He watched his bride of fifty years as she read Science magazine while nibbling a liverwurst and onion sandwich. He carefully avoided looking at the liverwurst. He wondered how two such incompatible people could stay married for fifty years.
He peeked at the article. Something about mitochondria or whatever. She never bothered with the astronomy or quantum stuff. Who would do that? How could two such incompatible…
He should let her be, but something else was nagging at him. “How come I never make you laugh?”
Irritated, she answered without looking up. “With, or at?”
Now she looked directly at him. “You tell everybody you don’t know how to tell a joke or even remember an entire joke, and you ask me that?”
“I can’t remember ever making you split your gut, wet your panties, fall off your chair –”
“No thank you.”
“OK, how come you never make me laugh?”
“Baby, you laugh all the time. I hear you chuckling in the shower. Sometimes I hear you giggling when you claim to be ‘working.’ You are an infinite source of self-amusement. If you could cook, you wouldn’t need me for anything.” She turned back to her article.
That made him think. His favorite long joke of all time was the “European Heaven/European Hell” joke. He loved it, but he could never get it straight (“… and the Swiss… umm…”), so he carried a crumpled copy in his billfold. Looking back, he guessed nobody would be thrilled to hear some guy say “You wanna hear a great joke?” then see him pull something out of his wallet.
Then he remembered what she’d said about his dragging that joke out of his back pocket: “You just can’t keep it in your pants.” He laughed out loud and thought, Sometimes she’s wicked funny.
She turned another page, shaking her head. There you go again.
Thomas Reed Willemain
Dr. Thomas Reed Willemain is former academic who is swapping working with numbers for playing with words. His flash fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and has appeared in Granfalloon, Burningword Literary Journal, Hobart, The Medley, and elsewhere. A native of western Massachusetts, he lives near the Mohawk River in upstate New York.
On the day Scott passed, vultures soared the gray skies in dozens. When they first came
down to me in the yard, nearly to my roof, I could hear their wings fold like water.
I have found no evidence of a carcass.
This morning I awoke from a dream, the first one of him since he died, but I lost it in
a sunlight that rose and fell as if he were toying with my dimmer switch. Prankster. (He would
warm coins with a lighter to sting me awake from our hangovers.)
Home from college my first fall, we were driving with our windows down. Leaves adrift
crimson across the hollow, testing the wiper blades of his most recent car. Junkers that would
always break down before the next one.
I was making fun of the music blasting from his cassette deck when he started to cry. Just
one tear. Was he sleeping in his car again? Cut off from parents, all his siblings except a sister?
Lured into another dicey scheme or on the run from someone with a code?
Is this samsara? he asked me once, after I had given him my copy of The Tibetan Book of
the Dead, which I had only skimmed.
The pages of his old letters, some on the backs of court-order forms, float from my desk,
filing cabinets, rise from junk in random drawers: ghosts I’m only now answering, a loneliness
I so easily set aside as if it were my keys.
Written from jail, Scott’s last letter came with the Prayer of St. Francis. (Animals were
always following him.)
Vultures have gathered in the pines. Batting their wings in the dark conifers as if the trees themselves desired flight, held back in place by their roots. Each bird shoves the next into air. They flap, then glide, for a time.
But I don’t think that they’ll be coming back.
B.J. Wilson is the author of two poetry collections, Naming the Trees (The Main Street Rag, 2021) and Tuckasee (Finishing Line Press, 2020). His work has appeared in Atlanta Review, Frogpond, Gravel, The Louisville Review, New Madrid, Tar River Poetry, and elsewhere. He holds an MFA from the Bluegrass Writers Studio at Eastern Kentucky University, a writing fellowship from The Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences, and a Pushcart Prize Nomination for his poetry. B.J. lives and teaches in Jacksonville, Alabama.
This time, I will begin at the ending.
That house burned in the fire
along with all of the others
in Larkin Valley.
But by then, the bats were gone.
I keep returning to this poem
that draws me to a late autumn afternoon
when my niece and I sat in lawn chairs
facing her house. Just after sunset,
a dark shape appeared
from a crack under the eves,
grew larger and left
on its jerky flight.
Then came another
and another until
the bats had all flown out.
We pulled on our sweatshirts,
poured white wine
and waited for the stars
to begin their display.
Patricia L. Scruggs
Patricia L. Scruggs lives and writes in Southern California. In addition to her poetry collection, Forget the Moon, her work has appeared in ONTHEBUS, Spillway, RATTLE, Calyx, Cultural Weekly, Crab Creek Review, Lummox, Inlandia as well as the anthologies 13 Los Angeles Poets, So Luminous the Wildflowers, and Beyond the Lyric Moment. A recent Pushcart Prize nominee, Patricia is a retired art educator who earned her MFA at California State University, Fullerton.