ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


"Strawberry Sorbet", by Michael Tilley


Descending scarred and lusterless marble steps, past humming light fixtures and ancient cobwebs, through air thick with the smell of Alma Jackson’s (# 3E) spicy chicken soup, Howard reached the ground floor of the four-story walk-up where, for thirty-nine years now, he’d lived a rent-controlled existence he intended to ride into the grave.  Stooping, unconsciously groaning, he squinted beneath a radiator propped on moldy melded pennies, inspecting the glue trap tucked there the day before.  Finding it clear, he proceeded, and after pausing again in the cramped vestibule to check the contents of his mailbox (nothing there, either), pulled open the wrought-iron front door and stepped onto the avenue. 

Storm-stripped autumn leaves floated in breeze-rippled puddles; water-beaded cars whooshed by on the wet asphalt; little patches of blue peeked through drifting gray clouds.  Shoulders rising, nostrils flaring, Howard inhaled deeply, enjoying the brisk air, the sense of liberation after being homebound all morning.  Then, resolving to put the last few unpleasant hours totally out of his mind, at least for a while, he set off for the bus stop three blocks north on the other side of the avenue, ambling, tapping the pavement with the ferrule of his furled umbrella, alert to the danger of uneven sidewalk and the rain-slicked ground.

Howard Blaney was seventy-five, a high school guidance counselor retired almost a decade.  Tallish and trim, with a mostly full head of snow white hair and, as always, a flawlessly clean-shaven face, he wore slate-colored hiking shoes, forest green corduroys and, under his navy blue rain jacket, a burgundy crewneck sweater over a powder blue button-down shirt.  A rolled section of The New York Times poked from a back pocket.  As it was approaching noon on a Tuesday, he was on his way to see the prostitute with whom he had a standing weekly appointment.



Halfway down the block, lolling splay-legged on a bench with a stack of warped magazines at his side, was the pitiable Homeless Jim, who, among assorted other afflictions, had only one eye.  Though a frayed and filthy patch typically concealed the full grimness of this fact, there occasionally were exceptions—and today was one of them.  As Jim scratched absently at his blotchy cheek, spasmodically wrinkling his swollen nose, the red-rimmed, cavernous hole in his head sat on flagrant display.  It was an image the grotesqueness of which had sent many a child running.  

Howard wondered at Jim’s periodic forays into public sans patch.  Were they expressions of rage, acts of vengeance against the world that’d treated him cruelly?  Perhaps psychotherapeutic in nature, the refusal to hide his disfigurement meant to help conquer its accompanying shame?  Could the explanation be straightforwardly medical, the hollow socket requiring open airings from time to time?  Or was it possible, given Jim’s predilections, that now and then he simply forgot to strap on the patch, maybe even misplaced it in a drunken stupor? (Some years earlier Howard had attended a wedding from which one invitee, a prodigious drinker, was absent due to his dentures’ disappearance during a bender the night before.)

Passing, Howard turned his head in Jim’s direction, careful to keep his eyes unfocused.

“Hey there, Jim.”  

Slowly, impassively, the man nodded.

He was a reminder, this vagabond, of the neighborhood as it used to be: seedy, dirty, a place that for a long time people were puzzled by Howard’s choice to live in.  (Why couldn’t they ever get it through their head, for God’s sake, that you don’t throw away deals like the one he had on the apartment?)  Ironically, though, it wasn’t until the area had truly hit prosperity, after years of gradual improvement, that Jim suddenly turned up there.  Probably that prosperity attracted him, made these streets seem promising terrain, an environment where he might have a shot to get by.  Seven or eight years ago, that was.       

About the same time, incidentally, Howard first paid for sex.



 Though by that point already well into his sixties, he remained urge-filled, need-stirred, carnally vital.  As things stood, however, his sexual prospects looked bleak—indeed nonexistent.  He recalled Dr. Blash’s assessment that he’d likely “be around awhile.”  What did that mean?  How long was awhile?  Checking his desires for weeks or months could be endured, but doing so for the balance of his life seemed like death. 

