On her way home from work, Florentina got off the bus and decided to stop at the store for milk and tampons. Publix was a four-block walk, so the tiny corner convenient store owned by a Pakistani couple, would suffice. It wasn’t too bad, despite the store always smelling of rancid meat, they always had well-stocked shelves. The wife who runs the register is always friendly, unlike her husband who mostly barks orders while stocking inventory. Today, he is out front painting over fresh graffiti and muttering to himself in another language, as Florentina waves goodbye on her way out.

A young woman holding a baby blocks Florentina’s path. She holds out her hand and asks for money, her raspy voice barely above a whisper. Her baby is sick, she explains, and needs medicine. “Please,” she begs. “Can you spare anything?”

“Where do you live?” Florentina asks.

The woman looks back, over her shoulder. A boy wearing a black hoodie pokes his head out from behind a tree, watching their exchange. Florentina suddenly remembers her neighbor, Lorena, who told her how a girl with a baby came to her door asking for money. The girl said she was starving and going to faint, so Lorena let her inside to rest on the sofa while she went to the bathroom to get a pack of diapers and formula she had purchased for her grandson. When she came back, the girl was gone along with Lorena’s wallet.

Florentina’s chest flutters and quakes, like a bird was set loose inside. “Sorry,” she says. “I don’t have anything.”

“Please,” the woman says. “I’m afraid my baby will die. Anything would help. Just a buck or two?”

“What kind of medicine can you buy for that much?”

As if on cue, the baby screams into the cool night settling around them. Florentina hurries past the woman and the distraught baby. When she reaches the corner, she looks back and sees the woman and the boy staring at her with steely eyes and hard expressions on their faces.

All the sidewalks on Florentina’s street are broken and uneven. Slabs, buckling from numerous tree roots push up from underneath, looking like jagged teeth protruding from the ground at odd angles. Florentina goes over them faster than she should while carrying a bag of groceries. If she’s not careful, she could fall and break her neck, fearing she could get exactly what she deserves.



Renuka Raghavan

Renuka Raghavan is an Indian-American author who writes short-form prose and poetry. She is the author of Out of the Blue (Big Table Publishing, 2017) and The Face I Desire (Nixes Mate, 2019). Her third collection of flash fiction is forthcoming by Cervena Barva Press. Renuka’s previous work has been featured in Bending Genres, Boston Literary Magazine, Star 82 Review, and The Drabble, among others. For a complete list of her previous publications, visit her at www(dot)renukaraghavan(dot)com. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @RenukaRag. Renuka recommends the Center for Reproductive Rights.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Wednesday, February 9, 2022 - 22:21