August 20, 2021
“Joni” - First Place Winner of the CWA Flash Fiction Contest
By Joyce Burns Zeiss
My sixth- grade classroom was a sinkhole of boredom. The wet October air slid through the open windows as a gangly boy with cornstalk hair wrapped his gym shorts around his head. A spitball flew across the room. Joni, a doe-eyed girl with dark bangs and a lanky figure, crossed her legs and pulled at her short black skirt, her cheek protruding like a squirrel preparing for winter.
"Joni, what are you eating?" I peered at her over my gold-rimmed reading glasses.
"Nothing." She closed her mouth, and a bulge appeared in her throat as she attempted to swallow the evidence. Her brown eyes started to pop out like a lizard's. She tried to speak, but all I could see were her lips moving as if she were in a silent movie.
I dropped my book. "Stand up." I walked around behind her, locked my arms underneath her diaphragm, and braced her slim body against mine. I clasped my hands together and gave one quick upward thrust. A large gobstopper flew from her windpipe, out of her mouth and across the room like a man being shot from a cannon. Joni gasped.
"Are you okay?"
She wiped her lips with the back of her hand. "I think so."
The class sat still as scarecrows, staring at the two of us.
"Good." I picked up my book and adjusted my glasses. "Now, who can tell me what kind of a creature the Great Sphinx is?" The boy with the cornstalk hair pulled the shorts off his head and opened his book. Ten hands waved frantically in the air.
After school that day I leaned back in my chair, my hand shaking as I drank my Diet Coke, giving God a heartfelt "thanks" for the CPR training I had received as a Girl Scout leader.
Seven years later I was shopping in the women's department at Marshall Field's, my back aching, my Christmas list crumpled in my hand, when a voice called my name.
A young woman appeared, a green Marshall Fields' nametag on her lapel. "Joni."
"You remember me?"
"Of course, I do."
"You saved my life."
I hadn't thought about Joni for a long time.
She looked at me. Tears started to form in the corners of her eyes. "I didn't realize what might have happened until I took Health in high school, and we learned the Heimlich maneuver. I could have died."
We reminisced about that day.
"What are you doing now?" I asked.
"I've been working in retail, but I'm tired of it. I think I'd like to be a teacher."
"The only reason I didn't do my homework was because the kids would make fun of me. I really liked your class."
We talked until another customer appeared.
"I don't want to get you fired."
"Don't worry. I'm so glad I saw you."
"Great to see you too.”
I uncrumpled my Christmas list and smiled.
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