Fall 2010, Volume 9

Fiction by Phyllis Carol Agins

The Narrow Bed

Lina winds her twenty-six years around his fifty. She cuts his apples, butters his bread, and peels his bananas. Unasked she fills his glass with wine.

“No one has ever taken care of me like this,” he confesses.

In his gratitude, she finds a father. Not like the stern one she buried just before she was fifteen—at that instant he might have found her interesting enough to share his world. We’ll talk when you’re old enough, he had always promised with his morning coffee.

On the night her lover wakes, green-faced and moaning, she doesn’t hesitate to summon the medics. Lina follows on her scooter, sliding around the dark corners, the lights of the ambulance marking the path. She dismisses the nurse’s questions. “Are you a relative?”

More important than family, she wants to call out, refusing to leave as the doctor measures his heartbeat, calculates his pulse, and collects his urine. She holds onto her lover’s hand, stroking the dark hair that springs there from the knuckles to the fingertips. So like her father’s arm lying on the hospital sheets, sometimes clutching with one last burst of nervous energy.

A few months after her father died, her mother searched for another husband even before the bruises from her face-lift had disappeared. Her older sisters, who had surely stolen more of their dead father, moved away. Lina lived with her grandfather—her mother’s father, who had built his fortune in real estate and could name every style of architecture that filled the city. He would stand with his arm around her on the open terrace of his apartment and point out the stone festoons of the Belle Epoque that draped across the doorways and danced along the roofs.

Just two days ago that ancient grandfather was sitting in his favorite chair, considering his favorite TV program, that at 94, he couldn’t hear. When no one was watching, he quietly took a large breath—in and out. And stopped.

Lina once believed all deaths come with an announcement. Curdling cholesterol, passionate blood pressure, or erratic, uncontrolled cells. But here was a simple end.

The sun set that night filled with the cries of all the women in her family. They waited hours for the undertaker while her grandfather rested in his chair, while the TV continued with the evening news and with the political sages who always had something to add.

“It’s All Hallows Eve,” her mother whispered and seriously crossed her chest in a gesture forgotten for years.

“The ghosts must be dancing,” Lina told her family.


Now Lina waits by the hospital bed for the doctors’ pronouncement. She knows her father is only bone. Her grandfather lies in some refrigerator. Or maybe they have already replaced his blood with a chemical that could fool death. Stupid girl, she almost laughs, stroking her lover’s hand.

He is crying. Tests have discovered explosive blood pressure and the sneaky presence of diabetes. For their two years together, he has refused to say that he loves her and will only nod solemnly when she declares the same. As if he weighs her words on some scale of decision.

His daughter, just four years younger, arrives and spits in her direction, “I know who you are and I don’t care.”

Her lover moans with the truth—his body is old, and his daughter has discovered that he’s a liar. “Find a younger man,” he insists as if relieved that he’s been exposed.

“You’re my only love.”

“I’ll grow old while you watch. I’ll be taking pills every day. I won’t be a man anymore. You know…,” he chokes, announcing another kind of death.

This man before her lies solemnly in the bed, making love to his illness. In spite of all, Lina will hold on as long as she can. She is his Medusa with many heads to seek the tender places—the heart, the intellect, the vanity, the groin, the sore shoulders, and his aging face.

As if he can unravel his age, her lover stretches his body in the narrow bed, and Lina cares for it with what she calls love.


BIO:  Phyllis Carol Agins' publishing history includes the novels Suisan (1992) and Never The Same River Twice (1994), coauthored with James Andrew Freeman. Her children's book, Sophie's Name (1992), remained in print for 16 years. Also in 1992, One God, Sixteen Houses, an architectural study was published. Recent fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Eclipse, Whiskey Island Magazine, Philly Fiction, Soundings East, Wild River Review, Westview, Lilith Magazine, Blink, Kalliope, Limestone, Pearl, Argestes, Art Times, Mid-Atlantic Almanack, and Paragraph. Her travel essay "Steps Into China's Culture" was published in The Philadelphia Inquirer. Additionally, she taught writing at Penn State University/Abington Campus and served on the board of the Philadelphia Writers' Conference for more than 14 years.