Stories to Read

All About Eve

After the movie they walked to Huntley’s for ice cream. Not far, but on the other side of town, since it was nearer to her house. He’d paid for the tickets and ice cream for both of them though she had said several times she thought they should go Dutch. They ordered sundaes without looking at the menu.

This was Saturday, the day after he had the fight with his father. Pushing one another, back and forth like boys on a vacant lot, banging their heads up against the walls in the hallway and then falling against the door and into the bathroom onto the cold tile floor. His mother had watched them and told them to stop. Cried for them to stop. Nobody had bled and no one talked about it afterward. Continue reading All About Eve

The Good Life of Avrum and Chava

Avrum and Chava own a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath home in North Ossining, not far from the maximum-security prison down by the river. They have 2.5 acres, iron gates, their own artesian well, and biodegradable, earth-friendly deer fencing protecting their garden.

Avrum is a retired lawyer and Chava is a former social worker for the department of corrections at Sing Sing, where they first met.

In their fifty years together, they have led cautious, well-organized lives. They are vegans, fermentationists, grow their own fruits and vegetables. They use no plastics. They stopped using aluminum pans and deodorants years ago. They have no cell phones or a microwave. Their home is rid of mold, lead, polyfluorocarbonate aromatics, errant asbestos fibers, and radon.

They look like two well-pressed Dickensian waifs from Bleak House. Each of them is thirty pounds under weight. They consume no more than 800 calories per day and walk eight miles each morning to remain in strict calorie balance.

Their yoga instructor finds them existentially intimidating.

When they turned fifty, each assessing their risks, Avrum had a prophylactic prostatectomy and she a precautionary hysterectomy and full bi-lateral mastectomies.

They are friendly and sociable, literate, kind, careful, and caring people.

One recent evening, they were heading north on the West Side Highway after attending the final performance of the entire Ring Cycle at Lincoln Center when they were sideswiped by a gypsy cab with its lights off and were sent careening into the guard rail. When their front and side airbags deployed, given their light weight and small size, they were instantly crumpled and suffocated.

At the moment of their death, they are surrounded by a halo of warm mauve light.

A reassuringly back-lit vision of a sixty-something woman with neatly trimmed hair, a string of pearls, and a tastefully tailored white pant suit, appears before them.

She speaks slowly in a vaguely mid-western accent, “Don’t be alarmed,” she tells them. “Just try to relax. You’ll be all right. I promise.”

They look at one another, unsure.

“You are not dying or dead. You have been granted a reprieve; a permanent stay of execution so to speak; a lifetime dispensation.”

“Why us?” Chava asks.

“To tell you the truth, we don’t offer this to everyone. You’ve both lived exemplary lives of service, chaste, positive thoughts, and quiet restraint: Model citizens. No felonies. Frankly, just what we are trying to encourage.”

Avrum asks, “Wait, we’re not dead? Isn’t this Heaven?”

“No,” she tells him, “We did away with the heaven idea eons ago. It just wasn’t giving us the kind of results we were looking for. I don’t have to tell you about the present state of affairs: debauchery, gluttony, sloth, tax-fraud, sexual harassment, drones.”

“What if we take this offer, what happens next?”

“Well, nothing changes. Everything stays the same. You just agree to maintain your lifestyle. You stay forever just as you were fifteen minutes ago before the crash. We need folks like you to set an example for other couples.

“Nothing changes? Our bank account?”

“The same.”

“Investments? Health insurance?”

“The same.”

“Same. My God, think of all the books, movies, bar mitzvahs, operas. No pressure to do anything you don’t want to for-ever. You just agree to let us use your names and testimonials in a little subtle internet advertising promoting The Good Life and the launch of our new product line.”

“Think of it. Your home will be free and clear after the mortgage expires. Of course, you’ll need to have the wiring upgraded and the appliances repaired, replace the boiler, the roof when needed, you know the usual maintenance every hundred years or so.”

Sensing their hesitation, she adds, “I know this will work for you. For you both. What do I have to do to make this deal happen?”

Silence.

“Look, not to rush you but if you just put your thumb prints right here, you are free to go. You’ll never see me again.”

Chava and Avrum look at one another. He reaches gently for her hand, “I’m in,” he says, “Let’s take it.”

“Congratulations, Avrum. This is so you!”

“Wait,” Chava says. “What if we decide not to take the offer? I mean, what happens if we say no?”

“Well, no one has ever actually said no before. I guess you just get the usual, you know, one last meal of your choosing and then, well, it’s lights out.”

“A last meal?”

“Yes.”

“Chava, what are you saying?” Avrum whispers.

“Shush! What could we have?”

“Anything!”

“Anything?” Chava, lowers her eyes. “Well,” she says quietly. “Could I have three eggs, scrambled, wet, homefries, and wheat toast, no wait, make that pumpernickle toast, with butter.

Arum looks at her. He is aghast. “Chava, don’t do this!” he implores.

“Is that all?” The woman asks, looking toward Avrum.

Avrum shakes his head, “ Nothing for me.”

“Can I have a side of bacon, too?” Chava says.

“Of course.”

“And a regular coffee, light and sweet?”

“Chava, bacon, yet? Please!”

“Oh, Avrum,” she tells him. “ I’m sorry. I love you. I do. We’ve had a good life. What more could I ask for?”

She looks into Avrum’s warm grey eyes, smoothens her hand against his rough cheek and turns to the woman in white.

 

 

 

Another Man’s Shoes

Another Man’s Shoes

Petersen had been married to Marie Claire for twenty-two years when, one summer evening, over a quiet dinner, he told her he was leaving her to live with another woman. Beck, he said, was her name and from what he could figure she was some ten years older than him.

