Dead Enough, House of Smoke, and The Salesman's Last Day
The squad of shooters aim their guns and begin shooting. They shoot shadows on the wall, empty windows, broken tail lamps. They shoot leaves twirling from the branches, nests where baby birds hide. They shoot voices and echoes, hostile camera flashes, the glint from hubcaps. They shoot steering wheels, passenger seats and glove compartments. They shoot the clouds bulking above them and the tent of the sky. They shoot young men, begging for mercy until they fall face down into the grass. "Are they dead?" one shooter asks. Another answers, "Let's be sure." They shoot the bodies until they twitch and jerk, and finally, lie still. They shoot the ghosts rising from the bodies until they are full of dark holes. Then they shoot the holes and the holes in the holes.
House of Smoke
My lover and I lived in a house of smoke. At first it was just a few wisps, but with time, the smoke grew so thick I couldn't see her. Sometimes, I thought she was close to me, but when I reached out to touch her, my hand touched an empty bed or the couch cushion. Sometimes, I would call out to her to come to me. My voice fell at my feet, muted. I thought I could hear her in the distance, but her words were too faint to make out. I parted the smoke with my hands over and over, but it always filled in thicker. Sometimes I thought I saw a shadow in the smoke like a woman trapped inside a bubble. When the winds came and blew our house away, all that remained was ash sparkling in the sun and the echo of a lovely voice—gone for so many years.
The Salesman's Last Day
He sold the bald man an authentic Elvis Presley toupe, promising it would make him into a new man. He sold the hair tonic guaranteed to produce a crop of lustrous hair to the tall, slender woman with thinning hair. To demonstrate, he combed a few drops through his own head of hair and could feel it thickening immediately, and she gave him a big smile as she took the bottle. He sold the bulky man with crumbs on his cheeks a professional crumb roller for his beard. "Just run it over your cheeks and chin, two-three times a day," he said. But he couldn't sell it to the pretty waitress. "That'll be clogged after one use, and then how will I get rid of my crumbs?" He didn't have an answer as he never used one himself. He thought he might have a scraper that would work on her face, but before he could locate it, she had closed the door. At the next house, he opened his briefcase and he took out his spray bottle of Hair Removal Liquid (especially for lip and arm pit hair) to sell to a young woman holding her baby in the cradle of her right arm. Just to get it working, he aimed the bottle at the window and sprayed; the window was instantly so clean he couldn’t see it, and then some gnats flew in where the glass had been. Lifting her baby up close to her breast, the young woman grabbed the spray can from his hand and sprayed him. For a moment he felt the cool mist and smelled something sweet, but then he was gone too. So this is how it feels to be hairless, he thought.
Jeff Friedman's tenth book, Ashes in Paradise, will be published by Madhat Press in Fall 2023. Friedman's poems, mini stories and translations have appeared in American Poetry Review, Poetry, Poetry International, New England Review, American Journal of Poetry, Cast-Iron Aeroplanes That Can Actually Fly: Commentaries from 80 American Poets on their Prose Poetry, Flash Fiction Funny, Flash Nonfiction Funny, Hotel Amerika, Best Microfiction 2021 and 2022, and The New Republic. He has received an NEA Literature Translation Fellowship and numerous other awards. Meg Pokrass and Friedman's co-written collection of fabulist microfiction, The House of Grana Padano, was published by Pelekinesis in Spring 2022, selections of which appeared in Issue 81 of The Cafe Irreal. His stories have also appeared five other times in our pages, and his book Floating Tales was one of the works featured in our series "Reading at The Irreal Cafe."