Flash Fiction: ‘Empty Space’ by Zach Murphy

Dogs are our link to paradise. […] To sit with a dog on a hillside […] is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring–it was peace.

Milan Kundera

Zach Murphy is a Hawaii-born writer with a background in film and screenwriting. His stories have appeared in Peculiars Magazine, Ellipsis Zine, Emerge Literary Journal, The Bitchin’ Kitsch, Fat Cat Magazine, Lotus-eater, WINK, Drunk Monkeys, Modern Literature, and the Wayne Literary Review. Zach loves cats like he loves movies. He lives with his wonderful wife Kelly in the chilly but charming land of St. Paul, Minnesota, USA.

Read Zach’s film blog ‘Fade to Zach’ at: fadetozach.blogspot.com/.

Empty Space

by Zach Murphy

Troy stepped into the crowded elevator, hit the button marked 18, and avoided making eye contact. He didn’t have enough elbow room, with his arms pressed against his sides, to dig into his pockets for his headphones. He usually would’ve waited for the next round, but, today, all he wanted to do was slide into bed.

Bagel hadn’t recovered after the collision. They’d put him down. It was the only thing they could have done… Troy looked down at the empty space beside him. No more walks in the park. No more catching frisbees. He smiled. No more fraternizing with the neighbor dogs. Poor Bagel.

Troy’s manager had finally given him that raise. He needed it, too. It wasn’t much for filling out spreadsheets all day, but it made his escalating monthly cable bill a little easier to justify. It was funny. Bagel used to lay his head in Troy’s lap, and he’d rub the dog’s belly whenever they’d watch TV together. TV wouldn’t be the same now.

“It’s a beautiful day out there,” said an elderly woman carrying groceries. Troy smiled and looked away. The small talk was more painful than the silence. He wondered why anyone would bring up the weather while waiting in an elevator. Inside a tiny room — inside of another room — inside a building. The outside world didn’t matter in the elevator.

He wished he could speed up time. Or be invisible. He found it difficult not to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations, like the woman in sportswear ranting about her breakup. “At least I don’t have to fake liking chai lattes anymore,” she said. You go, girl, Troy thought.

A pair of teenagers scrolled up and down their smartphone screens. They stunk of smoke and looked higher than the 15th floor. Didn’t say a word to each other. Just kept scrolling.

“I said, ‘Bring the good champagne, dear,’” muttered an elderly man into his brick phone. “Oh pooh. Money is no object, Jane. Let me decide my own finances. This is a monumental achievement for the art world, after all.” Troy imagined the old man a sherry drinker. Or maybe port? No, wait, he had it. Cognac. In an armchair by the fireplace.

A man in a business suit clutched a cardboard box filled with papers, folders, and a potted bonsai tree. “I can’t believe it. Completely blindsided me…” Was he talking to himself? Sounded like he was having a breakdown. The guy adjusted his Bluetooth earpiece, sighed, and looked deep into his box of belongings. “Hell knows what I’m gonna do now.”

The elevator emptied floor-by-floor until Troy was left alone. The carriage hummed as it rose past each new floor, before finally stopping on the 18th. In the few seconds before the doors shunted open, he felt the silence of the elevator, its emptiness, hanging over him like a cobweb.

He walked the long corridor to his bachelor apartment, turned key into lock, and entered. Tossing his keys onto the sofa, as he always did, he made a sharp left into the kitchen, where he swigged orange juice straight from the carton. Then he poured some dog food and replenished the water bowl.

Sinking onto the sofa, he grabbed the remote, and punched the power button until the TV screen lit up. He smiled as he scrolled channels. “What shall we watch today, boy?” he said, and then his smile slipped away.

Troy looked back at the kitchen, half-expecting to see his best friend waiting for him. It was all he could do to tear his eyes away from the bowl of bone-shaped treats that no one was ever going to eat.


Copyright © ‘Empty Space’ Zach Murphy 2020 | All Rights Reserved

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