“Venice” Novel Excerpt by T.j Larkey

 

venice-FINAL.jpgAnnie isn’t responding to my requests for more marijuana. 

She says she’s busy with her other job. 

Some sort of self-help, shaman-yoga-instructor gig. 

But I have my suspicions.

A few weeks before the ghosting began I’d shown up at her door uninvited and intoxicated. 

Apparently, I was struggling to sit effectively on her bean-bag chair, then I threw up in her bong and demanded she sell me more cocaine.

I don’t remember this visit.

She sent me a message — emotionless, declarative sentences — explaining what had happened, and hinting that maybe I should try out sobriety. 

And then that was that. 

The drug-dealer equivalent to a break-up.

I have to find a new dealer.

 

♦ ♦ ♦

 

I’m out walking the boardwalk. 

I don’t like walking the boardwalk but that’s where I was told I could find weed so I’m out walking the boardwalk. 

It’s noon on a Saturday. 

There are people everywhere. 

Men holding CD players keep coming up to me asking if I want to make a donation to their music.

Which means buy their CDs.

Which means I cannot say no.

Which means I don’t have the strength to ignore them. 

By the time I find a guy that can help me out, I’m carrying three CDs that I paid a total of three dollars for because I didn’t want to talk anymore with the aggressive musicians peddling them.

“You broke under the pressure, huh?” the guy says after telling me he can hook me up.

“Broke hard,” I say.

His name is Fresh.

He has these small face tattoos on his forehead and cheeks and he keeps calling me “bruh bruh”. 

Fresh is also a musician, a rapper, but he doesn’t have any more of his CD’s left.

“They’re selling like crazy bruh bruh,” he tells me.

“Yeah?”

“Hell yeah, straight fire.”

I tell him I’d love to hear his music one day. As long as he doesn’t pressure me into listening to it in front of him. Then I ask how the transaction will work.

“Oh yeah,” he says. “You want that loud? Follow me.”

After walking for a few blocks we get to a dispensary. Fresh goes in without saying a word to me and I just keep moving past the dispensary and into the alleyway next to it. 

Waiting. 

Nothing to do. 

Nothing to distract me.

It’s dangerous.

I start worrying about cops for some reason, like I’m a wanted man, then I try to act like I have something going on in my life other than waiting in alleyways for drugs.

Act normal.

You can do it.

I pull out my phone, start having a conversation with myself. 

Saying things I imagine young men say to other young men on the phone.

“Yeah dude that party was nuts!”

“You banged her?!”

“No dude, Chad won’t be pissed, he’s so fuckin’ solid.”

After a while I start to worry that Fresh isn’t coming back. 

I’d gotten too deep into my character. 

How much time had passed?

Should I take this as a sign?

Should I be more like Chad?

After another fifteen minutes I give up and walk back to the boardwalk. I talk to a few more people but they look at me like I’m speaking a language not of Earth, like I’m an It. 

Makes sense, It says to itself.

Finally, a man who says he’d been watching and laughing at me as I asked around offers to help. He’s got a good look. Shaved head, wearing sweatpants and matching sweatshirt, and big fake diamond earrings.

I trust him.

“I got my card,” he says. “How much you want?”

I tell him I want an eighth and he makes a motion with his hand like, “No problem.”

He says, “But I will need a service fee though, that cool?” 

I nod my head and hand him the money. As he counts it he keeps looking up at me and smiling, either reassuring me he’s not going to leave, or testing me in some way.

“You’re not from here huh?” he says. “You got that look.”

“Arizona,” I say.

“Oh shit, for real? I’m from Downtown Phoenix. But I moved here a few months back. I sure as shit don’t miss it. Fuckin, had to get outta there, ya know?!”

“Fuck Arizona,” I say. “Yeah.”

He tells me to stay put and points to where he is going. It’s not too far but he is adamant that I stay put.

Five minutes go by.

Ten minutes go by.

Fifteen minutes go by.

And then I start to panic.

Without a plan or even a second thought I start walking toward where he pointed. Moving through the crowd. I pass a storefront with a man dressed like a doctor and holding a sign advertising quick and easy weed cards, and then I pass a shirtless man in a speedo, cruising on rollerblades and offering high fives to people. 

It forces a thought like– Venice Beach, baby. 

Today’s mantra. 

