Flash Fiction by Gloria Garfunkel
“How can I learn a new language,” she thought, “until I have completely mastered English?” What she meant was, so thoroughly mastered English that she knew even the most arcane words. She memorized lists on the internet and on various word calendars daily. Today she found on her work calendar the word “perfidious” which meant “violating good faith, treacherous, dishonest.”
“Perfectly perfidious. That is my boss,” she thought.
Her goal was to make herself completely incomprehensible to Mr. Perfidious, knowing he would never admit he didn’t know what the words she was using meant. This allowed her to animadvert to his face while acting like complimenting him. For example: “You look so trim and anguilliform today, sir,” meaning he looked snake-like, “especially with that bletcherous tie which looks so very blattoid on you,” that is, his ugly tie had a design that looked like cockroaches.
He’d say thank you and slink away. She suspected he had caught on as every once in a while, her Vocabulary-Builder Calendar would disappear and she would see some of its pages crumpled in the trash and then it would reappear, missing some dates. She noticed he would at times use some difficult words, but she knew them all and he’d give up and go back to his third-grade vocabulary.
“I’m such a conscientious and contumacious employee,” she often thought of herself with pride, the latter meaning insubordinate and rebellious. “I am a study in contrasts and complexity.”
After work, if she was going out, she’d arm herself with a few memorizations to use with friends, or, even better, a new computer date.
On a really bad date, she might say something flirtatiously like, “I’m really feeling so pococurante tonight.” The date would think that meant he was going to get lucky when she was really saying she couldn’t care less. When she used mysterious words, adults would simply infer meaning from the rest of the sentence and her emotional expression, and so, by her design, they were always wrong. She loved to obfuscate rather than clarify.
After she was fired when her boss realized what her compliments reprobate and craven meant, she considered using the word bestiocracy in her interview to describe her current job’s lively hierarchy, that is, ruled by animals. And she definitely planned to say that she was enthusiastically contabescent at her job — wasting away and atrophied, and was seeking even more of a challenge.
What to Say
I haven’t known what to say in any situation lately. I can make small talk on the check-out line at Home Depot, but that’s about it. Take me to a gallery or film or just out for a walk and I’m mum. I just watch people get farther and farther, joking and drinking, like I’m on a cloud watching over them and I can’t figure out a place to jump in and talk. Even when I’m out to eat with extended family. Maybe I’m losing my mind. Or maybe I’ve said everything I have to say. Or maybe what I have to say is so horrific it is unsayable, like: “Who do you think will die first, you or me?” or “How do you think we’ll go, global warming or nuclear radiation?” you know, inappropriate small talk like that.
My cousin Ray is a really good guy. He was the only one of all of us who wouldn’t be caught dead stealing a car or robbing a bank. He was honest as they come. Which is why it was a shock to us all that he became the prime murder suspect when his wife, Sally, keeled over while drinking her coffee one morning.
“Poison,” they said. “Of the undetectable variety.”
The cops were convinced. After all, look at the family he came from. Also, unlike the rest of us who were busy committing other crimes, Ray had no alibi. He claimed to be “driving to work and getting stuck in traffic.” Police said there was no traffic that morning. The fact that Ray worked for a chemical testing lab sealed the deal. He was sure to be given a life sentence. We all cried like babies. We had always held Ray out as the only twig of goodness in our rotten family tree. A couple of us even offered to take the rap, because we were already serving a life sentence, but our stories about hiring a killer from prison to murder our brother’s wife just weren’t considered plausible to the cops.
Then the case broke. It turned out Sally was having an affair with Ray’s boss and came across some compromising information that was a clear motive for him to poison her coffee. His boss was sentenced to life imprisonment and we all held a party for Ray. He got drunk as a skunk. “I got away with it,” we thought we heard him mumble, just before he passed out. “Naw, it’s the drink talking,” we all agreed. But even if Ray did murder his wife, he would still always be the only good twig on the family tree to us.
Gloria Garfunkel is a psychologist and writer with a Ph.D. in Psychology and Social Relations from Harvard University. A former psychotherapist for thirty-five years, she has published many micro and flash fiction in literary journals and anthologies. She has also published a chapter on her clinical work and is finishing a memoir of her childhood as a daughter of Holocaust survivors.
Flash Boulevard is edited by Francine Witte. Banner photograph Wes Candela.