Also, there was this: the obvious interconnection between the physical and the mental—the fact that one strongly affected the other.  And ceaseless chastity must be wholly unconducive, it seemed clear, to sustaining the mindset he needed to plow on and meet responsibilities.  A crucial consideration.  He didn’t exist in a vacuum, after all.

To pursue physical gratification was, in the end, a decision quickly and easily made.  Whereupon Howard shifted to the question of execution.  His paths to a sexual outlet being severely limited by practical impediments, engaging a prostitute soon emerged as the most viable option.  Once, and not even very long ago, the idea alone would have steeped him in shame, self-loathing.  But no more.  At his age, in his circumstances, concessions had to be made.

A friend with a friend who’d been in the same boat got him a lead.  A trial liaison was arranged.  Pleasant and discreet, mid-forties and attractive, “Jane” proved exactly as advertised.  Satisfied, at the close of the encounter Howard booked himself, on an open-ended basis, into the Tuesday at noon time slot he held to the present day.

To adapt Howard’s great favorite Dylan, things had changed.  His robust libido of several years prior, if not altogether evaporated, had undergone radical diminution.  Most Tuesdays the thought of fleshly relations aroused in him a feeling of “take it or leave it,” with a pronounced lean to the latter, and it was only pride that pushed him into action.  Moreover, for even these perfunctory exertions he required the support of both a strictly observed dietary regimen and various pharmaceuticals, a fortifying combination without which, frankly, he now seriously doubted his capacities.  In short, copulation had become a tedious obligation, and one he was barely up to fulfilling.

Why, then, did Howard keep up with his assignations, never missing a Tuesday? 

One factor was simple inertia: they were part of his routine.  The second, contradictory reason was that they provided a brief respite from the killing repetition in which he was sunk. 



Stopped in his tracks at the first corner by streaming traffic, Howard turned left and crossed the avenue, then caught the light change so perfectly that he was able, without breaking stride, to immediately swing back right and keep moving.  It wasn’t long before he passed the upscale fish market that’d been open a couple years.  If Jim represented the neighborhood’s scruffy past, in this establishment Howard perceived, from a certain standpoint, the perfect synthesis of that past and the golden present.  Founded on the principle of making a profit via the promotion of sustainable fishing, and doing business at accordingly obscene prices, its interior was a model high-end commercial space—airy and pristine; all shiny stainless steel and gleaming white subway tile; with an iPad register on a butcher block checkout table and, in the window, a trio of elegant orchids—and in this way emblematic of the area’s current fortunes.  And yet walking by this spotless, fastidiously decorated shop, one commonly scented—in a pungent evocation of the bygone dirty days, when a trip along the avenue regularly sent hand flying over nose—an aggressive fish rot odor emanating from its piled curbside garbage, or, even with the trash already hauled away, lingering in the air.  An interesting juxtaposition, Howard felt—and surprising, too, in that it was permitted to exist at all.  Indeed, so conspicuously at odds with the fish market’s “brand” was the stench, which today blew especially fetid, that exposing the purchasing public to it struck him as bizarrely self-defeating.  Surely basic salesmanship demanded a workaround be found! 

Truthfully, offensive as it was, the smell didn’t put Howard off as a consumer; what else could you expect from a fish store’s garbage!  He knew a guy, however, a tax accountant, Japanese, very particular about his seafood, who wouldn’t set foot in the place because of it.

Clearing the miasma, he strolled onward along the drying sidewalk, kicking aside a discarded juice box, trying to think of a line from a song, barking “Asshole!” at a bespandexed bicyclist who, streaking up from the rear, buzzed him close enough to put a breeze on his cheek (and who in response to which bark, zooming away, shot his middle finger high in the air, and held it there, not looking back, until at the end of the block he curved smoothly out of sight around the corner).

