stories

flash fiction

threeMartin Jaeger


jaegerBiography
Interview

 

 

Stories


Permission

… taking her life became a regular theme in our conversations.

My daughter Meg stopped asking my permission when she turned into a teenager and became such a smart ass I couldn’t stand her.

“Mom,” she’d say, “don’t you want me to be independent and free from the oppression of adults?” her “know-it-all” face mocking me.

“Oppression of adults!” I’d say, “You make me sound like a dictator.” She was thirteen going on thirty-three.

But I let go and during the next thirty-three years Meg didn’t ask my permission for anything. Her decisions were a fait accompli, without my approval, except when we shopped for clothes, and then only because I was paying.

I remember Meg prancing in front of a full-length mirror, turning and twisting. “How does this look, mother?” or “It’s too expensive, isn’t it?” or “Don’t you think it goes with my..?”

When she became sick with A.L.S., things changed. Her fickle husband left Meg forgetting that part of the vows dealing with “for better or worse.” Gradually the nurses and I took over raising Audrey and Greg, her two teenagers. I made sure the kids studied and had enough to eat. “We want to help your mother as much as we can,” I said. “She’s so fragile.” But I didn’t have to tell them that. They could see her tired eyes and lump of a body underneath the bedspread, hardly moving.

Sometimes I slept over. The aroma of my cooking still enticed her. I was so glad to help Meg. Glad! How could I be glad about anything when my Meg could hardly walk, feed, or clothe herself, and would be dead in a few months.

When Meg told me she decided to kill herself, I thought she was just having a bad day. The hospice nurses had just started round-the-clock care. She had been up all night fighting the idea she would soon be no more than a living vegetable. I comforted her, expecting her despondency would disappear when her head cleared. I was wrong, and taking her life became a regular theme in our conversations.

“Mom,” she said, “don’t you get it? I see that closet every day,” she said making a vague gesture with her hand to a walk-in closet with three sliding mirrored doors. “It holds dozens of shoes stacked in neat piles and all my clothes that I’ll never, do you understand, never wear?”

“But, Meg…”

“Don’t you think I wake up in the morning in love with my kids?” she said, forcing her hoarse voice to speak so it sounded non-human. “I think about them all day. I imagine them in school, eating dinner, or when they’re putting clothes on those skinny bodies.” She’d start sobbing and coughing at the same time. Her head jerked forward and her head fell back. I’d put a tissue under her nose and wipe her chin. Her puffed face tried to smile, but her facial muscles wouldn’t work.

Meg had read about suicide and told me she had access to a large supply of sleeping pills because she couldn’t sleep, and it would be easy to overdose on them.
Meg looked at me with those hazel eyes that changed color daily trying to convince me about the rightness of her decision. I refused to go along with her, until I finally got it. She wanted my permission to die.

Well, I wasn’t going to give it was I? Is a mother supposed to give her child permission to kill herself? I don’t think that is part of my job description. She coughed again and this time she didn’t stop for nearly a minute. Her face turned red and there were tears in her eyes, and I dried them off.

“I used to like to go cherry picking with the kids,” she said. “They had so much fun filling their baskets. I’m sure they ate more than they picked. I was such a bad mother letting them get sick from overeating.” Meg smiled at the thought of the kids taking turns in the bathroom. I felt better then and I knew she wasn’t going to overdose on the sleeping pills.

Today, Meg took a turn for the worse and completely unraveled. When I came in, she pointed to a gray metal box in the back of the room that I hadn’t seen before. “It’s a ventilator,” she said, and for the first time I saw terror in her eyes. “I have to do it now. Soon I won’t be able to grip the pills or swallow them.”

Meg suddenly became concerned about her deteriorating condition and the effect it would have on the children. When they came home from school she said, casually not trying to alarm them,” I’m getting sicker, and I wonder what will happen if I can’t take care of you kids?”

“Don’t worry, Mom,” Audrey said, trying to cheer up her mother.

“We can take care of ourselves,” Greg said putting his hand on Meg’s. “We also have grandma, and if we’re desperate we can ask dad.”

“Well, I don’t expect to go any place soon.”

We talked until dinner time, when I fed the kids. Afterward, I stopped in and talked to Meg until it was very late. A light from a table lamp next to her dressing table barely lit the room. Meg’s head was supported by two fluffy pillows leaning against the cherry wood headboard. A lightweight purple comforter covered her legs. “Momma, tell me its okay. Tell me I’m doing the right thing.” I held Meg in my arms and cried with her.

