Meg Pokrass ~ Two Stories

Serenading the Barrow

It start­ed with Papa singing La Traviata to the pigs, specif­i­cal­ly to the cas­trat­ed bar­row, Bernardo, and much lat­er he joined an all-male choir that met in the city cen­ter. His voice became pro­fes­sion­al. “He’s real­ly good, I think,” Mary said. Their moth­er would have been dis­gust­ed. For all they knew, she was hik­ing in Greenland under the majesty of the Northern Lights, some­thing she had always want­ed to do, and one day they would hug her and tell her how proud they were even if they missed her.

In the barn, they sat togeth­er, wor­ry­ing about how to find their moth­er in case their father’s singing career spi­ralled out of con­trol. “Does she even have a phone?” Mary said, try­ing not to stare at the sows who were known to take good care of their babies.

But what real­ly got to them was the way Papa sin­gled out Bernardo who Papa claimed smelled like maple syrup. The girls crept up to the barn just to wit­ness the spec­ta­cle of it. Moonlight sliced gen­tly through the slats of the barn while he crooned to the sati­at­ed ani­mal who looked much sad­der, less ago­nis­tic than the reg­u­lar pigs. Bernardo snort­ed and grunt­ed as if eager for more than just berries and zucchini.

And now, when their father sang alone in the show­er, or in the kitchen mak­ing pan­cakes and veg­gie bacon, or with the gay men’s cho­rus down­town— the girls could imag­ine how much bet­ter things would have been if their moth­er had clapped.

The Gleaners

Less than a week before my wife’s fifti­eth, I thought how impressed she’d be if I found her the right present this time. She was back from a weight-lift­ing cham­pi­onship in Florida with yet anoth­er gold medal gleam­ing in her hands. She hand­ed it to me, told me to add to the dis­play case. I pol­ished her tro­phies reg­u­lar­ly— it was fun to see them com­pet­ing for small slices of liv­ing room sunlight. 
“Do you under­stand?” I whis­pered to our over­weight Corgi. “This time I’m going to buy her some­thing larg­er than life.”


Four days before my wife’s birth­day, I was stumped on what to buy her, so I found myself think­ing about my Francophile lover. She sent me an old video of her­self as a young woman vis­it­ing Paris, play­ing an accor­dion. She stayed in her apart­ment on sun­ny days, drink­ing wine, eat­ing blue cheese, and watch­ing French movies.
She would watch the same films indef­i­nite­ly. Last time I vis­it­ed, we watched Agnès Varda’s The Gleaners & I.

The movie was about down-and-out­ers who took every­thing they could gath­er includ­ing sur­plus veg­gies from fields, rub­bish from trash­cans, oys­ters washed up after a storm. Used what­ev­er they could find to cob­ble togeth­er a rough kind of life. 
After the movie end­ed, I felt almost fine again.


Three days from my wife’s birth­day, I sat around in box­er shorts, drink­ing pastis next to the dog. Coming up with a spe­cial gift for this lady was hard. She was the kind of woman whose arms were thick as tree trunks. When I jumped on her shoul­ders from behind, she tossed me off with a shrug.

“Please let me know what you want!” I begged.

She picked me up and car­ried me into my bed­room, plopped me down on the old mat­tress like a sour­dough starter. 
“Don’t try so hard,” she said before retreat­ing to the weight room. 
“What do you see in me?” I texted my lover. I sent her a pho­to­shop pic of myself in a beret and she sent me a gold­en thumb emoji.

Two days before my wife’s big birth­day, I found myself feel­ing exis­ten­tial­ly emp­ty. I looked at my skin­ny fin­gers. Why did my hands look old­er than me? I was tempt­ed to heave the dog above my head, just to see if I could do it, but the dog seemed to sense it and ran to my wife’s weight room for protection.

My wife was train­ing for the next com­pe­ti­tion. I could hear her grunting.
“I used to make her laugh,” I remind­ed myself. I walked into the weight room and wig­gled my ears to crack her up. It was a skill that had been hand­ed down through the generations.
“You’re ruin­ing my con­cen­tra­tion,” she said. Only my lover laughed at my tricks.

The night before my wife’s birth­day, I made a list of items that might have worked as gifts even though it was too late to find them:
1. An “Am I the real joke?” t‑shirt
2. An accor­dion (she did­n’t know how to play an instru­ment, some­thing she felt fine about but I saw as a deficit).
3. An Agnès Varda poster, with a quote: Ageing is inter­est­ing you know? I real­ly love it.
I thought about all these things that I did­n’t buy or arrange. None of them felt right for her.

On the morn­ing of the birth­day my wife dis­ap­peared to the gym. I took a dri­ve, try­ing to relax.

“Je né sais pas,” I chant­ed while the Peugeot growled its way along the famil­iar streets. I was wind­ing my way toward to my lover’s apart­ment, as if the car knew what was best. When I got to her apart­ment, she threw her skin­ny pale arms around me.

“C’est l la vie,” I said. Then we turned on The Gleaners & I, played it over and over.
Meg Pokrass is the author of nine col­lec­tions of flash fic­tion and two novel­las in flash. Her work has been pub­lished in 3 Norton antholo­gies includ­ing Flash Fiction America, New Micro, and Flash Fiction International; Best Small Fictions 2018, 2019, 2022, and 2023; Wigleaf Top 50; and hun­dreds of lit­er­ary jour­nals includ­ing New England Review, Electric Literature, McSweeney’s, Washington Square Review, Split Lip and Passages North. Her new col­lec­tion, The First Law of Holes: New and Selected Stories by Meg Pokrass, is forth­com­ing from Dzanc Books in late 2024.