She watched him while loudly sipping her double cappuccino. She cleared
her throat, twice, and crumpled her napkin. But he didn't look up.
This made her that much more curious. How good a book could it be?
Rising from her chair, she circled around behind him with her crumpled
napkin, which she deposited in a garbage can. Then she saw the back of him.
His hair was thick and furry. The T-shirt he wore had a picture on it of
Miles Davis playing the trumpet. There was even a ticket stub lying next to
the cigarette pack that bore the name of a theater that showed foreign
Hmm, she thought, and glanced over his shoulder, down the length of his
nose. The pages in his book looked strangely alive--the words seemed to be
moving, swarming, like little black ants.
The caffeine, she thought, it's getting to me . . . my vision is
Only this was not the case. The words were really like that. He was
really liking them, too. And she realized this, after a moment: that he was
really some type of avant-gaardvark.
Coup de Grace
he house had been falling apart a lot
lately. Lou and Norine were getting too old to keep up with all the repairs. But a big renovation would have cost them
several times as much as they'd originally paid for the house. So instead they decided to move to a condo, a condo down
Some of their belongings went to charity. Some of them ended up at the
dump. The rest were manhandled by gruff movers into a truck--an ugly orange
semi--that had just pulled out.
Walking through the empty rooms, Lou and Norine listened to their voices
echo off the walls. They looked at the peeling paint and blotches of mold,
the blank places where pictures used to hang. The carpeting by the entrance
to the kitchen was worn down to the pad.
Norine had been a nurse during World War II. That's how she met Lou, in
an army hospital. He'd been wounded by shrapnel in the buttocks. It was
embarrassing for Lou, when Norine treated him. He got over his
embarrassment, though, and proposed to her the day he was released, while she
was changing his dressing for the last time.
The last time Norine had prepared a syringe was during the war. But standing
there at the sink, after all those years, she still remembered how. She still
remembered plenty of things ...
Norine obtained the syringe from a diabetic friend of hers. She'd found
a book in the library that told her what chemicals to mix the solution from. Most of them, she was surprised to discover, were common household
Tucking the syringe into a pocket in her plaid shift, Norine went with
Lou down to the basement. The stairs creaked and sagged. One of the steps
had rotted away. Lou helped Norine across it, and winced from the pain in his rheumatic
You okay? Norine asked.
I'll be better when we get down south.
Maybe, Norine said. You didn't forget to take your pills at lunch, did
I don't know. I might have ...
Lou's joints weren't his only age-related problem.
The smell of mildew was very strong at the bottom of the stairs. Norine
wrinkled her nose and shuddered. Lou gazed at the warped and watermarked
paneling he'd put up in the sixties. Then he squinted through a hole in the
ceiling at a termite-pitted beam.
Lou and Norine walked toward the furnace. The concrete around its base was broken up, deteriorating. Norine held her husband's hand as he
eased himself down. She knelt beside him and set the syringe next to the
furnace. They pulled up pieces of concrete, made a pile of them.
Norine brushed away a tear. Lou stroked her shoulder. She glanced over
at him. And back down.
Touching the dirt, Norine thought of all the holidays there had been, of
the many turkeys and hams and roasts she had cooked, of the rich aromas of
food wafting through the rooms while the children played, the
grandchildren, the whole family gathering to celebrate the birth of a new
baby, or to mourn a loss . . .
Ready when you are, Lou said.
Yes, Norine replied, picking up the syringe. Let's get this over with.
She sniffled and took a breath. And administered the injection.
They went up the stairs again and outside, into the twilight. Standing
by their car, at the end of the driveway, they watched the house through
The chimney wavered in the setting sun. Norine hooked her arm around Lou
tightly. A brick slid down the roof and tore a section of the gutters loose.
It looked as if a strand of white hair were hanging down over the front
door, as if the front door were yawning ...
Norine dabbed her cheeks with a threadbare handerkerchief. The two
dormer windows darkened slowly. Then, on rusting hinges, the shutters
closed. Lou felt his body shaking, felt his wife's body shaking.
It's time to go, Norine murmured.
Lou replied, Okay.
But neither of them moved until the sun had set completely, until they
couldn't see the house at all.
* * * * *
Marc Kipniss holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of
Washington-Seattle. His fiction has appeared in Black Warrior Review, Salt
Hill, American Letters & Commentary, and many other magazines. A chapbook of
his short shorts, Reptile Appliance, is available from broken boulder press.
His stories have been published online in
Snow Monkey: An Eclectic
Journal. Three of his short shorts appeared in Issue #3 of The Cafe Irreal.
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