I couldn’t let her go knowing this was the last time I would ever see her.

“Please,” I said, “let me stay the night.”

“No,” she said, “I don’t want anyone to think you had any part…”and her voice trailed off.

I squeezed her hands, kissed her cheeks one last time and left the room unable to look back.

Driving home, I thought about tomorrow. The nurse checks on Meg at six-thirty and then gets the children ready for school. But tomorrow would be different. The house will be filled with commotion. The ambulance. The police.

I wanted in the worst way to be there to comfort the kids. Instead, I’d have to wait for someone to call and tell me my precious Meg was dead. I wouldn’t be there to help Audrey and Greg in their bewilderment. We would cry together when I arrived later in the morning. The loudness would pierce my soul.

And if they asked for anything…why, I’d probably give my permission to anything they wanted.

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Roget

… he could talk but with words that didn’t make sense...

On August 12, 1777, ornithologist George Roget successfully taught a white-tailed, limp-nose cadawama to talk backwards. Annette, as he called the bird, achieved this accomplishment only after years of arduous training. News of this singular accomplishment traveled quickly throughout Yorkshire, England.

For his next experiment, George tried to teach Annette to sing sidewards, but, Annette unfortunately, died of apoplexy during a particularly grueling session. This failure was devastating to George, and Annette, as well.

“Mother,” he said to his wife, Cleopatra, “I can’t hack it anymore. I’ve decided to give up ornithology and open a chain of fast-food hamburger joints.” Then he put on his Homburg, took several puffs on his Meerschaum pipe, and went to bed.

On January 18, 1779, Cleopatra gave birth to a boy, Peter, named in honor of his grandfather, whose outstanding qualities were that at age 91 he had been on the dole for 41 years, and had achieved prominence for introducing the late-blooming, lilac tiger-tulips to East Yorkshire from West Yorkshire.

Some say the infant Peter looked like his mother; others, say the baby looked like his father; and still others said the infant looked like any other infant.

After listening to Peter’s endless crying, which in some fuzzy way made George think of Annette, George decided to train the child to cry backwards on the theory that this would satisfy Annette’s death.

After several months of intense experimentation, Peter cried neither frontwards nor backwards, but in fact made no further sound at all. He would grimace, scowl, get red, but sans sound.

The Rogets saw Peter’s soundless crying as a benefit and so did nothing about it for two years. Then they bundled up young Roget and took him to see Dr. Blackmer, their family physician. After making a thorough exam, the doctor concluded young Roget’s voicelessness was the result of a shock and would return after another shock.

“Young Roget will speak eventually,” Dr. Blackmer said, “just be patient,” and he slapped the child on the head.

Cleopatra and George took leave of Dr. Blackmer, and according to the custom in East Yorkshire, gave him several bundles of late-blooming, lilac tiger-tulips, for which Dr. Blackmer cheerfully expressed his endless appreciation.

By 11 years of age, young Roget had turned into a handsome young lad who hopped and skipped and jumped and set fire to school libraries like all the other boys. Still, young Roget remained silent and his parents began to doubt Dr. Blackmer’s prediction, but not having any other predictions to believe in, they had faith and waited patiently.
Several years later, while she was preparing George’s favorite dinner of fricasseed banana and mango soup, Cleopatra decided to tell George about young Roget’s recent problems at school.

“George,” she began, “the schoolchildren are making fun of young Roget because he doesn’t talk. They call him, ‘Silent Boy,’ or ‘Reticent Roget,’ or say ‘Your mother must have been a rock!’ Young Roget came home yesterday in tears.” She paused a moment to blow her nose and dry her eyes. “His teacher, Mrs. McGraw, said that he would be better off in the mute boy’s school in Limrod. They could teach him how better to communicate and deal with life.”

“You know best, my beloved,” George said. “Where’s my dinner?”

And that is how young Roget became a pupil at the Limrod Mute and Lute School (L.M.&L.S.). There he found comradeship with other voiceless boys. He began to laugh once again, but soundlessly.

Sunday was young Roget’s favorite day. All the boys went to the train station to collect donations for the school. First, each boy picked a place to stand at the train station and when a passerby came near, held out the school straw hat with the letters “L .M. & L. S” clearly printed on it, and invited a donation by only using his winsome eyes and sorrowful look. Young Roget, having been born with large brown eyes and a dour appearance, was particularly successful.

