BREAKFAST
WITH HENRY
by Nancy Ludmerer
The other driver was looking at her cell
phone, you’re sure of it, but there’s no one to
back you up. Henry certainly can’t do it, so you
hand your license to the police officer and he asks
if you think you can walk a straight line. His
partner, a woman whose wavy red hair hangs
below her cap, is examining the damage to the
other car and speaking with the other driver. You
know there is always a good cop and a bad cop
and you are hoping you got the good one, but you
just don’t know. He shows you a card that says
you are free to refuse the field sobriety test but
there may be consequences. You want to ask
what consequences and what if God forbid your
license were suspended, but worry about your
breath and decide the less said the better. You
have had your usual Sunday brunch, two Bloody
Marys and cinnamon toast, and your sixty-year-
old nephew Henry has had his usual—a vanilla
milkshake—plus he’s now got all three swizzle
sticks from your drinks (three, count ‘em, not
two), plus the lemon wedges, two of which he has
already sucked dry.

Henry has wandered off in the parking lot but not
too far; you see him toeing a black shoe in the
gravel, and muttering his words:
milkshake,
steak, soup, hello, goodbye, catsup,
and Mommy!
You are not his Mommy but sometimes you say to
him that you know he must miss her and he
always responds with
Mommy! and sometimes he
weeps. As usual, he is decked out handsomely for
your Sunday excursion: jockey cap, herringbone
jacket, black chinos, and those leather shoes. The
cop asks if your passenger can vouch for you, but
you shake your head no, no, he can’t and his eyes
bounce to Henry and back and he seems to get it.

If you were destined to hit a car today you are
glad that you were still in the diner’s parking lot,
the diner where you come with Henry every
Sunday, picking him up from Camphill Village,
where he lives with ten other residents in a group
home with a house mother. Henry is the reason
you moved to Copake to the one-room walk-up;
the reason you left Stuyvesant Town and rent
control and your small circle of friends; the
reason you said goodbye to your neighbor and
sometime lover Cal, who said you were crazy to
move to be near Henry, who doesn’t even know
what an
aunt is. Whenever you pick up Henry on
Sundays, and he hugs you briskly and shouts
“shotgun” before climbing into the passenger
seat, you know Cal is wrong.

Florine, the waitress who knows exactly what you
both want even before you sit down, is on her
lunch break, having a smoke, watching from just
outside the diner’s back door. Of course, if the
cop really wants to know how much you had to
drink, he has only to ask Florine, only to examine
the receipt.

You think the best thing you can do is pass this
sobriety test with flying colors. You concentrate
hard and try not to be distracted by Henry, who
has edged closer. The officer draws a chalk line
on the tarmac. He reads from another card, which
he holds at arm’s length:
You will put your left
foot on the line, then your right foot on the line
ahead of it, heel to toe. You will take nine pairs of
steps. Then turn and come back the same way.
When you turn keep your front foot on the line
and turn by taking several small steps with the
other foot. You MUST look at your feet at all times
and keep your arms at your side. DO NOT STOP
until you have completed the test.

His voice changes and he asks: Do you
understand? Do you understand?
You say you do.
It’s a lot to keep straight but you begin. The
hardest thing is to look at your feet, which are
flawed and ugly in sandals, the Fujiyama Mama
pink polish chipped, your insteps dirty. Unlike
Henry’s shiny black shoes which you see walking
beside you on an imaginary chalk line of his own,
mimicking your every step. You can’t help it. You
take your eyes off your feet. You grin at Henry,
starting to laugh, and he grins back. Your arms
flail to steady yourself, but you can’t stop.

Maybe, just maybe, you got the good cop.


Nancy Ludmerer’s short stories and flash fictions appear
in Kenyon Review, Electric Literature, New Orleans
Review, the Saturday Evening Post, Best Small Fictions,
Green Mountains Review, and Carve, where Nancy was
the fiction winner of Carve’s 2019 Prose & Poetry Contest.
Her essay “Kritios Boy” was cited in Best American Essays
2014, and most recently, her flash “Mayim” won first prize
in Streetlight Magazine’s flash fiction competition and her
story “Good Intentions” won first prize in Pulp Literature’s
Raven Short Story Contest. She lives in New York City.
DECEMBER 2020
FLASH FICTION
CONTEST 2020
Honorable
Mention
$25 Award
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