Tag Archives: fiction

Decision point. (Short fiction)

Laurie and Max met at Goodwill where they sorted rags for minimum wage. Both had severe developmental disabilities and Max was legally blind. Though they were in their thirties, they asked for, and received, their parents’ blessings to be married, and set up housekeeping in a one-bedroom apartment on Turner Road. They were a good team and were often seen hand-in-hand walking to the bus, or to visit the goats at a small farm down the street. There was only one thing missing in their world. Laurie desperately wanted a baby, but despite the desire and the prayers, they still didn’t have one.

One gray, Saturday morning, Laurie walked to the grocery store and came home with a baby. Max was confused, but delighted, even though Laurie had neglected to bring home the cereal and milk that she’d gone to the store to get. Nor did she have diapers or formula or even a bottle to feed the baby with, so they agreed that Max would go out and Laurie would stay home with the baby, who had been remarkably quiet the entire time.

Max carefully wrote down all the things he needed to buy, adding in a tiny scribble at the bottom, cookies. He was supposed to be on a diet and didn’t want Laurie to know that he was cheating.

“Take the wheely,” Laurie said. “Diapers are big.”

“But I’m getting little diapers,” Max said.

“Little diapers are big, too,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Take the wheely.”

Max didn’t understand, but he was used to that, and to doing what Laurie said, so he dragged the collapsed, wheeled grocery cart out of the closet and bumped it down the stairs behind him. He stood on the threshold for a moment, studying the sky. It was pretty when it was overcast, and it didn’t hurt his eyes to look at it, like it did when the sun was out. He pried opened the cart so it became a tall wire rectangle, and pulled it down the street. When he got to the corner, he stopped and looked both ways.

A couple of blocks further down the road, in front of the grocery store, he could see flashing blue lights, lots of them. There must be something interesting happening for there to be more than one police car and Max was eager to see so he moved a little faster. But he didn’t run, because that could be dangerous. As he neared the store, a policeman held up his hand in the stop position. Max could now see that there were four police cars and an ambulance and a fire engine.

“Is there a fire?” he asked the policeman.

“Nope. Woman dumped her baby.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means,” said the policeman patiently, “that a woman had a baby, decided she didn’t want it, and tossed it into a dumpster behind the supermarket.”

Max nibbled on his lower lip. “Can I go into the store?” he asked.

“Not right now. We’re trying to find the baby, but it’s not where the lady said she put it. This shouldn’t take long, though, and then you’ll be able to go in.” He turned around and put his hands on his hips, one resting lightly on the butt of the gun in the belt full of cool things that he wore.

It was strange, Max thought, that on the same day Laurie brought home a baby, there was one missing from a dumpster. Why would a lady not want a baby? And why wouldn’t she give it to someone who wanted it instead of throwing it away? That wasn’t good. Max was diligent about recycling, reusing, and reducing, except maybe that last part. He decided he wouldn’t get the cookies after all.

Making decisions was hard. Max wasn’t sure if he should wait for the policeman to let him go into the store, or walk home and try again later. If he wasn’t going to get cookies, maybe he didn’t need to go in at all. What was he supposed to buy? He dug the list out of his back pocket and remembered, oh yeah, cereal, milk, diapers, and formula to feed the baby.

The baby.

Laurie brought a baby home from the supermarket, where some lady had “dumped” her baby.

“Excuse me,” he said, reaching out to touch the policeman’s arm.

Without turning around the policeman said, “Not yet.”

“I have a different question,” Max said.

The policeman sighed, turned around and raised an eyebrow. Max knew that meant he could ask his question.

“Does the lady want her baby back?”

The policeman snorted. “That woman is not getting that baby back. She’ll be lucky if she doesn’t end up in jail.”

Max nodded slowly. “Okay,” he said. “Thanks.”

He decided that he didn’t want to wait on the sidewalk anymore so he turned around and pushed his cart home again.

 

 

 

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Short fiction – Burying the past

The sun was hot and I was sweating. The velvet chair cover against my bare thighs felt strange, like wet dog. The Rabbi finished herding the guests into a semi-circle behind the chairs, which were reserved for family, and began to speak. The gist of it was that we were all invited to help bury the deceased. I’d been to Jewish funerals before so I knew the drill; we’d file by and toss some dirt onto the coffin. According to this Rabbi, though, it was “…customary to put in three shovelfuls and to turn the shovel upside down for the first one.”

How did you shovel upside down? Did you hold the shovel end and balance a bit of dirt on the handle? I tried to picture that and instead flashed on the first and only time I’d seen Deborah doing drugs. She’d forgotten to lock her bedroom door and I opened it just as she used her very long pinkie nail to scoop up some powder, bring it to her nose, and inhale. I was too young at the time to fully understand what I was seeing, but there was no mistaking what she did next. She put her index finger up to her lips to indicate that I wasn’t to say anything. Then she narrowed her eyes, pointed at me, and slowly drew that same finger across her throat. That I understood. I was only six, but I knew what she was capable of.

That was a lifetime ago. I’m forty now. Deborah had just turned fifty. My parents were quite young when they had her; it was a shot-gun wedding. You would think, with a ten year separation between us, that I had been a mistake, and you would be right. That was never one of the family’s secrets, nor was the fact that Deborah was their favorite. I glanced to my right. My mother had her head on my father’s shoulder; his arm wrapped around her. I couldn’t hear her crying, but I could see my father’s arm moving up and down as her shoulders shook. He sat stoically, staring at the Rabbi, with tears streaming down his face. I flicked a fly off my skirt, unmoved.

Deborah’s drug problems consumed the family. They chipped away at us until there was no family left. Even after she moved out, ostensibly to go to college, she absorbed everyone’s attention. Her absence was as large as her physical presence. In and out of rehab she bounced, ruining lives along the way. During one rehab intermission she lived with my grandmother in Rockaway. When she left, all of Grandma’s jewelry went with her. She stole from everyone and sometimes when she wasn’t in rehab she was in jail.

The Rabbi touched my father on the shoulder and gestured toward the grave. My father stood up and pulled my mother with him, propping her up as they walked the few feet to the mound of dirt next to the hole in the ground. My father let go of my mother long enough to take the shovel, turn the rounded side up, and stick it into the pile of dirt. Now that I saw how it was done I felt foolish. I may even have blushed a bit in my secret shame. My father handed the shovel to my mother and she flinched as if she’d been burned.

“I can’t,” she moaned. “I can’t.” And then, just loud enough for the family in front to hear, she whispered, “I can’t bury my favorite child.”

My throat tightened, as if there were an obstruction that made it impossible for me to take a breath. I stood up, peeled my skirt from my legs, and did what I should have done many years earlier. I walked away.