Soon reaching that same corner, Howard peered down the side street along which the bicyclist had ridden off, but saw no sign of him.  As he stood shaking his head grimly, repeating “Asshole” under his breath, he heard his name.  He turned to find Leon Lustgarten, an ex-colleague from the block association executive board (Howard had thrown in the towel years ago, but Lustgarten, the former manager of a small repertory movie theater, was a lifer), walking his way with a baguette in one hand and a manila envelope in the other.  For the next few minutes they engaged in idle small talk, noteworthy solely for the fact that Howard was required to deploy, on being asked where he was going, his standard deception whenever hit with this question on a Tuesday morning: "Podiatrist.”

Only one person, the friend who’d given him a number to call, knew what Howard did each week—and three years ago Bob dropped dead on a Bermuda beach.



Arriving at the bus stop, Howard was faced with a dilemma: Should he stand, and simply bear the sharp pain suddenly knifing his hip?  Or try squeezing onto the available sliver of seat, half of which was rendered inaccessible by the laterally invasive bulk of a preposterously obese man who, listening to earbuds with a vacant expression, occupied the two-person bench’s adjoining slot?

With his hip throbbing increasingly intensely, Howard decided to give scrunching up a shot.

Thirty seconds later, he decided it wasn’t worth it.

Turning his body at an angle to gain, on the side nearest his encroaching neighbor, space enough to drive his umbrella, trekking pole-like, onto the cement, Howard, with the propulsive aid of both the umbrella and his armrest-clutching opposite hand, got back to his feet.  Simultaneously irked by the bench behemoth and, assuming his reason for rising was obvious, concerned for the man’s feelings, he glanced discreetly downward.  Whatever response Howard thought possible—annoyance? embarrassment? remorse?—it was not there.  The man remained utterly impassive, eyes fixed straight ahead, lost in his own world.  The only change in his posture was in his pale doughy hands, which now very subtly air drummed.

Stepping left, Howard leaned against the bus stop shelter’s tempered glass wall, marred at ear level by a graffitied vulgarity.  Sitting, he’d made a passing attempt at reading (though distracted by the claustrophobic circumstances, his unfocused eyes hadn’t processed a single word), but now his newspaper stayed in the back pocket to which it’d been returned.  Massaging his hip, he gazed across the avenue.  Immediately he was confronted, in a storefront window, by his reflection.  He looked old.  Not exactly news, of course, but today the reality seemed starker than usual.  It was depressing—and especially so because it was Tuesday.  While he took for granted his septuagenarian appearance’s inability to spark the faintest carnal attraction during his weekly trysts, he liked to believe it was at least sufficient—given he retained most of his hair; was conscientious about grooming; had thus far been spared major physical diminution; and was not yet totally saggy-fleshed—to mitigate feelings of repulsion.  What he saw across the way, though, suggested this notion was a fantasy.  

He could do nothing about the pangs of humiliation flashing through him; they’d simply need to be tolerated until, inevitably, they faded away.  As for the guilt (how distasteful to be intimate with him!), it helped to remember that his partner was compensated for her suffering.

At which point Howard, with a mental shrug and sigh, shifted his attention from his reflection to the storefront where it was visible—as of three months ago, an organic toy and candle shop.  Preceding this new tenant’s grand opening, which featured a clown, a fiddler and a tallow rendering demo by an urban back-to-the-lander dressed like a young Ali MacGraw, was an elaborate renovation running half a year.  Before that, the space had been occupied by…actually, Howard couldn’t recall.  Whatever it was, though, it hadn’t lasted long. 

And then there’d been Kim.

For a little over twenty years, starting in the era of danger and dereliction, Kim and her husband, Korean immigrants, ran out of the location J&K Top Fruit Corp, a no-frills place exuding a bazaar-type feel, with a staggering variety of produce heaped everywhere in motley bins and boxes, plus some battered shelving given over to the basics and big banks of murmuring refrigerators.  Owing to a firmer grasp of English and a significantly warmer disposition, Kim manned the register while her gruff older husband, wiry and brisk-moving, at the wholesale market each morning by 4:30, hauled crates, grunted orders at staff, and did numbers in the back.  From him Howard received the quiet respect accorded good customers; with her he enjoyed an easy rapport, a gossip-inflected chumminess, and usually lingered at the counter after paying to shoot the breeze awhile.

