I’ve always felt a need to be a fixer. When I was young, and my father an alcoholic, I went to the library and discovered that making meals with carbohydrates would lessen the desire to drink. I made lots of spaghetti. Huge bowls of mashed potatoes. Freshly baked cookies. Then he wouldn’t come home for supper. Later, I’d hear him stumble home late at night, almost morning, puking in the bathroom, cursing up the stairs as he stumbled to bed.
Finding apricot pits to cure Mom’s cancer required more work. When the pits arrived in the mail, I warned her she could only eat a few or she may die. “But I’m going to die anyway,” she said while taking a bite, then grabbing the water. “What’s worse? These apricot pits or my cancer?”
Giver-uppers always present a challenge to fixer-uppers.
As the neighborhood shifted with people moving in from who knows where, no longer just a street of Dutch folks heading off to church, one family across the street came from the hills in Kentucky, but unlike the hillbillies next door, their teenagers were hippies who enjoyed dropping acid. My mom enjoyed watching The Linkletter Show, so she knew what people were capable of when they took LSD, and she believed people were coming into our house at night to steal the few bucks we hid from each other here and there throughout the house. After Mom’s wedding ring turned up missing, she started shoving a bread knife into the door frame before heading to bed. A light sleeper and a perpetual insomniac, from behind a partially closed door, I did once watch the two sisters who were my age walk into the dining room and shake the spare change out of my dad’s dirty pant pockets that were lying over a chair. After they left, I returned to bed and figured our dad, who sometimes came home from poker games with wedding rings, must have taken our mother’s ring to pay off his debt. But there was no way I could tell my mother. And there was no way she was going to stop wedging that butter knife into the door frame before bed.
Adopt a Dog
When I was a college student living in Tucson, a young man tried breaking into my apartment. Sunday after Sunday, he arrived at my door late at night during winter break. The apartment was a converted garage attached to the home of a married couple who took their dog with them over the holiday. I’d grab the phone as I held the door shut. The police would come, see the footprints, and tell me I should have seen what happened to the last girl just blocks from my home. I could see this man’s face as he looked at mine, kicking the door, turning the knob, never leaving until he’d heard the police sirens. He was young, like me. Before another Sunday occurred, I moved into a house with roommates. While studying for a chemistry exam one night, I saw a man, a different young man who could have been any man I’d passed at Safeway, standing next to the door of my bedroom. It looked like he was carrying a weapon. I grabbed my bat, then the phone, and I hoped against hope he wouldn’t break the glass pane and force himself in. He jumped the fence when he heard the police arrive.
“Is this yours?” the officer asked, lifting the hatchet the man dropped before jumping the fence.
“Didn’t think so. You really need a dog.”
“And you were wearing these baggy sweatpants?” the other officer said, and laughed.
Diane Payne’s most recent publications and forthcoming include: Best of Microfiction2022, Quarterly West, Cutleaf, Miramachi Flash, Microlit Almanac, Spry Literary Magazine, Another Chicago Magazine, Whale Road Review, Fourth River, Pine Hills Review, Tiny Spoon, Ellipsis, Bending Genres, New York Times, Unlikely Stories, Hot Flash Fiction, The Blue Nib, anti-heroin chic, X-R-A-Y, Oyster Review, Novus, Notre Dame Review, Obra/Artiface, Reservoir, Southern Fugitives, Spry Literary Review, Watershed Review, Superstition Review, Windmill Review, Tishman Review, Whiskey Island, Quarterly, Lunch Ticket, Split Lip, The Offing, Elke: A little Journal, Punctuate, Outpost 19, Abandon Journal, McNeese Review, The Meadow, Burnt Pine, Story South, and Five to One.
Sherry Shahan watches the world and its people from afar; whether on the backstreets of Havana, a squat hotel room in Paris, or a bicycle in bustling Bogota. Her photography has appeared in magazines, newspapers, and literary journals. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and taught a creative writing course for UCLA for 10 years.