Blind Spot, Black Cat,
& Cluster

by Jeff Friedman

Blind Spot

The blind spot blocked my path. "Go around me or else," he said. I squinted and peered as if looking into a distant mirror. "What am I actually seeing?" I wondered. I crouched, ready to grapple, but when I went to take him down, he eluded my arms and wrestled me down from behind, putting me in a devastating chokehold, but I reversed the hold and rose on top of the blind spot. Suddenly I was looking into a well of space, gripping handfuls of dust, wrapping my arms around a barrel of air. The blind spot laughed. Cars drove by, honking. A crowd of people came up behind me. The stoplight blinked green. Tall buildings towered over me. When I crossed the street, the blind spot leapt, and then everything was gone, even though I could still hear the cars and the people. Then I was surrounded by trees, crows scavenging the streets, frogs shooting into air. "Where did you go," I asked. "I'm right here," he answered, but when I hustled toward him, I walked into a brick wall. "Over here," he said, and then I plowed through some hedges, scratching my arms. "No, here," he said, but this time I didn't move, wind rushing around me, and everyone yelling, "Get out of the way!"

Black Cat

The burly black cat perched on the fuzzy arm of the divan tossed down another shot of our best vodka. "How did that cat get in here," Serena asked. "The way he drinks vodka, he must be Russian," I replied. The cat looked at us with disdain, slinking off to pour himself another. "He's getting drunk," Serena said. "Don't you think we should do something about it?" I nodded, but had no idea what we could possibly do other than throw the cat out and that might not be so easy. "Why don't we watch and wait?" I suggested. She wiped off the table where the cat had left a whole pile of crumbs, then picked up the shards of the vase that the cat had knocked from the sideboard. "That was a gift from my mother," she said. "A chachka," I replied, "albeit with sentimental value." When I walked into the kitchen to make some tea, a samovar sat on the counter. "When did we get the samovar?" I asked. "We don't have a samovar," she said. The cat rummaged through the freezer. With the bottle of vodka in tow, he pushed past me rubbing against my leg. I followed him back into the living room. "Get me some caviar," he ordered Serena. "There are going to be some big changes around here." Then I recognized him. "You're the cat from the novel Master and Margarita. "You read too much," he answered. Serena returned with slices of smoked salmon and caviar, a sullen look on her face. I wanted to comfort her, but then I saw my favorite red sweater torn into shreds in the corner of the room. The cat stood up and proposed a toast, insisting that we drink with him. "Here's to our happy household," he said, clinking our glasses.

Cluster

When I go outside, everyone is bald, displaying their domes and smiling. In front of the tire store, Janeen greets me with a big hug. Her bald head round and tanned, she smells of the beach. "Isn't that hot and scratchy?" she asks, pointing at my stocking cap. I shake my head. "It helps me hold on to my good thoughts and my last patches of hair," I reply. Next I run into Gary, whose head is flat like a big nailhead. "When did you lose your hair?" I ask. "This morning I woke up and it was gone. And now I feel great." In the window of the diner, I see all the bald heads bowed over plates and bowls, eating as if today were a day like any other. The sun shines down on all the hairless heads coming toward me, some bumpy, some smooth, some wrinkled and fleshy like bellies, some with brown spots as if their heads had been imprinted by the fingers of infants, some with angel heads pale and insubstantial some rising to a ridge, some like roofs that need repair, some scaly and red, some like corks in wine bottles. I reach under my stocking cap where it itches and another cluster of hair comes out. Dizzy and tired, I toss it into the cool breeze, but the breeze tosses filaments of hair back, and they stick on my cheeks until I pull them off, gripping them in my fist.


Jeff Friedman's sixth collection of poetry, Pretenders, will be published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in January 2014. 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, Vestal Review, Salt Hill Journal, The Antioch Review, Flash Fiction Funny, Sentence, The New Republic and The Cafe Irreal ("Shortcut" in Issue 41; "Fire" and "Face to Face" in Issue 43).