A song for my city. 

This is Venice, yeah. This is my new home, yeah yeah. 

I already recognize some of the people. 

The bodybuilders, the dog-walkers, the joggers, the homeless woman that threw a half-eaten yogurt at my feet on my first day here and hey hey hey, the largest gentleman I’ve ever seen in my life. 

You can’t miss him.

I’d noticed him a few days ago, harassing anyone that looked too weak to say “get away,” while talking on the phone at a volume that could be classified as abuse. The kind of guy that you can’t imagine being alone or not speaking, his huge body like a cancer consuming everything around him to survive.

I cut through the crowd trying to avoid him. But we make eye contact and it’s awful. He walks right up to me, no hesitation. I’m one of the weak ones. 

He says, “Hey, young man,” over and over, and I know he’s talking to me but I try to ignore him.

“Young man! You, walking away from me.”

But I can’t ignore him. He steps right in front of me and asks if he can help me. I tell him no. I tell him I just moved here and I’m taking in the sights.

“You sure I can’t help ya?” he says. “Are you abso-fuckin-lutely sure?”

And that one does it. Without thinking, I break. I tell him what’s going on and he starts laughing.

“I knew it!” he says. “I know everything goin’ on in this bitch. So you want my help or what?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “Maybe I should wait. Maybe he’s just—”

“Nah nah nah. That’s what I’m saying, you can’t trust people these days. And I ain’t motherfucking people. I can get you anything,” he says, “Eh-nee-thang.”

As soon as the very large gentleman says this, I see the man I’d given my money to. He’s walking directly towards me until he sees the large gentleman talking to me. He stops, changes direction, heading for an alley behind a tattoo parlor and gesturing for me to follow.

So I follow.

And the large gentleman follows too.

“Thanks,” I say, “But I see the guy.”

“Who!?”

“Thanks for your help man. Have a good one.”

“No no no young man,” he says. “Where this man at?!”

I walk down the same alley the man from Phoenix went down. I see him smiling. He looks like an old pal, my fellow Arizonan. I never should’ve doubted him. 

He raises his arm out to do the exchange and we slap hands. Then I tuck the weed in my pocket as I walk away. Finesse.

“Hey, young man!”

I turn around. 

The large gentleman is standing in front of the man that just made the exchange with me. 

My fellow Arizonan looks terrified. 

And the largest gentleman in the world suddenly looks like he’s also the angriest man in the world.

“You know this punk-ass could get jumped for what he just did right!?” He points at the ground aggressively. “This my shit right here! You come to me!”

The man from Phoenix tries to walk away but the large gentleman towers over him, standing in his way. A shoving match ensues. And I can still hear, “You come to me!” as I walk back home.

My new home.

Venice.

 

“Venice” is currently available for pre-order here

a bundle option including Venice and two other titles premiering this Fall is also available for order [we recommend this for obvious reasons: uhhh they’re good books lmfao?? obviously]

‘Bob’ by Danie Hensley

4552842953_0acf7d9bc8_o.jpg

bob used to walk his dog taffy past my place every day

taffy shit on my lawn
i didn’t mind

bob moved here from Florida and was always cold;
he wasn’t prepared for the cruelty of Michigan’s weather. as an ex-Floridian myself, i assured him that things would get better, that it’s not so bad here
things would get better
things would get better

so bob and taffy walked on- just as they had done the day before and would do the day after
it’s been a year since i’ve seen them
the seminoles flag in bob’s yard is at half-mast
and my lawn is clean.

Exploding Note Theory by Mike Lee

38334521052_5922fcee69_o.jpg

 

The morning began with me feeling more twisted than fresh cornbread in the river. I read it on the Internet, that place where one gets rewired to be like everyone else who spends too much time online. I should know. I go back to the prehistoric times before the Swiss came up with the world wide web and some techs in the Midwest designed Mosaic.

Those were fun times, I guess. Writing a novel and college essays on a six-inch Macintosh SE screen, while playing a one-dimensional game fleeing a mummy deep in a pyramid.

Now living through a pandemic wired to talking fish repeating phrases while blowing up stuff to win coins and diamonds to move on to the next round. I ended up spending way too much money on that. When it finally occurred to me that I spent more than two grand in six weeks, I realized I was like my damned rounder father. He who failed to be a parent, a husband, and left behind a box of checks to Vegas gamblers. Several were to a then-legendary poker player Nicholas Dandolos, named “Nick the Greek.”

