What We Have Learned, What We Will Forget, What We Will Not Be Able to Forget

This is the seventh story in the online flash fiction series this summer. You can read the entire series and our flash fiction stories from previous years here.

We haven’t spoken in more than a decade, but you still notice when your father dies. It was COVID. He was young, sixty-four.

Will you still need me Will you still feed me

I am a thirty nine year old man. Divorced, childless, middle management of an insurance company. Empty, empty and empty. This is the tombstone. This is my name, rank, and serial number. This is the short story.

Nobody has touched me for a year.

I didn’t go to the funeral.

Why should I? He was an asshole. He was a maddened dry drunk for the first part of my life before becoming a drunk villain and then the typical birthday and vacation disappointment until he eventually became a mutilated but repentant AA-going Methodist.

His story was one of group therapy and salvation. I loved and hated him, but now I want to forget about him. If possible.

I would have forgiven him if he hadn’t tried to steal my dead mother’s inheritance from me.

“But you don’t need the money like I do,” said the sad man who was my birth father, and breathed these words through the rolled up car window. As it turned out, his last words were to me.

He said that more than a decade ago, just before I drove out of his swollen basement apartment.

I cried all the way home, but very little afterwards.

There are science fiction films in which a human is the last living human on earth.

The stars of these films are never really alone. Her glamorous exploits beckon to us, the audience.

During the quarantine, during the pandemic – George calls it the Blue Screen of Death – I was the last person on earth, except that I was really alone. No hidden audience.

And this despite the e-mails and the video conferences and the delivery men on scooters and the various uniformed battalions carrying their retail therapy doodads from overcrowded vans, and also despite the troubled melodramas and thrillers in the stream and also despite the two-dimensional pornography and the three-dimensional video games and, finally, despite the texting with George. . . .

Despite all of this, I was the last living person on earth during the Blue Screen of Death.

When the tendrils of human society pull away from you, so that you are no longer in the warmth of the trunk’s embrace, but also no longer caught in the meshes of its nets, you can go a little crazy.

I’ve heard hundreds of reports of near-death experiences on YouTube. I learned to make tiramisu from scratch. I’ve seen every episode of Law & Order and have the chart to prove it. (You should understand that this is hardly humanly possible.) My masturbation rituals are elaborate, regular, and uninspired. My spice collection is in perfect condition. My living room is a disaster area. Without planning it, I put my cat on a keto diet. I go for walks. I’ve never been a user before, but did you know you can have cannabis gummy bears delivered to your home? Also premixed Negronis.

I used to go for walks. George told me to have one every day. I’ve been doing this for a long time. Then I lost interest.

Hashtag blessed. There’s a pantry in my neighborhood. Every Tuesday there is a line of people around the block. Sometimes the Seamless or FreshDirect deliverers have to wiggle around them to get to my building.

I hear a neighbor say: These people are not even hungry. They just want this free shit!

Most of the management in my neighborhood speaks Spanish, but a colleague in another neighborhood reports that they are all Chinese.

Three months ago I discovered a good grill restaurant that delivers, so I have pulled pork sandwiches for lunch several times a week.

Whenever I see that line of hungry I think poor wanker.

But I would never say that out loud.

Pulled pork sandwiches with caramelized onions, spicy provolone and pickled jalapeños on a roll covered with sesame seeds. Side of coleslaw.

The person who told me my father had died was his sister, my aunt.

I was never close to her, but she was always fair to me and even gave me and my mother money on two important occasions. She said that my father hated computers for what I knew and that was why he wouldn’t zoom in to AA meetings. She said he found some to attend in person and would leave, but then he caught the virus. She said she didn’t know how he got infected.

Poor motherfucker, I thought, but different.

I’m writing to George about the sandwiches: they’re so good. I am addicted.

George is my therapist. I don’t have any friends so I had to buy one.

Three days ago a white man murdered eight people in Atlanta. Seven women. Six of them are Asians. I told George that I was so used to being invisible that I was shocked when I saw it make the front pages.

George writes: Now we have “our” mass shooting.

I am writing this on March 19, 2021.

George: It’s just a news cycle.

For months I have been able to cry openly while staring (through?) The window of my computer screen. No more self-confidence. It went away. Cry free because no one is here.

Silver lining.

A seventy-year-old girl in San Francisco whines after fending off her attacker.

I went to a vigil. The crowd was thin. There was a black woman. I thanked her in my mind. I haven’t participated in any protest or done anything for anyone other than a distracted vote or a selfish donation.

I’m a shitty citizen of a shitty country.

So do something about it, says George.

Empty, empty and empty.

George is not my therapist. He’s my second cousin and has to react more or less to my lyrics.

The plot of this short story is: A succession of identical days goes by. Accumulating them over a year allows a shift through time that is so subtle that we are not sure of change.

I have been vaccinated. HR sent an email saying the office will reopen. I could come back for personal service.

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