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True Colours - A Short Story

From the moment he hoists her, a fresh vitality in Zach Lawrence sparks. His new flag, there, ducking and diving playfully in the wind. He watches on, a gently satisfied smile upon his pinched lips. Stationary, as he admires the colours before him. A new vibrancy suddenly apparent at his front door, especially when framed against the reserved San Franciscan sky. That deep set blue and that proud golden yellow. Striking when observed in unison with the black flag with its punchy white lettering that flutters next to her. The perfect companion piece. Together they say more about him than words ever could. Symbols proudly hung for all to see, one either side of the spotless white door at the centre.         

He’d purchased the new flag online from a quaint second-hand store. It had a small rip in it, visible even from ten steps away due to the red stitching they used to mend it, but Zach doesn’t mind. He prefers it even, despite the fact it cost more than if new. Another symbol. He had been wanting a fresh flag for a while, the black one previously adrift on the left presenting a disappointing lack of symmetry at the front of his home. A lop-sidedness that would destroy a Wes Anderson movie. But no more. Now Wes could sleep easy for his frame was complete. Blue and yellow and black and white. His true colours.          

            Content, Zach now packs his tools away, walks inside and turns the kettle on. The steam rises quickly, seeping its way out of the goose neck as he simultaneously hand grinds a small selection of Ethiopian coffee beans. Ten motions to the left, ten to the right like always. He then drops the grains down on a scale, subtracts a teaspoon away to ensure the proper weight and puts the rest in the V60. To finish, he carefully pours the water over in a hypnotic, circular motion to bring the coffee to bloom and then listens as it drips down into his old Edith Heath mug. He then takes a deep breath, the dark roasted scent never boring despite the number of times he’s smelt it. Complete, Zach walks back outside to take a seat on his front porch, this time looking outwards. Before him the tips of the two flags flap into his eye-line and a part of him swells at their movements. The energy and drive they bring to what was, he can now admit, quite a stale front porch, especially when in comparison to some of the beautiful, grand houses that line his street. Houses of history that have lasted centuries. How he’d have loved one of those, yet it had been too hard to justify a four-bed for someone flying solo like him, especially given the political optics of that. In truth he didn’t want the extra space. It would have felt too empty, too isolated. Plus Elena, his cleaner, already took too long for his liking as it was. No, this place worked just right for him, particularly now he’d sorted out the front porch.

            Comfortably reclined in his Adirondack chair, Zach moves to take the first sip of his coffee yet it’s as it graces his lips that a familiar mop of curly, matted brown hair bobs into view and Andy’s face appears. Andy, a face he first saw now six-months ago and has seen nearly every day since. Yes, every single morning as he sits on his porch with his coffee, Andy trundles by. He’s been on the street for longer than Zach. An old-timer as other neighbours say, none very fondly. But Zach likes Andy. He’s proud to say he makes an effort with him. That they chat and Zach knows what he does with his day because he doesn’t think many others do. Certainly not the Johnson’s next door. Where they turn away Zach Lawrence says, good morning.

            Andy shouts hey in response and gives him a wave. 

            Coffee in his left hand, Zach moves his right to his brow and salutes. 

            In return, Andy points to Zach’s new flag and says, nice. 

            You like it? Zach tries to hide his smile.

            Suppose, Andy replies, neck arching upwards. Seen a lot of them around recently. Them too. He now points to the black one. What’s next? Pride?

            Zach laughs though at the same time he can’t work out the nature of the comment. He’s also quite surprised at Andy’s social political knowledge though he keeps that thought to himself. Just these for now. He smiles politely. Anyway, nice to catch you. See you around. 

            Andy nods at this, then asks, where you going?

            What, Zach replies. Confused.

            Andy tilts his chin. Just you said, see you around, so I figured you were off somewhere. 

            Oh no. Zach laughs awkwardly. Just sitting here enjoying my morning coffee. 

            Oh right, Andy replies, shifting his weight from one leg to the next. See you around then. He swivels in the street as if unsure where to go despite the fact he appeared to be walking with such purpose just a few moments ago. 

            Zach says nothing but watches on as the cogs in Andy’s mind whir before he spins on his heels and returns in the direction he came from, shuffling forward in an ungainly manner. Zach grins at this typical show of behaviour. Nothing unusual here, but only because he’s seen it all before. 

            Once Andy is out of sight he finally takes another sip of his coffee only to find that it’s frustratingly lukewarm. Tepid. This is exactly why he gets coffee in takeaway cups from the local cafe, even when he’s sitting in. Helps maintain that optimum temperature for longer. A temperature that has long since been lost from his coffee due to his conversation with Andy. Annoyed, Zach gets up and walks inside and reluctantly put his coffee in the microwave. He’s loath to do this as he knows it brings out a bitterness but equally he doesn’t want to go through the whole process of making a fresh one. When the microwave finally pings he decides to put the porch dreams away, open up the laptop and get to work. Before starting on his emails however he has one last thing to do. Gliding over to the turntable in the corner of the room, Zach unsheathes the Black Saint and the Sinner Lady LP inside its sleeve, lifts the needle and slowly lowers it down onto the spinning vinyl. After a brief glitch the sound kicks in and Mingus’s bass jumps into life. Now he is ready.

