Fiction 2015 / Issues / Spring 2015 / Volume 45

Spanish Flowers — Miriam Karmel

Francine is hoping to outwit a computer, even though the defending champs cannot. She calls out to the TV, “What is XYZ?”

       XYZ is not the answer. Of course, Watson (yes, the computer has a name) knows just what to say and now he’s pulling ahead. Francine wonders if Watson can find a cure for what ails her? She wonders if Watson would be a better companion than her husband, who can’t stand Jeopardy? But Watson has no feeling. Like Robert, he has no heart. She taps her chest. Her heart is fine. Funny, that.

Recently, Robert bought a car with a smart machine. When he tells it where he wants to go, a woman with a crisp British accent says things like, “At the next light, you will turn right.” Francine always shouts at Robert: “You missed the turn!” Or, “Slow down! You’re going to kill us!”

Robert bought his talking car with money from the sale of hers. He hadn’t even told her he was selling it. Later, when Francine protested, he said, “It’s not as if you’re driving.” Still.

The last time Francine got behind the wheel she lost her way. Chemo brain. The chemo also did something to her feet, so even if she could think straight, she wouldn’t feel the gas pedal or brake. “Neuropathy,” the doctor explained. “Call it what you will,” she’d replied. “My feet are blocks of ice.” She stopped driving before she killed someone, like that old man who accelerated into a crowded market when he should have stopped. Eighteen souls busy filling baskets with sunflowers and honey, tomatoes and kale, never returned home that day.

Years ago, Robert took the cat to the vet and had it put down while she was in bed with a stomach bug, a twenty-four hour thing. When he returned home she arose and unaware said, “Have you fed the cat?” Next, Robert will put her down. Cat. Car. Francine. But first, he’s throwing a party. A tapas party. He drives around town for provisions, with his British lady friend warbling directions. But Francine has to tell him which store has the freshest produce and who sells the best olives and manchego.

He’s invited some neighbors. When Francine suggested he invite his British lady friend, he didn’t laugh. Then she suggested using as a centerpiece the flowers that Don and Charlie had sent her Just because XOXO. Freesia. Bird of Paradise. Foxglove. Bells of Ireland. Anything hard to come by, or delicate as butterfly wings. “But they’re not Spanish,” Robert said.

Now she calls out to the TV, “What are Spanish flowers?” She knows that’s not the right question, but it’s the one she should have asked Robert. Only he’d left the room before her brain caught up with her tongue.

No matter. She’ll never win. Watson has pulled way ahead. And Robert is out somewhere with his lady friend buying the flowers.


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