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"Two Old Fools" – Honorable Mention in Salamander Magazine's 2012 Fiction Contest

Short story placed second (Honorable Mention) in Salamander Magazine's 2012 Fiction Contest. Subsequently published in Salamander Magazine (Volume 18, No. 1). Website link here.

Excerpt from opening:


WHEN HIS TAILBONE MET THE HARDWOOD FLOOR with a sharp crack, his first thought was, this is how it ends. But once the shock wore off and he recognized he was still conscious, his panic receded. Just a minor fall, nothing to it. He pushed himself onto his elbows and a shooting pain radiated upward from the base of his spine. He stiffened. His legs! He could not feel his legs. His heart caught in his throat; his diaphragm constricted. A spinal injury. Any false move could make things worse. He’d read that somewhere. He closed his eyes and forced himself to take a deep breath, then eased back down to the floor.

Marooned in the wide hallway between his living and dining rooms, Chen Fei assessed his condition: head—alert as ever; heart—pounding but fine; arms—fully functional; spine—tender but tweaked; legs—unresponsive. He took a deep breath. The first three points were very encouraging. There was no reason for panic. It was best to remain still. Still…still…still. Any sudden movement, any false move could cause more damage…yes, yes, he’d read that. He would remain still and consider his options in a calm, dignified manner. But not with his underpants exposed. He reached over to draw his bathrobe closed and then relaxed both palms by his side. The birds were making a ruckus in the courtyard and overgrown tree branches tapped against the glass pane of the living room window, but otherwise the day was quiet. It was a little before ten o’ clock on a Sunday morning.

How long would he have to lie here before someone came? He shuddered at the thought of being discovered, half-clothed and incapacitated. How disgraceful. But it was better than not being found at all. There were a few things going against his being found: one, he was a widower who lived alone; two, his cell phone was in the bedroom and the house phone was in the kitchen, both of which were far out of reach; and three, of all weekends, he had chosen Qingming weekend to fall, which meant that his only two neighbors, Little Lu upstairs and Old Yang downstairs, were off with their respective families, visiting ancestral tombs, taking spring jaunts around the countryside. They were not expected to return for days. Ah, but the maid! Yes, she would save him. But, wait. Last week he’d cut her hours; she would not come again until Wednesday. His heart sank a little closer to the floor.

Of course, there was his younger brother, waiting for him on the sidewalk outside as usual. But Yan was a hopeless case. At that very moment, his brother was probably stalking bugs, or counting cars, or forgetting to eat. He wouldn’t come running up the stairs just because Fei didn’t show up one morning. Then again, Yan wouldn’t come running up the stairs for anything. The last time his little brother came into the house was in 1982— more than twenty years ago, twenty-seven to be exact. (Had it been twenty-seven? He did the math again: twenty-seven. Unbelievable.) Who else was there? Ming, his only child, lived a world away in London. The employees at Blackbird, his bar, would not come looking for the boss if he didn’t surface for a night or two. There was no one else. He would have to be patient and wait for one of his neighbors to return, or the maid. The maid was his surest bet, but Wednesday was three whole days away.




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