Then, the winter before last, Kim’s husband died unexpectedly.  It wasn’t until a couple weeks later, when Howard casually noted his recent absence, that glancing at a customer browsing cucumbers nearby, she lowered her voice to a whisper and acknowledged it.  Kim swore Howard to secrecy.  She was worried about certain rough business associates her husband knew how to handle, feared that without him around they’d exploit her, and so wanted to keep the news quiet for as long as possible: the story was that her husband was attending to a family matter back home. 

Outwardly solicitous, privately Howard dismissed Kim’s concerns.  The death, he assumed, had left her overwrought.  She was just paranoid, not thinking straight—and captive to the warped view of gender roles that flowed from her immersion in a patriarchal culture. 

Apparently, though, she’d had it exactly right: after keeping things going maybe six months longer, all the while getting more and more morose about “the bad people,” Kim gave up and shut her store’s doors.   

And now in its place was an organic toy and candle shop.  An organic toy and candle shop staffed today, as always, by the lissome young brunette in fashionable glasses and bright red lipstick, who through the window could be seen arranged in what Howard thought of as her eternal posture: torso folded forward over the reclaimed barn wood checkout counter, staring at an iPhone held hymnal-like before her face.  Standing across the avenue at the bus stop, dabbing his dampening nose with his handkerchief, Howard reflected on the fact that he’d never—not once—seen a customer inside the shop.  It was pathetic.  Obviously somebody was taking a bath on the place.  The situation couldn’t help but make one a little sad.

And what about the ever-idle salesclerk? he mused.  Swiping and scrolling in solitude, hour after hour, day after day, with that same slack-jawed, glassy-eyed expression, was she too a victim of this misbegotten venture, entitled by relentless tedium to her own share of pity?  Or was her blank, pixel-entranced visage not in fact a sign of abject boredom, but on the contrary a contemporary portrait of rapture?

Either way, he expected the shop to be kaput any day now.  Only to be replaced, of course, by something with the same sensibility and target audience.  Certainly nothing like an ordinary fruit store, thought Howard, watching the bus swing into sight.  No more of that around here.    



Exiting at the rear of the bus, Howard descended gingerly to the curb and, as was his Tuesday custom, went straight across the sidewalk into the little newsstand to buy mints.  Emerging, he popped one in his mouth, stuck the roll in his pocket, and then drew back his jacket sleeve to look at his watch, onto whose face a fat drop of water from the awning above promptly plopped.  His destination was three doors down.  He was thirteen minutes early.  He spent the entirety of those thirteen minutes right where he stood, munching mints and thinking.

At noon on the dot he pressed the buzzer.  Following a pause of fifteen or twenty seconds, long enough so that he was on the verge of ringing again, the intercom clicked.


“It’s Howard.”

The door buzzed.  He grabbed its handle, pushed into the vestibule and, as the buzzing continued, grasped the handle of a second door and stepped into the lobby.  It was a bright, clean smelling space, with fresh white walls, gleaming marble floors and a couple of large spotless mirrors that amplified the airy tone.  Though no fan of new construction, Howard had to admit it was a pretty nice building.  One of these days he wanted to get a look at the roof deck.

Crossing paths with a UPS man on the landing between the second and third floor, he deferentially stepped aside, partly averting his face.

On his way up the last flight of stairs to the fourth floor, he smoothed his eyebrows, checked his fly, ran his tongue all along his teeth, upper and lower, front-side and back-side, clearing away any residual mint bits.  Reaching the top step and turning right, he found, per usual, the door already open. 

From the threshold he was greeted in the customary fashion: a sighing, kittenish “Hiiiiiiiiii…” accompanied by a twinkly-eyed grin and a cutesy canting of the head.  He understood it was part of the experience, this flirty welcome, that he was only being given his money’s worth, but the show never failed to embarrass him, to make his face tighten and go hot.  Not his style to begin with, under the circumstances it frankly registered as obscene.

