Today we introduce “Balter Café” by Elle Flythe to our New Voices library. This sweet, but sad story, was an honorable mention in our Flash Fiction Contest and slowly unveils the terrors of an earthquake as it tears apart a café. You won’t soon forget this small, but powerful piece.
The chairs outside the Balter Café are gold and black with a chevron pattern that rips apart when the earthquake hits. The street beneath them splits in two. Inside the café things are no better. Wires hang low and the glass from the broken windows comes to rest inside still faces. But neither the cracked street outside nor the broken glass indoors is now the worst of it; that baddest bane is the tuberose flowers sitting by the café’s registers, for the Diablo Wind warms them to a sickly sweet scent that coats the nostrils and gets inhaled with speech. Speaking of speech, only two people are left living: Daniel and Etta.
Daniel and Etta are lovers from a long poem. Sometimes on narrow sidewalks they won’t unlink their arms and in crowded rooms they often hear only each other. Today they are more inclusive. They have taken notes of apology and last best wishes from the three other inhabitants who died several hours ago (although Etta, whose left ear is softly ringing, does mistake a Sara for Celia). Hunger. Dead phones. Birds’ nests. Car hoods. Survival. Everything and nothing is on their minds.
“How do you know they’re robins?” Daniel asks.
“Because they’re blue.”
“Starling eggs are blue too.”
Etta lies supine on the floor with her left wrist pinned under a table, but despite the discomfort she still has her wits about her, “Starlings, really? Well knock me over with a feather.”
When Daniel laughs, the silver beam running from the wall behind him, through his back, and out of his white sous chef jacket seems to grow longer, but the cranberry-colored stain no longer spreads. That’s a win for the couple who wants to get married and have two children. Etta longs to name them Halima and Grace if they’re girls. If they’re boys Daniel gets to give them names that look good in lights. With his left hand Daniel pets a long sharp knife.