Flash fiction by Iris N. Schwartz
July 10, this year
“It buries me to see him that way.”
Tom looked at her intently. “What?”
Karoline Klein collected tissue shreds from her pants. “It hurts me to see him that way.”
“You didn’t say that.” Tom put down his pen. “You said, ‘It buries me.’”
“Shit.” Karoline reached for another tissue, then crumbled it, unused. “For the last three days I’ve had a song in my head that I can’t shake.”
She softly sang, “There is a town in North Ontario, with dream comfort memory to spare.”
Tom asked, “Where did you go three days ago?”
February 2, this year
Karoline noticed Jonas immediately: lush, black curls; line-free face; hawkish nose; aggressively angular jaw. He tore open three sugar packets, then rushed the contents into his coffee with the stem end of a plastic spoon.
Karoline averted her eyes, but he caught her—imagining him forking one of his two coffee cake rectangles, then feeding it to her, slowly. She pictured him wiping errant crumbs from her chin and dotting them on his own tongue.
He smiled. Karoline blushed. Jonas introduced himself. He didn’t offer cake.
July 7, this year
She recalled what her therapist Tom had said about dating. “You can discover everything you need to know about someone in the first five minutes after you’ve met.”
In February, Karoline observed that Jonas was an enthusiastic consumer of coffee and sweets.
Now she watched Jonas in his bed. He slowly moved his right hand toward the call button. Karoline blinked several times to clear her vision, then walked into his room. She held a bouquet in front of her.
Jonas opened his mouth. No sound. He tried to reach his unresponsive right leg with his right arm, couldn’t, looked away. With his left hand, Jonas pulled his hospital gown tighter around his midsection. Miniature gray bears danced across his stomach.
Karoline put out a hand; it stayed, motionless, in the air for several seconds. She should have brought a pad and pen.
A nurse walked in. Thank God, thought Karoline.
“What beautiful flowers! Aren’t those beautiful, Mr. Mendel? I’ll get someone to put them in a vase.” The nurse walked away.
Come back, thought Karoline. Come back!
Karoline refilled his plastic water pitcher; walked the halls on a quest for a pad, as well as hermetically sealed apple slices; and searched for Jonas’s doctors to determine the extent of her boyfriend’s right-side weakness, aphasia, and balance issues.
She succeeded in keeping him hydrated, and questionably nourished with browning Macintosh slices, but found just one nurse and left messages for three doctors. Once back in his room, she realized she’d forgotten to look for a pad.
Jonas was weeping. Where was the rectangular cardboard tissue box she’d seen earlier, next to his right foot? Karoline didn’t know what to do. She was afraid to touch him, afraid she would “catch” his stroke.
Two minutes later Karoline was sitting on the toilet in Jonas’s bathroom, quietly singing. “Helpless, helpless, helpless. Baby, can you hear me now?”
She looked down to find the tissue box in her left hand. How long had she been holding it?
On her way home from the hospital, Karoline recalled Jonas tossing boxes of coffee cake and doughnuts into their cart every time they went shopping. She would return the boxes, fill plastic bags with apples: Jonagolds, Ida Reds, Honeycrisps. Karoline promised Jonas they were naturally sweet. He’d laugh and never eat them, bought cake when she wasn’t around.
July 8, this year
Now his black curls were tinged with gray. The 38-inch-waist pants Jonas wore when they met no longer zipped. His skin was flaky and itchy, probably due to diabetes. She would bring Jonas new pants, and aloe vera gel. Didn’t the hospital have lotion?
July 9, this year
In the morning Karoline dreamed she and Jonas held hands in a double-wide coffin. Both wore gold wedding bands. The coffin was being lowered into the ground at Mount Hebron Cemetery in Queens, New York─one plot away from her parents’ graves. The casket was open. Karoline batted away soil. Jonas could not move his arms, so dirt filled up his side of the casket.
Six feet from the shared gravesite, The Band and Neil Young performed an especially raw rendition of “Helpless.” Large numbers of Kleins and Mendels were keening.
Iris N. Schwartz is a fiction writer, as well as a Pushcart-Prize-nominated poet. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in such journals as Algebra of Owls, Bindweed Magazine, The Black Napkin, Blue Collar Review, Ducts, Flash Fiction Friday (No. 178), The Flash Fiction Press, FutureCycle Poetry, The Gambler, Gentle Strength Quarterly, Gravel, Gyroscope Review, Jellyfish Review, NYSAI Press, Pikeville Review, Points in Case, Pure Slush (Volume 12), Silver Birch Press, Siren, Sweater Weather Magazine, Vernacular, and Writing Raw.