By JEFF FRIEDMAN.
BREAK DOWN THE boxes that held the clothing and stuff them into the dumpster in the alley behind the shop. Break down the racks that held the sexy dresses, the leather coats, the French lingerie until they are just rods and wheels lying in a corner. Fold up the clothing neatly. Break down the counter, the shelves, and the cash register empty of cash. Break down the shadows that no longer hold voices. Break down the light that drops through the window like a message until it is just a scrap of light. Break down the dust that clings to the walls and counters that your mother attacks with a cloth and Windex. Break down the mannikins until they are disconnected limbs, head, and torso. Now there is only the memory of a memory, the striped cat leaping on the counter, its tail ticking back and forth, the nurses in white uniforms peeking in the windows of air to spot a skirt or blouse on sale, your mother’s voice coming back to you like the smells of a fresh cinnamon sweet roll and steaming black coffee, and the blaze of sun that makes it impossible to see.
WHEN I WAS young, I fell in love with a mime, who loved me back, but never actually touched me. She would deliver her love from a distance, moving her body sinuously as if she had no bones. Sometimes she would draw pictures of her love for me on a window that didn’t exist. She kissed the air and pointed at me. She tapped her heart with her hand and seemed to melt. She would reach out and mime tugging a rope to pull me toward her. But if I would actually walk toward her, she backed into a shadow and remained so still I wasn’t even sure she was in the room. “Why don’t we ever make love?” I asked. “We do make love,” she answered, speaking with her hands. Once, I watched her pantomime our lovemaking, playing both parts, herself and me. She was so good I could feel a shiver run through my body, so good I was almost happy.
KRONER HAD BEEN missing for days, but no one seemed to notice. No one asked about him in his bridge club or at his tai chi class. No server commented that he was not in his usual place at the café, eating a croissant and sipping tea. The police hadn’t put out a missing person’s bulletin, nor had they pinned leaflets with his face to bulletin boards all over town. His former lover no longer tried to reconcile their differences and move back in with him, so she didn’t notice that he was missing. Kroner’s sister, his remaining family member, lived far away and rarely spoke with him; as far as she knew, he was at home, doing what he always did. No one saw him hurry through the crowd as if he were late for an appointment or work. No one noticed the emptiness in his office or the moldy smell or the dust gathering on his desk. No one noticed that he hadn’t left his apartment or that he had. No one rang his doorbell to find out if something had happened to him or if he were lying on the floor, kicked in the chest by his heart. No one checked on him by phone, text or email to see if he was missing. Even Kroner didn’t notice he was missing. When he looked in the mirror, he didn’t know he was Kroner.
JEFF FRIEDMAN’s eighth book, The Marksman, was published in November 2020 by Carnegie Mellon University Press. His poems, mini-stories and translations have appeared in a wide variety of literary magazines and anthologies. He has received numerous awards and prizes including a National Endowment Literature Translation Fellowship in 2016, and two individual Artist Grants from New Hampshire Arts Council. Meg Pokrass and Friedman’s co-written collection of fabulist microfiction, The House of Grana Padano, will be published by Pelekinesis in April 2022.