Something Not Political - feedback welcome
As I mentioned in my meta essay, I've been working on a novel. I also write short stories. So, to give you some idea how I spend my time when I'm not obsessed with the daily shitshow, I thought I'd post a short-short or what is often categorized these days as flash fiction. It's about 1200 words. If you have the time and inclination, feel free to read it and offer any comments, good or bad. Thanks in advance, Steve.
The misremembered life of Jonathon S__________
A man in dirty clothes walks into a store - no, make it a Home Depot - searching for a bit of his past, not the whole enchilada, more like one nacho chip. You watch him out of the corner of your eye, and his face, the most critical part of one's anatomy from the perspective of memory, flashes in your mind like the shadow of a sunset. Confusion reigns. You smell it in the air around him, as if billions of ionized oxygen molecules have attached themselves to every pore of his body. He looks over at you standing beside several pallets loaded with cardboard boxes - boxes filled with fans, this being the beginning of the summer sale season - and you turn away from that stare, his disconcerting gaze filling your heart with trepidation. His hazel eyes are full of an anxiety that you cannot bear to witness because you recognize him. You hear his footsteps approaching, and still you keep your head down, unwilling to believe his target is you, a poor, middle-aged woman, dressed shabbily in old faded jeans and an extra large t-shirt of indeterminate colors. Worn leather sandals are strapped to your feet. His feet are encased in running shoes of some unknown brand, the shoelaces loose. They look as old as the Dead Sea.
"Miss," he said, "it is I, Jonathon S_________. Do you remember me?" In a few hours you will wish you had run away in terror at this moment, but we all know that is not the decision you make. Instead of fleeing, you lift your chin, tilt your head back and say, "Yes, Jonathon, I do." Since Jonathan is a tall man, six foot five or so, you look up at him. His eyes still have the same allure you once confused for love. In his youth, he smiled frequently, telling jokes at his own expense. He had a voracious appetite for laughter back when you first met, when your breasts still held their shape and your tummy lay flat, and your hips formed those delightful curves that caught his attention and drew him to you. But that was ages ago. You note that the corners of his lips slant down, and his hair, once thick and luxurious, hair you could lose your finger in for hours at a time, has thinned and turned grey, what is left of it, that is. The wattles of his neck lay bare the hard passage of time since you were lovers, as do the deep creases that run from the edges of his nostrils in perfect parallel with the lines that drop from his lips toward his bony jaw. He gives off the appearance of a man who often misses meals, unless a can of Malt Liquor, or a flask of fortified wine, count.
"Why do you call me Miss? No one's called me that for years." You ask because you want him to say it, not because you don’t know the answer. "I can’t remember your name," is his response, and though his cheeks do not flush, you feel the shame of that admission echoing in the space between the two of you. "But you know me, so we must have been friends - or am I wrong?" He shivers violently, and for a second, you imagine him fainting, dropping at your feet on the concrete floor. Then he stops trembling. "We were never friends," you tell him, "but we spent time together. For a little while." Who wants to confess that a disastrous first love was ever a friend? The word 'friend' is such a weak and insubstantial term in any case, inadequate to the task of describing what you were to him, or, more precisely, what he once meant to you, both good and bad. "You got me pregnant when I was 15," you blurt out in an impulsive attempt to hurt him (as if further damage is possible), "and your parents paid for my abortion after you left for college, and I never saw you again. Until now."
"I know, I know. I am so sorry. I am sorry I cannot remember your name, but I do remember that much, the abortion. I wronged you, I know. I am here to make amends." He falls to his knees, reached to grasp your hand, and you loom over him now, frozen in embarrassment as strangers walk past, either repulsed or dismayed by his flamboyant and public debasement. They exchange soft words among themselves, ugly, rude remarks that do not elude your ears, the sound of snakes hissing. "Please, Jonathon, this is ridiculous. Get up off the floor before they throw us out of here." Then you add, caustically, "I don't need your amends." He does as you ask, slowly raising himself with great difficulty, grimacing in pain as he uses his hands on his legs to push himself back to his full height. He wobbles unsteadily. "I'm sorry,” he repeats. "I am so damn sorry." You would pity him if you could, but right this moment you are incapable of showing any sign of sympathy. "At least tell me your name," he asks. "I have such a hard time remembering names. Faces are no problem, but names ..." His voice wanders off, and his glances to the side. It is a gesture of helplessness. Watching him, some of the old feelings for him come back, not fully formed, quite tenuous actually, but recognizable.
"What is wrong with you?" you say, but your tone is not harsh, not dismissive, only curious, the curiosity of an archeologist stumbling upon ancient ruins, the foundation of a temple, say, that seems oddly familiar in some respects but utterly alien in others. Then, before he can speak, you grab his arm and pull him toward the sliding exit doors, and he does not resist, but follows your lead, head drooping, submitting to your wordless commands. The sun, no longer hiding behind clouds, breaks across his face as you leave the building and stroll awkwardly out into the parking lot. You assume he has no car, and so you lead him toward yours, a battered relic itself. The heat assaults you both, and beads of sweat form on your forehead. He never looks up as you walk into the path of a Chevy Trailblazer, its inattentive driver failing to notice the two of you. The Trailblazer does not brake and its bumper smashes into both you and Jonathon. He falls as a tree falls, with terrible grace, and time slips its boundaries as you fall with him. His head bounces on the asphalt, one, two, three times, before it stills itself. You just know he will never regain consciousness. The extraordinary silence of this moment will be what you will recall later and for the rest of your life. You close your eyes. What was wrong with Jonathon S___________? Living, you think to yourself. What else? Then your world vanishes, and you slip away for a few hours. You awaken in a hospital bed, your husband hovering nearby perched on the edge of a chair, his eyes scanning a book held in a single hand. You choose not to let him know you’re back. Now is not the time.