Alina Stefanescu was born in Romania and lives in Alabama with her partner and four small mammals. A Pushcart nominee, she is the author of ‘Objects In Vases’ (Anchor & Plume, March 2016), ‘Letters to Arthur’ (Beard of Bees, August 2016), and ‘Ipokimen’ (Anchor and Plume, November 2016). Her first fiction collection, ‘Every Mask I Tried On’, won the 2016 Brighthorse Books Prize. She can’t wait for you to read it. More online at www.alinastefanescu.com.

A Flash Fiction

By Alina Stefanescu

 

Please hold.

And so he did. He held and held as the minutes drained past. He listened to the discordant

electronic assemblage of Bach for six minutes before he pressed mute. He thought about the frog in the National Geographic article and marveled that such things might exist. He counted how many footsteps it took to walk across the width of the room. And then the length. He multiplied a total for area measured in footsteps.

Sir?

I’m here.

Thank you for holding. Our operators are very busy today. If you can hold for just a few minutes longer, someone will be with you shortly. I’ll hold.

He thought about Aerin. He had not drunk or gambled from greed. It was merely entertainment, a way to pass the time given social conventions. He had partaken to ensure those around him did not feel judged. Perhaps he’d enjoyed it but this pleasure was not its purpose— it was a side effect. Despite his reasoning, guilt blurred the room like streetlamps from a distant scene without glasses, a vague fog, not attached to him or any other person. A substance which drifted without settling. So there could be no blame.

He thought about Aerin and grew uneasy— the color of her eyes veering between brown and hazel. Was it his own fault that he needed a name for certain things in order to believe they existed? Eye color seemed a tawdry excuse for mistrust but there it was, holding.

He was holding and holding and holding. A holding pattern was sure to emerge. He thought about his mother— the memory of her sacrosanct as communion wafer. A thing one could consume without ever being filled. A dose administered at intervals. He thought about a ghost story by Ambrose Bierce for which he could remember neither plot not characters but a few lines stuck fast like a high-school anthem in his head: “But what mortal can come with a creature of his dream? The imagination creating the enemy is already vanquished; the combat’s result is the combat’s cause.”

He felt faint but he was still holding.

Hello?

Yes, I am here. Hello.

Sorry sir. We’re still holding.

He wasn’t sure if this meant the voice was holding as well. Had she been holding with him all along? Had they been holding together?

He increased the volume on his phone to detect the sound of her breath, evidence that he was not holding alone. No huff, no breath— only blank, expressionless silence. Unagitated silence.

He thought about being young and chewing on tree branches that tasted like licorice. You could chew on a branch for weeks and it never lost its flavor. You could suck on a branch and feel licorice as it infused ones saliva through the teeth. What happened to those branches? He couldn’t recall the bark of the tree or the tree itself. But the wood had been slightly yellow inside, a soft yellow which resembled the hue left by urine on white sheets. Was there a connection?

He stared at the dogwood tree outside the living room window, its long limbs writhing in the wind. He did not see how dogwoods could be considered graceful given this motion and yet he had never seen a painting in which a dogwood did not stand with the poise of a ballerina on stage. Art captured things as they stood but so much more could be gleaned from a body’s movement. How Aerin walked across a room on perched on the balls of her feet, as if anything might warrant a pirouette. Couldn’t help watching her. There was a sense of pre-circus excitement, an expectation which flew off her body like confetti.

He held for so long— how long had he been holding? He could have cooked a turkey during this time. He could have done something that needed doing, changed a lightbulb, repainted the mailbox.

He thought about Aerin’s face and her fear of looking mousy. He had never noticed the

pointy chin until she complained of appearing like a mouse. Being mousy. She wouldn’t wear the gray dress. There were subconscious associations. But his differed from hers. For example, he associated subcutaneous with the subconscious whereas Aerin said it felt rare, like a submarine. She heard blrp brlp sounds without vowels. Try as he might, he heard the vowels in the middle of the sound even when he read it aloud without the vowels themselves. The vowel sound persisted. It was always as if someone had said them.

Sir, thank you for holding.

Of course.

Our customer service representative, Paige Smith, will be assisting you today. We appreciate your patience.

Hello Paige.

Hi how are you doing?

Oh well all things considered I’m doing very well. Thank you. And yourself?

I’m great. Thank you for asking. Now let’s go right ahead and resolve your— Paige went silent. It took a few seconds to realize that the call had dropped and his connection had been lost. After all that waiting, a dropped call. An accident. He was no longer holding and this felt worse than not holding. He would be forced to call again. Required to wait again and in this waiting remained the ember of Aerin.

He could not tell Aerin about Trieste. He could not call Aerin even though she was probably waiting by the phone. His fingers pressed the one eight hundred number again.

He would hold while Aerin would wait. Eventually, an unfamiliar voice would help them.