Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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Short Story
2021 words
SHJ Issue 9
Spring 2014

Wednesdays of the Japanese Wave

by Cécile Barlier

Ahead of Wednesday...

In the apartment with double exposure there is, well, double exposure.

To the north, the tip of an ochre convent tower rings hourly and half-hourly. The nuns have a damper device on, and the clock sounds liquid at night.

I don’t hear it during the day, which is normal because I am not here in the apartment.

To the south, the lake and the mountains are laid out in postal card format.

In July, there is a water-firework.

I don’t live here in the apartment, it seems. On Wednesday I visit.

...she has troubling thoughts...

Far, far away, there was a dog waiting at the end of the day. He barked once and I petted him on the head, then forgot his presence as I read Buzzati in the toilet.

The dog was on the other side of the toilet door waiting, not reading any stories.

There was a picture of the dog in the toilet, but I was so entrenched in Buzzati, I must have overlooked it.

When I opened the toilet door, I pinched the dog’s tail. It didn’t hurt him. Nothing would hurt him.

The dog was dead.

...and images of liberating deaths...

I don’t mind a spider on the ceiling. Back in the nineteenth century, Parisian prostitutes used the expression as a metaphor. The ceiling being the cranium, wherein resides the spider, an animal that lives in neglected environments, thereby evoking decay. So a spider in a cranium means someone a bit deranged. Usually it is just someone eccentric who doesn’t disturb others.

Under the first scenario, I pick up a glass and a piece of thick paper. I climb up a chair and enclose the spider in the glass. I slide the thick paper underneath, making sure I don’t snap off one of her legs. I hold the paper firmly onto the glass and bring it outside. I empty the glass into a flowerpot, because I figure the spider may like plants.

Under the second scenario, I smash the spider with a book and dump it in the trash. well as lucid insight...

Legs must be held vertically up the wall so that the blood flows down. Feet perpendicular. Arms out.

A simple pose that rejuvenates the lower back and legs, eases tension. It’s been awhile since I saw you do that.

“Hold it,” I say and it doesn’t feel rejuvenating.

It feels like ninety-six to me. It feels like the opposite of love.

...into the sentence...

“So you will see your parents soon?”

“Yes, but not until the end of the month. There is no holiday until then.”

“There is this woman in the apartment next door and she has ten children. She has a lot of visitors. When it’s not a son, it’s one of her daughters.”

“Nice! That must be entertaining.”


“That must bring some action into the building, some fun.”

“Yes. One of her sons has a relative who knew Gerard.”

“That’s good. So you talked about him?”


“I asked if you talked about Gerard with the lady’s son.”

“Yes. How are your sons?”

“They’re good. Thank you. School started last week again. Some getting used to for the small one.”

“Kiss them for me, will you?”

“I will.”

“So you will see your parents soon?”

...cast upon the woman she knows as her grandmother.

His wife, he called you.

My wife, he said, as you were right in front of him, holding a conversation with somebody else.

It didn’t bother you. You never called him my husband, always Gerard. You gave him a name out of love.

I didn’t know love required a name. You taught me.

At times she marvels at her pedigree...

The war ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

On the seventh day of that month, a little girl was born.

On the eighteenth day of the eighth month twenty-two years later, a little girl was born.

On the fifth day of the second month thirty-one years later, a little girl was born.

...and falls hard...

There are no books, no conversations, no games, no dinner plans.

There are two channels, but one of them has really bad reception. Something to do with the way a satellite is oriented on top of the sky.

It is nice to think about the satellite, but it is nicer to watch the first channel, which has better reception.

The remote isn’t as remote as it sounds, and the buttons are big and hard to push, which is why you don’t bother with the buttons anymore.

When I talk to you, we have a three-way conversation with the TV.

...and harder still.

The cleaning lady, who comes twice a week, is an opera singer.

She is not really a cleaning lady, but more of an opera singer doing some housekeeping. She doesn’t dust very well, and a lot of things are sticky in the kitchen. The dinner table has a crack. The lamp on the commode misses a bulb. There is a little stagnant pool in the shower.

The opera singer knows not to unsettle things. When she comes in, she holds your fingers between hers as in a sandwich. She calls you Madame Gerard. Sometimes she will lay a hand on your shoulder and tell you stories of her heart.

She doesn’t come on Wednesdays.

Come Wednesday and she visits...

Beside the hat shop, where the street is so narrow and lush with your late friend Sylvie’s heady fragrance, shining in all their glory in the Pauvert deli display, two lobster tails, exposing their cooked insides and how they were cushioned in cascades of mayonnaise ribbons topped with carrot dice and two green peas, hijacked me and my wallet into the line to Mrs. Pauvert’s cash register.

Wednesday morning turned out to be heavy with two cellophaned scavengers and the thought of making you satiated.

“Catch your breath” was what pedestrians told me with their eyes as though breath was this thing that could be caught.

Now I walk in the wake of the invisible vapor that comes once into my nose and twice out of my mouth.

Up the hill the idea of the glass door to your building is more real than the real thing, and I am waiting long before I wait by the buzzer.

Opening your door takes a million years.

...and remembers—such is life a multiplication of memories...