I looked Nick up on Wikipedia. He was a good guy to lose to. Won and lost perhaps 500 million dollars in his gambling career. Once had Einstein at the poker table.

My father was stupid. No wonder he was constantly broke, stole cars to cover his losses and abandoned the family, with the FBI, of all people, on his heels.

I never met him, but in reading the biography, Nick was quoted as saying “Never bet on anyone who could talk.” My father should have listened. But, didn’t. There was nothing left of him but a box of cancelled checks I found in mom’s bureau drawer when I was nineteen. She later threw them out.

My half-sister, who was a teenager at the time, told me after the Feds visited the house, my mother burned everything of his, including all of the photographs. Therefore, I do not know what he looked like, except he had sandy hair. I am gray now, so, it doesn’t apply.

But I wasted a lot of money on an Internet game for six weeks.

For nothing.

My girlfriend called between clients. In our conversation, she asked what my longest train ride was. I said when I was a baby. That was when we took a Santa Fe from Los Angeles, where I was born, to East Texas to live with my grandparents.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, I considered taking an Amtrak to see her. She’s 1900 miles away in Austin, and I have two weeks off at the beginning of next month. Might be safer that way.

She panicked a bit about the idea. I understood and talked about something else, such as mopping the floor or how my daughter was doing.

This meant two weeks in New York, alone. Alone, again. A lonely two, we have become.

I got through the day of working from home. When doing so time stretches out so far you lose track of time until sundown. It is Midsummer. Therefore, this is a very long day, and unhealthy this sure is.

I wrote a feature, edited some copy, posted a blog, and ran a social media campaign on Twitter and Instagram. Answered emails and texts from neurotics. The paychecks come weekly, so I count myself lucky. I know people living on unemployment, and a close friend was just laid off a second time from the retail store that just reopened because there was not enough business.

Of course. There are no tourists in New York, and the well-heeled have fled since the lockdown began in March.

My girlfriend was tired when she called at bedtime. Too tired to Skype. She put in 14 hours, too.

Amid the boom of firecrackers, I fell asleep, assisted by Xanax. It is very stressful here.

I dreamed. I am on a train, passing through Mississippi. I sat with Nick the Greek and a man with sandy hair, his face turned away from me. My father, obviously.

Nick put his hand gently on my shoulder.

“The crystals cannot reach you,” he said, reassuringly. “Sleep well. They can still see you.”

“They watch over you like the diamonds I promised your mother,” said my father.

I opened my eyes at the gloaming sky through the window.

All will be well.

Yes, will be well, and slept a bit more before waking to begin another 14-hour day, starting with exploding coins and diamonds.

 

Mike Lee is an editor, photographer and reporter for a trade union magazine in New York City. His fiction is published in Soft Cartel, Bending Genres, Ghost Parachute, Reservoir, The Opiate and others. Website: www.mleephotoart.com. He also blogs for the photography website Focus on the Story. https://focusonthestory.org/stories/

“No One Can Figure Out Why John Fed Himself to a Bear” by Benjamin Davis

14113248032_522bfca7d5_o.jpg

I was thirty years old. I had money. It moved around me. It didn’t grow as I wanted it to, but it didn’t run away from me like it used to. I could afford a car, an apartment, and an assortment of smart gadgets.

I called my friend Carl and said I’d drive him to the zoo. “There is a new superhero exhibit,” he’d told me a few days earlier over a club sandwich. “I really want to check it out,” he’d added, before the day spiraled into sidewalk therapy about our friend John. John had fed himself to a bear.

“Thanks,” Carl told me as I paid his entry ticket. We made our way to the exhibit and I tried to make small talk as we went.

“How are things going with Angie?” I asked.

Carl shrugged. “She keeps wanting to work through everything.”

“Oh, poor baby.”

“No—it’s nice, but I mean, I am just in no shape to be getting serious with someone. I’ve
got too many things in my head and I am falling apart,” he said. He looked up. It was a nice day.

“Anyways, how are things with Y?” he asked.

I nodded. “Yeah, good.”

