Michael Farfel

Michael Farfel lives and writes out of Salt Lake City, Utah. His work has been published in a number of wonderful literary journals, all of which can be found on his website, MichaelFarfel.com. He also has a novel coming out in 2022 with Montag Press. And tweets sometimes, @onebillionmikes.

LOVERS by Michael Farfel

The two of them live in a small house that overlooks a somehow smaller lake. He has family money and neither of them have to work, but he finds meaning in his work (development—of what? we're not quite sure) and she writes poems. The house is ancient and the rooms are cold.  They often lay in bed until long past midmorning, even sometimes past noon. They argue about who will make coffee, always finally decided by who has to pee first. It's usually her.

The house, which the locals say is as old as bones, is older. It is rickety and clicks and clacks and wheezes with every movement. When they make breakfast and he cracks the eggs, he cracks them ever so carefully so as not to upset the balance of the floorboards. When they fuck, in their small bedroom, on their nearly invisible bed, it is a cautious practice—albiet lurid, albiet lecherous. Any wrong breath or wrong leaning, any bad attitudes or misremembered lovers, and the house could crumble and fold them up between rotted joists and rust. Anything and that dear dwelling could diminish, tenfold. So they take precautions. And when he scrambles eggs he does so with loving kindness and when she pours coffee she does so slowly and they both take it black.


She’s known she wanted to be a poet since long before she knew anything. When she was a baby she almost never stopped crying. Her mother said in the first two years she was sure she had cried enough to fill an ocean. The only thing that helped, and her mother tried near everything, were books. The forests her father worked were always moving and there were rarely ever libraries nearby. So her mother reread their small collection. No children’s books. In fact, the one that did the best, not only kept her from wailing but helped her and her mother sleep on nights when her father took to drinking was War and Peace.

She's never read it herself, but did inherit her mother’s copy. Now when she has writer’s block, which is nearly always, she sleeps with it in their bed. Her husband found it endearing at first, but grew to hate it. Their bed is already so small.

She remembers very little of the story. It may not have even been Tolstoy that her mother had read to her when she was a child, rather some other’s opus. She swears she remembers endless wars and no small amount of confused young lovers, but couldn’t that be any work of art—any book ever written, whether stretched to its limit or condensed into some opaque metaphor?


She often tried to explain to her husband why she needed to sleep with the book. It was always a rambling mess—a jostling of non-philosophies and inclinations. Something about the beauty of brevity and how over time, the novel, War and Peace in this case, becomes less a literary object and more an interpretation of itself. And because of that, it's not so much the reading of a book that's important but the proximity one has to books—her argument always had kernels of clarity, but was mostly quite confusing. Always near the end of her tirade she would become flustered and swear off poetry and all things literary. To which her husband would say something like, “What about your poem about the frog? I really like that one.”


pale, little frog

on a lily pad

when I

looked up


were gone.


Occasionally he would peel the book out of her hands as she slept. Its corners often bumped into him as he tried to adjust. And on nights when she was under the full control of nightmares they’d both wake up with papercuts. She often woke up with a bruise the shape of the book against her chest. A blue-purple nightscape below her collar bone. A bad look, he’d say. Unhealthy. Whenever he got the chance, after she had fully succumbed to sleep, he’d pull back each finger—pinky, ring, birdie, pointer, thumb—and carefully unwrap Tolstoy’s tome and place it quietly on the bedside table.

Even if she just read the damned thing, he thought. To think of the book as just an object taking up room in their small house eventually drove him mad. There were days when it was all he could think about. During his morning coffee and his commute to work he’d picture it. The version she had, and often held, was old. The corners were all worn, nearly to the bone, and each page feathered at its ends. It was once lusterful, but now mostly gray and the words on the cover were blurred and in some places, completely erased. The thin paper was so translucent that it couldn’t even burn, he thought. Not even a spark.


One night, he decided it was time to get rid of it. Her quiet pale face was outlined and highlighted by the moon and the glow of the lake below. Her lips were held just open and revealed the whites of her teeth. Their criss-cross patterned bedsheets wrapped around her shoulders and her waist. A perfect moment captured, he thought. Beautiful, he whispered. And the book was free. He crept out of bed with it pressed against his stomach.

