When the boy grew tired of pirate stories before bed, he asked me to tell him a rock n roll story.
But it’s gotta be a little bit scary, he added.
So I told him about Black Sabbath.
Once there were these four lads from jolly old England, I told him, his room dark but for the red flickering glow of a spaceship nightlight. Good blokes, hard working dudes all. They were playing the blues, playing that heavy rock n roll in a band called Earth. But they weren’t having much luck.
After a Saturday night gig somewhere out in the moors or the swamps or whatever they’re called over there—foggy, anyway—their van broke down at a crossroads in the dark, moonless hours of the morning.
Dang this, they said, or something similar but British. They were bummed right out. They thought about throwing in the towel on the whole music thing, going back and spending their lives in the factories, losing the rest of their limbs piece by bloody piece.
Katie’s elderly aunt slept in the sun while her dad recited Red Fox punchlines, trying but failing to keep his voice down, although the remainder of the partygoers, resentfully sober 7th Day Adventists, retreated from the heat into the house where a gray bearded man in rainbow suspenders twisted up a miniature zoo of balloon animals. I couldn’t tell if it was the beer, the sun, or the air of religious judgment, but I began to feel dizzy. I tasted metal. There was a buzzing in my ear and my head felt like it was full of cotton. I caught a whiff of hot maple syrup, then putrefying garbage, both from an unknown source. Katie’s dad’s topic of conversation shifted from Red Fox to Rudy Ray Moore. I excused myself from the table. I opened the sliding glass door and was hit in the face with a delicious gust of cool, dry air, as well as a burst of excited voices. Sitting cross-legged in a semi-circle, children squealed in delight as the balloon man manipulated his cache of multi-colored latex, while the adults focused on gossip. I located the bathroom, closed and locked the door, and splashed cold water on my face and neck. I rinsed my mouth with water from the bathroom faucet. I could hear the screams and laughter and electricity of the party on the other side of the door. I didn’t want to go back out there to all of those faces and mouths and teeth, all of those ears and eyes. I flicked off the light, sat with my back to the AC vent, and decided to take a nap. If they wanted me, they would have to come and get me.
This time, Mom got drunk first. In a pink cat-embroidered sweater, she delicately opened the Beefeater, like it was one of those antique music boxes. Dad watched from the doorway, grinning, flipping his mug in his hands, still pockmarked with paint from our chores yesterday. This was breakfast.
Hours later, she’s driving. We were off to the races today. She’s singing but it sounds like she gargled with gravel instead of Listerine. Her red nails clacked on the dashboard. Dad’s fumbling to light their cigarettes. It was a sunny day and the light cut hard into them.
To be honest, and I know you’re going to think me an apologist, but I didn’t mind them this way. I mean, was it healthy? Of course not. I will say this though – they made sure I was fed, read to, and had good shoes to wear. The drinking never hindered their jobs. They just liked to have a good time. Maybe a little too much, but it was days like this that they really let themselves go. If we were going to the races – they loved going to see the horses – then they were going to have gin instead of coffee, beer instead of apple juice.
I remember on this particular day that I wasn’t really enthusiastic about going though. The night before, they got me a Super Nintendo – I was the last kid in my class to have one and I was looking forward to finally playing some of the games they talked about. But, they said, I was still too young to be at home. I almost made the suggestion that I could stay at home and watch the alcohol for them, babysit the beer, made sure it didn’t run off somewhere. But I swallowed hard and said sure. They assured me we wouldn’t be gone too long. Just to the races. Just long enough to throw some money down.
Mom was usually the better drunk driver of the two, but today, something was amiss. She had swayed slightly on the turnpike and got honked at by a tractor trailer. Dad laughed the first time, but when she did it again a few miles later, he chastised her.
“Debbie,” he said, “quit driving like an idiot.”
She pouted slightly, held her cigarette like a dignitary. “No one’s driving like anything. I just want to get there.”
“The track will be there,” he said. “Let’s make sure WE get there.”
She huffed and looked in the rearview. “Sweetie, you good?”
I nodded. I was daydreaming about saving Zelda. I was doing the math on how many drinks they would be having at the track – the more they lost, the more they put down. I looked up and saw Mom still staring through the rearview.
“Fuck,” she said.
Dad turned. His open mouth spelled it out – red and blue lights. Not the first time, not the last time.
“Well, you’ve gone and done it now,” Dad said. “I should have driven, goddamn.”
