What He Knew

Short fiction by Susan Walsh

Yogurt sat in the red chair. The old man sat on the bed. His thin legs dangled over the side of the mattress, almost but not quite reaching. He looked around. He knew this wasn’t his living room. Where was the white couch covered with crumpled-up Kroger bags?

He thought it might be morning. His face sagged. There was nothing to hold it up. He had too much in his head. He had to hide the birth certificates. He had to sort out video tapes and wrap the dead mouse in a handkerchief.

Was today Valentine’s Day? He must buy Francesca some turpentine. He must make a list. He didn’t know what he didn’t know.

The water kept rising, to the second story. They rowed a boat down the street. His mother scrubbed black muck out of the stove but still it would not make music. Who was here?

He saw the spider webs again. He was dodging machine gun fire and looking for cover. His granddaughter laughed and yelled at the clown. The ducky said quack-quack when he opened the book. The doggie said bow-wow when he turned the page. The cow said E-I-E-I-O. He got on his bike and hurtled down Pig Alley and when he fell in the river his legs came out orange. Cody picked up a gob of fresh tar from the hot road, put it in his mouth and chewed it. His father drove his streetcar right into Murphy’s Five and Ten. Bill Mazeroski hit a home run.

He couldn’t hear right. It was time to cut down the apple tree because it was too late. The fog was coming in again. They loaded up the Ford station wagon with Mabel-Black-Label and took the kids to the castle. He filled the sandbox with white sand, not brown. His daughter sang, white sand, white sand! Then that goddamn Cam Snowburger sold his house to the fraternity, ruined the neighborhood. They ran out of Velveeta cheese. He hid the silver coins. It was time to start the spaghetti pizza. Check things off the list with that can opener, Francesca!

The crowd was inside his head again. Out, out with you.

You must take your medicine. No Mommy no. If he kept his mouth closed it would go away. Screaming was coming from somewhere inside him. “There, there, Mr. Bell.”

Who was Mr. Bell? Do I know you?

People were here now. He had to warn them. The shells were shelling again. “No Grandpa, it’s OK. Listen, the shelling has stopped. We’re safe.”

Someone held his hand.

“He’s been pretty good today, Mrs. Bell.”

“Edgar, would you like some yogurt? Dear, please eat.”

That man in the hall made sounds like an engine because he had wheels on his chair. Bruvururummmm, rummm, buvrummm, going up and down the hall .

Shut up that noise! This place was always noisy. Who left him here? It was time they came back. He had to string the Christmas lights. His daughter asked for a blue wagon, not red. Get that yogurt off the chair, I want fried eggs. And bacon, dammit. He had to warn the people who held his hand about the woman across the hall. She was listening to them right now. A radio flyer Nazi spy.


This time he didn’t swallow the pill. Mommy didn’t see him spit it out. He held the baby bunny in his hands. Dark was good cover. He slid along the wall with his cord.

They should have known it would come to this.


© 2020 Susan Walsh