Black Petals Issue #105, Autumn, 2023

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BP Artists and Illustrators
Mars-News, Views and Commentary-Chris Friend
Cards Fiction by Gene Lass
Barfly: Fiction by Gene Lass
Case Study: Fiction by Martin Taulbut
Delivery: Fiction by David Kloepfer
Joy (noun): a source of delight: Fiction by Noah Levin
Master of Dream: Fiction by Ash Ibrahim
Nightshade: Fiction by Adam Vine
Red Popsicles: Fiction by Caitlyn Pace
Temporally Closed: Fiction by J. Elliott
The Mansion Dwellers: Fiction by Robb White
Time for a Change: Fiction by Lamont A. Turner
Bernie's Friends: Flash Fiction by Phil Temples
Death Visits the Sapling Trust: Flash Fiction by Paul Radcliffe
Monster: Flash Fiction by Zvi A. Sesling
Sleep: Flash Fiction by Kurt Hohmann
Welcome, Ghouls: Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
Ode to Chateau Marmont: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Cadaver Dogs: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Phases of the Moon: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
The Darkest Octave: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Green Man Standing: Poem by Joseph V. Danoski
The Day That Mary Went Away: Poem by Joseph V. Danoski
The Northern Migration of Souls: Poem by Joseph V. Danoski
Gone West: Poem by Simon MacCulloch
If I Scream: Poem by Simon MacCulloch
Witchery: Poem by Simon MacCulloch
Carry On: Poem by Simon MacCulloch
The Song of the Dead: Poem by Ben Huber

David Kloepfer: Delivery

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Art by Jen Mong 2023

Delivery

David Kloepfer

It was another day indistinguishable from the last, having just sat down with a coffee to edit a proposal for a new bridge, and so why wouldn't she notice until more than an hour into the day? Living alone, and having no meetings scheduled either, she'd had no occasion to speak.

At 9 a.m., the door buzzer rang. She knew what it was, a delivery, of what in particular she could not recall, there being two or three a week.

By the time she got out of her chair and to the intercom, it was buzzing for the second time. She pressed the button to open the door, and to speak, the delivery man announcing himself, and when she tried to reply, she then knew something was wrong.

She opened her mouth and made the appropriate movements, but nothing came out. Her voice was gone? No, it was more. There was nothing to create voice. There was nothing there, nothing to carry the voice. There was no air.

She tried to breathe in, through nose or mouth, but it was impossible. It was not that there was a blockage, or insufficient flow; it was that there was no mechanism to make it happen.

She put her hands to her throat, to her chest.

 A focussed storm of panic arrived, her mind spiralling with possibilities: that she was choking, that she was having a heart attack. She pounded her chest with a fist to dislodge the foreign object that wasn’t there. She sat on the couch and put her head between her knees and attempted to breathe deeply. Attempts to breathe were only a slight backward movement of her head. He chest remained still, did not expand or contract.

Breathing was like trying to throw a punch without an arm. She sat scared with her head between her knees, trying to come up with what to do next, knowing she would be unable to call 911 for lack of a voice to explain the problem.

She got off the couch and went back to her computer, sat down, and opened a dialog box. But as she began to type, and some of the panic was pushed to another part of her mind to accommodate the task at hand, the totality of situation dawned upon her.

She was unable to breathe. But she did not need to.

*

The dialog box she opened was with her best friend, Stan, but she had yet to type a message.

She met Stan almost every Thursday at Castle's for dinner or drinks, depending on their mood. They had a standing reservation for the same table, on the second floor, by the window, overlooking the street. Sometimes, they only had drinks. Sometimes they shared appetizers, or a wood fired pizza, the smell of slightly charred dough hitting the nose as soon as you entered the restaurant.

Formerly a bank, the vault still in place, the second floor had been converted into a giant loft, the large concrete blocks of the walls and iron rafters in the ceiling left exposed. The restaurant was always busy. The chatter of a full dining room offered privacy to the conversation when they needed it, or exhibitionism when they had a few extra cocktails.

          Stanley had been her friend for fifteen years. They had been roommates through most of their twenties. He still lived in the same apartment—he wouldn’t let go of that location and rent until he had to—now with a new roommate, also female, someone Marin was initially jealous of but had learned to like in the way one learns to like a friend's husband or partner: a secondary relationship, one that probably would not continue if they separated, and so was not worth thinking about too much. 

