Congratulations to our three Flash Memoir Winners:
Tied for Second Place:
Karen Arbogast & Donna Landi
Suggestion: Enjoy these memoirs. Share them with your friends and writing peers. If you write flash fiction, enter our current contest. Information is on the home page
A MIRACLE OF LIGHT
By Marni Hochman
I was hoping for a white Chanukah for these girls who had never seen snow, but only a few lazy flakes drifted through the dull sky. So typically dreary, I thought as I plodded into the Jewish Community Center where the newly-arrived exchange students waited for their host families. No matter, our three Israeli teenagers shrieked and danced around, picking bright white flecks out of one another’s dark curls and eyelashes. They stuck out their tongues to catch the frozen crystals in their wide open mouths like baby birds.
As I drove home they gazed out the windows and it wasn’t long before cries erupted from the back seat.
“A church!” Yuval exclaimed.
“There’s another one!” Keren called out.
“They all look so different,” Ariela noted as we passed the fourth or fifth.
It had never occurred to me how many churches I passed every day: white, steepled traditional; square, utilitarian brick; and curvy, multi-windowed modern. The girls screeched and squawked as we passed a school bus and overhead traffic lights, a Walmart and Christmas lawn ornaments. A pair of warm brown eyes met mine in the rearview mirror and I smiled a rare winter smile.
At home they hopped from foot to foot as words tumbled out in a tangle of English and Hebrew with each new discovery: the bathtub, Solo plastic party cups, squirrels in the backyard. Everything suddenly so dazzling in these darkest, coldest Michigan days. While the sun set on their first day, we sat together to light the menorah candles. The flames reflected in the window pane and illuminated their joyful, observant faces. And I said the blessings for the small miracle of light that I knew would last much longer than the eight nights of Chanukah or the ten-day visit.
Marni Hochman is a freelance writer and ESL teacher. Her essays have appeared in Spent: Exposing Our Complicated Relationship with Shopping (Seal Press), and in the online magazine Role Reboot. She lives in Ypsilanti, Michigan with her husband and two children, and often an extra kid or three.
THE LADY WITH GRANDPA
By Donna Landi
One Saturday in early spring, my grandfather asked me to take him to the market. I couldn’t say no to the man who never turned down an invitation to my countless childhood tea parties where he sipped imaginary Earl Grey from a tiny plastic cup that disappeared in his over-sized hands. We had the relationship he once had with his daughter—my mother—until divorce forced her to choose sides, and she chose Grandma.
I parked my car in the market lot, and Grandpa checked his watch.
“I only need a couple of tomatoes,” he said.
“Just tomatoes, Grandpa?”
“Yes. Betty loves tomatoes.” He checked his watch again and hurried out of the car.
Grandpa raced ahead without answering.
“Who’s Betty?” I asked again when I caught up with my dapper grandfather dressed in khaki pants and a golf shirt the same color blue as his eyes—the eyes Grandma had said were bedroom eyes because she believed every woman who looked into them ended up in his bed.
“Betty’s my lady.” Grandpa winked and flashed a devilish grin before heading for the produce aisle.
Grandma had also said he had a lady for every season. Patty had been my favorite, and I cried when she wasn’t allowed to attend my kindergarten recital. I wore a seersucker sundress that day, and from the stage in the field behind the elementary school, I canvassed the audience and saw what would become the typical lineup for all our family events. Grandma in her special-event black pantsuit claimed the aisle seat because it offered an easy escape when she needed to pee. My mother, attached to Grandma’s hip, waved non-stop like a beauty queen in a parade. My dad was there one minute and gone the next because he made several trips to the car to listen to the game on the radio. Separated from the others by more than the empty seat beside him, Grandpa smiled from ear-to-ear, but we had a special bond, and I could tell he wasn’t happy.
Patty, the lady with Grandpa, waited outside the school yard gate. Looking like a movie star in large white sunglasses, she wore a yellow sleeveless shift, and the belt had a daisy on the buckle. A straw hat with a yellow gingham sash topped her shoulder-length brown hair.
