ONCE Following orders on the battlefield, it was kill or be killed my sergeant said, no different than when he taught me to thrust and parry with fixed bayonet. The young soldier wore thick glasses and looked a lot like one of my classmates. Sergeant claimed Gooks don’t belong to the human race. Don’t ever feel sorry for killing an enemy, I can’t forgive myself. I look down at my finger, ready to squeeze the trigger, and hear my mother asking: What has become of you? ** THE MARITAL HAPPINESS QUOTIENT I Uber my way across the country in my Hugh Hefner silk pajamas to study happiness in marriages of all my old friends who are still walking and talking coherently. Computer porn ended a few bonds that had once bloomed like a flower. For those that served breakfast in bed, a lotus blossom was de rigueur for a Buddhist notion of purity, harmony and grace. They smiled a lot for the passion of desert, convinced their 5 and 10 cent wedding ring was worth every penny, showering each other with endless words of endearment, like “You are my one and only tootsie-wootsie!” The crankiest couples no longer engaged in conversations—merely ranted about how their mates didn’t listen to them. The most miserable couples were victims of the corrosive impact of the rusted barbed wire of prolonged celibacy. ** UNINVITED GUESTS If my doorbell rings, and I’m not expecting anyone, it’s almost always a visit from the Jehovah’s Witnesses who make their rounds in my neighborhood to promote their religion, and often leave a Watchtower Magazine. They’re certain Armageddon predictions are on the way. Only 144,000 “Anointed ones” can enter God’s invisible dwelling place. If they are correct, and I become a believer, I can stop worrying about saving for retirement, and contributing to 529 for my grandkid’s education. I can go back to eating at Wendy’s and MacDonald’s, and will no longer shop for Christmas and Easter or have to remember to floss my teeth. But, if I need a blood transfusion, I can kiss my ass goodbye. ** MY BRAND OF LONELINESS is much better than your brand of loneliness. I’m a Marlboro man, sipping a lemon Coke— an impenetrable moat prevents anyone from ever getting close to me. I suffer alone in ways that haven’t yet been invented. If you knock on my door, I won’t let you in. I’m addicted to the joy of suffering— and cherish all my sorrows. Please leave me alone. ** IN A QUEST FOR ANSWERS After celebrating my wife’s 89th birthday, we googled a man who knows answers to all of life’s fundamental questions. He lived far away, and parking was impossible. I left our car alongside a moat guarding a castle. Screeching white egrets patrolled the grounds. A longtime hiker, I could walk around the world, but my wife was increasingly fragile, so we decided to hitch a ride—something I haven’t done since I hitched to college in Iowa City. We got picked up by an 18-wheeler truckdriver— a woman with eyes as black as explosive licorice. Flabbergasted, at her insights, butterflies flew out of my mouth as I marveled at her ability to turn our lives inside-out—like an Indian Fakir making a venomous cobra rise at his musical command. I tried to thank her, but she drove away, and left us resting on a bed of pheromone-scented paperwhites, where rain never touches the ground, on what was to become our new home married to the earth.
Milton P. Ehrlich Ph.D. is an 88-year-old psychologist and a veteran of the Korean War. He has published poems in, The Antigonish Review, London Grip, Arc Poetry Magazine, Descant Literary Magazine, Wisconsin Review, Red Wheelbarrow, Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. This is his first feature in The Fictional Café.