In February 2021, Storytelling Collective had a flash fiction prompt month and of course, I didn’t hit every day (or really get close) but I did end up with some favourites I want out in the world, even in their unedited form.
When Marta was promoted, her rooming was upgraded. Rather than sharing a room with three others, she only had one roommate. The extra space felt luxurious. The bunk was flanked by two slim closets, allowing each girl their own place to hang the lavender uniforms that marked them as Priority hospitality staff. The rumour was that Premier hospitality staff, with their deep plum uniforms, didn’t have bunks at all, but their own separate beds, with two-drawer dressers at the foot. Marta didn’t mind sharing a drawer, it was easier in her new room, she never had to worry about being in the way of the bunk on the other side of the narrow room.
Even more exciting, the space that would have been taken up by another bunk was replaced in Priority rooms by a desk. A shatterfree mirror was bolted to the wall above it, and on either side of the leg keyhole were even more drawers. Marta and her roommate mostly used the desk as a vanity table, filling the net lining the wall below the mirror with hairbrushes, compacts, and the other bits and pieces that they’d previously had to keep in string bags stuffed into their single drawer or hanging from a hook in their bunk.
The ability to more comfortably primp wasn’t purely a vain indulgence. Priority hospitality staff needed to look the part—especially if they wanted to eventually make Premier. Marta revelled in wearing her hair down, pinned out of her face, but no longer caught up in braids and buns. As a Priority girl, she had to interact with passengers to some degree, delivering requested linens or giving directions. It was terrifying to actually talk to passengers at first, when she was a Primary the intent was to clean and refit rooms like swift ghosts, in their soft white, almost-blue uniforms. You didn’t want to be seen, let alone be spoken to.
She felt like she was getting the hang of it. The nice thing about working station hospitality was that the guests came and went with regularity, so as long as she didn’t embarrass herself too badly, they would never see her again and she’d be able to forget the incident. After she’d bullied the purser into getting her a better translator, the whole job felt like a dream, it was so easy.
Pausing outside the door to a minilux cabin, Marta swept on her hospitality face and knocked. Holding up the dry shampoo can as though it were a bottle of wine, she looked into the camera in the door. “Delivery, at your request.”
After some rustling, a croaking “Oh, please come in” sang out and Marta nodded before placing her hand on the plate to open the door.
On entering, Marta found the room empty, noise from the sonic buzzing from the lavatory. She looked around, still holding the shampoo like a gift. Next to the bed—a single bed, independent of any clever storage solutions, which made Marta wonder about what indulgences one would find in a megalux room—was a sort of pole with a crossbar, like a drawing of a simple crutch. Perched on the crossbar was a bird. Marta had seen pictures; she knew what a bird was. But this one was white, and big, with long feathers that unfanned like a crest on its head.
“Oh, please come in!” The bird spoke, and Marta almost lost her hospitality face.
Reflexively, she held up the shampoo can, as if asking the bird where it should go. She’d read birds were smart, but she still fought a blush as she did it.
The bird unfolded massive wings with a stretch, and before Marta could gasp in amazement it flew across the room in a single flap to the dresser, its nails clicking as it landed. “Oh please!” The bird bobbed its head, almost dancing. “Please come in!”
Hesitantly, Marta walked toward the bird, who moved with athletic hops along the faux marble top. Was the shampoo for the bird? It wasn’t really her place to wonder as only Priority hospitality. She set the can down gently, mindful of the bird’s wingspan, which it was showing off from the other end of the dresser. With a startlingly nightmarish cackle, the bird flew back to its perch. A long white feather dropped as it fell, settling gently onto the lino.
“Thank you for the tip,” Marta told the bird as she picked up the feather. From the lavatory, the buzz of the sonic ended, and she hurried out of the room. Before heading to her next assignment, Marta stopped at her spacious dorm to tuck the feather into the net below the mirror.
A portion of this post was initially published in a locked Patreon post on February 8, 2021.