Nebraska Center for Writers

WORST-CASE SCENARIOS
by GERALD SHAPIRO

SPIVAK LEANED FORWARD in his chair, ready to pounce. "Let me give you a for-instance," he said, and reached for the telephone that sat in front of him on the polished rosewood conference table. A group of elderly women sat across from him, some tapping their fingers on the tabletop, others holding their purses in front of them like shields. The air in the conference room was lush with the scent of perfume. "Now, let's just say that you're home alone," Spivak began. "It's nighttime. Very late — one, two in the morning." He punched some buttons on the phone. "Okay — the telephone rings."
And it did. The ring blasted into the conference room, and the group of elderly women flinched at the sound. Spivak leaned forward and adjusted the volume on the side of the phone. He looked intently across the table at a tall, buxom woman in a navy blue dress. Her silver hair was thick and piled high on her head, and a broad streak of white shot straight up through the middle of it, rising off her forehead like a runway.
"What should you do?" he asked her. "Should you answer it?"
The phone rang again, just as she was about to speak. "I'd be in bed," she said. "My husband would answer it. The phone's on his side."
The phone rang again. "He isn't there," Spivak snapped.
"He's not?" the woman asked, smiling. "Where is he?"
"Let's say he's dead," Spivak said, and watched her face fall. The phone rang again. "You're all alone," Spivak continued. "I told you that."
"That's a despicable thing to say," the woman said.

Reprinted with permission
from Bad Jews and Other Stories
Copyright © 1999
by Gerald Shapiro
Zoland Books


FROM HUNGER
by GERALD SHAPIRO

ALTSHULER HADN'T SEEN OR HEARD from his Uncle Phil in years — hadn't thought of him, in fact, except for brief, infrequent flashes — but one day there was Phil, grown old and fatter than ever, in from the West Coast, unannounced, bursting into Altshuler's sleek downtown Chicago office as if shot out of a cannon.
"I got no place, kid," Uncle Phil said in a thick, panting voice. As God is my witness, I got nobody." He put down his luggage — two cardboard suitcases held together by rubber bands and duct tape.
"Hey, what's that about?" Altshuler asked, pumping bravado to his voice. "What kind of talk is that? " He clapped his uncle on the back. "It's great to see you — you're looking good!" he added, although in truth his uncle's cheeks were flushed, seething with blood, his breath a series of desperate gasps. "Well, you're coming home with me, you're getting the guest bedroom, that's all there is to it," Altshuler said magisterially. "We've got a lot of catching up to do. You're settling in for a nice long stay. Don't try arguing — I won't take no for an answer."
"Who's arguing? You think I come halfway across the country on a bus so we can shake hands?" Phil grabbed Altshuler by the lapels. "I'll tell you the truth," he said. "I'm used up, kid. As God is my witness. You take me in or it's all over for me. I'll end up in a dumpster."
"Don't talk like that," Altshuler whispered, swallowing deeply....

Reprinted with permission
from From Hunger
Copyright © 1993
by Gerald Shapiro
University of Missouri Press


AT THE WALL
by GERALD SHAPIRO

"GET THIS," CHARLIE PROCTOR SAID, not looking up from his paper. "An art auction of antique cameo brooches — a place called the Fox Gallery." Charlie and his wife, Nora, were sitting in a little cafe on the lower level of the National Gallery, sipping cappuccino and reading the Washington Post. It was ten o'clock in the morning; the spring air outside was clear and brisk. Charlie had the arts section, as usual, and Nora was immersed in the front page.
"Twenty-third and Virginia," he continued. "Near George Washington University. They call it a 'lunch-time auction' — noon to one. What do you think?"
"What do I think? I think we're on vacation, honey. As in no work."
"One auction? One teensy-weensy auction?"
She sighed. "Where's Twenty-third and Virginia?"
Charlie spread the map on the table and pointed out the intersection to Nora. "We can walk along the mall," he said. "See, right along here?"
Nora stared into her cappuccino in silence. "Oh, well. Okay," she said at last. "One auction."
"It's on the way to lunch, anyway. We can cab it from there. The restaurant comes highly recommended, by the way. I read about it in the Washingtonian. Ted Kennedy eats there once a week, practically."
"Be still my heart," said Nora....

Reprinted with permission
from From Hunger
Copyright © 1993
by Gerald Shapiro
University of Missouri Press

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