For the same reason I like the 10-minute play form, I like the challenge of what’s now called flash fiction (1000 words or less). This one captures the essence. And (surprise!) is pretty much all in dialogue.
The kitchen table is set: Homemade biscotti, the special espresso coffee cups. Fresh coffee, always.
“Hi, Ma,” he says, closing the door behind him. “Coffee smells great.”
She watches as he bends his body, then his arm, shakes himself to make the shoulder strap move over his head, sets his briefcase on the floor.
“You keeping your coat on? You cold? I could try to turn up the heat.”
“I’m fine, Ma. I’ll take it off in a minute if I get too hot.”
“What’s in the case?” she asks. “You bringin’ work to do here? It’s Saturday. You shouldn’t be working.”
“It’s nothing, just some papers,” he says. “I’ll tell you later.”
His mother looks, says nothing, turns to the stove. “You want it black?”
“Like always, Ma,” he says. “Why would I change now?”
“Just like your father,” she says. “He always drank it black.”
“I know, Ma. I was there.”
“Sit. Here. In your regular place. You like the window.”
“I do like the window, Ma. Thanks. You sitting down?”
“I’ll sit later. You look tired. You’re working too hard. It’s not good for your body, working all this time, carrying papers around. You remember the exercises? You doing your exercises?”
“All the time, Ma.”
“It wasn’t your fault, you know.”
“I know, Ma.”
“Don’t use that tone with me. It wasn’t my fault either. Back then they didn’t know about polio, they didn’t have that vaccine, it was…”
“I know, Ma. Just one of those things.”
“One of those things that happen, we have to put up with, make us stronger. You should pray more.”
He watches as his mother pours herself a cup of espresso, counts four spoonsful of sugar, stirs the coffee with the same tiny spoon she has used since he could remember. Finally, she pulls out her chair and sits, looks directly at him.
“What’s going on?” she asks. “What’s in your case, you bring something all the way from the City?”
“This neighborhood,” he says. “You walk down the street, you never hear anyone saying anything in regular Italian.”
“They all talk everything else,” she said, “all of everything, Arabic, Polish, nothing I can understand.”
“Up to you, Ma.”
“Up to me is where I’ll be,” she says.
He smiles. His friends know about his mother. “She’s tough,” they say. “What’s that thing she says? Tell me again.”
“Ma,” he says. “Whatever you want, whatever you say.”
“Another day we can maybe talk about the papers. Now it’s just nice you’re here. You look tired. Are you sure you’re doing your exercises?”
“Ma, I’ll be honest. Not every day. Because, you know, they don’t change anything.”
“That brace helped.”
“I was twelve. It didn’t help.”
“I would have laid down my life for you.”
“I know, Ma. I know.”
They sit, silent, looking out the window.
“Next week, for sure, I’ll look at the papers.”
“It’s a nice place, Ma.”
“Have another biscotti. They’re fresh. Do you good.”