Had such mushiness marred the enterprise from start to finish, Howard would have needed to kill the arrangement—or at least complain.  Thankfully, however, not since their very first appointment, during which he saw himself being assessed and his hostess’ approach adjusted accordingly, so that by hour’s end she’d evolved a manner appropriate to his nature, had it ever extended beyond his hallway reception.  As such, Howard, reluctant to fool with what was, overall, a good thing, bore without comment the agony of those seconds as he advanced on her apartment. 

Still, he wondered: Knowing his personality, why did she bother with the gaga act at all?

The best Howard could manage, by way of explanation, was that expert prostitutes, dedicated to their craft, probably operated, like any serious professional, according to certain bedrock principles, subscribed to certain doctrines.  And perhaps she belonged to the Fawning Greeting School, which held a sugary salutation to be absolutely essential, no matter the client, to a top-quality encounter.  She was only following—what’d the coaches call it these days?—“the process.”  And heck (as the coaches also said), what reason had he given her not to stick with her process?  After all, he never missed a Tuesday. 

In any event, now coming in the door after standing his umbrella outside against its frame, it was as if a switch had been flipped, a temperament transplanted, Howard being met not with a sloppy smooch or an ardent embrace, as might have seemed inevitable a moment before, but with a brisk backward step that enabled contact-free ingress; with the coquettishly cocked cranium’s elevation to prim uprightness; with the broad smile’s contraction into its tight-lipped cousin; and with the baby doll voice’s replacement by a mature, level timbre.

“Getting nicer out?” asked “Tracy” in this sober tone.

She was his second Tuesday woman. 



The original, “Jane,” the one he was put onto by the now deceased Bob, had on a humid afternoon the previous summer, after five years of excellent service, informed Howard from out of the blue, as he laced his shoes at session’s close, that she needed to cut ties owing to certain “life changes.” 

Already well into his libidinal waning, the aspect of this announcement most noteworthy to Howard, in the moment, was its relevance not to himself but to her.  Because they’d observed from the start of their association, by mutual agreement, a strict ban on all but the most superficial personal talk, Jane’s reference to her existence beyond Tuesdays twelve-to-one, though vague, stood out as significant.  Sitting there on the edge of her bed, looking up at her looking down at him, the very fact of this remark, along with what he construed as the leading manner in which it was delivered, plus the sunniness Jane was radiating, suggested to Howard that, uncharacteristically, she would be very pleased if he pursued the matter.  So he did…and sure enough, she was. 

Giddiness unleashed, gaily twirling the sash of her fuchsia silk robe, gabbing to him as she would to a girlfriend over a shared salad, Jane, by this time in the ballpark of fifty, revealed she’d become involved with someone—very nice, divorced, did something or other in finance—and things were moving fast.   She didn’t want to think too far ahead, she’d just be setting herself up for disappointment, but she couldn’t help feeling this might be truly special.  She recognized, of course, that the relationship had no chance if she didn’t, as she put it, “close up my business.”  

What Howard really wanted to ask was how she’d met this man; in view of the rather unconventional circumstances, it seemed to him the obvious question.  Yet despite the presently prevailing candor and congeniality, he sensed this line of inquiry to be treacherous, with the potential to create awkwardness, to offend.  It’d be a shame, he thought, only half-listening as Jane yammered away, to part on bad terms.  He’d regret that.  No, it was best just to be happy for her and leave it at that.    

And so, shaking hands for the first time since meeting five years earlier, Jane and Howard said their goodbyes and exited each other’s lives.  Before he went, though, she gave him a scrap of paper with a scrawled name and number, saying, “If you liked me, you’ll like Tracy.”  Howard mouthed some chivalrous remarks pronouncing Jane nonpareil, then took hold of the doorknob and walked out.  He was three steps down the hallway when the door clicked shut behind him.

