by Walter M. Jackman © 2002

My father is sitting in a bistro in Hell watching me over the top of the latest edition of Paris Match. The paper is slightly charred around the edges. I sent it to him. It was easy; all I had to do was read it slowly then burn it. He received it immediately. He really belonged in the other place, but the director felt that heaven for Poppa was being an organizer and agitator in Hell. He had already organized most of the imps and half of the other familiars into a union strong enough to create big problems for the devil.

The old man never really bothers me, but I do get a sweaty feeling if I forget to send him his weekly edition of Paris Match. And of course, once in a while when I'm sleeping, I get an update on his union activities. Last night was a little strange; something kept bothering me all night. I woke up with an urge to visit my old neighborhood. I hadn't even thought about it in years. I barely knew how to get there, but I did remember the G train formerly called the GG.

I was way ahead on all my assignments so I took the day off and went to see what happened to Van Buren Street in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.

It was a crisp late summer day. I felt harried and hurried at the same time. I left the train at the Bedford-Nostrand stop and walked along Lafayette Avenue to Tompkins Park. It seemed the same only much prettier-the handball courts were in a different place and the high bar and parallels had disappeared. I sat on a bench and looked at an old and very large apartment house and felt the pleasure of thinking about nothing. A woman was also sitting on the bench, an attractive black lady of a certain age. She was staring at me.

She said, "What's wrong, David?

Your mind is going and you don't remember me?"

"Goddammit, Margaret, I haven't seen you in thirty years. Who the hell expected you to look this good?"

She began to laugh, and all of the memories returned. We were in elementary school, and a couple of other places when we were older and had an unholy passion for each other. When I came home from Nam, I looked for her but she had married and gone south. In the meantime, the vicious real estate blockbusters had gone to work and by upsetting the comfortable racial mix we had lived with for years, succeeded in promoting white flight out of this area and many other parts of Brooklyn. The entire neighborhood had gone through some sort of renaissance. Now it looked better than it ever did.

Margaret spoke to me while I was still in a daze. It took a moment for her words to sink in. "Do you remember your family's old five room railroad flat on Van Buren Street?"

"Of course."

"Well it's mine now. Would you like to see it?"

I nodded and we walked away. Occasionally I stopped to both admire the neighborhood and Margaret's rear end as she walked ahead.

When we walked into the apartment, I was surprised by all of the neat file cabinets, computers and desks in the living room. Margaret told me that she's an accountant and works out of the apartment. I kept staring at her and the heat in her eyes was equal to mine.

After the usual contemporary discussion of health habits, previous sex and protection, she tore me apart in her quilted bed. She took me to places all but forbidden to middle-aged men.

Later, after a quiet dinner of steak and salad, I told her I had to go home and change. She said, "I have clean underwear for you, you can sleep here." I was relieved because I didn't want to leave her. I didn't want to come back and find her gone again even if it wasn't logical. We spent some time catching up on previous marriages, divorces and children.

Margaret asked me about my father. I explained that he died and was in hell organizing the imps and other familiars into a union that deeply antagonized the hell out of the devil.v She took my hand, kissed it and said, "Why do I believe you?" "You know why. He loved you. My mother became frantic every time she discovered we had gone out. All my father said was follow your heart in English and especially in French."

She clung to me and for a little while we were 17 years old again, but this time she was crying and said, "I'm never, never letting you go again." I kissed the tears away from her eyes and stroked her hair. In the morning, I left early and went to my first assignment on the 96th floor at the World Trade Center. The air was beautiful and sweet on this lovely Tuesday morning in September.

x x x

Read more Flash Fiction? or Back to the Front Page?