2023 Short Story Competition

A Minute of Your Time

She’s coming home from the grocery store when she meets him. He’s leaning against the
wall near the entrance, and she’s trying to juggle her shopping bags with the search for the key to
get into the building.
“Excuse me, ma’am. Could I have a few minutes of your time?”
His smile is polite, plastered onto his face like any salesman’s. If it weren’t for his ragged
clothes, Jamie would think he was trying to sell her something—a magazine subscription, a
candidate for mayor, a shiny new god.
Not that she would mind. Unless she’s carrying something heavy or rushing into work, it
can be nice. A few minutes where someone is telling her about benefits and campaign promises.
Telling her they need her support or her money or her vote. It’s a game of pretend, but it’s one
where the rules are clear. And it’s a game that grants her reprieve from the cold silence that
stretches through every day in her solitary apartment, so it’s worth it. Even if she ends up on a
few too many mailing lists.
Regardless, he’s not dressed like one of the mormons who goes door to door, and his eyes
are hungry.
Jamie stops, shopping bags in hand, already switching them over to her other arm as she
reaches for her purse. She’s thinking about a few crumpled ones at the bottom of her wallet, and
how she definitely won’t miss them.
“No need for that,” he stops her. “Though that’s mighty kind. Can I have your name?”
“Jamie.” She responds without thinking of it. Standing here outside her building at night,
she might have been frightened. But it’s noon on a summer day, and people are milling around
the outdoor seating of the cafe next door. A mother is holding the hands of two daughters as she
guides them across the street. Coupled with the security camera above the building door, she
knows she’s safe.
“That’s a lovely name,” Jamie compliments, and his eyes are still hungry. “Could I have a
few minutes of your time?”

It’s not until the woman has climbed up the stairs to the second story, grocery bags
banging against her hip as she lifts them, that she realizes something is missing. She doesn’t
know what, but she knows something has gone.
She pats around her purse and finds her wallet safe. She touches the keys laid on the table
by the door. She checks her hand to see that her ring is gone, but then, it has been for months
now. Everything is in its place.
The television plays from the other room while she slices the fresh tomatoes she just
brought home. She fixes herself a sandwich and cuts it sideways, like her mother used to do for
her when she was a little girl.
She eats with the television still playing a room away, and it sounds like someone is
home with her. Like Emmet didn’t leave her behind with words like ‘staying amicable’ and a
passing press of lips to her cheek. Like her mother still calls her more than once every few
months. Like she still has family that visits and makes noise and leaves messes. Like her
apartment isn’t perfectly quiet and spotless and empty and alone.
When she goes to sleep at night, her bed is vast and cavernous, and she is still missing

“Hello again, ma’am,” Jamie smiles at her as he leans against the entry way. Same place,
a handful of days later. “Could I have a bit of time?”
The last time he stopped her, he only wanted to talk. He only wanted to smile and
mention the weather. He was the only person to speak with her that day, that week, that month.
He doesn’t look as ragged, this time. His jacket isn’t torn or dirty, and his shoes are clean.
His eyes are the same, though. Still hungry.
She thinks her eyes probably look about the same, though. The sound of someone
speaking to her is strange and foreign and she wants more of it. She swears she’s not lonely. It
sounds so awful to think of herself as a lonely woman. She’s content. Only, she can’t remember
the last time someone looked at her with anything but blank politeness in their eyes.
“Sure,” she says, and she shifts her messenger bag to rest more comfortably against her
shoulder as she leans against the wall next to him.
He’s telling her about some of the characters he’s seen around the shops area, and she’s
telling him about some of the drama between the other secretaries at work. And isn’t that

pathetic, that the closest thing she has to a story is someone else’s? She doesn’t think any of her
coworkers know her name.
“Why so glum?” He asks, “Why don’t you give me a smile?”
She stares at him, and his mouth stretches up pleasantly at the edges. It’s the same way
her mother used to smile, with the slightly crinkled nose and the lopsided corner.
Her face is strange and numb when she gets home.

She catches it when they replace one of the younger secretaries with a girl named Ana at
the office. Ana is friendly, and she doesn’t know that the natural rhythm of the office leaves a
swath of dead quiet around the space that the woman occupies.
“Oh, right,” says Helen, who the woman has been working with for four years, now.
“This is…”
Her face goes a little bit blank as she looks towards the woman. Her eyes dart down, like
they’re supposed to be wearing name tags. They’re not. The interns wear name tags, sometimes,
and anyone watching the front desk, but not the secretaries.
A strange brand of shame is slow and heavy in her gut. She opens her mouth, and isn’t
sure what to say. There isn’t anything but air.
The name she wants to give is the name of the man who speaks to her every other day
outside her apartment. But that isn’t hers. She knows it like she knows that another person’s
hands aren’t hers.
The silence stretches too long.
She wants to smile away the awkwardness, but there isn’t anything there, either. The
conversation moves along, and neither of her coworkers look towards her again.

“Hello again, ma’am. Could I have a bit of time?”

She starts to find gray hairs. She isn’t sure when they started, but they’re dulled and dark
and curling on her pillow in the morning.
She isn’t that old. She’s in her thirties, sure. But so are a lot of people. A lot of single
people who live alone with no family and no friends and no pets and no real career.
Maybe she’s old. She hates that thought.

When your fiance leaves you at eighteen, nineteen, twenty three, you’re fine. You lie
down and you cry, sure. You put on a new lipstick and you go to a bar, or you try a dating site, or
you take a break from men for a little while. And sooner or later you’ve got a funny story about
being young and naive.
When you’re thirty-six and your fiance leaves you, you think maybe you’re too old to try
She knows it’s not true in an abstract sort of way, just like she knows she’s not actually
that old. But her apartment is empty, and she’s finding gray hairs.
She isn’t that old.

“Hello there, friend,” he greets her. “Could I have a bit of time?”
Jamie is wearing a good suit and her mother’s smile. She calls him by that name even in
her own thoughts, and she wonders if he ever told it to her. If it just made itself his the second he
asked for it.
“Are you eating me?” She asks him.
That makes him pause.
“Would anybody notice, if I was?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *