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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 21: 1 Jan. 2024
Flash Fiction: 562 words
By Liz Rosen

Survival Skills


She picked up hitchhikers, often. The dirtier the better. She had sex with them, usually in the car, occasionally in a ditch next to the road, and left them there, dazed and unsure. She drove the car through the nearest car wash she could find, leaning against the stucco wall, watching the well-built Mexican men with their white cotton rags going over the interior of the car, wiping away the deed.

She went home to her husband, calling out cheerfully to him as she breezed through the door, breezed into the living room, now a hospital room, to kiss him on his now non-verbal lips.

She thought, This is how I will survive this, and went to puree the pork chop and carrots she’d bought.

Later, as she spooned the puree into her husband’s slack mouth, wiping his chin after every failed bite, it occurred to her, as it fleetingly did now and again, that she might not survive it; the sex wasn’t safe, in any way, but she had ceased to worry about its long-term consequences, so cocooned in the preview of her grief and loss was she. She had already decided that there could be worse things than following after this man before her, in whose eyes was still visible the adroit movement of his mind, and in whose face, if she happened to glance at him quickly, she could still see the vital man she had lost her virginity to at a college fraternity party, the one she loved to accompany on his golf games simply to watch the long, lean arc of his body as he held his pose after teeing off, club raised over his head like the Hellenistic statue of some mythical hero.

As she sat next to his bed, absently stroking his forearm and gazing out the living room window while he dozed, she thought again of the men at the car wash, their tan chinos pulling tight against their backsides as they leaned into the car interior, the way the muscles of their arms flexed as they buffed the hood. She tried desperately to keep her mind on this image rather than the other one of her husband collapsed next to that same car where he’d been polishing the hood before the stroke crumpled him in an ironic response to the open, majestic pose of his golf shots.

Her husband’s eyes fluttered open, and she smiled at him gently, running the back of her index finger over the stubble of the cheek on the side where he still had feeling. She saw the flicker of recognition in his eyes and the heat flared between her legs in response. But then the room was filled with the sound of his flatulence as his bowels released into his diaper, and the competent man she’d known vanished before her.

Her smile never dimmed. Her stroking finger never hesitated on his cheek. When, a few minutes later, the doorbell rang and she led the cheerful occupational therapist to her husband’s bedside for their session, she leaned in lovingly to kiss him, saying she had some chores to run. With her car keys in her hand, she stood in the living room doorway for a moment watching the therapist begin to work with her husband on the business of swallowing, dimly considering which highway she should take.

Liz Rosen
Issue 21 (1 January 2024)

is a former television writer and a current short-story writer with a penchant for ghost-hunting, radical make-up, and damn fine coffee. You can usually find her haunting one of the coffee houses in her colonial Pennsylvania town, or writing about her hometown of New Orleans. And reading. Always reading.

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