By Mickey Fisher


I worked the morning shifts at my town’s only gas station in November of 2012, during a break from courses in my senior year at the University of New Hampshire. Nobody else seemed to want that shift, and I didn’t mind sleepwalking through the opening routines: turning on the lights, starting the pumps, making the coffee – one of our biggest sellers in the mornings. I had to brew six different flavors, and I usually sold the first cup before the last carafe was full.

It was on one of those mornings that a semi-regular came in. I never got his name, but I’ll call him Dutch, due to his hair – the color of hay – which fell over his head in a Dutch-boy cut. He hid his eyes behind big aviator glasses and hid the rest of his face behind a robust, well-kept beard. An old hippie, maybe. He was in his late forties, maybe early fifties. He came in every once in a while in the mornings; today it was for coffee and scratch tickets.

  “World’s gonna end next month,” he said, as I rung him up. “Mayans predicted it.” I didn’t know what he was looking for from me, so I stayed noncommittal. The way he said it made something go wrong in my gut, though. It was either the surety with which he spoke, like it was something that had already happened, a box score from last week’s game. Or maybe I was thrown because there was a kind of wistfulness in his voice. Like he couldn’t wait to see how it would all go down.

“As I got closer, I noticed that the passenger’s window – now pointing towards the sky – was shattered, little teeth of glass ringing its lip.”

I left the gas station job in December to go back to courses and a work-study position in UNH’s library, which I worked every Monday. I was on my way to one of those shifts, going north along NH 43 towards Durham, doing at least 50. It was a highway in the loosest sense of the term: a rough two-laner with gray guardrails thrown up wherever the land dipped down enough to justify their existence. The pavement was almost free of ice, and the snow on either side of the road was just starting to think about melting. It was 35 degrees, and by rights, the patch of black ice that was in front of the big white Colonial coming up on my left shouldn’t have existed.

My Volvo started drifting left when I hit the ice, carrying me into the oncoming lane. Someone reached into my guts and started tugging around as I watched the end of one of those guardrails approach the front of my car, like the blunt face of a hammer. It was about a hundred feet away from me, but that distance was closing at brutal speed.

I slid into the dirt driveway of the old Colonial and got some traction back, spraying cold clods over a sedan that was parked near the front door, but I didn’t get enough traction to avoid hitting the blue plastic newspaper mailbox. Its thin metal pole smacked against my door. Compact newspaper bundles, bound with rubber bands, flew up and out. I managed to straighten the car out and stopped about twenty feet short of the guardrail.

I let myself breathe and let go of the steering wheel. My hands were shaking. I sat there for a moment, thinking about how likely death would have been had someone been driving towards me in the oncoming lane as I lost control. Seemed likely. I made a cognizant effort to check both lanes – made absolutely sure that no one was coming – before slowly pulling back onto the road and to the opposite side’s shoulder, where I pulled over and parked. I got out of the car and headed back towards the house. Apologizing to the owners would give me some more time to let my hands shake from the cold instead of from my nerves.

The ice threatened to undo me again as I crossed the road; I had to walk slower than I would have preferred to, being on a highway and all. When I got to the driveway, I noticed the set of furrows that my tires had dug into the dirt, plus a set of tracks older than mine. I wasn’t the first one undone by the ice.

I picked the scattered newspapers up off the ground, darting around to catch the advertising flyers that had come loose from their pages before the wind blew them away. Once I collected the news, I went up to the front door, which was made of old wood and painted forest green, and knocked. My knuckles stung a bit from the impact. Silence. I hoped no one would answer. No one did. I laid the newspapers on the stone front step and started walking back to my car.

As I crossed Route 43 again, I noticed that my front driver’s side tire was going flat; it’d probably been punctured by the metal pole of the newspaper mailbox. I started to open my door so I could sit and give my parents a call, see if I could get a ride. As I did, though, I heard a motor growling. I couldn’t see it yet, but the car was coming from behind me, going the same direction I’d been going.

I closed the door and saw the car – a pickup, actually – coming down the road towards me. I started waving my hands above my head. There was no real way for me to warn the driver of what was coming, but I couldn’t think of anything else to do. Not that it mattered.

He was a good distance away from me when he hit the ice. The truck swerved around, its back end swinging in an arc from left to right, before it flipped over sideways and landed, driver’s side down, on the lawn of the Colonial.

            “Holy shit,” I said.

  No one else was coming, so I started to half-jog, half-slide towards the pickup, crossing the highway yet again. As I got closer, I noticed that the passenger’s window – now pointing towards the sky – was shattered, little teeth of glass ringing its lip. A man poked his head up and out of the cab through the space where the window used to be. He looked like a gopher sticking its head out of its hidey hole, seeing if the coast was clear. I recognized him immediately. Dutch looked unharmed.

“You ok?” I asked him.

            “Wow,” he said, and he brought his hands up to the lip of the window to try to pull himself out of the cab.

            “Just stay there, man, I don’t want you to cut your hands,” I told him. “I’m calling 911.”

The local fire department was not five minutes away, and I stayed with him until they got there. I kept having to tell Dutch to stay in the cab, because he kept trying to pull himself out. An ambulance and a fire truck arrived, and firemen helped Dutch out of his pickup. By this time, the elderly couple who lived in the house had come outside in their bathrobes, finally awoken by the truck beached on their frozen lawn. Dutch’s only wound was a little cut on the side of his palm. I don’t think he even needed stitches.

He puzzles me still. For as little as I knew the man (besides his claims regarding the world’s end), he never struck me as suicidal, or even like he was welcoming death. So I think that he was happy to have survived the accident on that December morning. But I sometimes wonder why. Had his perspective on the end of the world changed since he spoke to me about the Mayans? Was he now optimistic about the future? Or did he still believe that the end was coming at that point, and was he glad that he’d avoided missing out on the big show, scheduled for the 21st? What kind of weight did the accident carry for him, what kind of relief?

I saw Dutch a year or so after the accident at a Walmart. He didn’t recognize me.

Special Dark

by Mickey Fisher


I went home to visit my parents last February. My mom was the only one around. Their woodstove was cooking; I felt as though I was being baked by a heat lamp. In the heat, I knew the cracks in the skin between my knuckles would open up again.

I sat with Mom at her kitchen table, a little dish of Valentine’s Day candy between us. “How’s Mary?” she asked, finding a Crackle in the dish, her favorite.

“She’s good,” I said. Mary had seen how my skin split and had cradled my hands in hers, asking if I wanted hand cream. It wouldn’t have been of any use, and I told her that, but she got some for me anyway. I set the green tin of cream next to my sink in an effort to force myself to apply it after I washed my hands. I would end up putting it on and washing it off ten minutes later.

“When are you two coming back to visit?” Mom asked, before unwrapping the Crackle and taking a bite.

“Am I not enough?” I asked. I knew that I was. I found a Hershey’s Special Dark in the dish.

“Of course you’re enough, you’re more than enough. But we never get to see her.”

I felt the flesh between my knuckles stretching thin as I unwrapped the candy. They were riverbeds caked dry through the combination of my excessive washing and the cold weather. I used to wash my hands for a count of about eight seconds. I’d heard somewhere that you were supposed to wash for the length of the ‘Happy Birthday’ song, so I would sing it rapidly in my head while I was at the sink. When the anxiety came back, I started dragging the song out, making it last longer and longer, closer to an actual rendition than a sped-up one. Soon, the song wasn’t enough. I would count to one eight times, then two eight times, until I counted to sixteen eight times. It seemed like a number that was thorough enough for me, satisfying in an obsessive way. For every number I counted, I rubbed my palms together while interlocking my fingers, to spread the soap and water. I was rubbing my hands together one hundred and twenty-eight times per trip to the sink. If my hands touched the inside of the sink at any point during the process, that was another one hundred and twenty-eight times, because you never knew who was spitting into that porcelain. If my hands touched anything other than a dry, clean towel after a wash, that was another one hundred and twenty-eight times.

I dropped the Special Dark. It landed on the kitchen linoleum. Careful to not touch the floor with my fingers, I picked the candy up by pinching a corner of the wrapper that was pointing upwards. Mom must’ve seen how I was holding it, like it was a snake that could bite me, because she was up and between me and the waste bin before I could stand up. She crossed her arms over her chest. She knew where this was going.

“You’re not going to throw that away,” she said.

“I don’t want it.”

“Mickey, it’s fine. It’s still in the wrapper. You can still eat it.”

She didn’t see it the same way that I did, all the potential diseases lurking on the linoleum that would then be transferred to the wrapper of the Special Dark; from the wrapper to my fingertips, from my fingertips to the chocolate, from the chocolate to my mouth. “I’m not going to, though,” I said. I stood up and held the candy out to her. I knew she wouldn’t throw it away, but I didn’t want to keep holding it.

She took it from me and held it in her hands, keeping eye contact. When I sat back down, she put the candy in front of me. Whatever germs had been on the floor were now on an eating surface.

You can eat it, if you want to,” I told her.

I got up and left the kitchen, walked past that baking stove to get to the bathroom sink. I left the door open.

Mom followed me and leaned against the doorframe, watching me, looking at the slight redness of my raw skin. “I thought you were past all of this.”

“Comes back around when I don’t have anything else to worry about,” I told her. I just wanted to wash up for my peace of mind, and there was only Dawn at the kitchen sink. My parents had a ceramic liquid soap dispenser, colored with a mix of Easter pastels, that they used year-round. The soap inside was a watery, cream-yellow liquid that was too runny to convince me that it would be effective. It stung as it leaked into the cracks in my hands.

 “It’s up to your wrists,” she said. “It hurts my feelings.”

“Why?” I asked, knowing that the answer was going to hurt.

“Because I feel like I’m responsible.”


by Mickey Fisher


I wish I’d brought headphones with me. There’s a song I know of that I always thought I’d listen to, here at the end. Nobody plans to be half a world away at times like these, so I sat alone and waited out the night. So the chorus goes.

I sit by my dad’s bed and stitch memories together.

We were all going on a road trip; this was before my mom divorced him. I was in the area of six years old, and sitting in the back seat with Clay. My dad was the only one not in the car; he was looking for something in the house before we left, sunglasses, maybe. I leaned over the center console, plucked his Marlboro Reds from the dashboard, and placed them on top of the rest of the trash in the little plastic bag that we used for car waste. I didn’t bother hiding the cigarettes under the tissues and wrappers that were already in the trash. I figured I’d be in enough trouble as it was. He came out to the car and asked us where his cigarettes were. His voice was already half-raised. My eyes gave the answer away. I thought he’d yell at me, but instead he said, “I know they’re bad for me.” Then he took them out of the trash.

A wedge of light from the hallway fluorescents cuts into his room in the rehab center. There’s no door to block it. No doors means that nurses can flit in like moths if they have to, administering food and water and drugs. I sit outside of the light’s path, next to him. I can’t tell if he’s conscious or not. If he is, his eyes are pointing at a TV set that’s turned off for quiet hours. Who knows what he sees.

He promised a blue Mustang to my brother and me one Christmas, when we were no older than ten. He wasn’t there to promise it to our faces, but he wrote out a note in wobbly black pen on a piece of note paper. He had a friend, he explained, who was going to sell the blue Mustang to him, and then he’d give it to us. I believed that he intended to. Our mom told us not to get our hopes up, and we didn’t.

I smell a false smell of vodka. I’m cycling between holding his hand and using too much hand sanitizer. I’d never known him to like vodka; he’d preferred Budweisers. When we’d worried about the beers, we should’ve been paying more attention to the cigarettes in his shirt pocket. The machine dispensing the sanitizer growls at me as I stick my hand underneath its sensor again.

After I graduated from college, I got a call on a rainy Friday on my way in to work. My dad was sick. I became his proxy. His initial illness led to the discovery of something worse. I got him into Mass General, the best-case scenario. I’d visited him on sunny Saturdays in Boston, watched horror movies with him in his room. I’d pushed him in a wheelchair to the meeting with the specialist, who’d told my dad that if he refused treatment, he’d be dead within a year. He’d refused that treatment thirteen months ago.

I check Facebook, the hotline to Clay. My brother is stationed in England and organizing a flight home with the Red Cross. I’d sent him the rehab center’s number and was waiting for him to call their phone. He wants to speak to our dad before he passes, and I don’t want to see how high the charges will be on my own line. There are no bright red notification badges interrupting the bold blue header of the site. I close the app.

A thin blue curtain hangs between my dad and his neighbor in the room. I hear the other man breathing in his sleep. I hear the calm beeping of machines. I do not hear the ring of the phone at the reception desk. Not yet. So I sit alone and wait out the night.