Monday, December 19, 2011

Mirsky was working in his home office, writing ad copy for a housing brochure, and for the life of him couldn’t think of the word for the bump that went from the road surface to the sidewalk. Driveway. Divider. Edging. These words came flying back and forth into his head and he knew they were wrong, and he also knew that he had thought of the right word when he began to write the copy, but the harder he tried to think of it the farther from his grasp it slipped.

He felt the spasm of an anxiety attack. Mirsky was only fifty-five years old and this was another in a series of words that he’d been forgetting lately. About six months ago he noticed his wife, Elaine, was finishing his sentences for him. Mirsky had always been a fast thinker and a fairly rapid talker, so while he’d observed this behavior in other couples, it was a new experience for him. He laughed about it when it started with Elaine and even later when friends or co-workers began doing it to him too. No one thinks much of tossing a word into another’s sentence—it is a common phenomenon, and probably has been forever.

He remembered listening to a Bob and Ray bit called, The S.T.O.A.  The   S   l   o   w       T   a    l   k     e  r   s    o f     A   m    e  r    i     c    a.   In a piece Mirsky found hilarious, Ray was interviewed by Bob, and Bob, frustrated at Ray’s slow talking, continues trying to insert words to increase the pace. It doesn’t speed Ray up, and even after Bob says the slow-to-come word, Ray eventually says the same word when he gets around to it.

But at his age, when friends and relatives are talking about their parents’ dementia or Alzheimer’s, Mirsky has started to worry. Until this moment, with the sidewalk word, he hadn’t shared his thoughts with anyone. Putting his pen down, he reflected on what was happening, and why people were finishing his sentences. Mirsky thought that perhaps his voice trailed off, or he spoke slower as he came to the end of a sentence. Then he realized that he’d really and truly been having difficulty thinking of last words.

As Elaine walked by his office door and smiled at him, Mirsky waved her in. She had a great smile and used it often. “What do you call this part of the subdivision road?” he asked, pointing to the line on the plot plan. “The curb?” she asked without hesitation, as if he’d sprung a surprise quiz on her. “Why? Are you looking for another word for curb? Have you tried the thesaurus?”

She must have noticed the sad look on his face as he grabbed the pen and quickly wrote curb before forgetting it again. Elaine, his wife of almost thirty years, and proud that she was still able to fit into her prom gown, walked over and kissed the top of his head.

“I’m worried,” Mirsky said softly. “This isn’t funny anymore.”

“It never was,” she said.

“There’s something wrong.”

“You’re just overworked and tired,” she said, kissing his head again and throwing a little extra wiggle into her walk as she left the room. Mirsky knew her “follow me” wiggle when he saw it, so he quickly capped his pen, turned out the office light, and headed for the bedroom.

As he was walking by the kitchen, Mirsky saw a loaf of rye bread on the counter. He paused and tried to remember why he was standing outside the kitchen. Automatically his hand moved up and his thumb and forefinger massaged the creases between his eyes as if that would answer the question. How nice a salami sandwich would be, he thought, so he put together a dandy one with stone ground mustard, Muenster cheese, and a huge hunk of lettuce on that seeded rye. As he was opening a can of Coke, Elaine walked into the kitchen in her “take me” nightgown.

“What happened to you?” she asked.

“Bite?” Mirsky offered, holding out the sandwich.


Paul Beckman

Paul Beckman

Paul Beckman is a frequently published author of short stories and flash and micro fiction. He’s had two print collections and a novella published and several stories adapted as plays, and his work has been in several anthologies. He has been published in England, Australia, Germany, Canada, and New Zealand. He’s been a seven-time nominee for a Pushcart Prize. He earned his M.F.A. from Bennington College. Some publishing credits: Exquisite Corpse, Connecticut Review, Soundzine, 5 Trope, Playboy, Web del Sol, Long Story Short, The Scruffy Dog Review, Other Voices, Raleigh Review, Connotation Press, Microliterature, and The Molotov Cocktail. Stories upcoming in Abe’s Penny, Frostwriting, The Brooklyner, and The Boston Literary Review.

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In memory of Kurt Brown

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