The lake, he thought, the one below their house that is somehow smaller than the house, somehow smaller even than their small bed, that’s where I’ll get rid of this damned thing. Tie it to a rock and throw it into the sea. He marched in the moonlight, briskly, but not so quickly as to alert the wolves. Just one foot in front of the other until he stood above the moonfull waters.

He had never opened the book before. In all the time they had been married and all the times he had pulled it from her hands, he never once felt compelled. Before he threw it into the water he sat on a black rock that half circled the lake and opened to the middle:




He slammed it shut. “I’d rather not,” he said and pushed the book as deep into the lake as he could. Once the whole thing was submerged he apologized to the quiet night and laid on the rock and watched the new ripples ripple in the water until none were left. Over his shoulder their house looked so fragile. Its old timbers and forgotten windows shook with every wayward draft.


The next morning she woke up alone and overturned their room looking for the novel. First she took apart her drawers. Every article of clothing was cast across the room. Every small keepsake from her life that she had kept was pushed and rolled aside. Her father’s charms and her mother’s too, chucked. All the while, she called out for her husband. She checked her body for the memories of the book—no papercuts, no imprint on her abdomen. She checked the fridge and on top of every hanging picture and under every hanging plant, even in the percolator.

Have I been betrayed? she wondered. The man who I share with every ounce of blood I can muster? Could he, in his helpful, nasty way, his hopeful, nosey attempts at fixing, have betrayed my trust? Stolen my last connection, last bastion, last pillar? She shook with sorrow. The house was as unsteady now as it had ever been. She barely made it across the kitchen to her writing desk without tripping.

“That bastard threw my book in the lake, I know it,” she said aloud.

It took all her concentration to scribble him a note as the stilts and slats and timbers of the home wavered with her anger.  




Just as I was starting to understand it. Just as soon as I was prepared to get rid of it myself.I’m headed down to the lake to fish it out. If, by god, I retrieve it then all is forgiven. If not——I will feel awful for an awfully long time.


yours forever——


As she added the finishing touch to the note, a heart around her name, the house began its descent. At first their bedroom collapsed. Then the kitchen. Fire burst out of the oven and all the windows shattered. She folded the note. The ceramics in the bathroom ruptured and water jettisoned into the light fixtures and there were more flames. She placed the note on her writing desk and put her pen away. As she left and slammed the door the house let out a final, tired groan and ceased to be.


From the road, and perhaps from space, it was a spectacular scene. The house was quite old. Filled with lifetimes of sometimes happy, sometimes angry, sometimes nothing. Once it twisted up completely and its guts were discharged, a plume of blackness and redness erupted in all directions. Flames became a mountainscape and split the sky into stained glass portions. The intensities of the sun melted and reflected and chased each other through the hills. The lake evaporated and the trees wilted and turned to ash. Songbirds circled and mountain goats hid. There was a howling-crying sound that bore up from the earth as it swallowed what was left.

When the earth did finally settle, in place of the house was a greenness with the odd little flower here and there. And the lake, a crater now, had nothing but the book at its center. The smoke gathered into clouds and headed west. On the rock that half-circled the once-lake the husband and wife sat quietly.


An old man, a local, first on the scene after the dust had settled, said he had never seen anything like it. The two of them were shivering and telling jokes—covered from head to toe in dirt and falling pollen. He offered them a blanket and explained to them that they had survived something strange. He told them, and in later years, his grandchildren, that it shouldn’t have happened as it did. That the whole town knew the house would eventually fall, but not like this. He told the two that they shouldn’t have survived, that even the termites and the ants had been cremated. He handed them his canteen and they drank greedily. They thanked him and pointed toward the lake. 

He made his way to its center and picked up the book. The cover and spine were nearly gone and most of the bulk of its contents had been melted and reformed into a rock.

“This yours?” he yelled back.

They shrugged and held each other close.


He sat with the object for a while and pondered it. Where it had once been something, it was now no more than a stone. He looked back at the couple, who were, to his mind, in some degree of shock, and waved. 