“Good.” He sighed. “Good for you.” Carl was quiet as we passed through the gateway and
stopped at the first enclosure: Victor Jaws | Alias: Bite Doctor

“My penis fell off last week,” Carl said.

I turned away from the scene. It was littered with great chewed-through blocks of concrete. I tried to look sympathetic.

“Damn, man.”

“I put it in a little bag.”

Carl reached for his pocket.

“I don’t need to see it!”

“What? No. No-no.” He unwrapped a piece of gum and put it in his mouth.

“No—it’s at home.”

“What’d Angie say?”

“What do you think? She said we’d work on it, that it’d be okay—everything will be okay,
okay?”

I nodded.

Carl chewed his gum and we walked.

It was a fascinating exhibit, though most of the heroes didn’t come out to where you could see them. We passed a group of teenagers banging on the window of Mark Storm | Alias: The Whirlwind and crying, “BLOW ME!” Carl watched them.

“Remember when we went to the aquarium and John pressed his bare ass into the glass on the tank—sharks or something, right?”

“Sharks or dolphins or something, yeah,” I said.

Carl laughed. “His mom was pissed.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Have you seen her?”

“His mom?”

“Yeah.”

“No.”

We watched the kids. They laughed and laughed and called again, “BLOW MEEEE!” At
least someone was having fun, I thought.

“I just still can’t understand,” Carl said.

Here we go, I thought.

“Why would he do it?”

“I don’t know, man.”

I always hoped I’d have a better answer for him, but every time I just said, “I don’t know,
man.”

“Like even if he’d just been normal about it, like a gun or something, or pills. He was happy, though. Right?”

“Yeah. I don’t know, man.”

“But why that way,” he sighed. “You know, when we were young, it felt like the world made a lot of sense. Now, it’s like -” He looked over to the kids—they were beside themselves, laughing.

“Enjoy it while it lasts!” Carl shouted to them.

The kids looked over. “What’d you say bro?” said the largest of the three.

Carl narrowed his eyes at him and said, “I said enjoy it while it lasts. You’re young and you’ll laugh and you’ll plan all of these things and then you’ll grow up and some of you will succeed, a little, maybe, but two out of three of you, one if you’re a real bunch of shits, which from the looks of it, you are, will fail because the world doesn’t have enough for all three of you and you’ll fuck up everything you touch because that is all anyone does is fuck things up and then make some money and—and, buy a car!”

He looked at me.

I looked up at The Whirlwind.

He was in midair on the other side of the glass, tights rolled down, masturbating with the
angriest goddamn look on his face.


Benjamin Davis is an ex-fintech journalist and folklore addict living in South Korea. His work can be found or is upcoming in *82 Review, Defenestration, Cease, Cows, and others.

2 Poems by Wallace Barker

3953861947_7fec37c3e6_o.jpg

Origami City

heading back to work on a cold and sunny day
ive earned a living my entire life now i support
plenty of other people i drive to the office
spend 8 or 10 hours frustrated and cross
then drive back home at night often eat dinner
alone that i have warmed up in the microwave
i know about quiet desperation but i also know
about real desperation because i have driven beneath
the overpass and seen the homeless encampment there
the city folds over onto itself and some people
are crushed that way and some people navigate
the creases over and over even as the folding
leaves a smaller and smaller page

 

Peaceful Easy Feeling

I was very drunk at a martini party
sitting around the fire pit with some
young successful tech bros and lawyers
my friend gave me a vape pen with
indica weed when I first arrived and

I was stoned losing my grip.
These guys were talking at me about
something but the fire was so warm
I couldn’t really respond and I thought my
normal thoughts about being overwhelmed
and possibly inferior and then you arrived
Alicia in your green dress and black boots
with your bangs falling across your glasses
and I liked that so much I like you so much
you seemed very cool to me.
I told the guys around the fire that you
are my wife in an interrupting manner and
I felt very glad and self-assured about you.
That made me calm and strong in my thoughts.
The fire was indeed warm so I sat back and
you talked and made everyone laugh.

