Flash Fiction: First Lines from Frank O’Hara by Katherine D. Stutzman

cedar-tavern1

      1. (1950, recalled in a later decade)

Have you forgotten what we were like then, in those old days you’re talking about? I sit next to you and listen, while everyone sips their drinks, everyone smiles and laughs at your stories. You’re putting on a show—fine. You’ve always liked a show. New York, the dark little bars where we used to go, the music we heard there: sure, sure. I nod when you want me to. I can’t interrupt you, don’t want to interrupt you. You throw your head back, laugh with the light warm on your throat—I used to love it when you did that and I love it still. I watch you all night. But I listen too, and I know it wasn’t like that. Not only like that. Have you forgotten? We were broke; it made us mean. The city was dirty, cold, it didn’t like us. I sit next to you, waiting to hear the sound of how I remember those days and not hearing it. I sit next to you, believing that my memory is right, and yours wrong. But how to know for sure? Those dark bars aren’t there anymore. Perhaps I’m the one who has forgotten what we were like then.

      1. (1959, past midnight)

Ah nuts! It’s boring reading French newspapers when you don’t read French. Picking out a few familiar words amid the hash of accent marks. But there is nothing else to read in the waiting room of this French hospital, and nothing else to do but wait for you to be brought back to me. Nothing to do but wonder what is happening to you in that room with those French doctors. Can French doctors repair American you? Later, when we are remembering this (and we will be remembering it), I will tell you about the newspapers. And you will (yes, you will) laugh at me and say, “Make a note: always bring your own reading material to emergencies in Paris.”

      1. (1954, eight a.m.)

The eager note on my door said “Call me!” I recognized the handwriting of our friend John. He had news, of course; he always did. But I was letting myself in after three days away. I had been gone for three days and now I was home. There were pears in the blue bowl in the kitchen, the early light fell in a warm rectangle, and in the bedroom the sheets were rumpled, still warm from your sleep—I had missed you by minutes. I set my suitcase by the door and lay down in the warmth you had left behind. I didn’t call.

I saw John on the street a few days later. He said hello; he shook my hand. But his news had gone cold as the gray snow by the curb, and he never told me what it had been.

      1. (1963, August in New York)

The light presses down. It’s hot. It doesn’t seem to bother you, but it has always bothered me. Do you remember when we went to Morocco, the sun there? You dressed in white and walked ahead of me through empty streets. The heat made everything strange, made me wonder if you were real. But you couldn’t have seen yourself, in white, in the dusty streets; you cannot remember Morocco the way I do.

      1. (1956, on the way home)

Instant coffee with slightly sour cream—sure it’s not what I’d prefer. Who would? But I will drink it with you, here at this little table by the window at the airport. I’ll drink it because it’s warm, and it’s morning, and you’re here with me, and because we’re going home.  The world is not perfect—this trip has been difficult, the coffee is not very good—but sometimes it give us moments like this one, when we can sit, here in the middle of our lives, sipping our coffee with slightly sour cream and our stomachs will not thank us later—they’ll suffer for it as they would have when we were younger. But we’re older now than we were, and softer all over, here in this airport, and the hard days are behind us, somewhere hard days ahead, but not today.

Katherine D. Stutzman’s stories have appeared in Everyday Genius, Bound Off, and The Summerset Review, among other journals. Her book reviews can be found in Literary Mama, The Chattahoochee Review, and Pleiades. She currently lives, writes, and teaches in Philadelphia. Find her online at katherinedstutzman.com

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