portion of the artwork for Alisa Golden's stories

Common Language
Alisa Golden

Postcards filled a clear box on her window ledge, all from the same person. She had met him—a young man—at a conference she had attended with a friend. He did impersonations of electronic voices and car alarms: a walking mockingbird. They had become acquainted. She was married. He seemed to have a girlfriend, or, at least, a female best buddy that he always ate with. At the end of the conference, she and the young man exchanged business cards; his was a tiny comic strip. When she got home, she sent him a postcard of an art car with a quote from an article. He sent haiku on a vintage postcard from the 1950s. She made the next card, lacquering an autumn leaf to a piece of cardboard. He sent another haiku and a comic on a black and white photo of a leaf. The postcards passed back and forth between them for a year before he sent her a whole book of his haiku, wrapped in printed cloth. In response, she sent a book of Japanese proverbs she collected, then thought again, and added a haiku of her own.

A month stayed empty and blank. She had no use for stamps. A bird began singing every morning before the sky lightened, which made her turn over in bed.

Finally, an envelope came with his return address. Inside was a full page, typewritten, black on white. No pictures. As she read it, she realized it was an obituary. His obituary. He had written it himself, in the third person. He was out of his body.

First, she thought it was a joke. A strange joke. What kind of a joke? She stood up and walked from room to room. She pulled a curtain aside. She picked up a twist tie and curled it around her finger. Then she panicked. Was he in danger? Should she call the police in his home state? She would do it for anyone. She remembered she had the girlfriend’s phone number.

“Yes,” answered the girlfriend’s voice, “I’m a friend of his. I don’t know what you are talking about.” She hung up. The girlfriend made her feel like she was crazy, had stepped across a boundary line, a limit of some sort. But it could have been planned. Was the girlfriend in on the joke and instructed to play along? Maybe it was an ex-girlfriend.

Were they out-of-touch, incommunicado, unfriends, kaput? So it seemed. She never meant anything. Did he? Did he think she did? It had all seemed so reasonable before this. They had shared a common emotional language. Was it a literary dalliance? She felt a hole, a loss, and emptiness. The phone rang. She picked it up, quickly, her heart lurching. Maybe the girlfriend was calling back.

She listened carefully to the silence, and was sure she could hear a car alarm at the other end of the world.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 59 | Spring/Summer 2022