Issue #81

Winter 2022

Three Stories

by Jeff Friedman and Meg Pokrass

The Salesman Gets Stoned

The salesman wore pants that billowed in the wind. Without a single sale for the day, he carried his briefcase up the block determined to get to the next neighborhood. On the way, he saluted a crow sitting on the stone post that led to a small graveyard, and the crow saluted him back. As he walked beside the graveyard, ghosts were waving their bony arms as they sat in front of the headstones and passed a joint. One held it up as a signal for him to come over. The salesman smiled and approached the ghosts. "You’re ghosts. How come I can see you in broad daylight?" "We’re not that kind of ghosts," one answered and handed him a joint. "What's in the case?" another ghost asked. "My line of goods," he answered and took a deep pull on the joint and after a long moment, let out the smoke. He took another and then another and passed on the joint. "Maybe you should sit down, Brother," one ghost said. "You’re looking a little like a ghost." Now he was stoned, and the ghosts didn't look so much like ghosts, more like the gray-faced men he had seen sitting on benches in town. He set out for his territory again, but the road curved in front of and behind him. And he kept turning.



I'm at the sink, the house is quaking, and I'm tired of being a wife. "The bills still need to be paid," I shout. My husband, from the back of the house, yells back at me that he always pays on time, but then why do we keep getting debt notices by text and email? The house is shaking, shimmy shammying, cha-cha-chaing like something out of a cartoon—and my husband reminds me of a cartoon bird with a curved beak and an appetite for sarcasm. It's difficult to stand with the house in constant motion, even though I hold on to the table. I feel the way my mother must have felt when she swore she saw my father's ghost, floating through the kitchen in the late evenings. The windows are starting to break. "What are we going to do?" I shout. My husband is either trying to get to me or attempting to escape the house. Plaster falls over us, his hair and face white. The dog is under the table where we should be. I point at the dog, my mouth saying 'good dog' with admiration in my voice. Now the ceiling is coming down in chunks. "We're dying," my husband shouts. And I yell back, "That'd be a relief," though maybe he's right. And then the whole damn place collapses. When the quaking stops, we all dig our way out. The dog emerges from the rubble and shakes off the plaster dust. My husband rises, but he's not so clean. He hugs me tightly and that feels good, but then I push myself back. "Next month," I say, "pay the bills on time."


Dead Bugs and Lovers

Yesterday, I tripped over a familiar young woman lying on the sidewalk and almost fell. "Watch where you're walking," the young woman said in a less than friendly tone. "What are you doing there?" I asked. "You could get hurt or cause someone to have a really bad spill." "I'm resting," she said. She had a bright ready smile. Men and women walked around us unconsciously like a wave moving around two large rocks in a stream. I reached my hand down to help her up, but she said she was fine and invited me to lie down with her. A few pigeons were hopping toward her, but I shooed them away. Then I lay down with her in the bright sun on a very busy sidewalk. Our conversation became intimate quickly. She told me that her ex-lover—a man who ate dead bugs for a living—had left her penniless after months of sitting on a blanket with an empty coin cup. "He collected buckets of dead bugs and stored them in the living room," she said. "Not so bad," I said. "Many people consider bugs a delicacy." I told her that I had left my ex-lover penniless with our 40 cats and now I was penniless, but happy to have my solitude. I noticed some cat fur on her black jeans and the silky soft hair on her arms. We talked about things we had in common, afternoon naps with large cats, a fear of growing old alone, the belief in bad luck that might change one into a toad or take away the ability to love. She rose to her feet and so did I. "Is it time to go?" I asked. "Yes, I think so," she said. She pecked me on the check, and I kissed her on the forehead. Then we kissed on the lips. "Your lips taste very sweet and familiar. Do I know you?" she said. "Yes, I'm your ex-lover," I said. I pulled a handful of dead bugs out of my pocket to prove it. Then we promised never to become ex-lovers again and went our separate ways.

Author Bio

leafless tree

Meg Pokrass is the author of eight prose collections, including Spinning to Mars. She is the two-time recipient of the Blue Light Book Award. Her work has been anthologized in two Norton Anthologies of flash fiction: Flash Fiction International (W.W. Norton 2015) and New Micro (W.W. Norton 2018) as well as in The Best Small Fictions, Wigleaf Top 50, and Best Irish and British Flash Award. Meg's work has recently appeared in Electric Literature, Washington Square Review, Wigleaf, Waxwing and American Journal of Poetry. She is the Series Founder and Co-Editor of Best Microfiction.

Jeff Friedman's newest book, The Marksman, was published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in fall 2020. He is the author of seven previous poetry collections, including Floating Tales and Pretenders. Friedman's poems, mini stories and translations have appeared in American Poetry Review, Poetry, New England Review, Poetry International, Hotel Amerika, Antioch Revew, Cast-Iron Aeroplanes That Can Actually Fly: Commentaries from 80 American Poets on their Prose Poetry, 101 Jewish Poets of the Third Millenium, Flash Fiction Funny, Flash Nonfiction Funny, Cafe Irreal, Fiction International, and The New Republic. He has received numerous awards and prizes including a National Endowment Literature Translation Fellowship in 2016, The Missouri Review Editor's Prize, and two individual Artist Grants from New Hampshire Arts Council. Two of his micro stories were selected for Best Microfiction 2021.