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Contributor's Notes


Broken Conversations

Michael Gavaghen

Broken Conversations, No. 48

The man stops pacing long enough to say, “You mind pausing that, or muting it for a second?”

The woman presses the remote, then tosses it toward the other end of the sofa. She folds her hands in her lap and waits.

“I’ve decided to change my life,” he says.

“Oh, God. You’re quitting again, aren’t you?”

“I’m not talking about my job, okay? I didn’t spend the whole weekend taking stock of my job. This is my life I’m talking about.”


“That’s good, though. That’s revealing. I say life, you hear job.”

“You figured something out, is that it?” She stares at the screen, where Detective Munch remains frozen halfway out of his chair, or halfway into it. “Am I supposed to guess what it is?”

“You don’t seem engaged by this, if you want to know. A significant person in your life wants to talk about something that matters, and that’s an interruption to you. That’s supposed to wait for a commercial break.”

“Gary, you asked me to turn the thing off. I did that. I’m sorry I’m having trouble shifting into hyper-fascination mode, but I have a lot going on this week. They’re rolling out the new billing system at work. I’ve already got Monica and Rose at each other’s throats—”

“Monica and Rose.”

Yes, Monica and Rose.”

“I’m telling you about my life—my real, actual life—and you’re giving me Monica Stearns?”

“Well, that’s my life.”

“Tell me, then. Tell me about Monica licking her fingers and eating the crumbs off the conference room table. I love that story.”

“No, you go ahead.”

“Or Rose’s abortions.”


“Always up for a good abortion story.”

“You have my full attention,” she says. “You’re changing your life.”

He wonders if this particular conversation is worth having with this particular person at this particular moment. “Yes,” he says, before coming up with an answer.

“What’s wrong with it?”

“Excuse me?” He is still evaluating whether he should have kept his mouth shut.

“What’s wrong with your life the way it is?"

He isn’t prepared for this. “It’s hard to say. Nothing’s wrong with it, exactly.”

“Then hand me the remote.”

Broken Conversations, No. 19

I have this bladder thing. Maybe it’s a prostate, I don’t know. I’m a little young for that. But I go more often than I wish, especially when I’m drinking coffee, and especially when it’s cold outside. Give me a Venti black coffee on a January morning, you might as well relocate my laptop to the last stall on the left.

On this particular January morning I’m sitting in Starbucks, working on a PowerPoint for the Garden City Chamber of Commerce: How to leverage your investment in wireless technology to enhance the customer experience. (Yes, it’s exactly as boring as it sounds.) I’m stirring half a Sweet’N Low into my second cup when I notice the guy with the Eugene Levy hair exiting the men’s room. I slip my cell phone into my pocket—Bladder problems? Hello?—and ask the woman at the next table if she’d mind watching my laptop for a moment.

“Yes,” she says.

I’m already a couple of steps toward the back, like a leadoff hitter trying to sell ball four, when I realize what she’s said. “Excuse me?”

“I’m not going to watch your computer. Sorry.”

“I’m just going to the men’s room.”

“Like I care?”

This time I laugh. The words well-scrubbed come to mind, although I’ve only read them in hackneyed magazine references to females from Kansas or Nebraska. Substitute corn-fed, if you prefer. She is holding a book about Shetland Sheepdogs. “I’m only going to be a minute,” I say.

“Take all the time you like. But you should know I’m going to sit here and read, and drink my coffee. I’m not going to guard your computer.”

I look around to see if the rest of the latte crowd overhears this exchange. If they do, they’re keeping it to themselves.

“I didn’t say guard it. Those are your words.”

“You don’t want someone running off with it, am I right?” She closes her book. “So you expect me to stand up to criminals on behalf of someone I’ve never met? ‘Hey, put that back. That belongs to the man in the bathroom.’”

I would like to banter; hell, I’m trying to banter. But I am over my head.

“Besides,” she says, “who’s going to steal that thing? What is it, a fourteen-inch screen? Look around you. Everyone else is on a seventeen.”

“What’s your name?” I say. By this point I am about sixty percent in love.

“Would you do it for me?” she asks.

“Absolutely.” She laughs. “I’ve done it plenty of times,” I say.

“Okay, I’m in the ladies room and a band of crack addicts storm in. They scope the place out and start unplugging my MacBook. You do what, exactly?”

“I try stopping them.”