“Stan,” Mom whispered.
“Pull over,” Dad said. “I’ll talk. You’re slurring like a goofball.”
The sun highlighted their faces and I remember thinking about how old they looked, how in the kitchen just an hour ago, they looked youthful, like they had just met at a school dance. But now there’s wrinkles, curves, spots where things like gin and bitters hide, and it made them look so alien – like they were a monster that couldn’t scare anyone or anything. They looked like old dogs that would hang out at gas stations and bake in the heat. It was sad. I remember that so well, and what happened next is something I could draw on any canvas with any instrument.
“Well, Stan,” she said, as the cop car whooped behind us.
“Oh, Jesus, don’t you even…”
“Wanna bet? We can make our own race.”
“Awh, hell, Debbie…” Dad smacked his face. The white paint was still on his knuckles, caught in his hairs. He couldn’t even wash his hands properly. But they always knew to make more ice. It’s weird – we notice the talents in people and they never notice it themselves.
“We’re only two miles away,” Mom said.
Dad sighed. He smoked his cigarette. He looked back at me.
“Hey. You know how you like going down hills in your Radio Flyer?”
Dad smacked his lips. “This is the Radio Flyer. And we’re going down together. You ready?”
“Sure, Dad,” I said. “Whatever you say.”
Mom took that as her cue. She sped down the road. The cop raced, too. Here we were – the two finest steeds of our time. Galloping. For glory and honor, for that sacred finish line, for the purse, one for the money. Two for the show. Not everyone can win. Mom clacked her nails on the dashboard some more and Dad sat, clutching his seatbelt, smoking away, like he had intentions on finishing the pack right then and there.
I know what you’re thinking – about me and them. I’m not going to say they were the best parents ever – far from. But they were mine. I had to hold onto that. There, in that spot, as a kid – I had no choice but to stay tethered. I wasn’t sure where else to go. I wouldn’t be sure for a while. Just had to accept it.
We picked up speed. It was such a gorgeous day. I pretended I was in my Radio Flyer, like Dad said. We glided past trees. I felt like I was going to win. I couldn’t think about anything else. I imagined my name in the newspaper – and the thought warmed me.
Kevin Richard White’s fiction has appeared in Hobart, Rejection Letters, X-R-A-Y and Hypertext among other places. He is a Flash Fiction Associate Editor at Barren Magazine. He lives in Philadelphia. His Twitter is @misterkrw.
I’m watching an old movie on my bed, holding my laptop close to my face to hear what the characters are saying.
It’s loud outside.
My apartment has no air conditioning or heat. But the weather is that breezy hardly-noticeable kind so my window is open and I can hear everything going on. The party down the block. The weekend traffic on Pacific Avenue. And the homeless man digging through the dumpster right outside my window.
Once a week he’s been doing this, since I moved in a month ago.
I know this because every time I hear him I have this fantasy.
A fantasy about getting up the guts to talk to him.
I will discover he is actually a genius and that he wrote the greatest L.A. novel of all time. But lost it in a house fire that also claimed his wife and children.
After the incineration (his words) he took to the streets and started garbage sifting– just as a form of therapy at first– but then discovered it to be the purest form of artistic expression. An art form that he would then pass on to me.
After getting paid, Goya drives to Walmart hoping to purchase a gun and spending an hour looking at guns and picking one out and filling out all the necessary paperwork and handing her background check to the clerk.
“So, it will take a week for the background check to process?” Goya asks the clerk.
The clerk turns the forms to read them, and he makes little reading sounds under his mustache, and his eyes go back and forth across the paper, and he breathes a deep breath in to his mouth and out through his nose.
“I can tell you right now that it probably won’t pass,” he says, turning the form around and pointing to a checked check box that reads, I have been diagnosed with a mental illness. “They cannot sell guns to people who have been diagnosed with certain mental illnesses.”
“Okay,” she says, taking the paper from him and walking through the parking lot to her car and driving down the highway and pulling into the parking lot of a different Walmart and filling out another background check without checking the box called, I have been diagnosed with a mental illness.
My eyes-wide are boring holes into this pallid glass of orange juice in front of me. I hear him -the pancake dude – but I cannot break my vision away. My drink has netted itself into tiny ripples, vibrating from the buzz of the restaurant. Tiny clumps of pulp bob up and down like buoys in salt-water sea.
