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by Julia Paillier

The dark eyes of the taxi driver sought Joan’s in the rearview mirror. “Tell him to eat walnuts.”

Joan looked away. She wished she hadn’t confided that her husband had suffered a stroke that morning, was unable to speak or move. But the driver’s persistent questions had dented her usual reserve.

“A walnut looks like a brain,” he was saying, “and it’s good for the brain. There’s a reason for everything.”

He jerked the handbrake, twisting to look at her. They were at the level crossing. “Take eggs. Good for eyesight. Cut a hard-boiled egg in half, what’s it remind you of?”

Joan nodded. She wondered if he harassed all the passengers he picked up at the hospital like this.

They moved off. “Are we going the right way?” she asked, gazing out at a row of houses she didn’t recognise. Her husband never took this route. Remembering the look of his safe hands on the wheel, the skin at the knuckles reddened and coarse, she pressed her lips together, swallowing tears.

The driver didn’t reply. He was busy positing the idea of a global conspiracy theory. “They’re all in on it. Trump, that Korean guy, the Russians. People think they disagree but it’s all a show to keep themselves in power, control the little people.”

Joan mumbled an affirmative, anxiety swirling in the pit of her stomach.

“Kids today — they’re not interested in politics, world affairs. ‘Getta life’, they say. Getta life! Unbelievable.”

Beyond the windscreen, the traffic lights at the end of Joan’s street loomed into view. She leant forward. “You can let me out here.”

On the pavement, conscious of the driver’s scrutiny, she fumbled in her bag for change.

His voice drifted relentlessly from the car window. “He’ll be okay, your husband. You’re a good person. He’ll be fine. Karma, you know.” Taking the money from her hand, he smiled, showing a gold tooth.

She watched the taxi round the corner, then walked along the street to her house. Behind the front door, her husband’s jacket hung where he had left it the night before. Pressing her face into the soft fabric, inhaling its familiar, woody scent, she knew the driver had it wrong. There is no destiny, no master plan. Life cheats; in a blink, it turns, instantly up-ending all that once seemed certain.

Julia Paillier lives in Kent, England, and writes very short fiction. Recent work has won places in the Reflex and Flash 500 competitions, and been selected for publication in Flash, the magazine of the International Flash Fiction Association. https://juliapaillier.blogspot.com/