One day, young Roget was at the train station in his usual position in front of the ladies W.C. and offered his hat and sorrowful features to a man dressed in a gray herringbone suit, gray socks, and gray hair. The man reached into his pocket and pulled out several shillings and placed them into Roget’s straw hat. He then asked young Roget for the location of the men’s W.C. Young Roget turned to point to the nearest men’s toilet, and suddenly received a sharp blow on the head from the man’s gray umbrella, knocking him to the ground. The rogue grabbed the hat with the money inside and ran off. Somehow this singular event triggered off a cataclysmic reaction in young Roget’s psyche that caused him to speak the words, “Lavatory, noun.”

The thief, having thought Peter a mute, now hearing him speak, became unsettled, dropped the straw hat, and boomed out of the train station without looking back.

Young Roget ran home to tell his parents he could talk but with words that didn’t make sense. Puzzled, Cleopatra and George decided they would call once again on their good friend, Dr. Blackmer. Dr. Blackmer had never seen a case like this and called in two more doctors for consultation, Dr. Wilmertz, a noted neurologist and Dr. Flashier, a well respected psychologist.

“Greetings, Dr. Blackmer,” Cleopatra affectionately began and noticing Dr. Blackmer’s empty flower vase added, “I notice you are out of late- blooming, lilac tiger-tulips, but don’t worry, we brought you some.”

At the conclusion of the exam Dr. Blackmer said, “We have examined your son, but disagree on a diagnosis. My opinion is that he should stay at Limrod because he’s happy there. Dr. Wilmertz believes young Roget has ‘Philmer’s Drunge,’ a disease characterized by a twisting of the brain cortex and requiring a retwisting. Dr. Flashier is positive it’s Locum’s disease, the result of an anal-retentive condition, and wants to administer Mustard Plaster packs around his neck, and a regimen of gargling and vocalizing.” He then turned to the young boy who was gazing at the ceiling. “Well, young Roget, do you have anything to say?”

“Speak, verb, utter, pronounce,” young Roget responded, his face growing red, as if it was going to explode or he were having a bowel movement.

Suddenly a voice, like that of a blue-headed saracoo, squealed from across the room. It came from Dr. Blackmer’s house painter, Roland Milieu, who was swinging back and forth from a scaffold, attached by pulleys to the ceiling. Milieu was in the middle of painting the doctor’s office the current fashionable color, Southwest-Yorkshire pastel, and was swinging from wall to wall like a monkey from a tree, assiduously plugging cracks with plaster in preparation for painting.

“The solution is simple,” the perceptive painter said. As he spoke, the doctors and Rogets had difficulty following Milieu since he continued to swing back and forth from high above. “When young Roget hears a word, he responds with a synonym and its part of speech,” said the painter.

The learned group listened to this simple explanation and decided to verify it.

Dr. Fashier said, “ House,” and young Roget responded, “ Mansion, noun; home; berth, billet, verb.”

Dr. Wilmertz posited, “ Disguise,” and young Roget responded, “Masquerade, noun; mask; camouflage, cloak, verb.”

The mystery was now solved. George thanked the doctors and Roland Milieu, who was still swinging to and fro, while Cleopatra presented several dozen valuable, late-blooming, lilac tiger-tulips, and suggested the doctors share these flowers with the painter when he came down from the ceiling.

And thus, young Roget began his journey into fame and glory.

George Roget, by now the owner of 16 hamburger franchises, realized young Roget’s uncanny ability could be used to benefit society. He needed some one to read from a dictionary and record young Roget’s responses. He contacted L.M. & L.S. and found Miss Betty Harris, a person with impeccable speech, who could take down short hand at the rate of 296 words per minute, and play soothing lute music while they worked.

Finally, on April 29, 1852 Roget’s Thesaurus became history, transforming literature forever. Within a year young Roget was knighted and became Sir young Roget.

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Elbows

Like a stealth bomber, his enormous arm zoomed in...

It was Saturday night and I was looking forward to the movies. My wife Rosalee and I hadn’t gone in several months and Tell No One was playing; it was rated five stars and a must. We had a lovely dinner and arrived at the movies early so we would get good seats. But little did I know that my evening would be spoiled by an elbow—a left elbow. Not that it mattered whether it was right or left.

At first, I thought this Saturday night’s disaster was punishment for me voting Republican last year, but now I know it was just bad luck.

The theater started filling up as we expected. The only thing, I thought, that could interfere with my enjoyment of the movie would be a tall person, or a lady with a high hairdo, sitting in front of me.