 

Wallace Barker lives in Austin, Texas. He has been published in Neutral Pages, Reality Hands, Soft Cartel, and Philosophical Idiot. More of his work can be found at wallacebarker.com

3 Stories by Dylan Gray

5440194277_c23525712d_o.jpg

Solar Purification

He keeps all his water in jars beside his window. He wants to capture the sun. He tends to his garden. He gathers acorns. Water molecules bind with the photons emitted by the sun; these photons contain restorative properties. He is a young man, already considering life after death, excited for whatever shape comes next. He hopes to be a tree, growing tall, stretching closer towards the sunlight with each year, one day seeing the light travel atop his brethren against the blue mountains and aqua sky. He lays outside on his naked back to absorb all the light he can, rolling over occasionally on the soft grass. He thinks of his future kids. They will tend the garden after he is gone. He will teach them how to harness the sovereignty of the sun. When he is older, he will live inside a glass house.

Ornaments

She kicked her TV habit, now she didn’t know what to do with her life. Reading disturbed her sleeping pattern. Music was a bore. Instead, she bought all the discount Christmas ornaments from the dollar store. She would drive an hour into the country at night and toss the cheaply ornate bulbs into an abandoned quarry. The shimmers of moonlit water coalescing at the bottom with an explosion of scintillated shards of glass enthralled her for hours. She bought hundreds of baubles over this time. Eventually the quarry sparkled brilliantly, even on the clearest nights, so much so she could enjoy the tableau
promulgate without input. It would take her years to realize it was the moon she was watching, not the glitter. She kicked that habit too.

 

You and I are floating on

My butt is sucked into the center of my inner tube. You are floating on an inflatable lounging chair with the back raised. You are slightly sitting up. With our sunglasses on, we both stare at the sun. I ask what time is it. From the sun, you say, I imagine one. I dip my fingers into the cool water. My body is warm. I pull my hair out of the water and let the droplets fall on my chest. The bleary sky is empty except the sun. Fringes of water inflict my peripheries. You reapply more tanning oil. I think I’m starting to burn, I say. You can get out whenever you want, you say. The water feels so nice though. It does, doesn’t it? I tilt my head back, returning to my angst, across the inner tube, my hair slumping back into the water. I hear the splashes of water against the elastic. What is that sound? Squeaky? I hear the sound in my head – its squishy beginning, the supple pulling of the middle, the bouncy end like a loose rubber ball – and think yes. I sink my whole scalp into the water. Tangles of hair squiggle around me like a halo. I am happiest in water, I think. I am aquatic. A seagull lands between you and I. I pet its small head before it takes off. I watch the bird become indistinct from the hazy sky. I feel emotional then but am unsure why, which makes me feel more emotional. I begin to resent the seagull for having ever enter my heart. I can’t think straight, I say. You are texting on your phone. How can I relax when my brain won’t shut up and I feel so emotional all the time for reasons I  don’t know? Try actively not thinking, you say. Build a psychic barrier for your feelings from your thoughts so you can think without the input of subjective sentimentality. The restless mind will stay occupied as the flow of consciousness filters in unabashed. To quell the monkey mind is a full-time operation, but by assiduously assuaging your mind, you train yourself to resist the rational and accept the irrational, the absurd, the void. I try this out. I’m bored, I say. You can get out whenever you want, you say. I dip my hands and feet into the water. But the water feels so nice. The sun is hot. But the water is cool. I consider reorienting myself. With some effort, I am able to slide my other half into the water. I nuzzle myself via my armpits onto either side of the inner tube, stare out onto the horizon, gazing at the nothing around us.

Dylan Gray is a writer from Indiana, currently residing in Phoenix, AZ. He works at the library. Follow him @dylanthegray but don’t tell his boss.

Push to Exit by Nick Perilli

 

3799375512_c76bb3aa93_o.jpg

Push to exit: a new button to limit intrusion into the break room and create a clear distinction between
useless and productive hours in the minds of the workers. It’s green.

O

The workers have already stopped pushing to exit. They mill around the door, their hands hovering over the delicate button. It is difficult for them to choose to work because they know work is bullshit. They build a colony in the break room and it thrives. It is self-sufficient with its own economy and robust
culture.

Push to force exit: a new button to limit abuse of the original button. Administration pushes it. The door blows open, sucking all but one worker into the endless vacuum of responsibilities. They can’t breathe out there. They go limp and choke. The blue light of the planet glows across their sad faces.

O

An administrator descends the emergency elevator to the break room. They can’t stand the air down there, so they wear several breathing apparatuses. They prod the lone straggling worker – holding fast to the edge of the break room door – with a broom handle. The worker fights back, grabbing the handle and pulling the administrator with the rest of the workers into the howling vacuum.

