Flash Fiction by Jeff Friedman
“You’ve lost your shape,” my lover says. As she cleans the surface of the coffee table, she clicks her tongue and shakes her head without even looking at me.
I rise from the couch. “How so?” I ask. She steps back, taking me in with her eyes. “You’re shapeless,” she says. “No other way to say it.”
“That’s impossible. Everybody, everything has a shape. What am I, an egg? a crooked trapezoid? a square with fuzzy edges?”
“You’re more like a dollop of whipped cream or a blob of jam or foam in latte, though not so tasty.”
“Can we stick to geometry,” I ask.
“This seems more about chaos,” she says, folding her dust rag. “Look in the mirror.”
I walk into the bathroom. She’s right. I’m shapeless. I can’t find my belly or face. “How am I even able to wear clothes,” I ask.
“Loosely,” she says.
What causes someone to lose his shape? I wonder. Too much self-preoccupation? or too little? I should have eaten better and taken care of myself.
My lover puts her arm around me, and her arm appears to float in fog. “I’m sure there’s an exercise you can do to regain shape or some words you can chant or a yoga pose that might be perfect for just this condition.”
“Maybe there’s a doctor who specializes in treating this,” I reply.
She smiles, “and even if there isn’t…”
But something is happening in the bathroom light. Out of my shapelessness, a new shape is emerging, even if it is still in flux, even if we can’t quite see it.
The Dog on the Roof
The dog pants near the bottom of the sloping roof. He neither stands nor sits, but crouches as if he feels himself about to slide. He looks down and sees shadows in motion. Perhaps sensing the dog watching from above, a cat sneaks across the street and then disappears behind the overflowing garbage cans. The sun warms the dog’s face as he smells the rotting meat and pizza crusts. He doesn’t bark at the bodies moving below. His ears flick when the flies touch them. The wind brings him so many messages and signals he can hardly contain himself, his nose in constant motion, his tail whipping back and forth. The crowd gathers, watching the dog. “Stay,” they shout. “We’ll rescue you,” but the dog slowly backs up the slope until he’s almost at the chimney. Then he springs forward, leaping off the roof, his four legs spreading apart, as everyone below tilts their heads and watches. Instead of falling the dog rises until it disappears into a cloud. And one by one, the clouds float toward the horizon, each with a tail ticking behind it.
When she spoke, only indecipherable sounds came out, and she scooped the air as if it were alive with words that she could hold in her palm and give to others, but when she opened her hand, they flew off. When she spoke, the rain began to fall, and drops streamed down the windows, and she disappeared in a cloud of her own making.
And those who loved her tilted their heads and narrowed their eyes as if they understood, but they were afraid of the silence, and they could almost see the words she was trying to say as if those words were written on a white board. They stood there helplessly while the rain splashed against the board, washing it again and again.
“Kiss kiss,” my customers shout as they wait, as the pigeons waddle around them and the stray dogs gather into a pack at the bandstand. The farm stalls, the cheese booths, the food carts have small lines but mine extends the length of the green. The price is steep, but kisses aren’t easy to come by in these times, and my lips are soft, moist—capable. I kiss the ones that need tenderness with extra care. Those who require tough love, I kiss hard forcing my lips down on theirs. And those who look ready to faint, I oxygenate with long breathy kisses that expand their chests and straighten their spine. And for a large tip, I let the rich well-dressed ones feel the silk of my tongue. My customers don’t seem to care that they could be kissing my disease. For that matter, I could be kissing theirs. When my pucker begins losing its grip, that means I’m running out of kisses like a cellphone battery down to the last 10%. “Last three kisses,” I say, holding up three fingers. I sustain each one as long as I can, and the customer tries to hold me even longer, but I’m adept at getting away. When I shut the curtain, the crowd applauds and shouts, “More! More!” I stick my hand out and wave good-bye.
When I came home one evening, I found my lover’s clothes strewn on the floor and heard moaning noises. I caught her in the act—in the living room. “You’re cheating on me with a couch,” I shouted.
She stopped her gyrations and sat up. “I was just relaxing, she said. I had a hard day.” Then she turned her anger on me. “I can’t live with a man who doesn’t trust me,” she burst out. “I trust you,” I said. “I just don’t trust the couch.”
“You only see the bad in things, never the good.” Unrepentant, she sprang up and began dressing. “Stay away from my couch,” she ordered. The next day, I stayed home from work to take care of the situation. After she left, I paid some mover I found on a listserv to drop the couch at the dump. Once it was gone, I felt relief.
When my lover came home that night, I greeted her with a big smile and a kiss. “I forgive you,” I said.
She didn’t apologize or even look guilty. Pretty soon she headed to the living room, no doubt to lie on the couch. I expected outrage, but instead she stared into the empty space where the couch used to be, too stunned to talk or perhaps in a trance.
When she came out of it, she went to work rearranging the room, shifting the comfortable easy chairs into the place where the couch used to be, angled toward each other as if carrying on a conversation.
“That’s better,” she said. This was too easy.
She pushed the ottoman in front of one of the chairs and then curled up in its arms. “I think I like this better,” she said. “That couch was worn out anyway.”
“I really hope this’ll work out,” I said as she closed her eyes and let out a long breathy sigh.
JEFF FRIEDMAN’s newest book, The Marksman, was published in November 2020 by Carnegie Mellon University Press. 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, Cast-Iron Aeroplanes That Can Actually Fly: Commentaries from 80 American Poets on their Prose Poetry, Flash Fiction Funny, Flash Nonfiction Funny, Fiction International, The New Republic and numerous other literary magazines and anthologies. He has received numerous awards and prizes for his poetry, mini tales, and translations, including a National Endowment Literature Translation Fellowship in 2016 and two individual Artist Grants from New Hampshire Arts Council. Two of his micro stories were recently selected for the The Best Microfiction 2021. He and Meg Pokrass’s co-written collection of fabulist microfictions will be published by Pelekinesis Press in March 2022.
Flash Boulevard is edited by Francine Witte. Banner photograph Wes Candela