On the first Friday of every month, I send out a newsletter that I call Dev's News Flash which consists of a little bit of news and a new piece of flash fiction. If you're interested in getting an original story delivered to your inbox every month, here's a form to sign up.
And here's this month's flash. I hope you enjoy it. It's called Russian Mark
“How did you meet Russian Mark?” The kid couldn’t have been more than 20. I envied the ease with which he sprawled in his chair.
“It’s a long story.” I pushed the plate of muffins toward him. God knew someone ought to be able to eat them. At my age I couldn’t afford the extra calories.
“I’ve got all afternoon.” The kid stuffed half a muffin into his mouth.
I took a sip of coffee. “It all started because my friend Cassie thought I should get a dog.”
I remembered it was raining that April morning when Cassie showed up at my house. She’d thrust a fancy coffee at me and pushed her way in.
“Mark, we have to talk.” She eyed the scattering of fast food detritus that surrounded my couch.
“I’m still healing,” I’d pleaded as I made a half-hearted effort to clear away the clutter. Half-hearted had been the best I could do since my latest boyfriend moved out.
“He wasn’t worth this much misery.” Cassie scooped up a potato chip bag and several takeout food containers and tossed them in the kitchen garbage.
I trailed after her, holding a single empty candy bar wrapper. “You’re right. But they’ve all been awful. I’m done with men. I just have to come to terms with the fact that I’m doomed to be alone.”
She put her hands on her hips and stared at me. “What are you talking about? You’re not even thirty. You’re a healthy, reasonably attractive man. You just haven’t met the right guy.”
“All I ever meet are losers and alcoholics. I can’t take it anymore,” I whined as I sank onto a barstool at the kitchen counter.
Cassie leaned toward me, across the kitchen counter. “If the only places you go to find men are dive bars, how the fuck are you going to meet anything else?”
“You don’t understand.” I put my head in my hands. “It’s easy for you. You can meet women all over. That’s what women do, they congregate. Men aren’t like that. Single men have to go to bars to look for other single, or not so single, men. Where else am I supposed to meet guys?”
Cassie smiled. “You need a dog.”
“A dog?” I pulled my head up and stared at her. Even for Cassie, this was a stretch.
“Walking around with a dog is a great way to meet people.”
“You want me to get a dog so I can meet men. That’s no reason to get a pet. It’s a big responsibility.”
“You own your own house and work from home. There’s no reason you can’t have a dog.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “And you’re always talking about how much you miss the dog you grew up with.”
I had to give her that one. “He was a great dog.”
Cassie gestured to my depression nest on the couch. “Look, maybe a dog won’t help you meet the right man. But what’s the worst that could happen? Even if you don’t meet the right guy, you’ll have a dog. And from where I’m standing, it looks like you could use some companionship. I say we head over to the shelter right now and find you some unconditional love.”
“Unconditional love.” I thought of my childhood dog and how happy he’d been every time I entered the room. “Yeah. I guess I could use some of that.”
“So that’s where you met Russian Mark?” The kid jolted me out of my story.
I shook my head. “I told you, it’s a very long story.”
Gigi was a dirty white bichon chihuahua mix, all fluff, shake and attitude. It was love at first sight. It was clear to me that her first two years had been even worse than my twenty-eight. Taking care of her pulled me right out of my depression. Soon, we’d established a routine –we walked around the block after breakfast, lunch and dinner, she slept on a chair by my desk as I worked, I scratched her belly as we watched TV, and she slept on my feet every night.
I wasn’t as lonely as I had been, but I was just as isolated as before.
When Gigi came to me, she was afraid of a lot of things. Over our first few months together, she started to relax around the regular terrors of a knock at the door, the telephone ringing, dust bunnies skittering out from in front of a broom. But she just couldn’t get comfortable around other dogs. When we ran into the dachshund that lived two doors down, Gigi would cower behind me, so we started skirting around that house on our walks.
“Maybe she needs more exposure, not less.” Cassie told me when she came over to dinner one night. “Deliberately keeping her away from other dogs can’t be helping. How about taking her to puppy classes?”
I looked down at Gigi, who was curled in my lap. “She’d be terrified.”
Cassie frowned in frustration. “When I suggested you get a dog, I didn’t mean you should use it as just one more excuse to never leave the house.”
“We leave the house. We go to the grocery store and the post office, not to mention all our walks around the block.”
“Just try one class. Gigi will thank you for it.”
The kid sat up in his chair. “And Russian Mark was at that class?”
I shook my head. “We never went. I just couldn’t subject her to the stress of a class. But one day, I read about a new dog park being built just down the street from my house.”
It had been the announcement that the new dog park would have a separate space for small dogs, that’s what caught my attention. I thought that if all the dogs were her size, she might get used to them. And I had to admit Cassie had a point. We needed to get out more.
It had been a warm July morning when Gigi and I drove to the dog park. There was only one other car in the parking lot when I pulled in. I eyed the section for small dogs. It was empty, just like I’d hoped it would be. I wanted to give Gigi time to get used to the space, smell the other dogs and relax before we had to confront anyone else. I carried her through the double gates and set her down on the wet grass to explore.
In the distance, in the large dog section, I saw a man tossing a ball with what looked like a Great Dane. The dog and the man looked like they matched – both tall and thin. The Dane bounded after the ball with great loping strides, but it was the man who captured my attention.
The kid grinned. “Russian Mark?”
I nodded. “Russian Mark. Only back then he was just Mark, newly arrived from Russia.”
“And you met that day at the park?”
I shook my head. “Not that day. It took a long time. Gigi and I went to the park the same time every day and watched them from a distance.”
The truth was, it had become something of an obsession as I tried to time our trips to the park to coincide with his. Some days I had barely noticed him because I was busy holding Gigi and letting her get acquainted with another dog from the safety of my arms. I’d look up, and the man with the Great Dane would be gone. I hated the sinking feeling of those days.
Then, one cool October morning we’d arrived just as the man and his dog were getting out of their car.
“Morning.” I think I blushed as I said it. I held my breath waiting for him to answer.
“Good morning.” His accent was thick. And sexy.
Up close he was even more handsome that he’d looked from a distance. Tall, dark, with a shy smile that grabbed me deep in my guts. Neither of us moved toward the entrance to the dog park. I held Gigi close but for some reason she wasn’t shaking, even though the Great Dane was only a few feet away.
I cleared my throat. “I’ve seen you here before. I think we come around the same time.”
“Yes. Every day.” He held out his hand. “I am Mark. It is nice to meet you.”
“Oh.” I blinked at him. “I’m Mark, too.” Our hands touched. It was a long time before either of us let go.
I smiled at the young man sprawled across a chair in our living room. “And that is when I became Mark G and he became Russian Mark. And the rest, as you said, is history.”
“What about the dogs? Was Gigi okay with the Dane?”
I laughed. “They were best friends from the start. It turned out Gigi was only afraid of other small dogs. She loved the big ones. We never went into the small dog section again.”
The sound of the front door opening was followed by the thunder of three dogs galloping through the hallway and into the living room.
Mark appeared in the doorway, looking just as handsome at 65 as he had at 30. “Have you finished your interview?” His accent had softened over the years, but it still got to me. “I hope you told him that after all these years you still want to marry me, because now it is time to get dressed.”
“Good.” The kid sprang up. “I wanted to get a couple pictures of the two of you in your tuxes. But first, do you have any relationship advice for the younger generation?”
Mark met my gaze and smiled. “I’m sure Mark G told you the most important thing. You should always have a dog.”