Fire/Face to Face

by Jeff Friedman

Fire

As Jamil headed down Main Street, he saw a fire shooting out of the second-story window of the apartment building where he lived, glass showering over the pavement. The realization that the flames were coming from his apartment horrified him even more. He had always been afraid of fire and before leaving his apartment each day, he checked every potential hazard several times, touching all the stove and oven knobs to be sure they were off, pulling the plugs on all the lamps and finally shutting off the power strips to his home workstation and his TV, DVD and cable connections. The sun shone in the faces of the shoppers walking toward him.  He wanted to shout “fire” and run home, but he knew that would create a potential stampede, so instead he walked faster through the crowd, hoping that the fire would go out by the time he got home.. The lights changed to red, traffic moving forward. He looked for a fire truck, but didn’t see one coming; nor did he hear sirens. The smoke thickened, but no one was covering his mouth or nose, and no one coughed into a sleeve, and no one ran out of the building. The flames shot out of the windows toward the sky, igniting the clouds. Now he knifed through the crowd, getting shoved and receiving angry looks from women and men. One bald guy in a vest shoved him into a woman, who stumbled and broke a heel. He stopped to help her, but she waved him away. He hurried on, almost smacking into an older lady, carrying two tote bags full of groceries. “Where’s the fire,” she shouted after him. Directly ahead, the sky was now a clear blue. The smoke had disappeared, the fire gone. He stood in front of his apartment building, looking up at his window. Someone appeared to be staring back at him, but he thought it was just a shadow. A few stubborn pigeons held their places on the steps, chattering away. He closed his eyes and inhaled the smell of the leaves falling and the crisp air. There was a hint of smoke, and then the blaze started up again.

 

Face to Face

At the grocery store, Wexler and I come face to face in the produce section, but he doesn’t look at me, even when I tell him that he’s a stupid man, even when I shout “bully” and “coward” in his face, waving my fist up in the air. He just keeps going, picking up sweet potatoes, peppers and greens. 

Outside, glabrous leaves and pine needles cling to my windshield. I clean them off, singing the words to John Fogarty’s Bad Moon Rising, happy that I told off my former boss. A beautiful, long-legged woman glances in my direction, holding two grocery bags. “Need any help?” Without even a smile, she unloads them in the back of her Caravan, her face coruscating in the sunlight. 

When Wexler arrives at his Honda Accord, I’m waiting for him. “Thought you’d get off that easily, huh?” He unlocks the door with his Smart Key, loads in his two canvas tote bags of groceries. “Do you enjoy humiliating people?” I ask.

He grabs the door handle and slams it, so I race to his home and get there before him. As he steps out, I stand right in front of him.  “I worked for you for 10 years and that’s how you treat me? I thought we were friends.” Wexler picks up his groceries and walks past me without a word. He slams the door as if he thinks that will end it between us.

When I run after him, I slide over the fallen leaves, but catch my balance while he disappears into the house. The chickadees clamor at the feeders. I knock and ring, but he doesn’t answer. I step back and scan the white cape to see if I can catch him in the window, but all I see are shadows. The crows settle on the lawn, each one cawing repeatedly, their beaks pointed at me.

Now he swings the door open and steps out. “Why did you lie about me,” I ask, but to him, I’m only a cold breath on his cheek and the sound of the crows signaling each other to fly away.

 



Jeff Friedman’s 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 as well as in The Cafe Irreal.