After the recital, I ran through the crowd and past my family toward Patty, unaware that I was about to cross into enemy territory.
"We're over here," my mother called—still waving.
I ignored her and headed for Patty who squatted in the grass with her arms extended. The closer I got, the faster I ran. I sacrificed the last few steps and leaped into her arms, closed my eyes and inhaled her lemony scent. Grandpa joined us with his camera. Patty and I posed with our cheeks pressed together until my mother swooped in like a hawk claiming its prey.
"Let’s, go" she said. "Grandma's waiting."
Influenced by the chill in my mother’s stare, on command Patty released me from the warmth of her embrace. My mother pulled me away with a tight grip on my wrist, and I looked back over my shoulder at Grandpa and Patty who smiled and waved. Grandma with her scowl waited in the shade of the oversized oak, and I wondered why she wasn’t with Grandpa when grandparents were a pair like cookies and milk and peanut butter and jelly.
“I got the tomatoes.” Grandpa said. “Let’s go. Betty’s coming for lunch. I can’t be late.”
Grandpa had a way with woman, me included. I followed him to the car without buying the items I needed. We rode in silence until I pulled into his driveway.
“Betty’s a beautiful lady,” he said, with a gleam in his eye that I hadn’t seen for a while. “She sings like a canary.”
Thrilled that he found someone to share his golden years, I returned to the market. On the way home, I stopped at Grandpa’s hoping to get a glimpse of his new lady. I walked to the back of the house.
Through an open window, I heard Grandpa’s lighthearted banter and Dusty Springfield’s The Look of Love playing on the stereo. At the table, I saw two plates, two glasses, tomatoes, and Grandpa—the gracious host to an empty chair. My heart sank. I first blamed loneliness and then considered dementia until the woman in a negligee and stilettos entered the room.
Donna Landi, a corporate manager, has studied with the Institute for Children’s Literature and the Long Ridge Writer’s Group. Her work has appeared in The River Journal, Midlifecollage.com, Stageoflife.com and WOW! Women On Writing. She resides in Sleepy Hollow, New York—the village depicted in Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
ALL FOR NAUGHT
By Karen Arbogast
Karen Arbogast, at 6 with her grandmother, Rosina Schnieders about 6 months before Rosina died.
She couldn’t keep nothin’ down.
So she said every evening after supper in late September, 1953.
By Halloween when the grandchildren came, she was jaundiced and in bed more than she was up.
Worse this year than last, Grandpa noted.
Last year was when they removed her right breast for “tumors.”
“Tumors” in quotation marks because that was all she could tell the hospital clerk when she was last admitted, weeks before she died. The clerk noted: Right radical mastectomy for “tumors” August 1952.
Decades later my mother told me this was because they hadn’t told Grandma everything. After the first mastectomy they hadn’t mentioned the adenocarcinoma which had become stage IV breast cancer and metastasized to her lymph nodes.
Just that the surgeon had removed her “tumors.”
I don’t remember who called from the hospital the night she died. Just my mother sinking to the floor weeping that if the surgeon could have reached one more tumor, Grandma would have lived.
What I pictured was Grandma on an operating table, her belly slashed top-to-bottom; the surgeon standing over her, up to his elbows in blood and jaundiced-colored fat struggling to remove her last tumor – its tentacled roots so far up inside her that it couldn’t be extracted.
The next morning my mother didn’t get up at the usual time and my father didn’t go to work. He walked me to school and told my first grade teacher only that I would be absent on Friday and why.
Nothing about my mother sinking to the floor. Nothing about that one last tumor. Nothing about the surgeon operating while up to his elbows in blood and yellow fat. Nothing about the tentacled roots or how he pulled and pulled but how in the end it was all for naught.
Karen Arbogast is a fiction and essay writer who lives on Cincinnati's west side. Previously, she wrote history articles about her west side neighborhood for the weekly newspaper there. She is working on a flash fictionalized-memoir chapbook about her childhood and young adulthood in the 1950s.