“Medium Well” and “Into the Smoke” Fiction by Jennifer Shneiderman

Medium Well

After Ethel Kramer had bid on a psychic reading at a charity auction, Alex Miller, a young man with topaz eyes, showed up at her door.  Ethel tried to remember where she had seen eyes that color.  To her amazement, the kid knew things.  He knew the night nurse stole Sam’s Oxycontin.  And he knew that Sam had a flirtation with a buxom torch singer when he was on tour with Tommy Dorsey.  Alex said Sam was sorry and Ethel wiped her wet eyes.  Before Alex left, Ethel begged him to see the recording studio Sam had built.

They walked to a secluded back house on Ethel’s property, the late afternoon sun low in the sky, the only sound their boots crunching on freshly fallen snow.  The windowless structure was obscured by low hanging pines. Ethel punched a code into an alarm pad and ushered Alex into a musty-smelling, dimly lit studio. There was a cobweb-covered drum kit with missing cymbals and some microphones in the middle of the room. A dirty twin mattress covered in crushed candy wrappers was on the floor next to an unopened case of Bud Light. A doll with cigarette burn eyes hung by a thin rope from the ceiling. Alex hesitated but a dusty Les Paul guitar beckoned and Ethel nodded her permission. Alex picked up the instrument and slung the leather strap around his neck. His fingers gently tickled the strings. Ethel quickly stepped into the control room, shutting the soundproof door behind her. Alex returned the guitar to its stand and pulled on the door lever.  It wouldn’t turn. He waved at Ethel through the studio window, mouthing, “It’s locked.”

Ethel approached the control panel and pressed the intercom.  It crackled to life. “I’m sorry, Alex,” Ethel said calmly into the microphone.  “You are my only connection to Sam. I can’t let you leave.”

Alex stared at her, disbelief distorting his face.  Ethel looked back at him impassively, turned and walked out.  She glanced back and saw Alex screaming and throwing flimsy music stands against the thick glass. Now she remembered where she had seen topaz eyes.  In sheep.  She had spent a summer on a farm in upstate New York. Sheep—with their 300 degree peripheral vision and strange, rectangular pupils.  And yet, they couldn’t see in front of their noses. 

Ethel would come back later.  And then she could have a chat with her beloved Sam. Oh, yes, they would have many chats in the months and years to come. 

Into the Smoke

Within moments the entire brokerage firm would know. Ellen wouldn’t be able to pay back the money her lover convinced her to steal. She watched as the plane hit the north tower. Alarms went off and, while everyone was mesmerized, she ran for the elevator. She paced the sidewalk and chain-smoked, knowing she could not go home. When the towers fell, she ran, emerging unrecognizable and disappeared into the smoky streets.

Jennifer Shneiderman is a landlady living in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in many publications, including: The Rubbertop Review, Nanoism, Writers Resist, Anti-Heroin Chic, The Daily Drunk and Montana Mouthful. She received an Honorable Mention in the Laura Riding Jackson 2020 Poetry Competition. 

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