There are waiters waiting for the old grey dying couple to choose their 2:00 PM dinner. Bus boys carrying plastic grey tubs of dirty melamine dishes into the sink sloshed around with soap, just to be slopped up again with eggs and sausage or chicken and waffles. His voice is a tiny speckle in the boisterous breakfast spot.
“So… was that a short stack?” I look up. Pancake Dude smiles, but he’s annoyed I haven’t answered him yet. Thick black dreads line the back of his scalp. His calm skin claims an innocent mind. He is older than me, but I have seen more than he ever has. I resent him for this.
“Just the 3 is fine.” Mom finally answers for me. Tight jawed. Furrowed brows. An almost convincing smile. “Let me put that right in for you, ok?” Pancake Dude takes our menus. Stephanie is sitting next to mom, twiddling her hair into her fingers. Around her thumbs, across the tops of her hands, and back again her brown curls move in the conveyor belt. We sit unspeaking in these unpleasant vinyl booths. I can’t believe they still make vinyl booths.
Now that I think about it, nobody has spoken to each other since last night. Mom is dancing with sideways glances, trying to catch a glimpse of sadness or tears on our faces. She won’t look us in the eyes though. She feels responsible. Which is and isn’t true.
I look up from the table and catch her staring at me. She clears her throat and pretends to look behind my head, at the clock on the far wall.
Hair into fingers, around her thumbs, across the tops of her hands, and back again.
Mom holds her cross pendant in the palm of her hand.
Breakfast tastes like sour milk and sugar. Nobody wants to go home.
Dad’s favorite song comes on as soon as Mom’s engine turns over. She slaps the radio dial mute with the heel of her hand. I think he was trying to reach out and pull her down into the speakers.
Mom turns to us and puts her finger up to her lips right before she lets us out of the car. “Don’t wake up your dad, ok? He’s sleeping upstairs.”
My breath instinctually becomes more shallow, quieter. I think maybe only I could hear the difference, but I wasn’t willing to take the chance. Steph and I slowly lower ourselves to the ground and unlace our sneakers with patience and precision. Socks stay on; bare feet squeak on linoleum floors. We become methodic in our movements. Don’t step on that floorboard, it creaks. Open the cupboard, but don’t let it slam. I even see mom gently placing her purse on the countertop. We are tiny, uneasy guests in our own house.
Aunt Joyce is already there when we get inside the house. She’s cast out any trace of evidence from the night before. Dad’s favorite chair is right side-up and back against the wall where it’s supposed to be. Our floor lamp is gone, but so is the broken base and shattered bulb. She even replaced the repugnant smell of Jack Daniels with Lysol, and a peppermint candle. Everything almost looks normal. It feels as sterile as a hospital, but it’s better.
The only thing Aunt Joyce didn’t manage to cover up was the immense gouge of freshly chipped paint and cracked gypsum board in the wall. I can hear the yelling and screaming again as I start to think about what happened. I stare at the dent in the wall until I don’t see a dent anymore.
Mom makes us dinner as usual, and Steph and I watch Nickelodeon after, as usual. The white dent seems to have eyes. It twists and turns in my peripheral vision. Morphing into a disfigured face; something foul and unearthly. I don’t think Steph can see it, but I know it’s there.
Aunt Joyce is helping mom clean up in the kitchen. I can hear their whispers over “Legends Of The Hidden Temple”, and the sound of plates being put into the dishwasher. They are being too loud.
“Are you sure you and the kids are safe here, Lisa?” “Yes, of course. He’s their father. This has never happened before.” Which, of course, is and isn’t true.
Tip toe up the stairs. Brush teeth. Put on clean pajamas.
Mom folds the sheet and blankets underneath my mattress the way I like. Usually being strapped in snug is nice, but tonight it feels like a cage. She smiles at me and kisses me goodnight, but lingers on the bed for a bit.
I close my eyes, turn to the side and feign sleep. There has been so much silence today in rooms full of people. I don’t want to spend another single minute like that. Mom leaves. I stare at the glow-in-the dark planets on my wall.
I reach out to touch them and trace the stars.
I think about the dent.
The door creaks, and light spills into my room. The noise immediately wakes me up, but I do not move. I don’t move. Don’t move don’t move don’t move.
His breathing is so heavy, and loud. Careless, clumsy footsteps approach my bed. My eyes are shut so tight. I try to relax them so he won’t notice, but I can’t help it.