Continue Reading...

THE SIDE DOOR by Michael Farfel

Wendy wore black. He loved that most about her. She made her way over, careful, slow steps, like a deer, like he was extending bits of food. “Your arms are smaller than mine. I just need to loosen that nut. But I can't reach it,” Carl said over the exposed engine.“Smaller,” she repeated and made a show of flexing her arms. He laughed, “You're just more compact, is all. Come on, sweetheart. Give it a throw?”She pulled her hair into a ponytail. Maybe it was her hair he loved most. She bent over the engine and maneuvered the socket into place. She had to stand on her toes. He leaned back and watched. Maybe it was her ass he loved most. She worked cautiously at first. One hand resting on the carburetor for balance. She held the wrench awkwardly—difficult to find leverage in such a small space.“Fucking thing,” said Carl.  Wendy looked at him, sad-eyed. “It’s not a big deal. Can’t we just take it to the shop?”Carl shook his head and smiled, “Let me back in there. I’ll get the fucker off.”“Patience, Carl. Patience.”She adjusted the socket wrench so that she could get both hands to it. With one elbow framed against the air filter she was able to apply more torque.  “Careful,” Carl said. Her face turned red as she put more of her body weight into the push.“Careful,” Carl repeated, leaning over the far side of the engine.With one more deep breath the nut broke loose and Wendy’s hand punched through to the engine block. She jumped back and let out a feral yelp. “God dammit,” Carl said. “Are you okay?”She held the new wound to her lips and a line of blood crept down her chin. Her wide, watery eyes glared with unwavering intensity. “Let's go to the sink and have a look.” He handed her a clean rag and she pulled her hand away from her mouth. Carl’s heart skipped a beat when he saw how much it was bleeding. They made it to the sink and she placed it under the cool water.“What the fuck?” he said. She didn’t dare look. The blood ceased its flow abruptly and you could see bone, as clear as day and white as snow. “What the fuck?” Carl repeated. “Is it bad?” she asked through clenched teeth.“We just need to get you to a doctor. Jesus. Oh God.” They took his work truck and he punched it out of the driveway. He couldn’t look at her. Her complexion pallored as shadows of street signs danced across her face. Occasionally she'd touch her hand to her lips.“Turn on the radio or something,” she said. “I can’t bear to listen to the throbbing.”He fumbled with the radio dial. Country music blared.

My love was deep for this Mexican maiden, 

He moved to turn it down, but she shook her head. 

One night a wild young cowboy came in,

He dared a quick glance at her hand. The wound had grown to twice its size—more and more bone.“Don’t pick,” he cried out. “We’re almost there, just a few more miles.”

with wicked Felina, the girl that I loved.