As the theater darkened, I gave thanks that no one sat in front of us. The coming attractions started. I happily awaited the end of the coming attractions, my signal to stop eating popcorn, and give my full attention to the movie.

Then the man with the elbow arrived. It was dark and I could barely make out his huge shape walking down the aisle to my right. He wore a tee shirt and sweat pants. I could hear him taking deep breaths and making grunting sounds like a pig. He stopped at our row, squeezed his way past an elderly couple, my wife, me, and plunked his gross body in the seat next to mine. The movie started, but his wheezing, loud breathing, and fidgeting, kept me from concentrating on it.

And then it happened. Like a stealth bomber, his enormous arm zoomed in and planted itself on the armrest between us. He never said a word; he just took over.

My right arm, which was lying on the padded armrest between my wife and me, became achy and was “falling asleep.” I needed to switch positions and put my left arm on the armrest shared by myself and Mr. Elbow, but I couldn’t because he had grabbed the entire space, as if he were claiming land for the king of Spain.

A person with manners would have asked before putting his or her elbow down: “Excuse me, sir, may I rest my elbow here. I’ll take the front part or back, whichever you prefer.”

I felt certain he would move his arm sooner or later and there would be room for mine. So I waited patiently, and let my right arm hang limply on my lap as if it were a noodle. But he never moved his arm. It was as if it was nailed to the armrest.

Meanwhile, I hadn’t seen one frame of the movie. My right arm throbbed and I was sure it had gangrene. What was I to do? I could push his arm off with my elbow, take possession of the arm rest, and pretend it was an accident. However, since he was so huge, I decided against a confrontation.

I could tell him the truth that my arm was unhappy and say: “Excuse me sir, I need to use the armrest because my arm is about to fall off.” Can you imagine this clown caring about my arm?

He’d most likely say, “First come, first serve, buddy. The early bird catches the worm, etc.”
“Well sir,” I would respond, “let’s be fair and make a schedule.”

He’d screw up his face, and defiantly say, “I’ll tell you when my time is up, buddy and I don’t need a schedule.” A sneer would appear on his face, and he’d say, “And don’t bother me again. I’m trying to watch the movie.”

This problem wouldn’t exist if elbows were made differently. Suppose, for example, our arms didn’t have any elbows. Then they would be long things like spaghetti that we could wrap around our neck.

I thought of calling the management. They probably mediate elbow battle disputes all the time. But there wasn’t enough time.

I could tell the fat guy, “Look, sir, I have this deadly disease called Mondokemia, (a name I concocted,) “and if your arm touches mine, it’s going to fall off, and you’re going to die an agonizing death.” And then I’d move my arm toward his ugly arm.

The gears in my mind were turning. I envisioned a new type of armrest to avoid future disputes. I’d call it, The Two Level Armrest. Imagine adding a second, identical armrest one foot higher so there would be a second level. The seat to the left of the armrest would use the lower level, and the seat to the right would use the upper level. It would be that simple.

I looked up from his elbow just in time to hear the music coming up and the words “THE END” on the screen.

I had missed seeing the five star movie completely. I was ready to pulverize the guy next to me, who, oblivious to my distress, was clapping, his arm still attached to the armrest. Then he got up, wriggled his way past us without a word of thanks for me letting him use the armrest.

But I learned a valuable lesson. In the future, I will get to my seat early enough to take possession of the armrest. Then, when a person sits next to me, I will charitably offer to share the armrest in some equitable manner. That way we can both enjoy the movie without worrying about whose turn it is. I now realize that access to an armrest is more important than having someone tall sitting in front of me.

Sadly, I missed most of the movie, so while I liked what I saw, in good conscience, the most I can give it is two and a half stars.

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The Bookmark

You don’t take out a book like this unless you’re serious.

At least three months have passed since Jacob Markam began thinking about taking his life. His wife Sandy died a year ago of colon cancer having suffered three years of excruciating, constant pain.

At eighty-four Jacob was tired. Tired of living. Tired of everything. Watching life seeping out of Sandy had taken a lot out of him.

Jacob regretted not dying with Sandy. He had read in the paper about a doctor that administered a medicinal cocktail to a couple so they could die together quickly without pain.

If Jacob had done that he wouldn’t be in turmoil now.

Years ago, the State of Washington had adopted an assisted suicide law. Jacob had read the pros and cons in the Seattle Chronicle and voted for it.

Why live? He didn’t want to be a burden on his kids.

Like with his dialysis.