“Hey bud, are you awake?” I smell the bite of alcohol from his breath as he stands over me. It burns my nose, but I don’t move. If I don’t move he won’t know I’m awake.
He ruffles my hair, hapless and sloppy. Tries to shake me awake. I don’t want to be touched. I know what he did and I know who he really is. I want him away so I can sleep. My head screams. My body screams.
“Jack?” Mom calls him from the master bedroom.
Dad stands over my bed for another minute before leaving. I think he’s looking at the planets. We look at the planets together, apart. I don’t notice him and he doesn’t remember me there anymore.
I think of my mother.
The taste of sour milk.
I feel the dent with every step he takes away.
Ryan Westmoreland loves reading, artisan cheeses, and napping. Her work has previously been published in The Tiny Journal & Beyond Words Magazine. Find her at twitter.com/reeltuffcookie
Didn’t much matter where we ended up because it was always the same faces doing the same things with the same people and the same perspectives. Not much happens when nothings going on.
(practice in dialogue and realism just to make sure we could still do it). Tony asked what Callie’s favorite star was. Unprecedented conversation.
“Star Wars?” Callie said.
“No, just Star.”
“I don’t know any stars.” “You don’t know any stars? Of course you know stars.”
“Name one star I know.”
“Okay,” she said.
“Okay,” he repeated.
“So the sun’s not your favorite star?”
“No, the sun’s not my favorite star.”
“Then what’s your favorite star?”
“I don’t know I haven’t really thought of any of them. The North star? I don’t know that’s a stupid question.”
“Of course it’s a stupid question.” He paused to let that sink in before bringing the conversation back to his answer. “The sun is my favorite star.”
“It keeps us alive. All the other stars don’t even really matter.”
There were three other conversations happening around the table, one staying true to the well-worn subject of Star Wars and which was and wasn’t the favorite films from the series. While nothing of any substance could ultimately be added to the exploration of fandom, it was a conversation that would continue until the end of the universe despite, recycled for as long as the medium of film continued to exist (and maybe even past that). Someone tried to interject themselves into Callie and Tony’s conversation, but came up stopping short.
“If all other stars don’t matter, then why did you ask the question?” Callie asked.
“I wanted to see what your answer would be.” Tony said.
“Well of course it’s the sun now that you explain it. What am I supposed to say? The one my Dad bought my Mom for Christmas?”
“Your Dad bought a Mom a Star for Christmas?” Mikaela asked. (interjection interstitial).
“We all did. It was a family gift.”
Eventually the conversations would collide upon Garrett asking Tony what his favorite Star Wars film was. Someone handed around a plate of cocaine. Kyle did a bump and handed it to me. One in each nostril just to make sure it worked. Later we played some house music. Kyle played three or four tracks and then Garrett played about the same and then I played a few more than that and then Kyle played again for a long while, maybe an hour. I played once again later, but only after Kyle came and got me and told me to.
Fourth of July was coming up and someone offered the idea of the group of us camping instead of staying in town like we’d already been doing for weeks on end. The same thing we did every day. It didn’t need to be special, but living at the beach might just end up making the day worse. A series of differing opinions, but ultimately group consensus decided the best thing to do would be to do what we were already doing, either Tony’s house or Kyle’s house or maybe the beach.
The party ended around midnight. It would be just about the same again.
KKUURRTT is the author of ten books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.