 He let her out in front of the emergency room doors. By the time he joined her inside she was already sitting.There were four other people waiting: a mother and her son, a short-haired woman and a square-shaped man. Each—except the mother—had injuries similar to Wendy’s. The boy’s outstretched elbow showed a swath of bone the size of an egg. The short-haired woman held her face in her hands, looking forward toward nothing, and under her right eye was the same thing. Bright white. Smaller than the boy’s and in the shape of Illinois. The square-shaped man had a gash across his forehead. The flickering of the fluorescent bulb cast the injury in stuttered light.Carl sat down next to Wendy and touched her good hand, “What’s going on here?”“What do you mean?” she was annoyed with the question and didn’t hide it. “I’m waiting for them to come get me and put me back together, Carl. Because of you.”He blinked his eyes as a sudden headache built above his nose. “But, what about them?” he motioned his head toward the others.She scanned the room then looked at him and shook her head. “That's none of our business Carl. You need to stay focused.”Three of her knuckles were now totally revealed and the injury crept up the back of her hand. He sat with her for what felt like forever. Fifteen minutes. Occasionally the square-shaped man would hum and the short-haired woman would make a show of adjusting in her seat. Carl focused on his feet. Every time he looked up their wounds seemed to grow. His heart thumped in his ears.“I’m going to see what’s taking so long,” he said, mostly to himself as he stood.The nurse working the front desk didn’t acknowledge him immediately, eventually pointing to an intercom button. She was safely tucked behind a plastic window.He pressed, “What’s going on here?”“Excuse me?” she responded.“Wendy. She’s been over there for an eternity. Fifteen minutes. Twenty. Her hand, it’s...” he looked back at Wendy and took a deep breath, “... falling apart. It’s a major issue. We need help.” His words knocked together. “Right now, please. Right fucking now.”“Sir, please watch your language. We’ll get to her soon enough.”He looked over his shoulder again. The mother and son both looked at him. The boy’s wound now nearly encompassed his whole arm.“When?” Carl whispered. “Please.”“Sir, I assure you help is on the way.”“She’ll die out here, you stupid bitch.”The mother covered her son’s ears and gasped. Carl felt the eyes of the room dig into him.The nurse smiled and nodded, “Okay sir, I’m gonna call security now.” “I’m so sorry,” said Carl, “I just…” he put his face in his hands. The nurse was already on the phone, still nodding. Before he could turn around security had arrived. Two men. A small man with a small mustache and a much larger man. The smaller man wore the clothes of an hourly security guard with an emblem on his chest reminiscent of Nazi-era aesthetic, meant to strike fear. The larger was an actual police officer. Barrel chested, gun at the ready, super-human smile.“Everything alright here?” asked the officer, never losing eye contact.“Yeah, is everything all right?” repeated the security guard, never making eye contact.Carl nodded. “Fine, fine. Just waiting in the waiting room with Wendy.”“Who’s Wendy?” asked the officer.The security guard opened his mouth, but the officer lifted his hand in protest, always smiling.“What does it matter who? She’s sick and they won’t help her.” He pointed at the nurse. “They lack urgency. There is no urgency here.”“How about we step outside for a minute, Mister… What did you say your name was?”“No,” Carl said. “Wendy needs me.”“Wendy’s fine,” the officer said and motioned for the security guard to move behind Carl. “We’re gonna take this conversation outside. Let the autumn air cool us.” The officer winked.“No,” Carl repeated.The officer's gaze faltered for a quick second, he seemed to be examining something just outside of Carl. “Only two ways, sir. There’s the front door and there’s the side door. Do you understand?” the officer said, eyes refocused. Carl looked back and forth from the guard to the officer.  Nothing was making sense.“You see, I'm the side door,” the officer continued. “I exist as an act of kindness. Pure kindness. Unburdened by evil. You understand?”Carl laughed nervously, “You have the wrong guy. I’m here for Wendy. Her skin is—it’s melting.”In one lightning-fast movement, Carl was on the ground. The officer had pulled Carl’s arm one way and swept his legs the other. Guiding him down in an almost tender embrace.The security guard yipped and clapped his hands together. “Great. Wow,” he yelled out.The officer leaned over Carl, his smile ever wider, and said “The side door, then.”  Carl looked back at Wendy as the officer pushed him down a long hallway. She seemed fine. She smiled a full smile and Carl remembered that that was why he loved her most. Her teeth. Strange that he would’ve forgotten that, he thought. He waved and immediately regretted it because when she waved back he could see that her hand was mostly bone now. He felt himself scream, but couldn’t hear anything.The officer and the guard accompanied Carl all the way to his car.“Now, I’m gonna let you sit out here. Wendy is a beautiful woman. I’d hate for her to be stranded. But just remember what I told you.” “Two ways?” asked Carl looking up from his driver’s seat.“There is only one way, Carl.” The officer finally stopped smiling.The guard did two fast punches in the air and yelled out, “One way, buddy,” and slammed Carl’s door.

Continue Reading...

A NOTE TO YOKO OGAWA by Michael Farfel

a note to Yoko Ogawa,

I think that others might say you make key lime pie like all other confections. You pick the fruit—found in trees and sometimes pockets—and you open it and line it up and chop. It takes patience, of course, to form the pastry dough and fold it out and fill it up. 

I found a recipe, in the back pages of your books, a sort of misdirection in the language and the wording. A few drops of this, a subtle push and an open door. A room revealed. A kitchen and a stove. The fruit is there and a table and a chair. And with caring, and with time, the pie reveals itself.

Continue Reading...