Nickeled-and-Dimed – Iris N. Schwartz

 

Brooklyn, New York; 1967

In the middle of the sitcom “Love on A Rooftop,” Lenore, eight, announced she had swallowed a nickel. Her voice was low, her words measured.

Imogene rushed over. “Are you sure?”

Her sister nodded.

Imogene paced the living room, muttered, “How could this happen?” Regarding her younger sister on the sofa still watching Judy Carne, the eleven-year-old again probed, “Are you sure?”

Lenore smiled, slightly.

“Why? On the one night Mother and Dad go out!” Suddenly Imogene was speaking with an emergency operator. “I don’t know how it happened!” and “She’s breathing fine.”

She hung up, shut the TV, glared at Lenore. “You better not be making this up!”

“I’m not.”

“Because if you are…”

The doorbell rang. Two lanky young men in police uniforms were at the door. They probably hadn’t spotted the mold on the mezuzah.

“Is this the household with the coin swallower?”

“Yes, yes, oh God,” the older sibling responded.

Blond Policeman sat down by the unsteady kitchen table. Brunet Policeman stood nearby in the living room, examining the family’s antique, glass-doored bookcase. He seemed rooted there. Would he be nesting soon?

“Can I get you coffee?” asked Imogene. “Gum?”

“No, we’re fine.”

Brunet finally walked into the kitchen. He and Blond questioned Lenore about how she’d swallowed a “Buffalo nickel,” which she “collected,” and was “examining in the dark.” She “didn’t want to bother her sister” by turning on a light. When the eight-year-old held the nickel high, it tumbled from her left thumb and forefinger into her open mouth.

Blond: “Any trouble breathing since the incident?”

“No.” Lenore spotted a humongous water bug by the table leg closest to Blond. Would he notice?

Brunet asked the older sister their parents’ whereabouts.

“Oh, God… they’re at a PTA meeting, and were planning to eat out. They haven’t been out in years, and…”

Brunet: “Well, we need a family member over eighteen to tell us whether she’ll stay here or go to the hospital…”

Lenore gulped. She hadn’t been to a hospital since her tonsillectomy. They hadn’t given her ice cream afterwards like they promised. Just watery Jello. She wouldn’t go! She tried to stomp on the water bug as it neared. It sped away.

Imogene decided their parents should be called and brought home.

Dad grumbled that this was the first time in three years they’d gone out, and now they were back. Early. Mother wore makeup. The sisters knew not to look her in the eyes, hers with mascara, theirs not.

Blond told Mother and Dad that Lenore could get her stomach pumped in a hospital, or the collectible coin would come out the next couple of days if she ate fibrous food and drank lots of water.

Brunet admired out loud the glass-doored bookcase. Was it for sale? Dad and Mother shook their heads, no.

The parents let nature take its course. They didn’t yell at or spank Imogene or Lenore. Mostly Dad grunted; Mother favored silence.

Two days later a dusky Buffalo nickel was affixed to orange contact paper, accompanied by Dad’s funny words. This was taped to the door leading to the basement. Anyone who visited could read it. It hung on that door for a year.

Lenore had dreams involving Blond and Brunet till early spring.

 

ins current cropped (1)Iris N. Schwartz is the author of more than forty works of fiction. Her literary fiction has been published in dozens of journals and anthologies, including 101 Words, The Flash Fiction Press, Gravel, and Jellyfish Review. Her poetry and creative nonfiction have been published widely, as well. Ms. Schwartz’s first short-short story collection, My Secret Life with Chris Noth: And Other Stories, is scheduled to be published by Poets Wear Prada in Autumn 2017.

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Darjeeling – Sudha Balagopal

 

The voice on the scratchy microphone announces a weather-related train delay. Rubbing cold hands, Jon makes his way to the station’s cafeteria. A petite young woman with high cheekbones sits at a table by the window; her hodgepodge bags lie strewn.

“May I?” he points to the vacant chair.

When she nods, he settles down, orders Darjeeling tea —fitting for Northeastern India. Despite grimy windows, the snow-capped Himalayas are breathtaking, clouds bobbing around majestic peaks.

“I’m Jon.” He rests his elbows on the table. “You’re from here?”

She resettles the woolen shawl over her shoulders. “I’m… Saya.” She gestures toward the mountains, says, “I’m from there,” in accented English.

“Lucky.”

She shrugs.

Tea arrives; he removes the cozy, pours himself a cup.

“I suppose your train’s delayed too? On your way home?” he asks.

“No.”

The tea is delicate, fragrant. She’s prickly.

“I’m heading further north.” He smiles, attempts humor. “Perhaps I’ll find Shangri-La.”

“Good luck.” She frowns. “You won’t have cell phones there, or internet. No movies or restaurants.”

She doesn’t like her mountain home?

He watches as she gathers her belongings and leaves the cafeteria.

***

Later, he spots her huddled against cutting wind, peering at the tracks on the opposite side of the platform. No trains on either side. More raspy words emerge from the microphone.

He pulls the hoodie over his head, approaches her.

“Hello, again!” He intends to inquire about his train.

She doesn’t turn around to look at him.

The wind swirls her words, attempts to take them. He thinks she says, “Go away!”

“Where?” He tries humor again.

“What?”

“I want to find out about this train delay. Please understand I’ve come a long way to see the Himalayas.”

“What you imagine isn’t… I can tell you my mountain village is closed, small, suffocating. The sameness…” She’s bitter; her nostrils quiver.

“I shouldn’t look for lost paradise?” He hopes his smile is disarming.

“You and your Shangri-La!” She turns to look at him, her cheeks red.

“What’s wrong with wanting to find it?” He pulls on gloves, drops the smile.

She glares at him. “It’s not real!”

Another incoherent announcement comes through the system. He tilts his head and closes his eyes to make sense of it.

When he opens them, she’s slipped away in her noiseless manner.

***

He walks into the station manager’s office. They tell him all trains, up and down, are canceled until tomorrow. He must find lodgings for the night.

A commotion as an older, heavy-set man bursts in. “Saya!” he yells, the single word wrapped in menace. Jon doesn’t understand the rest.

While officials attempt to calm the man, Jon’s eyes scour the platforms.

The sun weakens and heavy clouds gather. Soon, the mountains are obscured. Along with Saya, Shangri-La is lost in the horizon.

 

Author2.1Sudha Balagopal’s recent short fiction has appeared in Foliate Oak, Peacock Journal, Right Hand Pointing and Jellyfish Review among other journals. She is the author of a novel, A New Dawn, and two short story collections, There are Seven Notes and Missing and Other Stories. Read more at www.sudhabalagopal.com.