lower lip. "Why would someone have a lip callus? Kissing...biting...come on. You help with autopsies and such, right?"

"Never mind," Kevin said into the mouthpiece, then hung up the phone. The woman was right—it was a clue. "Musician. Some trumpet players get lip calluses."

"Could your Jane Doe be a musician? In college?" Laurel asked.

Little Jane yawned, then said, "Tigger shirt. Tigger school." She put her thumb in her mouth, then blew.

Kevin snapped his fingers. "Princeton. They're the Tigers, orange and black. Do you think...."

"What?" Laurel asked, then yawned.

Kevin dug in his pocket for his phone. He searched for Princeton images, showed them to Mrs. Doe. She picked up her daughter. "Jane? Is this right?"

Little Jane shook her head. Kevin scrolled, waited for Jane's reaction, scrolled again. She touched the screen when he stopped on a picture of the marching band wearing rugby shirts.  

"Tigger shirt!"

"Call the University," Laurel said. "See if their band is missing a trumpet player."

She picked up her daughter. Jane laid her head on her mother's shoulder, almost immediately fell asleep.

"Where are you going?" Kevin asked. "We have to call the authorities, report this...."

"You report it. No one will believe a two-year-old identified a body," Laurel said, then stifled a yawn. "Let's get you home, sweet Jane."

"Mrs. Doe?" Kevin held the door open. "How?"

"Because I named her Jane Doe."

"No, really, how did this happen?"

Laurel shifted her daughter, then looked at Kevin. "You know those names with destinies? Bambi is a stripper, Helga is a gym teacher, Mary-Margaret is a nun—well, I thought Jane Doe was a clean slate—my little girl could be anyone."

Kevin scratched his head. "I don't get it."

"So my little girl becomes Jane Doe. Every nameless one." 


Danielle La Paglia said...

Cool twist and what a bitch of a gift. Thanks, Mom! :)

Tony Noland said...

Creepy connection to have. I pity the kid when she grows up.

Linda said...

Great ending. And super to see you up and running! Peace...

Helen said...

Oh great twist and play on the name Jane Doe!

Cathy Olliffe-Webster said...

Peg, Peg, PEG - where the HELL have you been, girl? Gawd, I miss your stories. With stories like this you have to keep coming around more often, hear? Thanks to Jon for bringing you back.
Loved this idea - so original - and so well executed. This idea could easily be a book.

John Wiswell said...

The opening was so darned cute, and the sleuthing in the second half was mighty unusual. Didn't feel as formulaic as mysteries usually present themselves, even with the posturing over the kid. Where'd you pick up the idea for this one, Peggy?

Naturally, glad to see you back and around again. Late congratulations on getting into the Bathroom Reader.

ganymeder said...

Geez, that was creepy! What was mom thinking?

Adam B said...

Welcome back after your absence with a powerful story of identity and name. Fantastic.
Adam B @revhappiness

Timothy P. Remp said...

Awesome twist! I agree with the about statements—where do you come up with these ideas? Very original and very well written, as usual.


Icy Sedgwick said...

This was genuinely amazing. Such a neat concept!

flyingscribbler said...

It's always good to read something original and the idea here is certainly that. This would make an excellent tv show.

Larry Kollar said...

Holy crap, this was cool!!!

There may be something to this name business. Mason (also age 2) loves to line stuff up.

Glad to see you flashing again — one hell of a comeback piece!

Carrie Clevenger said...

Love having you back! This was a great welcoming tale. Great idea, sweet execution.

Natalie Bowers said...

Well that's the creepiest case of nominative determinism I've ever heard of! I bet Mrs Doe wishes she'd called her something else now. A very enjoyable #fridayflash. Thanks for sharing!

Tim VanSant Writes said...

I got a nice grin from, "She'd be attending to another birth when the expression of oh-shit-what-do-we-do-now paralyzed the new parents smiles." And another one at the end. She had no idea....

Jen Brubacher said...

This is a really unique idea, and surprising. I like it a lot, as much as I pity the poor mother.

And the girl, too--Her life will not be easy.


J. M. Strother said...

I thought it was a curse of a name at the start - boy was it ever. Great story.