Literature 12-1-2008

miniStories: “Diana Used to Say” by Josh Casey

"Diana Used to Say," this week's winning miniStories entry by Josh Casey chosen by author Dennis Cass, offers a haunting yarn about love and friendship, and the inevitable loneliness that stalks us all.



Diana Used to Say

My work friend, Skiffins, used to be a big mother. I watched him lift a piano once, all by himself. He’d drawn the bad hand in a card game and we’d run out of gin; that baby grand went up like a window shade. Today on the bus, headed downtown for groceries, I saw him again. Big Skiffins, Diana used to say. He’s been gone nearly three months now.

He was sitting with his knees to his chest. I couldn’t see where he’d set his shoes down at; his bare toes curled over the seat. There was a cut over his left eye. “Saw your wife yesterday,” he told me. He wasn’t looking at anything out the window as we passed through the city. “Bob,” he said my name, “she’s on to someone new.” I didn’t think Skiffins looked so big anymore, and I kept searching for his shoes.

We used to have him over for dinner. He had a wild face and a stubborn laugh, and I was worried for him. He’d bring over meat and I’d grill it. Chicken or, if he was feeling fancy, salmon. “You’re welcome anytime, Big Skiffins,” Diana used to say.

After we were done eating, I’d open a few beers and Skiffins and I would sit in the garage, talking. “Why doesn’t he bring Carole over?” Diana used to ask. “Why doesn’t he bring his wife?” Now, it’s the guys at work who’re asking. They want to know how Carole’s doing, if she’s okay. Diana used to say that it was a waste, all that time I spent drinking with Skiffins. “We could be making a baby,” my wife used to say. But I couldn’t picture a baby.

“I made it to the ocean the first time I ran,” Skiffins told me once, in the garage. When he was out of food, he said, he caught a seagull and cooked it over a fire he made on the beach. “Turns out I didn’t have the stomach for gull. Carole had to come get me.” Skiffins laughed when he said that. “You can stay right here in the city,” he said, “and still be long gone.”

Today, when he got off the bus, I followed him. “Wait!” I cried, but Skiffins kept going. In line at the store, I watched two blind shoppers nearly run into each other in the produce section. Their guide dogs barked. One of the dogs bared his teeth; the other lunged. “Lordy,” I said to the checker. “You ever seen anything like that?”

“No,” he said, “but neither have they.” The checker’s shift was over. He needed a way home, he said, and he asked for my transfer. There was a boy to my left, putting bread up on the counter. He had Diana’s mouth, her eyes.

I shook my head. I understood what the checker meant, about going home, but I said no anyway. “What about me?” I asked. “How will I get back?”

About the author: Josh Casey recently traded his homeland in eastern Nebraska for the Great White North of Minnesota, in search of artistic opportunity and epic Hotdish. He currently resides in Midtown Minneapolis with a mutt, a troubadour, and an astrophysicist. Previous fictions have appeared or are forthcoming in The Rambler and Relief.