            Sixty-seven emails await Zach which he considers a pleasantly low amount, especially considering some of the other mornings he’s faced recently. That’s what starting a company entails. People always wanting him, needing him and even though he’s sold off lots of the business to concentrate on his aspiring political career, he still likes to maintain an element of control. To run an eye over every outward facing communication, to be let in on even the smaller structural decisions. As Zach sees it, all founders are built that way. People wouldn’t let strangers bring up their baby, so why would he cede control of his baby? One he’s loved and nurtured for far longer than most parents. An idea that he’d had since college that got laughed away until it became one of the buzzwords in the city. The name on everyone’s lips. 

            With that thought Zach gets to work yet loses track of time in his emails and it’s only when his stomach starts to gurgle that he realises the hour. He takes a sip of water, switches his Slack to away, and goes to get some lunch. It’s as he’s then on route to the cafe, a small Italian one that makes some of the best salads in the city, that Zach see Andy again. 

            He waves at Zach, this time from across the street and yells, where are you going?

            Just for some lunch, Zach shouts back.

            Nice, Andy replies before leaving an unnaturally long pause in the air. 

            They both then stand there in silence, uncomfortably smiling at one another before Zach shouts, nice to see you man. See you around. He then waves sharply, turns in the direction of the café, and hurries his way down the street. 

            When the salad arrives it’s as delicious as ever and Zach decides to eat in, thinking that more time spent there might reduce the possibility of another Andy exchange that day. Not that he doesn’t like Andy. Zach does like him. In fact he cherishes their relationship and has told lots of people all about the friendship. Just today he doesn’t have the energy for it. Yesterday he didn’t either mind you, but life has been busy for him recently with the handover, not to mention his bid to become the Democratic candidate for Mayor of Oakland. Running on a campaign to bring financial aid to those who need it most, using the capabilities of his own tech business to be able to really zone in on the most important areas to target. His campaign is only getting started and the candidate he is up against, Wayne Johnson, is in the ascendancy, but it’s given Zach a drive like he hasn’t had in a long time. Others have noticed it too. That spring in his step as he hosts numerous events across the city to publicise his work to help the poor. LinkedIn and X were so abuzz when he launched his campaign that he doesn’t doubt he’ll eventually succeed. Because that’s what he does. Succeed. Even if it takes time, he knows he’ll get there one day.

            This time on the walk home Zach doesn’t see Andy but he does see the flags. Jumping out long before he gets to his house. Blue, yellow, black and white. His colours now. Zach gazes up at them as he hops up the stairs to his front door. Then it’s right back to another freshly brewed coffee, right back to Charles Mingus and right back to emails and his work. 

            By the time evening comes around Zach has not only replied to everything but he’s also had three meetings, spoken on one podcast about his mayoral campaign and fine-tuned a junior marketing employees’ blog post. He feels a certain satisfaction with a day well done as he pours a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon and returns to his porch to enjoy the early evening. Bringing a blanket to his shoulders for the growing cold, Zach sits on his Adirondack and enjoys the setting sun that has managed to find its way out of the grey. A purple hue that gives the flags even greater vibrancy. A late day spectacle that brings his day to a pleasant close. 

            After dinner, takeaway ordered from the new Pho restaurant that has opened four blocks away, he begins to wind down for the night. This follows the normal routine of a few chapters of his latest non-fiction book followed by a quick name scroll on LinkedIn and X to make sure everything is in order, before he turns out the lights ready for another five in the morning rise. Only Zach’s sleep is disturbed that night. Maybe it’s the wind that fights at his windows, seeping from the crevices, encouraging him to pull his blanket tight. Or maybe it’s the noise at one in the morning. The banging and crashing from the front of his house that he’s too anxious to confront. Whatever it is, sleep only comes when Zach’s body can’t resist another second and he crashes into a deep slumber that is only broken by the bleeping of his emergency alarm at six forty-five. 

            Groggy, Zach rises and makes his way to the kitchen to start his day with a coffee. A strong one to shake off the nights’ unrest. Only when it’s done does he make his way to the porch yet it’s straight as Zach opens the door that he notices what’s happened. 

The flag is gone. 

The black one remains but gone is the blue and yellow. Up just a day and already vanished. Immediately the overriding emotion that hits Zach is one of complete and utter shock. He’s never had anything robbed before and this flag is gone in a blink. He takes a quick glance to see if it’s fallen or blown away before it dawns on him that someone must have taken it, probably because they’re in opposition to it. To what it stands for. That’s why it’s gone. Immediately Zach grabs his phone, takes a quick snap of the empty pole and uploads a post to his socials. He then crashes down into his Adirondack, brings his coffee to his lips and scrolls through the responses. Only now the coffee tastes bitter to him and it puts him in a foul mood. So much so that when he finishes the last brown swirl to find Edith Heath’s perfectly glazed ceramic base below, Zach heads back inside to get on with his day. Too late to cross paths with Andy this morning, so it means he can go straight into his routine. Laptop open, Miles now on the record player, Italian cafe again for lunch. Yet it’s as Zach is heading to the cafe that his routine changes because that’s when he sees it. His flag.

