Jeff Friedman

Shakedown, Sleeping Mother and The Touch
November 18, 2020 Friedman Jeff

On Main Street, two cops stop me in front of the tire store. One is big and burly and the other is lean and leathery. “You’re under arrest for theft,” the burly one says. Before I can respond, they lift and turn me upside down. Keys fall out. “Can’t arrest a man for a ring of keys,” I say. Not satisfied, they shake me until 20 silver dollars drop out, spinning and rolling on the asphalt. “My inheritance,” I say. Then a set of delicate porcelain teacups cracks on the pavement and dozens of diamonds, rubies, and emeralds, not to mention a few moonstones and amethysts, roll into the street. “They’re not mine,” I say. “I don’t know how they got there.” “Shake him some more,” the burly cop says. Now two exotic jungle birds fly out almost hitting the wiry cop in the face. “How did you get these in your pocket?—they’re huge,” the lean one asks, but I’m not talking. A few feathers drift down, clinging to their shoes. When they shake me this time, two wrinkled Armani suits tumble out, and then a saxophone and clarinet clatter on the pavement. Next, out comes a set of Nokian all-weather tires. “We’ve got you,” they say. “You stole the missing tires.” “I didn’t steal them,” I say. “They came with my jeans.” Still, they decide to shake me again, but now a wind blows out of my pockets. And handfuls of salt fly into their eyes.
Sleeping Mother
One night at dinner, mother passed out at the table while holding her fork. The fork dropped to the floor with some greens on it. We got up, but father held out his hand to stop us. “Let her sleep,” he said. Though she snored and took great gulps of breath, eventually slipping from her chair, we continued to eat our dinner. When father finished his meal, we helped him get her to bed. “I’ll take care of the rest,” he said. We cleaned up the kitchen and went back to our room. The next day, father hushed us. “She’s still sleeping,” he said. For weeks the house was silent.
During the day, my father drove to work, and we took the bus to school. At night, we gathered in the bedroom, each of us kissing her. “Call the doctor,” we said. “She wouldn’t want that,” father answered. “When it’s time, she’ll wake up.” She looked so sweet beneath the covers, smiling after each kiss, her anger gone—her face bright and smooth as if she had shed years in her sleep.
The Touch
Everything Midas touched turned to gold, but everything I touch, except myself, disappears. He wished for his own curse, for gold over everything else, but I simply wanted to touch others and feel their skin, their bones, their pulse. I wanted to breathe them in, to know them inside me, but each person I touched vanished before I could feel anything. And each thing I touched—each dish, each chair, each counter—disappeared also as if it never existed. Where there was a couch, there is only the memory of a couch. Where there was a lamp, there is only darkness. I am surrounded by holes. And all my people are gone, memories also. Touching others once brought me pleasure, but now I touch no one, and no one disappears.

JEFF FRIEDMAN has published nine collections of poetry and prose, including The Marksman (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2020), Floating Tales (Plume Editions/Madhat Press, 2017), and most recently The House of Grana Padano (Pelekinesis, April 2022), cowritten with Meg Pokrass. Friedman’s poems, mini tales and translations have appeared in American Poetry ReviewPoetry, New England Review, Poetry International, Cast-Iron Aeroplanes That Can Actually Fly: Commentaries from 80 American Poets on their Prose Poetry, Flash Fiction Funny, Flash Nonfiction Funny, Fiction International, Plume, Dreaming Awake: New Contemporary Prose Poetry from the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom and The New Republic, and Best Microfiction 2021 and 2022. He has received an NEA Literature Translation Fellowship and numerous other awards and prizes.