Tattered memories: My first language, now long faded. A fence, reassuringly high, around a garden where time slept. Day trips through virgin forests, gathering wild berries and mushrooms. Suddenly, columns of soldiers goose-stepping in lock-step like a well-oiled machine. A week-long Atlantic crossing. Asking where, asking why. Getting no answers.
Alex has faint memories of 1930s Czechoslovakia.
All is tranquil, sleekly efficient, sterile. I’d been visiting my old friend. Now I’m out on the perfectly manicured grounds, pausing on a bench to catch my breath before shuffling off to my car. Passing staffers chirp cheerful good-afternoons. They see gray hair and a cane and make an assumption.
Alex likes to spread his wings and soar.
I remember him when we were just kids. Giggly, noisy, nearly manic, and already world-renowned. He practiced and practiced, eight hours a day, and his violin sang and cried for him.
He died alone at 35. Some people whispered that he’d climbed onto his kitchen counter and dived off headfirst.
Alex knew Michael.
As she was leaving the office, she bade her coworkers farewell. “The end of days is coming at 12:27,” she reminded them, “and I’m stepping outside to witness the glory. I pray that one day we’ll meet again in a better place.”
Everyone was tactful when she returned at 1:00.
Alex believes that one person’s truth is another’s heresy.
The neighbors who’d once welcomed the Joneses with home-baked cookies are milling restively outside. The sheriff’s car stops briefly, then slowly pulls away, and the rampage begins.
Finally the mob disperses, leaving an uprooted sapling at the curb. Again the Joneses’ house looks like all the others on Pleasant Lane.
Alex has the only red car on his street.
You were the tomboy next door. We played children’s games: raced, wrestled, bickered. One day, suddenly, you were grown up. Poised, complicated, spellbinding.
You left for the city. Texted me that you were in love.
I suppose we’d known each other too long and too well ever to be lovers.
Alex’s story is what it is.
The newspapers and newscasts mostly report faceless statistics. But after the war, a letter came. Her brother had survived the blast, but their parents were dead.
“I’m staying with friends now,” he wrote. “And I still get tears in my eyes when I walk by what was once our home.”
Alex dedicates this story to his mother, who received such a letter many years ago.
He always played tough guy roles, flawed but sympathetic, and he was my idol when I was a teenager. So I’m out one day, wearing a dark turtleneck and tweed sports jacket just like Garfield’s.
This kid approaches, looks me up and down, and snarls, “Murderer!”
He made my day.
Alex Markovich has a good memory. He’s 80.
The rain beaded on the windshield and scattered the light from the full moon, mottling her face with dabs of gray like an impressionist painting.
I wanted to make love to her, but how could I? She is a work of art, a masterpiece to be venerated from a distance.
Alex Markovich gets his best story ideas in the middle of the night.
He revels in his mystic communion with wildlife.
Birds perch on his wrist and peck birdseed from his palm. A skunk visits his porch nightly to be petted. He hand-feeds squirrels, raccoons, rabbits, even deer.
Their trust in him is a blessing. He’s having rabbit stew tonight and venison tomorrow.
Alex Markovich lives in a suburb of New York with Jackie, his wife of 57 years and his toughest literary critic. His stories have appeared in 50-Word Stories, Blue Lake Review, Halfway Down the Stairs, Still Crazy, and other lit mags.