You’re in a rusty, beat-up green pickup that squeaks and sputters on a long, painfully straight highway. The lighting is orange and dusty-glowy but it’s unclear whether it’s dawn or dusk. Literal desert. Tumbleweeds. Cactus. Even in the dream you know it’s cliche. Pawn Shop by Brandy Clark plays on the radio but the static keeps cutting through so you turn the dial. Your car swerves into the opposite lane. An evangelical is telling you you will go to hell. You swerve back into the right lane and turn the dial again. Hot Girl Bummer by Blackbear comes on. The reception is crystal clear but you’re confused because the song alternates between saying “fuck” and censoring it. You feel dizzy. You reach for the can of Coke in the cupholder and take the last lukewarm half-sip left. You can’t tell if it’s half backwash or if it’s just gone flat. You see a gas station on the horizon, some townie off-brand kind you’ve never heard of. You glance at your meter and it’s far past the line for “E” but your car is still moving, lurching, running on fumes. You press the gas pedal down further and power past the station and turn the radio up. It is now playing Dance Monkey, but you didn’t register the moment the song changed because you were distracted. You visualize all four wheels falling off like caramelized sugar melting in your mouth, but they don’t. You visualize the body of the car coasting through the air after the wheels fall away and then coming down gradually several feet later as though the Earth’s gravity had been significantly reduced, but not eliminated. But it hasn’t, and it doesn’t, and it doesn’t have to because the wheels are superglued in place and spinning, propelling you forward. You glance at your odometer. Forty. A sign for the speed limit says 70. No one else is on the road. No one else has been on the road. You haven’t passed a single car since you started driving. When did you start driving? The radio cuts out and you know it’s because you’ve crossed a state border or a dimensional plane or the car is low on gas. Dua Lipa starts singing in your head. You let her. You don’t hear her voice, just a song stuck in your head. The way that downstream part of your brain hears. You see a storefront up ahead. It isn’t a gas station, but you notice you’re both hungry and thirsty. You glance at the clock on your dash and it’s 7, but you still don’t know AM or PM. You picture some vandal filling your tank in the car you leave unattended. You picture the thermodynamic arrow of time running in reverse. You remember that you can call Triple A after you get something to eat. You pull into the tiny lot for the convenience store and check the battery on your phone to make sure you can make the call later. 24%. You notice when you do this that it is PM and not AM, but by now it is almost 7:30. The lettering for the convenience store is big, blue, and unilluminated. The wiring in the letters doesn’t even flicker or short circuit or catch fire. The place must be broke. The letters say PIT STOP. The letters say REST AND DIGEST. The letters just say someone’s name, the name of someone you don’t care about. He probably isn’t the guy working the store. There is only one person working the store. He’s a pimply redheaded boy with glasses, late teens. His shirt is an ugly mustard yellow that clashes with his hair. He is reading a book by Descartes or Hegel or Wittgenstein. It is thick. It is paperback. It is oily-wet. The kind of print so fine it strains your eyes. But you aren’t the one that needs to read it. You turn your attention to the shelves. They are all the same. Red painted, wire, flat red metal bottoms. The paint is not chipped. The paint is still wet. It has come off onto the packets of chips. The packets of chips are all the same too. They are single-serving Lays Sweet Southern Heat BBQ. You count the racks, the aisles. There are six of them, they are about ten feet long, and both sides of each are stocked. Your eyes come to rest on probably twenty or thirty bags, individually. You glance at the wall opposite the cashier. There’s no clock, and the lighting is dim. There are three anti-theft posters but they all say different things and have different images. You don’t care about them. Your eyes scan higher. An official Lays logo advertisement is placed in the corner of the room like a postage stamp. “Lays: betcha can’t eat just one.” And below it and below the anti-theft posters, at the bottom of the room, appropriate eye level for maybe a rat, another advertisement with an identical logo says instead, “Sweet Southern Heat BBQ: it’s all we have.” You plunge both hands into the pockets of your faint black stained jeans. Your right pocket has a frayed hole in it and nothing else. Your left pocket has a wrinkled bill and three coins, all different sizes. You pull them out, unfold the bill and inspect the coins. They’re sticky with something. It is a one dollar bill, a quarter, a dime, and a penny. The orange tag by the first row of chips says $1.22. You grab one bag and take it to the cashier. He rings it up and the total with tax is $1.36. You give him everything you have and ask if he has a water fountain. “By the toilets, but it’s gross. Here.” He hands you a Coke, half-finished. You drink the whole thing gratefully in one gulp. It is lukewarm and it tastes like backwash, but it quenches your thirst, for now.
Lana Frankle grew up in the bay area and got her BS in neuroscience from UCSC in 2015. She is currently a neuroscience PhD candidate at Kent State University. Her short story collection, The Dismantling, was published by Gnome on Pig Productions in 2016.
The route I delivered mail in a remote area, but COVID still was here. People stayed in their houses and rarely came out, but they ordered lots of packages.
Porch pirates thrived now, and since it was fall, spiders set up webs big enough to catch me, dogs barked and growled at me as approached their houses even though I loved them, and
worst of all the bandits with black masks liked to harass me. Raccoons.
I complained about it, but all I received was a letter saying Erin was out-smarted by raccoons. It was posted on the bulletin board and everyone laughed at me.
I couldn’t afford to quit. Since my divorce, I lived in an apartment and needed this job to survive.
I removed my mask to eat my lunch and a raccoon grabbed the package that I just dropped off. I gritted my teeth.