Can you imagine the kids taking me three times a week for three-hour treatments? And my kidneys are deteriorating. It’s just a matter of time. And that’s when the real pain will kick in.

Tranquilizers and anti-depressant drugs didn’t help.

Jacob decided to visit the local library to find out more about Washington’s assisted suicide program.

Let see, the librarian said, the ‘S’s’ would be in the third row.

He groaned as he crouched and reached with his scrawny fingers for the book on the bottom shelf. Assisted Suicide, A Dignified Death by Caroline Shore.

As he thumbed through the book an object fell to the floor. It was a leather bookmark. It had a dark blue border with a floral design, and the name ‘Hailey’ imprinted in gold at the bottom with a phone number underneath it.

She must be someone old like me who’s in bad shape. Of course it’s possible she’s a young person who’s depressed over some love affair…or maybe she’s mentally disturbed. What’s the difference? You don’t take out a book like this unless you’re serious.

Jacob was curious and decided to call her when he got home. He made himself a cup of coffee, and dialed the telephone.
“Hello,” the female voice at the other end said.

“Hailey?” Jacob asked.

“Hailey! Who is this?”

“I’m calling to talk to Hailey.”

“Is this some joke? Hailey’s dead,” the voice said.

“Oh, I’m so sorry.” Jacob said, shocked and embarrassed. “I got her name from a bookmark I found it in the library. My name is Jacob. Jacob Markam.”

“I’m Hailey’s mother. My name is Gail Adler, and. Hailey died last week.”

“I’m so sorry, Mrs. Adler.”

“It was such a tragedy. She committed suicide.”

For the next fifteen minutes Jacob talked to Mrs. Adler and tried to console her. He learned Hailey had been depressed. Fifty-two years old, she was in the last stages of Huntington’s disease. She had lost her job as an art director because she couldn’t perform her duties. She was divorced and had three children and many friends. She could have lived longer but...

“Jacob, if you don’t think I’m too forward,” Mrs. Adler said, “I’d like you to come over. I’d like to show you some pictures of Hailey. I’ll make you some tea and I have some delicious coffee cake. I’m kind of lonely. My husband died five years ago and I live alone. Please.”

“Sure,” Jacob said. “I’d like too.”

Jacob parked in front of a small ranch house without sidewalks but lots of shade trees.

Mrs. Adler greeted Jacob warmly and a few minutes later he was sitting in her kitchen eating cinnamon chocolate layer cake and sipping hot herbal tea. She was in her seventies, had white hair, and a warm smile. As they talked about Hailey, the mother became morose.

“Jacob, I found about it in the most callous way. I was at home, playing bridge with my lady friends. The phone rang and a voice at the other end said, ‘I’m Dr. O’Connor and your daughter has just committed suicide. What do you want me to do with the body?’” Mrs. Adler’s eyes teared-up.

“That must have been horrible.”

“Fortunately my friends had me sit down and tried to comfort me.”

Jacob had completely forgotten about the bookmark. He reached in his jacket pocket, pulled it out, and gave it to Mrs. Adler.

She held it in her hands, starring at it. “Hailey used to make bookmarks and give them to her friends.”

“It’s pretty.”

Suddenly Mrs. Adler became agitated. “I should have seen the signs. Her self absorption. Her lack of caring. Her depression. I could have put two and two together and done more. I’ll never forgive myself. I…” She burst into tears again. “We allowed her to die.”

“But she had a terminal illness,” Jacob pleaded.

“She could have lived years. Maybe they could have discovered a cure.”

“Yes, that’s true.”

Then Mrs. Adler became angry. “When she killed herself, she destroyed a part of us. We’ll never be the same…her children, her friends and me,” Mrs. Adler then groaned. “And the guilt…at every holiday…every gathering…there will be an empty chair at the table to remind us that we could have done more, and we’ll blame ourselves.”

Jacob put his hand on hers to calm her.

Mrs. Adler took a sip from her tea, and then looking at the bookmark in her hand said, “Thank you Jacob. You’ve been a lifesaver.”

Jacob decided it was time to leave. He told Mrs. Adler he would be calling in a few days to find out how she was feeling. She walked him to the door and watched him depart.

A few minutes later, Mrs. Adler went to the phone and called Pastor Robert Hollings.”

“How did it go, Gail?” Pastor Hollings asked.

“I can’t tell for sure, but I’m sure I shook him up.”

“God bless you, my dear,” the Pastor said.

“Let me know when the book is back on the shelf,” she said putting the bookmark in her purse.

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