Marie Claire put her fork down, took a deep breath and she asked him if he would be finishing up the rest of the asparagus with braised tofu and slivered almonds before he left. Continue reading Another Man’s Shoes

The Girl by the Pool at the White Sands Motel

Willie Lowenstein stretched his long legs out on the backseat of their grey DeSoto. His shoes were off. Eyes opened and closed off and on. His head rested on an army-issue green duffle. In the front, his parents were talking. His father was driving. His mother next to him, a paper sack on the front seat between them, holding three egg salad sandwiches on white, paper napkins, and a thermos of coffee. Continue reading The Girl by the Pool at the White Sands Motel

An Incident at Camp Bullis, TX, 1949

Margaret Donnelly, the administrator at TenderNest Assisted Living, tells Hector that his mother has not eaten breakfast for going on three days.

Each Saturday morning, Hector makes the drive from Bozeman to Billings to see his mother. Two hours each way, less if the weather is clear; more if there’s snow on I-90. His job keeps him in Bozeman. He works lift maintenance year-round at Big Sky. He calls it ‘Big Money.’ Continue reading An Incident at Camp Bullis, TX, 1949

The Prom Queens

Helen Burnside left New York. She had watched the towers collapse. She felt the rumble of armored jets patrolling in belated formation through the still-rising columns of grey human smoke.

She despaired at the shattered illusion of invulnerability, quickly replaced by a constant see-something-say-something paranoiac vigilance. She sold her parents’ two-bedroom co-op in Brooklyn Heights, stored her furniture; packed a suitcase, a paint box, and a carton of books. Continue reading The Prom Queens

Summer Solstice

Mid-day, and the sun is high. It seems to pause in the sky. There is little shade in the park. Mackenzie watches the woman cross the street. He knows her. ‘Helen,’ she told him that first time she came to run her dog on the patchy grass of the field by the tennis courts. After she left, he’d repeated her name to himself so he would not forget it. Continue reading Summer Solstice

My Name is Jonah Gold

My name is Jonah Gold. Like the apples except my parents named me before we found out about the apples. But this has nothing to do with the rest of this story. I just like to get that out of the way in case it should come up by chance later on and you’d think I was holding back from telling you a better story.

Anyway, this story is about being Jewish and having a bar mitzvah. It is also about my family. I had a bar mitzvah at which I had a good time. I got $1,200 in gifts, which my parents kept to pay all the bills, and a leather briefcase, which I got to keep. I think I should have gotten to keep some of the cash. But, so what. Continue reading My Name is Jonah Gold

Dear Malachi

Dear Malachi, Thank you for coming home for Thanksgiving. It was so good to see you. Your father also said it was good to see you.

Mom- It was good to see you too. BTW, in texts you don’t have to write ‘Dear so-and-so’.

 Dear Malachi. I forgot to mention that I think your father is hurt that you did not tell him that you love him in the birthday card you sent him. And for next year’s card, remember his birthday is October 16, not November 16. Continue reading Dear Malachi

Mel Williamson’s Holiday Surprise

The idea had come to Williamson so clearly, so well formed, and with such perfect attention to launch detail that it could not possibly fail.

He was in love. Love struck. Smitten. Knee deep in love. Floating on a river of love.

He had first seen Cindy at Sylvia Johnson’s pre-December pre-Christmas party. Sylvia had invited all of her friends at the library and all of her husband’s down at the town Water Department, Office of Cross Connections and Backflows, to her annual holiday gathering. Continue reading Mel Williamson’s Holiday Surprise

The Periodic Table

Revson and I went to a lecture together at the Y on 92nd St. I had suggested it to him and I bought the tickets, as he had recently fallen on hard times.

We took our seats in the front row of the lecture hall. The subject was The Periodic Table, Primo Levi’s memoir as an Auschwitz survivor. And, since Levi had recently been found dead at the bottom of a long stone staircase, under very uncertain circumstances, the room was overflowing with anticipation. Continue reading The Periodic Table

Sally Ann Finkelstein for President

Sally Ann Finkelstein turned sideways to the mirror. She swayed slightly, smoothed her hand gently over her tummy, tucked a curl of silvery hair behind her ear, and checked her teeth for lipstick stains.

She was a pleasant looking woman. Pleasant enough. Though perhaps more in appearance than in manner, given the effect she had on some, though she meant neither insult nor harm. Continue reading Sally Ann Finkelstein for President

On the Third Day

On the Third Day God created the seas. And the seas covered the entire earth. And it was good. Not exactly one hundred percent good, but okay good.

It was all according to the design specs, but now seeing it in person, after having created the dark and then the light, and the firmament and the earth, and all, it was just… water. And so His shoulders dropped and a frown came over His thin, innocent, boyish face. Continue reading On the Third Day

The Woman Next Door

Benson was awakened by the sounds of the woman next door leaving for work. It was cold and the rain had turned to wet snow, at least it had at 3 a.m., when he’d gotten up to pee.

Their apartments were close. They shared a thin gypsum-board wall between them. He knew she could hear him during the night as he fumbled for the light in the dark and then flushed the toilet. The intimacy of this embarrassed him though there was nothing else he could do.

Continue reading The Woman Next Door

The Sad Case of the Solipsistic Sublapsarian

Eric Singleton was stuck. At a standstill. Doubly so: physically, stopped in traffic behind a late model Toyota Camry on 7th Avenue at the corner of 9th Street in Park Slope; and existentially, locked in a self-imposed worry-worn straitjacket of self-absorbed spiritual stagnation. Continue reading The Sad Case of the Solipsistic Sublapsarian