by: Jacob Schroeder
An offering of flash fiction that illustrates that the ones closest to us can also be those furthest away…
We sat and talked outside on a bench in a Zen garden that didn’t work, surrounded by bright azaleas and groomed bonsai trees. She told me that she met the most handsome man and they had made plans to go to the beach tomorrow, to swim and drink sodas under the sun. It was going to be a beautiful day, the radio man proclaimed. She said she was going out with her best friend Maggie, the tall pretty one, which I knew wasn’t true. She said someone else must have made the mess in her room. That her favorite bracelet, the one with tacky little trinkets symbolizing the people and the things she loved, was not where she left it. “Someone must have stolen it,” she said. She then announced that she had taken her medicine.
I told her I could tell when she was lying. But she kept feeding me untruths just the same, as if she were a politician and I was a stooge. As if I was gullible. As if I hadn’t heard it all before.
She dressed nicely at first, sometimes in a pleated white blouse under a bright blue cardigan that matched her eyes. She wore her silky hair in long curls, like when we used to go to church. After a while, she only wore a simple cotton gown patterned with red roses and a pair of slippers. We sat together each day until the sun would start to set. In that ruthless intrusion of dusk, shadows cast through the interstices of vibrant pines behind the fence turned her gown a dim shade of gray.
The smell of freshly cut grass drifted through the air. The lawn, across from a combed bed of sand, was kept short for outdoor games. In our hiatuses, we watched the people play bocce ball. Past them, a tall aluminum fence intercepted the encroaching forest. It was all a well-orchestrated affair. Our conversations were accompanied by the organic sounds of the life around us. But by nightfall, the melodies would mournfully wane like a movie ending in a long fade to black.
Then she started to play tricks. She acted surprised to learn I was pregnant even though she watched my stomach grow day after day into a bulging caldera ready to explode. She asked where dad was, and when I told her he was gone, she said that she knew that and asked when he’d be back. She claimed she didn’t know who I was sometimes. I would laugh and say what a horrible world it would be if she and I never met. She told me Nixon was president, which I said was even worse.
What seemed like an innocent act became a cruel betrayal. She stared off into the distance, looking beyond the forest to nowhere at all. Her body frozen, drained like bath tub water and refilled with the life of someone else. A false self. An awful stunt double. No longer precocious and stubborn, but cold and meek. I called her name louder and louder. “I’m listening,” she would tell me as the lights switched back on in her eyes. “Don’t lie,” I would plead to her. “I know when you are lying.”
Now shrouded in reddish gold as the sun absconded behind the pines, she said she was going to the beach tomorrow, with the most handsome man, to drink sodas under the sun. The radio man said it would be a beautiful day. With a long exhale, I decided to play along. I sighed and my insides tightened, overcome by this turn of humanity. I said, “That’s right mom, that’s right.” She gave me a big smile and she said thank you and I love you. “Will you come tomorrow?” she asked. I began to cry, and failed to hide the tears. Then I nodded. “Yes, I will. I’ll join you tomorrow.” But I didn’t come see her again until the day after next.
She never said a word.
Jacob Schroeder is writer living in a town close enough to Detroit to say he’s actually from Detroit. His work has appeared in FLASH: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Rum Punch Press, Sonder Magazine, 101 Words, and the Detroit News. Read more of his words here: www.jsschroeder.