“Drop it, you stupid bandit.”
I ran toward it holding out my dog spray out. The raccoon joined two others and ran toward the woods. I lost too many packages to porch pirates and got letters of warnings. I would like to add some men who lost packages did not receive any warnings. I chased the raccoons.
I turned the corner and one of the bandits threw a chicken bone and hit me in the eye. I turned and it looked like the raccoon was laughing at me. I covered my eye with my hand.
“You must have rabies?” I yelled out. It hissed when it slumbered away.
The package was gone. Another one lost. I made a partial eye patch out of some paper and rubber bands. I finished the deliveries with my one good eye looking out for the raccoons. The last delivery was for a house on a dead-end street. I didn’t even know anyone lived there, but the car in the driveway was the one I saw the girl get in earlier.
Near the front door, I glanced into the window with my one good eye. A girl was laying on an air mattress with a syringe beside her. It looked like she wasn’t breathing.
I called 911. It would take too long if she was overdosing. The window was open and I pushed in the screen and climbed into the empty room. The girl looked like a lifeless doll, I kept my mask on and tried CPR then glanced at an ID next to her. Her name was Emma. She looked like a teenager.
“Emma,” I said over and over, but she remained still.
The ambulance crew arrived and took over trying to save Emma. Someone ran out the back door. He got a head start, but a girl slowed him down and I gained on him. After a few more minutes, the man dropped the girl, turned around, and pointed a gun at me. I froze and saw my sad life fading away.
The man laughed when he looked at me. “Are you a pirate?”
“Let the girl go. I won’t tell the cops anything.”
His hand shook and the girl moaned and that idea faded away.
“What’s her name?” I pointed at the girl.
“Let her go.” I stepped forward.
“No. I’m not afraid of you. You’re just a minor threat.”
He steadied his hand and his finger twitched. He was going to kill me. I closed my good eye then heard a rustling sound. When I opened it, a blur jumped on the man as sparks flew out of the gun. I dove to the ground and everything became fuzzy, but I crawled forward and grab Hayley then we stumbled away from the scene while the man wrestled with the raccoons. I heard another shot and a searing pain in my leg knocked me to the ground. I looked back and saw a raccoon holding a gun. It sounds crazy, but I swear the raccoon was holding a smoking gun. They saved me, and yet one of them took the opportunity to shoot me. Raccoons are insane.
I limped with Hayley toward the arriving police cars. She wasn’t wearing a mask and that made me worried. When I got closer, some of them pulled guns while others stared in shock. I limped toward them with a drugged girl while wearing an eye patch and with blood pouring out of my leg. I collapsed to the ground when they reached me.
In the hospital, my eye improved but remained circled with a dark bruise. I looked in the mirror and thought the raccoons somehow made me one of them.
A negative COVID test was good news. My leg hurt and was wrapped in thick bandages. Nobody believed that a raccoon shot me, but I knew it was true. I played Animal Crossing and the raccoon in that game ran the town. After my experiences I knew that made sense.
I fell asleep and woke up to a blue wolf trying to catch a fish. I shut the game off.
Emma survived the drug overdose. The police arrested the man and explained away the bite wounds on him as from a stray dog despite what we both said about the raccoons.
On my third day in the hospital, Hayley and her mother used a tablet to do a virtual visit.
“You saved mine and Emma’s life,” she said. Her mother nodded.
“The raccoons helped,” I said.
They looked at each other and shook their heads. “Pain meds,” the mother whispered.
“You’re a hero.” They promised to stay in touch with me. Maybe they would.
On my first day back to work my pockets were filled with cookies, cat treats, and crackers.
I threw the treats out and before long a group of raccoons came out and gobbled them up. We made a truce that day, but they still stole food from me since raccoons can’t help themselves. I believe they are born to be mischievous.
The police never found the gun and I kept expecting to turn a corner and encounter a raccoon pointing it at me. No matter what its intentions are the sight of a raccoon with a gun made me shiver. That would be more than a minor threat.
William Falo studied Environmental Science at Stockton University. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The UK journal Superlative, The Raconteur Review, Train River’s first fiction anthology, and other literary journals.
In the market, even though preoccupied, I see her headed my way again, in a well-tailored black suit, white blouse with cuffs showing at the sleeves, black heels.
“What are you doing?” she says, stopping this time.
Most people out of work are beat, never curious.
“Picking out dinner,” I say.