The jealousy was born of the fact that Marin had moved out for a relationship that did not end well. In hindsight, she recognized her years living with Stan as if not the best, for relative lack of wealth and stuttering attempts at launching a career, then certainly the most fun period of her life.

Back then, she occasionally dated, or had someone to have semi-regular sex with, or enjoyed the occasional one-night stand, but her homelife was stable and drama-free. Now, she hadn't dated in over a year, lived alone, spent most of her work and free time on the internet, and though would not label herself as depressed, she admitted to herself, and Stan, that she was stagnating at best.

They'd had this same conversation several times before, and though Stan would listen intently every time she told her sob story, even if it were one million more, he would also not hesitate to tell her exactly what he thought. She was stubborn, sometimes even hard-headed, in that once she had formed a belief, it was hard to change it.

“How’s that different than anyone else?” she said the last time they’d met, three days earlier.

"We've gone over this, Marin," Stan said, taking her by the hand across the table. "Quit the job, do something else."

"Who's going to take me right now?" Marin said.

"That's a different conversation," Stan said, waving a dismissive hand.

“Well what about you? It’s not like you’re the happiest person in the world!”

Stan laughed, then had another sip of his negroni.

“I’m allowed to vent too!” Stan said.

“So am I!” Marin said.

"You can change internally, or you can change externally,” Stan said. “That's all there is to it. Change your mindset, or change your job, your house, your clothes. Your haircut. Just change something."

“Alright thanks Aurelius,” Marin said.

*

Marin remained undecided. Her work as an inhouse editor and copywriter for an engineering firm was no longer fulfilling, and in truth never really had been. The money was, though. But she had run out of things to buy or care about, never having been particularly admired of material objects, at least beyond the base rate everyone else on earth also currently experienced. If she needed something new, clothes, an appliance, furniture, she did a bit of research and bought something of quality that would last. She had a closet and dresser full of nice clothes, some expensive, but was by no means a shopaholic. She gave away items she no longer used every time she bought something new. She worked, and when she wasn't working, she ate, drank, watched television shows, typed in chat rooms, ate delivered meals of varying quality, the same as everyone else did.

*

A half-typed message to Stan sat abandoned in the dialog box. Marin laid on the bed, her hands examining her chest. She had calmed down some and her heart now beat normally. Her chest did not rise or fall.

The light stucco of the ceiling offered no answers. After long and careful examination, it only reassured her that she was not dreaming, not hallucinating. She was alive, in her apartment, on her bed, with no use for breath.

*

It was December, and the sun setting in the late afternoon was all that alerted her to the fact that she had spent the entire day lying on her bed, contemplating her new existence. When the light coming through the window disappeared, she got out of her bed and returned to her computer. A litany of messages from work were queued in her inbox and chats.

“Are you going to send whatever you’re typing eventually or…” a message from Stan said.

“Oops, no, it’s nothing,” she replied, then closed the app, and every other one, turned off the computer entirely, and went back to bed.

*

The breathlessness had occurred on a Monday. She spent the next three days coming up with excuses not to take meetings, a task not particularly difficult to pull off for one week but would soon become impossible.

She went for walks, to get groceries or just for exercise, avoiding restaurants, cafes, takeout, afraid of having to communicate. She wondered what had happened, and why. She had not taken a breath in three days, but the rest of her body functioned as normal. Ate, slept, pissed, shit.

She thought about her lungs, and what they were doing, and came up with nothing.

She spent part of the evenings learning sign language, learning about the lives of people who could not speak.

Never did she search her condition. It would only cause her to panic; long ago she had decided to never self-diagnose, after convincing herself what turned out to be eczema was cancer. Doctors couldn’t be trusted either. The opposite experienced killed her sister five years earlier: Clara insisting there was something wrong, the doctors finding nothing, the giant cell myocarditis killing her soon after.

All she could do was live her life.

On Thursday, she messaged Stan.

“How about dinner at my place tonight, as a change of pace?”

“Your house is so far!” Stan said.

“I know, but just this once. We can do your place another time. We’ve both been too rigid about travel times anyway, right? We said that last time.”