“Really. How does that work, you throw a little tae kwan do at them? Tackle them in the aisle?”

I am laughing now. “I don’t know. It’s never happened.”

“May I go back to my reading now?”

“Tell me your name.”

She points toward the restroom and smiles. “Soon as you’re finished.”

I get in and out of there as fast as I can, but when I come out she is gone. I’m not funny enough to even get her name.

Broken Conversations, Nos. 78 & 96

Charlie’s mother passed last night. Ten-thirty we got the call, poor thing. She’s been in such a way these past few years. You know she lost her speech after the last stroke, the big one. That was, what, oh-three? So it’s that long since she’s called me that fat thing. I am not kidding, Ginny. She’d get a couple in her, and suddenly I’m not the daughter-in-law anymore. Suddenly I’m that fat thing. Nice.

We got up there yesterday to see her, at least there’s that. That’ll be some comfort for Charlie, that he saw her on her last day. It was like she was hanging on just to see him again. They do that; they hang on. It’s a closure thing. I saw it on the PBS.

So we’re up there, and Charlie’s asking her is she all right, and she’s just crying to herself. Or not. It’s hard to tell who they’re crying to when they get like that. And he’s fixing her bathrobe, trying to fluff it around the neck, make it seem a little less threadbare. All the bathrobes we’ve sent up, I think she was still wearing the one she had on the last time we went, back in January. The aides steal them, I guess. All over Powder Springs you’ve got nurse’s aides wearing bathrobes well beyond their means. I don’t begrudge them, Ginny. I’m not that way. I’m just saying.

I feel good about one part of the trip. We had an early lunch at a rest stop on the turnpike, and Charlie had some Nathan’s fries. With his intestines, can you believe it? A little while later we’re at the home, and he excuses himself to go spend twenty minutes on the throne. No, that’s not the part I feel good about. But while he’s in there, I figure I have this one last opportunity to set things right with his mother.

“You got anything going on up there, Mama Fleagle? Can you understand me?” She nods her head at just the exact moment a normal person would, so I know she’s all right. Not all right all right, but able to put two and two together, even if she can’t say four to save her life.

I tell her we need to resolve something before it’s too late. I guess that wasn’t the most tactful way to put it, but I wasn’t going to lie either. I mean, that was the whole point, that she shouldn’t go out with this bad feeling between us.

“You know who I am, honey?” She nods. “And you know who I’m married to, don’t you?” She nods again. “Well, then, first off you should know I did not get pregnant on purpose, like you’ve been hanging onto all these thirteen years. Anyone tells you different, she’s just a bold face liar. I didn’t even want to marry your son, he was such a nervous little thing back then. I only did it ’cause he wouldn’t let up about making his child legitimate.”

And she’s nodding her head like one of those little sports figurines in the back window of that Betty Marie’s car. You know her? Betty Marie Parris, like the city?

“Next thing,” I tell her. “You could have been a little nicer to me when we all got together for a function. You didn’t have to belittle me on account of I didn’t drop the weight like some do after childbirth.” Just told her straight out. Not in an accusatory fashion, but just straight-up honest, which was how they did it on that show I was telling you. And she starts in, just moaning. No, Ginny, sounds can happen. A stroke doesn’t sever the vocal cords. It’s words that can’t happen, on account of the brain gets toasted in the word-making region. I saw it on Discovery.

“You didn’t have to call me ‘that fat thing’ in front of Charlie or his brother. That was cruel.” And she lets out this wail, I swear, and then this high-pitched grunting noise three or four times. I think she was protesting, is what she was doing. Trying to make out like she never did me that way. And the whole time she’s looking directly at my midsection. She also had flecks of foam at the lips, that’s true. But I know what I know.

The floor nurse comes in to see about the ruckus, and tells me it’s likely a death rattle. And she’s not even an R.N. I realize your Katie’s an L.P.N. I’m not saying they’re useless. If you can let me finish . . .

She smoothes out Mama Fleagle’s hair, says it helps her settle down, and pretty soon she’s sound asleep, purring like a kitten. Charlie comes back and whispers to her for a while. It was really very sweet. He kisses her on top of the head, right where the hair’s all thinned out, the poor thing. Then he goes out the hallway for a smoke. I lean in and say, “I’m glad we got all this straight between us, Mama Fleagle. You’ll rest easy tonight.”