That day, in the meat section, a small steak for $6.26 looks good, but then underneath is another for $8.08. So I have a decision to make. Have been making. Leaning.
She says, “I came back this way because I forgot nuts and you’re still here with that same two packages of meat in your hands?”
“You forgot nuts?”
“Yeah, right, I’m the one.”
I like what I see in her eyes.
And that’s how it starts, isn’t it? The ignited look—right conditions, it rages through the scrub, heads for tall grass.
“It wasn’t ten minutes,” I say. “Not quite eight.”
“If you say so.”
And that could have been it. But then, another day, deliciously eight weeks beyond, more shopping, there she is again.
I favor this store, the only one that has the proper lowest items checkout—even though it takes a longer route (4.4 miles from work; 8.2 from home) to properly get there.
I think she gets it too. I like her basket: smoked oysters, a pack of figs, a carrot juice, two-pack of brownies, pre-made wrapped roast beef sandwich, single roll of toilet paper, what looks like breath mints… and a crumpled white cup from the free coffee station at the front of the store.
(Does that count?)
She turns—looks at me looking.
I should know better but I’m getting drawn into those blue-gray eyes of hers. An edge beckons. She’s like one of those deep dark pools in abandoned quarries, where stolen cars and the parboiled bodies of teenagers end up.
I’ll skip the particulars. After I move in, we fall into routine. First eight days are great.
Neither of us is much of a cook. She uses the kitchen sink only to brush her teeth, and even then, not so often, but I like to do things right, the microwave my friend. I use one of the multiples, 24, 32 seconds depending on volume, to nuke or re-nuke. Eight more, if that isn’t hot enough.
“What are you doing?”
“You ever wonder how the mind can spiral? Loop back on itself,” she says, “so the routine becomes so credible it becomes incredible to believe one could change in any way?”
“Never,” I say, blowing on my spoon.
But she’s one to talk….
She doesn’t want loose batteries around. When the occasion arises, I have to reload a flashlight in the garage.
Speaking of cars, out somewhere, shopping or something? And she sees a dog someone has left alone? She circles the parked vehicle until the poor animal begins to bark. (If it doesn’t, and it’s time to, I stop her.)
When she wakes up and goes into the bathroom at night, she throws off the covers, gets out of bed and walks in backwards—comes out and into the bed the same way.
When she brushes her thick blonde hair? It’s four strokes down the left side, then the same, four, on the right.
I can live with that.
We all have our quirks. To be fair about it, I like to park in the same spot at work. It just makes me feel comfortable. How I start my day. Part of the set I work with.
Like when you hit eight minutes in a shower? You know, don’t you?
Maybe time to get out.
Maybe it’s what happens to any couple, together for that stretch, the feeling-out time, at the end of which you decide to keep it going or not. After say, eight weeks in, you take a long hard look and what do you see?
You see maybe, that day at the grocery was not about matched shopping methods, but instead a pedestrian chance encounter, where the compatibility you felt was a pent-up release, a transitional phase perhaps, rather than any soundtrack made from the music of the spheres.
Number two, you’re in an ice-cold garage puffing breath, changing flashlight batteries.
Number three, you sit down with eight chips, eight spoonfuls of soup and an eight-piece pizza pie because what’s eating healthy got to do with it?
Number four, you can’t believe that even if she doesn’t know that the Chinese consider eight a fortuitous number, a lucky number, a number promising good fortune—she should not be so as crass to remark, “We’re not in China.”
Number five, once you point out to her the base logic of certain numerical tidings she should definitely not smile.
Number six, you see that—don’t you?
Number seven, you see what you know now is the most important thing.
There is no number eight, so there you have it.
But you move on, don’t you? You go into to work, but you take a slightly different way. You may question the routine if not the reason, but you certainly don’t douse the baby with the cold bath water, as the saying goes.
You cut the wheel a little sooner than usual, and your heart thumps, as you swing it into the spot.
You take a deep breath, get out of the car, circle it, count each one out. Get inside on the good foot. Step it off, get it right. The new right.
And just that simple, like magic, yes like the music of the spheres, it begins the moment you see her: at the end of the row of cubicles, short black-haired, not long blonde (as if that mattered), seventh one down on the left.
What you hear is a song you hope will never end. It’s got the right beat, the rhythm to which the dance of your dreams plays out.
Jon Fain’s short fiction can be found here and there. He lies low in Massachusetts.