Two Original Short Stories To see the Short Story Group page, click here.
The Woman in Black Helen Cohen
The autumn day was fresh and unusually clear, a great day to walk. I strode up Fifth Avenue, shouldering my way through the usual throngs of tourists from all over the world including Japanese visitors ogling the tall buildings, Scandinavian students here for an adventure, and housewives from Long Island and Connecticut in the City for a day of shopping and theater matinees. Among the tourists were businessmen and women carrying their fat briefcases, city-wise enough to avoid the bicycle messengers who sped in between the cars and occasionally onto the sidewalks, and souvenir-hawkers who lined the edges of the sidewalks sharing space with the odd hotdog- or hot-pretzel cart. I kept my eye out for pickpockets and tried to avoid unruly cabs at the corners. Half a block away from Henri Bendel I saw her.
The woman wore expensive black. Her black leather boots were fashionably tall and high, tucked into which were skinny black pants riding low on her fashionably thin hips. The black belt holding them up was decorated with a wide bejeweled buckle, her only jewelry except for the ring on her left hand. Tucked into the pants, rising to cover her torso and arms was a black sweater, the front of which was covered with a sheet of suede like a breastplate of armor protecting her thin chest. Her black hair – on closer inspection probably dyed – was pinned up on the sides. As I passed her I could see she wore extensions to plump up her thinning hair. Her pale face was made up with red lipstick and black eye makeup to scare a Goth. “Interesting”, I thought. “Trying to look youthful to keep her wealthy husband interested, or trying to fit into the crowd?” (The fashion X-rays, that crowd.)
She had strolled out the door of the shop, carrying only the small purse over her shoulder, black of course. She looked right at me and gave a small smile as she passed by. She walked to the corner, looked around, and turned onto the side street, quickly getting lost in the crowed. By the time I looked again she was gone.
The evening news reported a mid-day theft at Henri Bendel. Despite their security precautions several thousand dollars worth of jewelry had gone missing.
REVISTA by Len Sobel
From the time she left the canyons of Manhattan for the rolling hills of New Jersey, my mother kept every copy of the New Yorker magazine, planning, upon retirement, to glean each grain of wisdom and art contained in those fallow pages. She had moved from the city to the suburbs to raise her family in a more bucolic and less hostile environment. Good schools, less crime, fresh air.
Rows upon rows of the New Yorker crowded the bookshelves. Subterranean storage was arranged in the basement of our suburban home. To protect them from water that periodically accumulated though seepage, the magazines were elevated on racks, hung from the ceiling, where they remained, suspended in time, forty years. It was a futile endeavor, as humidity, winter cold, and summer heat gradually withered the fragile paper. Even stone temples give way to desert or jungle. The dead are not watching the clock.
Cancer struck her ... three to six months to live ... radiation or chemo ... no thank you. Morphine ... yes, please.
Pain began to edit her discourse, but we managed to observe Passover once more. It had always been a time of renewal for our family, celebrating the freeing of Israel from Egyptian bondage, marked by the Seder, a meal that proceeds in a proscribed manner, in which we relate the story of the Exodus. None of us were in our usual holiday high spirits. Conversation was curt, tone of voice edgy, mood impatient. Her final words I remember, proclaimed at her Last Supper:
-- I don't want anyone to argue, you are all adults. I expect you to behave yourselves accordingly. I don't need the aggravation. Thank you.
Addendum to obit: Manner of death, cancer. Manner in life, courtly.
After mother died, the question arose -- what to do with the New Yorkers? In Jewish tradition, prayer books, too old and worn to be useful, yet still too precious to be tossed into the trash, are placed on top of the coffin and buried with the deceased, so that prayers may accompany them to heaven. By sheer volume and number, it would have been impractical to inter them. We considered cremation, of the magazines, not my mother, but that was too much dead metaphor. In the end, she had only one real regret: that she had not written more words of her own. The magazines stayed in the basement.
My father could never bring himself to dispose of the New Yorkers. The magazines remained on the shelves until he died of complications related to Alzheimer's, three years later, when we shoveled their remains into a dumpster. His equally epic collection of National Geographic's met the same fate, likely decomposing somewhere in the New Jersey Meadowlands. Mom and dad are lying next to each other, Beth Israel Cemetery, also in Jersey. Her heart resides in Manhattan. His is wandering overseas, somewhere, I don't remember.