Out on the street, Howard slipped the paper into a tattery wallet slot, at the rear of a few old cards he never touched, and, if he didn’t quite forget it, then put it far at the back of his mind.  For the same reason he hadn’t much cared when Jane told him their dealings were done, he now felt no need to secure her replacement: sex just wasn’t a priority anymore.  Truth be told, for at least a year he’d been contemplating stopping all this anyway.  What was the point?  Why spend a pretty penny on something he could easily do without?  Actually, Jane had done him a favor.  

Three and a half days of his regular routine, overhung by the grim prospect of a lifetime without relief from it, brought forth the scrap of paper from his wallet. 

Detouring en route to the laundromat Saturday morning, Howard isolated himself in a buggy alley behind the supermarket and, clearing some phlegm from his throat, dialed Tracy.  He was pleasantly surprised to learn that despite the late date, his customary time slot was open that coming Tuesday—and on a long-term basis as well.   



“So,” said Howard, settling onto the couch after draping his jacket on a coat rack, “how do you like El Presidente?”

In the kitchen, Tracy’s clattering stopped abruptly.  Looking up, she stared out the pass- through with mouth agape, slowly shaking her head.

“So…so…so obnoxious.”  She shuddered.  “Ugh.”  And resuming her head shaking, she returned to her preparations.

As with Jane, a prohibition on dialogue of a personal nature obtained, necessitating alternate conversational material.  Given the American moment when they’d met, politics had immediately presented itself—at least to Howard, a rabid, obsessive anti-Trumpist—as an obvious option.  Later he acknowledged broaching the subject to be a mistake, risking as it did the exposure of an ideological divide that, for his part, would have been unforgivable.  Luckily, however, Tracy loathed POTUS almost as much as Howard did.  As a result, each and every Tuesday they spent time tormenting themselves about him.

“I can’t,” said Tracy, walking out of the kitchen wearing a pained expression, still shaking her head.  “I just can’t.  Please.  Enough.  It makes me crazy.”   

She handed Howard a dirty martini and, with her glass of red wine, arranged herself in an armchair across the room, near a window overlooking the avenue. 

“Cheers,” she said.

“Cheers,” said Howard, raising his glass.  “No more Trump talk.”  He took a sip.  Tracy’s martinis were very good.

It was a modestly sized, open space, the small sleek kitchen giving directly on to the white-walled living room where they now sat.  In matters of décor, Tracy adhered to a philosophy of radical minimalism.  Aside from a few pieces of angular furniture around a tiny glass coffee table, a Hokusai print series, two metal stools pulled up to the pass-through, and a potted cactus in a corner, the area was bare.  Occasionally, though not today, a vase of flowers turned up.  

To mark the conversation’s pivot in a new direction, Tracy inhaled deeply, hoisting her shoulders, and then, on the exhale, dropped them sharply and said, “So!”  She fixed Howard with her smile.  All at once he experienced a surge in the appearance anxiety that’d burbled since seeing his reflection at the bus stop.  Averting his eyes, he shot his drink to his lips.  As he followed it back down to its perch on his thigh, he noted with a pang the agedness of his hands.

“So…yes…” he said.  “Really terrible rain last night, wasn’t it?”

Whereupon they commenced an improbably lengthy colloquy on the overnight downpour—how loud it was, how long it lasted, how difficult it made it to sleep.  When they’d exhausted this topic utterly and completely, each filled the ensuing silence with another sip.  Returning his martini to his leg, Howard saw Tracy steal a glance at his glass.

“You’ll want to hear this,” she said suddenly, tapping the arm of her chair as the thought dawned on her. 

After pausing for a protracted, ear-splitting car honk, which was capped by a bellowed “Fuck youuuuuuuuuu!” on the street below, she proceeded to tell him about an acquaintance who, distracted by his phone on the sidewalk the other day, stumbled over a propped cellar hatch and fell down the open shaft.  As she related this horror story of the urban quotidian, the light from the window fell square upon her face, so that every shallow wrinkle and incipient fold stood out.  She was forty-five or so, Howard guessed, broadening but sturdy-bodied, clearly an exerciser, with expensive-looking hair and a natty style of dress.  Once he’d found a toy buried in a couch crease; this, along with a perpetually locked door down the hall, led him to wonder if she had a child.

