It’s 2021 and time for the monthly fun Flash Fiction Challenge Draw. This year, it’s hosted by author Jeffrey Ricker! For January, we had to write a 1000-words max story that was a fairytale set in a studio apartment in a big city, and there had to be a potted plant in the story.
Here’s my contribution, Once Upon a Flat!
Once upon a time, two avid runners lived in a luxe studio apartment atop a tall building in Montréal, Québec. The flat had been divided into zones that included a sunken living space and a winding staircase leading to the bedroom terrace. It also had a gorgeous wall of windows overlooking the cityscape.
Melvin and Helen had happily lived there for years, donning their expensive runners twice a day to keep in shape. It had also been their favourite togetherness activity.
One year, Helen had often found herself with mysterious bilateral pains, all over her body. She could still run, though not as quickly, and afterwards, her tissues would inflame mercilessly. When she sought help, she was told to reduce how frequently she ran, or to try run-walks, and to ice where it hurt. Medical professionals insisted she maintain her fitness routine.
At first, Melvin had been understanding and accepted he would do his morning runs alone. However, he’d become increasingly impatient when Helen kept cancelling evening runs or could only manage a walk. Finally, she claimed she couldn’t walk at all.
“You’re not trying hard enough!” he cried. “You’re giving up on yourself—and us!”
Through tears Helen replied, “That’s not true. The pain… it’s excruciating.”
“If you don’t move, you’ll never move!”
So, with all the effort she could muster, Helen tried walking. But her legs had become so stiff and riddled with nerve pain, she found herself constantly falling down the steps to the sunken living room and couldn’t climb the steps to their bed.
“Now you don’t even want to sleep with me?” Mel shouted, finding Helen under a blanket on the kitchen area floor.
She winced as she pushed herself into a sitting position. “It’s not that. I love you. It’s just those stairs!”
“Whatever. I’m fed up with this drama. You don’t want me around, fine. Fend for yourself. I’m sure your legs will magically work again once I’m gone.”
Melvin grabbed his briefcase and dashed out the door.
He never returned.
Some men came round to collect his things the next day. They had Melvin’s key and let themselves right in. Helen stayed slumped on her blanket in the kitchen without uttering a word. When they left, she crawled to a dining chair and managed to get into it, then stood up to limp to the kitchen sink, where she held onto the counter with one hand, and used the other to wash her face. Her cheeks were drenched with tears and tap water.
She cursed through her sobs.
“I can’t come to the door!”
Helen turned her head and spotted a lone office chair. Hm. She stumbled over and clung to the back of it while pushing it across the floor to the front door, being careful not to careen over the steps to the living room area.
She huffed but opened the door anyway.
There was nobody, nothing except a large potted plant with a big shiny purple bow.
Helen growled. “How am I supposed to bring you into the apartment?”
“No matter, really,” said the plant. “I can float.”
She nearly dropped to the floor. “Oh no. Oh no, I’m going mad!”
The rubber tree chuckled amiably. “You have no idea how many times I hear that! You are quite sane, my dear. I am your fairy god-plant.”
She blinked. “Uh, yeah. That makes me feel way better.” Helen shook her head and rolled herself into the flat while the plant floated to a sunny spot by the window.
“Ugh, the door,” Helen groaned, not wanting to turn back, since the office chair was not that steady.
“No bother, my dear. Consider it closed!”
Helen heard the lock click as well. She swivelled the chair to sit in it, then swivelled back to face the plant.
“So, you’re magical, that’s it?”
“And you’re going to grant wishes or something?”
“If you like! I prefer to make people’s lives easier.”
“Uh huh, and what do you get out of it?”
“The satisfaction of a good deed well done?”
“What’s the payment, I mean.”
“Well, I like this spot. A little water and some fertilizer might be lovely.”
The plant remained silent.
Helen stared some more.
The plant gestured with a leaf for her to speak.
“Okay, fine,” the woman said. “You know what I want? I want to move again. Around this flat. Outside. The works. Lay it on me!”
“All right, my dear. But sit by me, to be safe.”
At once, the apartment began to shake. Helen yelped and rolled to the window.
The sunken floor began to rise until it was flush with the rest of the place. The front door grew wider. The glass staircase disappeared and the bedroom terrace lowered to the main area. The bathroom door also widened and the bathtub disappeared, replaced with a walk-in shower with seat. Space throughout the studio morphed. Kitchen countertops lowered and most-needed items flew out of cupboards to where she could reach them.
And the office chair on which she sat, gently transformed around her, becoming a combination electric wheelchair and rollator—a walker with wheels.
“Oh, and the final touch,” said the plant.
Helen’s runners floated in the air to land near her feet. They, too changed, but still looked like runners.
“You’ll find these much more comfortable when you stand,” said the plant.
It took Helen a moment to find her voice again. She steadied her breath and managed, “So, where’s my handsome prince?”
The plant swished a leaf dismissively. “You don’t need one. But there’s a physical therapist I know who is a great listener and can offer help you actually can use. You’ll still need assistive tech, but you’ll get the support to thrive. Or… I could just send you a handsome prince.”
Helen took in her surroundings and smiled.
“What’s the PT’s name?”
— The End —
Once Upon a Flat © 2021 Cait Gordon. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without permission except in the case of brief quotations in critical articles and reviews. This is a work of fiction from the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. For more information, contact Cait Gordon.
Cait Gordon is a disability advocate who wants everyone to be wise and think of others as we battle COVID-19!
She’s also the author of Life in the ’Cosm and The Stealth Lovers. When Cait’s not writing, she’s editing manuscripts and running The Spoonie Authors Network, a blog whose contributors manage disabilities and/or chronic conditions. She also teamed up with Kohenet Talia C. Johnson to co-edit the Nothing Without Us anthology (a 2020 Prix Aurora Award finalist for Best Related Work) in an attempt to take over the world.