August 2014 Flashes
Dorene O’Brien is a Detroit writer whose work has earned the Red Rock Review’s Mark Twain Award for Short Fiction, the New Millennium Writings Fiction Award, the Chicago Tribune Nelson Algren Award and the international Bridport Prize. She was also awarded a creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and her stories have been published in special Kindle editions. O’Brien’s fiction and poetry have appeared in the Connecticut Review, The Best of Carve Magazine, Short Story Review, Passages North, the Baltimore Review, the Republic of Letters, the Montreal Review, Detroit Noir, and others. Her short story collection, Voices of the Lost and Found, won the National Best Book Award in short fiction. Visit her web site at www.doreneobrien.com
“Hello? Hey! Did you know there are 68,000 miles of telephone line in the Pentagon building? Jiminy crickets. What? Yes, I’m fine. It’s not too late for me to learn something, Maxine. Listen to this: camel’s-hair brushes have nothing to do with camels. They were invented by a man named Camel! I never knew that. No, no, I go again tomorrow. Bet you didn’t know there’s more than 2,000 muscles in a caterpillar. I’ve been reading about all this stuff I should’ve learned when I was wasting my time cooking and cleaning. Oh, don’t go getting all misty on me. You should be taking notes! What? Oh, you and Lester should stop mothering me. I could spend the rest of my life at the library. Yeah, Lester’s taking me before chemo tomorrow so I can find out which breed of dog has the best eyesight. And you know what? I’ll bet you a dollar it’s not a seeing-eye dog type, either. Did you know suicide was a crime in 19th century England? Those who screwed up at it were hung. No, no, I’m not gonna kill myself. Listen, Maxine. . .did you know a man can’t outrun a hippo?”
Shirley tells me that she once owned a horse that won the Kentucky Derby. She says she had a deer living in her house for two years until her husband said she had to let it go. She claims that after the doe peed on her throw rug she spanked it and it never messed in the house again.
Shirley says she owns 19 sets of dishes and had to count each plate and bowl after her house had been ransacked last year. The thief had taken only guns, she says, 300 guns.
After her husband’s operation, Shirley tries to kiss the heart surgeon on the mouth.
I sit next to Shirley in a hospital waiting room while doctors scrape from my wife’s womb our third attempt at parenthood. Who can cry when an 80-year old woman is leaning in, spinning tales, yanking sleeves?
When Shirley says that she won three million dollars in a bottle cap game but that she forgot her wallet at home and asks me to buy her two lunches in the cafeteria, I say sure.
There will be time for crying later.
Always Check Your Pockets
The day I lost a dear turtle to the spin cycle of my mother’s new Maytag, I learned a
valuable lesson. I remembered, or half-remembered, that Herman was in the pocket of my jacket when I tossed it onto the bedroom floor. This was the same week my mother, at the behest of her analyst, had announced that she was no longer our maid, that dirty dishes and soiled clothes would not begin that long pilgrimage from our rooms to cleanliness unless we initiated it. Nevertheless, in a fit of either memory loss or resignation, my mother collected the evidence of my disregard into a wicker laundry basket, thus beginning the first leg of Herman’s journey into the hereafter. I’m sure, being the good swimmer he was, that Herman made it through the wash and rinse cycles all right, but what turtle has the skills to negotiate a centrifuge? After Herman ruined an entire load of whites, my mother took me to dinner. I could tell she felt bad as she offered up a litany of prospective replacements—an iguana, a ferret, a cockatiel—and I realized with sudden, silent shame that not one them could fit into my pocket.