“Anyway, he’s okay,” said Tracy.  “Broken rib, broken wrist, sore all over—but at least he’s not dead.”


“You’re not kidding.”

Howard looked out the window.  Across the way, beneath a sky now cloudless save a few scattered white wisps, a woman wearing a baseball cap was puttering around a roof garden. 

“It must happen more than you’d think,” he mused, sipping.  Then he took another sip.

Turning back, again he caught Tracy peeking at his drink.  Somehow her glass was nearly empty; just a second ago, it seemed, it was mostly full.

Howard absently patted his knee, then ran his palm slowly around it in a circle, raising from the corduroy a faint brushy sound.  He wanted just to sit there.

When Tracy stirred, though, wiggling her back and stretching her neck, and rapped a nail on the side of her glass, dutifully Howard gulped the last of his martini.

He leaned forward and set the glass on the coffee table, leaned back and put his eyes on the floor.  At the edge of his vision were Tracy’s crossed legs.  He heard himself breathe in and out three times.  Then he saw the dangling leg unhook itself from the other.

Howard looked up. 

Above him she stood with eyebrows arched.    

“Shall we?”



He stepped off the bus into the sidewalk bustle of a fully-fledged fine afternoon.  Homeward up the avenue he hurried in golden light which gave no pleasure, head down, brow furrowed, gnawing his lower lip.  Twice his name was called; twice he heard nothing.  Swerving into the supermarket for a quart of strawberry sorbet, in under a minute he was back outside and on his way.  

He had his key ready from half a block out.  Drawing up to the building, Howard jiggled it in the finicky lock and pushed into the vestibule.  Behind him the door clunked shut, muffling the high chatter of a phalanx of stroller-pushers.  He wiped his feet on the doormat, once more smelled his neighbor’s chicken soup.  At the foot of the staircase, he briefly crouched: still nothing on the mousetrap.      

Reaching the fourth floor a little winded, a little jelly-legged, he paused a moment, leaning on the point of his umbrella, which it occurred to him he hadn’t needed.  Then he went into apartment 4B.


“It’s just me, honey,” said Howard.

“Hi, Dad.” 

Mary, crocheting in a high-backed chair by the open window, set her yarn and hook in her lap and felt along the sill for the remote.  Locating it, she then felt over its face for the right button to switch off the music—the bouncy pop he found it bizarre for a grown woman to be crazy about—coming from across the room.    

“Everything okay?” said Howard, hanging up his jacket and placing his shoes by the door.

“Everything’s fine.”

Mary turned her head so that she faced the window more directly.

“Is it nice out?” she said.  “It seems like it might’ve gotten nice.  Is it?”

“It’s much nicer now, yes.  The sun’s out and the sky got blue.  We’ll go walking later, okay?”

“Okay,” said Mary, taking up her yarn and hook again.  “Thanks.”

Howard put the sorbet in the freezer, then went into his bedroom to look in on his wife.

She too was in a chair by a window, her head lolled slightly to the side.  He couldn’t tell if she was sleeping.  Walking over to her, though, he saw she was awake.

“Hey,” he said, and patted her forearm.

Nancy’s head didn’t move, but her eyes swung his way and her lips made a thin smile.

Howard sat there a few minutes, on the edge of the bed, talking about whatever popped into his mind.  Then he excused himself to use the bathroom.

“Oh!” he said on his way out, coming back so she could see his face.  “I got us some strawberry sorbet for after dinner.”   


Michael Tilley's work has appeared in Rosebud Magazine, The Chaffin Journal, The Opiate, The Alembic, Speech Bubble Magazine, Milk Sugar and The New York Press. His story, "Peasant", appeared in Offcourse #70. He lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife and two children.

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