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Armistice
About the Author: Edward Musto is an off-off-Broadway playwright. He authored the “Evening of Murder” series, the first of which, AN EVENING OF MURDER AND THE LIKE, received an Edgar Allen Poe Award nomination as Best Play from the Mystery Writers of America. Other such “Evenings” include CAMERA-READY ART, MASS. MURDER and EVILUTION. His short stories have appeared in SHOTS, AUDIENCE, COFFEE CRAMP, MYSTERICAL-E, FUTURES and HARDBOILED.


“Certain conformities must be encouraged, despite the casualness of the times we’re living in,” the mother says. “We adhere to them, the mark of a civilized society.”

And the son says yes.

“Help yourself to coffee—it’s on the sideboard,” the mother says. “The toast is ready. I’ve put out some jam.”

And the son says yes.

And all is well until the son says he thinks he’ll just have coffee this morning, and the mother notices he has not even started on the toast she assumed he’d hungrily devour. Disappointment engulfs her and it shows in her face. “Shall I not make you your eggs?” It is practically a whine.

She scrutinizes the young man sitting across the table from her. He is not the boy she raised: his appearance is unkempt, his clothes dirty, his skin pallid, his eyes slightly fearful, as if any moment they might open to a hostile, deranged world.

“If that’s all right.”

“Of course it is!”

“Thanks, anyway, though.”

“Not at all. How’s the coffee?”

“Fine.”

“It’s not too strong, is it?”

“No, it’s fine.”

“The toast?”

“It’s good.”

“Not too dark?”

“No, it’s fine.”

“Really?”

“Everything’s perfect.”

She smiles, pleased that the young man has acknowledged the trouble to which she’s gone. Her best linen dresses the table; the cloth is silky damask with finished edges and a red floral pattern in the center, the cups and saucers are white patterned English bone china and the silverware, meticulously polished, is full-handled pieces with a pleasing heft. On the sideboard sits the coffee service, a five-piece set of antique sterling silver embossed with floral motifs and scrollwork. The pot has no insulator to prevent the handle from getting too hot, so the mother always keeps one of the little red napkins nearby.

“Have you any plans for today, Steven?”

The boy stiffens when she addresses him as such. He is unprepared, as if a new game has been introduced and he’s uncertain of the rules. So he buys time, pretending the coffee is too hot and he must take a moment to blow on it. His grin of self-satisfaction is eerily and wonderfully familiar to her. She smiles back at him then reaches for her own coffee.

“I just thought I’d bum around.”

Now it is she who stiffens. In a reproachful tone she corrects him. Undoubtedly what he means to say is that he has nothing special planned.

“Yes, that’s what I meant to say.”

“Well, I suppose that’s all right—for the day,” the mother says.

“Right.”

“Don’t try to stretch it, though.”

“Right.”

“You don’t want to get lazy, you know.”

“No.”

“Because that leads nowhere.”

“Right.”

“Nowhere is not where you want to be.”

“Right.”

“Nowhere is what it says,” the mother explains. “No. Where.”

And the son says yes.

“Have more toast.”

“No. Thanks.”

“Then drink your coffee.”

He doesn’t, though. Without excusing himself, he wanders to the window. From here he sees the house across the street and the gray sky bearing down upon it. He wonders about the family living there. He gets no clues from what little he spots through their windows. The dark, quiet rooms reveal nothing.

For some reason he asks when the shops downtown open. Why he does this makes no sense. He has no money. He hasn’t even the energy to make the trek. He guesses he just wants to fill the silence. But he has erred. He has called her by her first name. She had warned him against this, but he forgot. Needing a plausible explanation for this blunder, he reasons many kids these days call their parents by their first names—it’s 1974, after all—but he knows she’ll never buy it. This desperate woman wants subservience, not democracy. He has imposed a familiarity she doesn’t desire and diffused the necessary tension between she who governs and he who suffers.



This story appears in our MAY 2018 Issue
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