Many Wednesdays ago I took you to the tiny museum with three stories and one elevator.

It was hard and funny to fit you and the wheelchair into the elevator. Up we went in a whoosh.

On the top floor was a flock of Rodin hand studies.

You and I strolled through the forest of hands and walked out untouched, both of us unaware that the world was anything besides a forest of hands.

...divided by impossible wishes...

Two cities you have never been to: New York and San Francisco.

You tell me your wish and immediately you forget because you’re too busy emptying the carcass of a cooked lobster.

Awful cracking of your jaws as I sit wondering how much longer you will hold your thought, whether it is indeed a thought, or just hyphenation, and whether I should reignite you with a word or a question or the aggravation of me cutting my salad leaves.

Then I say those are two cities that have straight lines for streets, and inside I am very scared that you will lose your denture.

...and derisory wills...

“Take care of your mother, will you?”

And I don’t say: “Because you didn’t?”

“Your father can be careless in some respects.”

And I don’t say: “And you were too.”

“She did not forgive Gerard, even on his deathbed.”

And I don’t say: “And she won’t forgive you.”

“Your mother’s father never brought me a present when on leave.”

And I don’t say: “As a result he exploded on a roadside bomb and you wedded Gerard.”

Instead I say: “What a jerk my grandfather!”

And we laugh.

...offset by small bubbles...

Some people like air bubbles in their finished glass pieces.

But most people think of bubbles as a nuisance.

Sometimes an unfired sheet of glass will have small bubbles captured inside. These bubbles are called seeds.

Large bubbles occasionally break through to form a hole.

A way to attack this problem is to slow down the fusing schedule.

In the commode, there is a set of Czech glasses with air bubbles in different colors.

Some Kafkaian glass blower in his primitive workshop turned imperfection into art.

...and the possibility...

Your recliner isn’t reclined, and you sit on it like a Japanese wave about to crash.

Despite that posture you’re taking a nap.

Think of a Japanese wave held in momentum and forbidden to crash.

I sit cross-legged at the trough and read a Catholic newspaper, which has an article on spelling.

It says nowadays students are no longer penalized for wrong spelling.

I look up at you and decide it would be best to kill you today.

...of outward euthenasia.

Bock, bock, bock, begowwwk.

During wartimes a brave little chicken was making noises at the bottom of a potato sack.

Miles away stood a house and a kitchen where a vigorous mistress held a knife that could use some sharpening.

“Remember the old rooster,” clucked the brave little chicken in his despair as he banged on the back of a girl on a bicycle.

The old rooster had escaped the strangler’s hands for one entire night.

The old rooster was a believer, and while the world suffered in judgment, he had stood forth on the roof among the anointed of the chicken God.

The rooster was no chicken, and yet the little chicken took heart in that recollection.

The rooster had looked up at the stars, which were put out one by one as the night faded into dawn.

Now the valiant chicken had only darkness, yet his entire route was illumined.

Is there dignity in dying, she asks...

I am eight years old.

You make me sleep on a cot next to you and Gerard. One of you is snoring.

The blinds let a bit of light in at the bottom, yet there is no air because you keep the windows shut at night.

Volutes of heat come from the floor, encasing us like Christmas presents.

The eight-year-old me wishes to be in Morocco watching the dancing cigarette tip of my mother.

The eight-year-old me wishes to pee, but the toilet lock is hard.

Now the two of you are snoring.



“Are you sleeping?”


“And you, Gerard?”


“Can we play Rami?”

...or dignity in the acknowledgment of incompetence?

You were eight years old.

I made you sleep on a medical bed with rails so you wouldn’t escape.

Before that, I had washed you with a mitt. I had lifted and adjusted the giant diaper on your hips.

Your nightie was a bit wet, but the other one wasn’t dry yet, and the third one was way too warm for August.

We therefore agreed to lay a towel on the bed that would absorb any excess.

Before that, I had washed your teeth and rubbed them with a piece of charcoal for about thirty seconds. I was careful not to brush your gums.

We agreed that white is better than yellow.

Before that, we had made plans for next Wednesday.

We agreed that a tour on the lake would be wonderful but that if the weather was rotten, it would be best to go to the movies.

After that, I laid your pillbox and a glass of water on your night table and kissed you on both cheeks.

We agreed that drugs were nice, although wine had a better taste.

You didn’t say: “Would you please kill me tonight?”

I didn’t say: “I’d be happy to, but how?”

You didn’t say: “Never mind.”

After that, I waited until you started snoring before I shut your door behind me.


SHJ Issue 9
Spring 2014

Cécile Barlier

was born in France and received her master’s degree from the Sorbonne University in Paris. For over a decade, she has lived in the United States, where she is raising her family and working as an entrepreneur. In addition to her time in France and the United States, she has traveled extensively and lived in Mexico, Spain, and England. She has been a regular student and occasional teacher at the Writer’s Studio in San Francisco for a number of years.

Ms. Barlier's short story, “A Gypsy’s Book of Revelations,” has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her work is featured or is forthcoming in Amarillo Bay, Bacopa Literary Review (first place for fiction, 2012), Cerise Press, Knee-Jerk, New Delta Review, and The Tower Journal.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury