A short story submitted to the NYCMidnight Flash Fiction challenge

© 2018 David Dobson

  • Required setting: Pond
  • Required element: A “Reserved” sign
  • Genre: Romantic Comedy
  • 1000 word limit

The vine pulled at her jacket, its thorns tugging at the light blue cloth. She plucked it off and continued around the edge of the water. A frog blared a complaint into the faint dawn light.

“Can I help you?” he asked.

She was lean, maybe forties, jeans and a red scarf with the jacket. “Sorry, this your place?”

“Only since May.”

“I used to come here when I was little.” She smiled. “Trespassing then too.”

“Revisiting old haunts?”

Her smile faded a bit. “No, just looking for something I lost.”

“Can I help you find it?”

She laughed. “No, that’s okay. Thrill of the search, you know.”

“Okay, well, I have to get to work. Make yourself at home.”




Short stack and omelet for six, twelve wants a new fork, and Glen would be asking for more coffee any minute. The bell on the door jangled. The lady from before. She took the second stool at the counter and unwound her red scarf.

He put out a new paper mat and silverware. “Hello again. Any luck?”

She smiled. “Where’s Annie?”

“Boca Raton, with a retired State Farm agent and two labradoodles. Shep is still in the back, so the food’s still good.”

“But it’s still Annie’s?”

“Mine, now. But why mess with an institution?”

She pulled a menu from the steel clip. “Eggs Benedict still good?”

“Best in town.”

She chuckled. “Only restaurant in town.” She pointed at the Reserved sign at stool five. “You take reservations now? This place is going big time.”

“That’s for Annie’s grandson. He always sat there. Died in Iraq. Didn’t seem right to take it down, and the place is never full.”

“Oh.” She nodded. “That’s nice. And sad. But a kind, decent thing to do.”

“So, did you find what you lost?”

“You ask a lot of questions.”

“I was a prosecutor.”

“And now you run a diner?”

“You ask a lot of questions too.”

She put the menu down. “Eggs Benedict, then.  How about this. You ask me three, I ask you three, then we’re done for the day.”


She flipped her coffee mug. “Question one. Why a diner in Lanesville?”

He poured. “Grew to hate my job. Didn’t like New York anymore. Looking for something better, simpler. Ate at Annie’s once, on my honeymoon, and liked the vibe.”

“That’s kind of insane.”

“We’re allowed to judge the answers?”

“Of course. Your partner was okay with the move?”

“Is that question two?” he asked.


“My partner isn’t my partner anymore. She needed fresh space, a new outlook, and room to grow.”

“Sounds like you did too.”

“Didn’t realize it until she left me for Rocco.”

“Ouch. His name is Rocco?”

“For real.”

“Number three. Are you happy now?”

“Yes, is the easy answer. Much more than before.”

“What’s the hard answer?”

“If a guy revisits a place where he was happy on his honeymoon, he’s probably looking for something other than Eggs Benedict.”

“Fair enough.” She sipped her coffee. “Okay, your turn.”

“You live around here?”

“Used to. Went to Boston for college and stayed. After my folks divorced, this didn’t seem like home.”

“So, you left because here was bad, or because there was good?”

“Is that question two?”


“Here, the bad was more obvious than the good. There, it seemed big, busy. Different.”


She took another sip. “It is. But it wears on you. I don’t always fit.”

“Okay, question three. What’s your name?”

She laughed. “Grace.”




Fry grease, mixed with sweat, smoke, and a little barbecue. Same as every night. Not unpleasant, just the smell of hard work. A shower would be nice.

Grace was there by the pond again.

“Still looking?”

She nodded. “Yup.”

“You’ve only got an hour of good light.”

“It’s okay.” She moved a little farther around the dark water. “When you had your questions this morning, you didn’t ask what I was looking for.”

“Didn’t seem like you wanted to say.”

She broke off a cattail and spun it in her fingers. “For a diner-owning former prosecutor with unclear life goals, you seem like a pretty good guy.”


“You want two more questions?”


“Mine first. What’s your name?”


“Are you going to stay here, Josh?”

“I like the town. Life is clean and straightforward. I think I’ve found most of what I was looking for. I don’t miss what I left.”

“Okay, your turn.”

“Are you going to stay here?”

She threw the cattail into the water. “Considering it. Wondering if it would be wisdom to return to my roots, or just acknowledgment of a failure to thrive.”

“Question two. If I help you find what you lost, would you have dinner with me?”

She laughed. “If I could get it back, I’d do more than that.”

“The water’s not deep. But there’s a lot of mud.”

“You really don’t need to help.”

“It’s important to you. There must be a better way to look.”

She reached out a hand. “I don’t think so. You mentioned dinner?”



The pump growled. The frothy brown water stank as it spilled out of the hose. The man in the jumpsuit wiped his face with a red cloth. “Should be down to the floor in a half hour, twenty minutes.”

“The floor? You mean the bottom?” asked Josh.

“Same thing. This was a root cellar.” The man gestured up the slope. “After they put the road in, the drainage changed, and it flooded. Been a pond since.” He put away his cloth. “A kid died here, just after they finished. Sad business. Flash flood collapsed the roof while he was playing inside.”

“How long ago?”

Grace appeared from the road. Her voice was loud over the pump. “Thirty years tomorrow. My brother. You’re draining it?”

He turned. “To find what you… God, so stupid. Trying for a kind, decent thing to do. Ended up horrible. I’m so sorry.”

“Not horrible. Not at all.” Her arms were warm and strong.