Shortcut

by Jeff Friedman

My Mother sent me to the all-night pharmacy, pushing me outside. "Hurry, she shouted, "your father won't last much longer."

Out on the street, I headed straight for the pharmacy past the three giant elms and the ramshackle house on the corner. In the distance the crescent moon floated into the smoke that hid the stars. The darkness was so thick I could barely see my way, but instead of slowing up, I began to run. From the shadows a fox sprang across my path. Then I quickened my pace. At the owl mansion, I took the shortcut.

Six flaming torches flew into the air. A man stood under them pointing to the sky, and soon the torches revolved in a circle. I had arrived at some kind of circus, crowded and noisy, the air thick.

I paused at a table with brightly colored silk scarves. A tall lady with dark hair and red lips touched my arms. "These are magic scarves." As she slowly pulled a scarf from her tightened fist, it grew larger and larger until it was the size of a rug. Then she laid it at my feet. "Yours for only five dollars." I felt bodies pressing against my back and then someone bumped me two or three times, but I kept my right hand locked on my wallet.

"How do I get to the pharmacy?" She told me to keep going until I came to a huge bird or a man imitating a huge bird. From there I would know the way.

I walked through the maze of tents and booths and saw men and women with long necks pretending to be giraffes and giraffes shortening their necks pretending to be people and canaries who could read palms.

At the red tent, a pretty girl with red paint on her face lifted her wings. She was about my age, but a little taller, thin as a scarf. "Can you show me the way to the pharmacy?" Without warning, she grabbed the slip of paper from my hand and burned it with a match. She pointed to a wall. I ran without thinking, and when I stopped running, I came to an opening.

"Hurry," my mother shouted, pushing me into the darkness.


Jeff Friedman's fifth collection of poetry, Working in Flour, was published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in January 2011. His poems, translations, prose poems, and mini stories have appeared in many literary magazines, including American Poetry Review, Poetry, North American Review, 5 AM, Ontario Review, Agni Online, Indiana Review, New England Review, Poetry International, Quick Fiction, Night Train, Salt Hill Journal, The Antioch Review, and The New Republic.