Four Stories by Jeff Friedman

Issue #67

Summer 2018

Four Stories

by Jeff Friedman

Rerouting

Siri orders me to turn left so I turn left onto Sisskind Street and am driving through a gang war. As stray bullets knock out my back windows and ricochet off the car, I swerve to avoid a police tank coming at me. "Bad decision," I shout at Siri. "Quickest route," she replies. I floor it to get out of the line of fire, but there's a barricade up ahead. "Get me out of here," I demand. "Rerouting," she answers. Shifting into reverse, I back down the block, again in the line of fire. "Wrong way," she says, "rerouting…" The bullets shatter the back window, and I drop to the floor. "Take the wheel," I shout, and Siri commands a treacherous left and then a sudden right. She talks to the car as if it were a horse. I can hear the guns firing, but we may be out of harm's way, though I'm afraid to look. We go through several neighborhoods and wind up at a gas station. I fill the tank and get back in the driver's seat. When I put the key in the ignition, the engine turns on, yet the car won't go forward. I throw it in reverse, still no movement. "Let me," Siri says and gets the car on the road, running smoothly, headed toward the highway. "Don't touch the wheel," Siri says, "It's mine now." "Rerouting," I say.

***

Dinner Magic

"Don't you dare," my wife said as I stood up. "We have houseguests." "Exactly," I answered. "Now's the time to do it." We faced each other while the guests kept eating, their heads lowered to their plates. On the table were bowls of soup, salad dishes, plates filled with roast beef, gravy, potatoes, broccoli, glasses of red wine, bread baskets, olive oil dipping dishes, and much more. As I gripped the tails of the table cloth with both hands, our dog leaped to attention. Yes, I had had a few glasses of wine, but I felt confident and sharp. When I pulled the tablecloth out and whipped it around my shoulders like a cape, my wife screamed at me, "Why do you ruin every dinner party?" Contrary to her expectations, the dishes, plates and bowls didn't crash to the floor, didn't drop on our guests' laps, but rose off the table a few feet, hovering above us. "How do you expect us to eat?" one guest asked. Another threw down his napkin. "This has gotten ugly," he said, while another guest reached up and took some salad with her hands. "The dressing is excellent," she noted. "Get the dinner back on the table now—" my wife ordered, "in one piece." Not so easy, I thought. That part of the trick required me to chant the magic words four times without pausing. And that's what I did, but the dinner fell all over us. I had probably reversed two of the words. Before we could do anything about it, our dog ran off with several hunks of roast beef. Graciously, our guests began picking up the dishes. No one complained, and one or two even nibbled the potatoes while helping out. "That's quite a trick," one guest stated. "Yes," my wife commented, "not everyone can dump a whole dinner on his dinner guests." As our guests left, my wife stood at the door hugging each of them and apologizing. After locking the door, she returned to the dining room. "If you really knew any magic, you could erase this evening with a few words and a snap of your fingers." I nodded, but didn't try anything else. A moment later, she poured white vinegar on the rugs, blotting up the stains. By morning, they were gone.

***

Whistling

In a short dress, the brunette with seven huge jungle parrots perched on her head, shoulders, and arms sashays under the palm trees. The wind follows her. The sun touches her face—her large brown eyes half closed. Arrayed in blue, green, orange and bright yellow outfits, the parrots lift their beaks high as if waiting to snag flies or a small bird that might fly by. How did I get these parrots? she wonders. How did we get this brunette? the parrots wonder. The parrots like the thick moist heat. She doesn't like the oppressive heat, but she likes the parrots, even though they squabble among themselves at night. She keeps her shoulders straight and her head up so that the parrots are balanced, sweat beads welling up her eyes. They cling to her body without letting their talons bite her skin. As she walks down the hot pavement, the crowd parts to let her through. Traffic stops. Men whistle at her. Women whistle at her. The parrots nod and whistle back.

***

Dirty Angel

"I'm your angel," he said. His face and body covered with dust, he stood in my doorway and handed me a leaflet. The ink was smeared, and the writing illegible. I crumpled it and gave it back, stuffing it in his shirt pocket. "I'm here to help you," he said. "Do you have a photo ID and something that might prove you're an angel?" I asked. "Look at my wings," he responded and did a full turn. He had two frail leaflike structures attached to his shoulders, filthy with ash and soot. "I wouldn't call those wings, more like giant eyelashes or a mesh for catching bugs." He put his hand on my arm. "Let me in, brother." Still, I wouldn't let him pass. "Why do I need an angel?" I asked. The angel laughed. "That should be obvious." I peered into his eyes to see if I could see a soul, but his eyes were dark, almost opaque. For an angel, his face and body were surprisingly solid. A pale light emanated from his dusty skin. "Do something to prove you're an angel," I said. "Pass through the wall or raise a chair off the floor with your mind or vanish into thin air." He shook his head. "So much misinformation," he said. "That's what ghosts do, not angels. Are you going to let me in or not?" I could see he wasn't going away anytime soon, so I stepped aside and let him enter. "No tricks—I'm assigned to heal your spirit," he said and has been living here ever since.

Author Bio

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Jeff Friedman’s seventh book of poems, Floating Tales, was published by Plume Editions/MadHat Press in fall 2017. Friedman’s poems, mini stories and translations have appeared in American Poetry Review, Poetry, New England Review, Poetry International, Plume, Hotel Amerika, Flash Fiction Funny, The Cafe Irreal, The New Republic and numerous other literary magazines and anthologies. He has received numerous awards and prizes including a National Endowment Literature Translation Fellowship in 2016 and two individual Artist Grants from New Hampshire Arts Council.