            The jump of blue and yellow catches Zach’s eye even from a distance. There, on the other side of the road, strewn out across the pavement. His flag and he knows it’s his because the red stitching is there, jumping out like little drops of blood. But it’s only as Zach gets closer that he notices the flag has something underneath it. Not just something. Someone. His flag wrapped around the shoulders of an individual and of course there’s only one individual it could be. Zach knows that familiar mop of curly, matted brown hair anywhere.

Andy. Andy. No response. Nothing. No acknowledgement of his presence so Zach reaches down and grabs his shoulder and roughly spins Andy towards him, awakening him from what Zach now realises was a deep sleep. Andy, it’s me. Andy. What are you doing with my flag?

Only now does Andy turn to look at him, rubbing his bloodshot eyes with both hands. When he replies it is not the answer Zach expects. Are you talking to me?

            Of course I’m talking to you. Who else could I be talking to, Zach barks back.

            Dunno. Andy shrugs in return. Just my name’s not Andy. It’s Adam. 

            Surprised, Zach takes a second to recalibrate, yet the anger still seeps through. Andy, Adam. The point is, that’s my flag. 

            Not the point though, is it? Adam looks at him disappointingly. My names’ Adam. I don’t call you Clive.

            Who is Clive, Zach snorts in return. My name’s Zach.

            Exactly, Adam replies with yet another shrug. Who’s Andy? 

            Zach takes a deep sigh. Well Adam then, I’m sorry. I work with lots of people. Lots of names. Regardless, the point is that’s my flag. 

            Adam gazes down at the flag settled across his chest. Yeh. He takes a sigh. Sorry for taking it. Then he returns to silence forcing Zach to have to break it.

            Haven’t you got anything else to say?

            Adam shrugs again. Just it was freezing out last night and my sleeping bag got soaked the night before in the rain. I just needed something for a night, even if the flag doesn’t do much. He pauses. Well, maybe another night too, cause it’s cold again today and my bag won’t dry. When my bag is dry I’ll give it back. I’ll even hang it back up for you.

            What, no, Zach stomps back. It’s my property. You stole it. 

            You were asleep though. Adam now perches upright on his elbows. I woulda asked otherwise, though I figured you would have said yes, what with mayoral campaign and what you stand for and all.

            Again, Zach is surprised by Adam’s current affairs knowledge. Startled even that he knows who Zach is outside the intimacy of the street, yet what he says gives Zach room to reflect. He realises that Adam has touched upon a very good point, albeit a different one from the one he intended.

            You’re right Adam. Sorry. Thanks for not waking me and yes, you can keep it. Just return it when you’re ready and let me know if you need anything else. 

            Adam’s smile brightens at this and he puts a hand on Zach’s shoulder. Nice. It ain’t easy out here on the street, so thanks. I won’t forget it. 

            I understand… more than most round here. Zach winks knowingly. Then, as he’s getting ready to leave, he pops a final question. Hey Andy, would you mind if I took a photo of you? Would be good for awareness purposes. To show what people like you are going through and highlight what we want to achieve with the campaign. Is that okay?

            Adam frowns. Rather not actually. Prefer to stay off-grid. Safer that way. Next thing you know people will be moving me along. Especially with your profile.

            Zach tries to hide his disappointment. Oh right. Of course, that makes sense. 

            Sorry.

            It’s all good, Zach mumbles. Anyway, I’d better get back to work. See you around An…Adam.

            Yeh, see you around. Adam nods as he replies and then lays back on the curb, pulling the flag over his eyes to return to his midday sleep.

            Zach turns to walk away yet not before taking out his phone and snapping a quick photo. When he arrives home the empty flagpole is glaring. Ugly. He tries to ignore it and return to his routine, to his coffee, to his vinyl’s, but he can’t. So, this time instead of loading up his emails Zach flicks on his phone and make an anonymous call. Then he goes on LinkedIn.

            The next morning Zach wakes up with a zest in his step as he enters into his day. When he walks outside to sit on his porch with his perfectly brewed coffee he is happy to see the two flags back together, once again flapping playfully in the wind. He brings the mug to his lips and this time no one interrupts him so Zach can sip his coffee down hot. Just how he likes it.


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Ben Davies is a writer based in California. Originally from the UK, Ben has had fiction published in Firework Stories and articles published in magazines including Huck, Lost and The International Times. He is currently finishing a short story collection, And So I Took Their Eye. In their free time they enjoy fresh snow, clean waves and the first pages of a new book.


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