Short stories


My father’s name is William, my mother’s Elsie. But I’m only four and I only hear them called Bill and Else.

     The car is a Kaiser. The Kaiser was, at one time, King of Germany. He was very smart, strong, rich; but he became bad and got killed. The only thing left of the Kaiser is this black car that smells like upholstery, gasoline, oil and the family – dog odor, fabric softener, deodorant; Dad’s tobacco wrestling Mom’s mint.

     I crawl in back. Mom and Dad up front. Dad behind the wheel.

     We’re on the highway. Going smooth. Nice and fast. Dad’s foot on the pedal steady as Washington on the one. If I lift my chin up – can just above the door see cars, trucks, billboards, whizz past.

     “I wish you wouldn’t smoke so much around the boy.”

     “Aw, hon…,” Dad punches in the lighter…

     I can’t see, the seat too high. But I know the sounds. They think I’m asleep. I excel at letting people think I’m asleep.

     “Here…,” pops ventilator, cracks window… “Crack yours, too, hon. Cross-ventilation’ll help. A diagram on a TV ad just last night showed smoking encourages good breathing. This only my second of the afternoon. Helps me relax. It’s a fact people think better relaxed. Do you really think under two thousand square feet enough?”

     Air rushes in, rushes over, rushes around. Cool May air. Let the eyes close. Hear better eyes closed.


     Hot metal stink spices slipstream. Feel – through swervelets – Dad reach for, pull out, hold the lighter to the tip of his Chesterfield; inhale; scrunch back in the seat; exhale. Snap lighter back into dash.

     Fill my lungs with comforting scent. Curl up into the driverside corner of the backseat.

     “I worry we can’t afford two thousand square feet. Should I roll it down any further – this OK?”

     “No, hon – you’re fine.” Dad puffs. “Well – I should get that raise next month; then the bank might approve for up to twenty-five. We could afford a television den, a rec room; and still the boy can have his own bedroom; plus probably a guest room – for when Rose and Phil come down and don’t feel up to driving back that night.”

     Across the backs of my eyelids movies jumble: moving again. First home apartment up in Greenbelt: three fingers still held up to show my age: standing alone in the empty hall closet, craning my head up in the dark; last look, everything loaded into the yellow-and-green Mayflower; one last look at nothing; my name shouted; they are looking for me, time to go, I’m the last thing to be loaded into the Kaiser for the move. “Here!” I holler at the unseen ceiling. “Here!… here!… hear!” calls back, dies away. Echo, I learn to call the “hear!” Echo the throb in the stomach that eats the throb.

     “No more apartments; no more row houses; no more semi-detached projects. Five years married and this our first house, Else!”

    Else!… Else!… Else! Echoing, fading, dying into something else; or else, or else…

     “Bill…” air rushing… “I don’t want us spending above our means. This will make our third move in less than four years. I’m sick of moving – packing everything up in boxes, loading up the car, unpacking and re-arranging everything, meeting strangers, losing old friends. This is our first house – I want it to be our last. Let’s not buy a mortgage we can’t afford!”

     A ford is another car. Not everybody owns a Kaiser. Another name for German is hun… hon… Some can only afford a ford; a ford, ford…

     “I don’t care…” air rushing… “You don’t even know how much the raise will be, Bill!”

     Bill money needed; bread kneaded; billboard; board, bored… bored with the creek at the ford, cross the creek on a board? No board aboard… back into the seat creak.

     Big-as-my-head hand – wading across air rushing – shaking my shoulder.

     “C’mon, son – wake up; let’s check out what could be your new home!”

     Air rushing now only memory; moments ago in the closet echo. Which came first – the memory? the echo? Check too money; check, check…

     Climb out of the car. Shake my head, blink. Check the surroundings. Overhead, under the sun, a bird in a tree in the parking strip twitters.

     Kaiser no longer moving. Kaiser parked. Again. Kaiser dead. Still.     

Willie Smith     

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