They had. Nobody wanted to travel any farther than they had to, but it was good to do it for friends from time to time. It was good to have friends into your home.

Stan agreed.

*

She made another trip to the grocery store. It was a new experience, a new state of being, and she was acutely aware that she was not breathing. As she walked the aisles, filling her basket with what she needed for dinner, she paid close attention to her body.

The sensation of choking had disappeared after the first day, as did the straining of the throat and mouth, something like the contractions of a fish out of water. It was not that she was gasping for air; it was that she thought she should be.  Even the tightness of chest had taken on a new significance: this was panic, anxiety, at a breathlessness that did not matter.

Marin stopped in the middle of an aisle, and paid attention. She had already wondered if she were dead, a ghost, but if so she was a ghost that could been seen: her colleagues replied to her messages and emails, cashiers at the store acknowledged her presence, accepted her payment, didn't pay much mind that her only response was a nod, half of the customers never said anything, anyway.

Her existence was reconfirmed by another customer in the aisle. At first Marin thought the woman was examining her, to see what was wrong, and again Marin considered that she might be dead. But when Marin took her eyes away from the shelves and turned to the woman, she saw she was looking at her as if she were an immovable object.

"Can I get by or what?" the woman said.

Marin nodded and moved on.

*

The elevated doors in her building opened and she was greeted with herself. She entered the elevator, let the doors close behind her, and remained facing the mirror on the back wall. She leaned on the gold rail with one hand to take a closer look.

There was nothing wrong with her face. Her colour was as flush as ever, from regular walks in the cold and a healthy appetite, one that had not suffered in the last few days at all.

The elevator arrived at her floor, and she entered her apartment. She set the paper bag of groceries on the kitchen counter, took off her coat, and got to work preparing for Stan.

A few things left on tables or chairs needed to be put in their proper place, and the floors needed a good sweeping, but that was as messy as the apartment ever got.

She swept first, then set the table and put out a bottle of wine. She had considered telling him earlier that her voice was gone but was worried perhaps he might not come. She needed him to come, she needed someone to know, now, and if it was to be anyone, it was to be Stan.

Likely, he would not even believe her. She had merely lost her voice and was otherwise pulling some sort of practical joke. But she would take his hand and lay it on her chest and hold it there, and hold it there, and have him put his ear close to her mouth, and he would understand.

He would become frightened and try to pull away, and she would laugh, soundlessly, and write that she would be fine. He would insist they go to the hospital, and she would write, why?

This is what she expected: for Stan to be scared, and for her to enjoy it. She could not say why, but she knew that was what she was looking forward to, the fear in his eyes, and then assuaging it.

As she set a notepad and pen on the coffee table, she noticed the box.

A nearly plain cardboard box with the company's distinctive tape sealing it closed sat on the armchair by the door, where it had been since she brought it up.

The delivery man, either frustrated with no one answering him over the intercom, or never caring if anyone did to begin with, had left the package in the building lobby by the mailboxes. It wasn’t until she left the house the next day that she remembered it was there, reminded by seeing it, and brought it back up to the apartment.

The box was heavy—from the weights she lifted in her living room, she guessed it to be almost 20 lbs—and the contents shifted only slightly as she lifted it from the armchair. She set the box on the dining table and picked up one of the knives she had set out for dinner.

As she slid the knife along the tape on the top of the box, then across it on either side, she mentally scrolled through her recent orders, wondering what it could be. She opened the flaps, removed some of the plain brown packing paper, and looked inside.

The shape and size were appropriate, and of course she had seen images of them before, but what had been delivered did not immediately register. The colour and texture were wrong— dull grey and stippled, giving the appearance of concrete—but when she lifted the larger one out of the box, its lobes sagged as they should, and the whole thing began to expand and contract, expand and contract, and her face gave the appearance of a scream.


David Kloepfer’s novel, Cheap Thrills, was published by Now or Never Publishing in 2019. His writing has also appeared in The Rumpus, Hacksaw Literary, and Spank the Carp. He works as a library technologist in a university library's special collections and rare book department.




Jen Mong is an artist based in Pittsburgh, PA. When not drawing or writing, she is reading; watching TV or movies; taking walks; listening to music; enjoying nature; and keeping company with family and friends.

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