from "Symptomatic"

 

You are a diagnostician, alert for symptoms of trouble: ridged fingernails, yellow eye-whites, swollen knuckles, broken capillaries. You are like an experienced triage nurse, categorizing levels of amissness. Nevertheless, you are still surprised to discover new kinds of damage.

Dating wasn’t like this twenty-five, thirty-five years ago. Then, almost everyone had the knees and teeth of their youth. Now stomach and esophageal linings have eroded; skin and hair have developed eccentricities. Parts have been excised. Bits mostly—unsightly benign bits and nasty cancerous and precancerous bits. Also, malfunctioning organs deemed by experts to be of no further use.

 

***

 

The usher blocks the entrance to theater #4. You and the woman stand with your candy and sodas waiting for him to relent.

“I had a tail when I was born,” she says.

 

“Really?” you reply. These are early days in your new dating life. You have not yet grown weary-slash-skeptical of such admissions: breakdowns, allergies, felonies, estranged children, ruined credit ratings.

 

“Sometimes when I’m sitting in a partner’s meeting I get a flash of remembering what it felt like. To have something there. It’s like the tail was more me than the rest of me. What would that have been like, I wonder, to be a human with a tail?”

 

You think that mostly it would be in the way—people don’t live in the trees. But you’re not sure if you’re supposed to go along with this.

 

She asks you to hold her Coke so she can use the restroom.

 

Her profile read: DTW GWF seeks GF, any race, for dating and…?

 

Why did you think any of this would be easy?

You appreciate how refreshingly still and quiet she is throughout the movie. She weeps at the end, but discreetly, and her tears quickly pass. However, once you’re seated at the café, she goes on and on about all the trees that are dying in her neighborhood and her doubtful investments. You berate yourself for your lack of empathy. She’s a troubled woman. The mores of the situation require that you listen with interest, yet your attention drifts like a dying helium balloon. At the back of the café, an espresso machine shrieks. An ice cube explodes in your water glass.

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Mini-book contains two flash fictions: "Do You Want to Hold the Baby?" and "Overqualified."

from "Symptomatic""

© 2020 by Valerie Vogrin 

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