Administration doesn’t know what to do. We sit in silent penance and grief. In time, the emergency elevator snaps back to life. We do the same, tearing webs from our crusted eyes.

We welcome the admin back as a hero. They are changed; shifted; they look nothing like their employee ID. Before they even remove their breathing apparatuses, they install a new button.

Push to pizza party: a new button in administration to be slammed all damn day, filling the voids of this place with radiant pizza.

But the admin pushes it too much. There is only so much space for the pizza and we are concerned. The pizza filled this place and has begun to encroach on our person. A few of us fight through the impossible amount of cheese, of sauce, of dough that’s not too chewy or crispy but just right, to reach the lost admin in their office.
Some of us succumb to the lack of oxygen and the pressing weight of the pies growing against our chests with each push to pizza party. I don’t just yet.
The admin sits at their desk, slamming their raw fist down on the button. They see me enter, a knowing look on their stark worker face. I am already suffocating. I tell the “admin” to look out over the company floor. The workers are dead, consumed by the product of this endless button. The admin knows this already. The workers died happy, they tell me, a party all around them and pizza in their lungs. Perhaps a new company—a new world—will be born from the sauce-soaked remains of this one. Until then, the admin will push to pizza party.

I cannot speak. My mouth is dough. My blood is marinara.

Nick Perilli is a writer and librarian living in Philadelphia with loved ones who have yet to watch Gremlins 2 with him. Links to more of his published work are on his discount website nickperilli.com. Sometimes he tweets as @nicoloperilli. That’s it.

Rusted by David Bassano

6261042198_642bc42f4d_o.jpg

Rusted brick-red Chevy van

with our sleeping bags

spread out on plywood

in the back

 

Carrying our amps through

slushy parking lots at three AM

 

Playing those bars in

Wildwood

Somerset

Vineland

Stockton

Atlantic City

 

We lived from our music

and a little theft and dealing

eighteen, nineteen,

very poor and very happy.

 

We said a musician’s life

was the best in the world.

Enjoy your 9 to 5 prison, drones.

 

One by one, we left that life.

I remember Mike saying,

quietly and decisively,

“I’m tired of this,”

 

of having no money

of sleeping on friends’ floors,

of eating on the sidewalk,

 

of sex in back rooms

and hangovers

without stability

without love

 

So

we cut our hair

went to college

bought new clothes

 

Got jobs, wives, houses, and children.

 

And then

we got tired of those lives, too.

 

You get tired of everything

eventually

I guess.

 

It worries me about heaven.

I’m sure we’ll get bored with that, too.

But where do you go from there?

David Bassano gives history lectures for fun and rent money. He likes bike trails, Paris along the river, and Glenmorangie on the rocks. He published a novel called Trevelyan’s Wager. Any complaints should be addressed to: https://www.facebook.com/davidbassanoauthor/

F/24/Manic by Jenna Houchin

1725317_6a7836a2ac_o.jpg

The smartest mouth breather
In the conference room,
And I yell, “fuck a 9 to 5”
Mr. and Mrs. Miserable
On a good day,
Wish we could just
Fuck while getting high.
Wouldn’t take it back
Even if I tried,
I was raised poorly.
It feels like a waste.
Sitting right here,
Now with first class seats,
And still, with an economy sized taste.
No matter how sweetly
I write the chorus,
My therapist never seems
To comprehend
The duality of man:
I think apple juice
Is the best chaser,
And I’ll never be as
Close to the Son there again.

Jenna Houchin is an artist based in Los Angeles, California, originally from the midwest. She recently has self-published her first poetry book, FULL THROTTLE. For more information, check out her website at jennahouchin.com, or reach her on Instagram (@jennahouchin).

All Created Equal by Bud E. Ice

All Created Equal BP Press.png

I stood there looking at this hole in the ground. Six feet deep with walls made of dirt. That’s where Soapy was going. Everyone at the job called him “Soapy” because we came to the conclusion that he never took a shower. We found humor in the irony even though it wasn’t that clever.

I decided to attend the funeral because I was off from work that day and Soapy had never given me a particular reason to dislike him. I was one of three people there, with the exception of the priest and those working for the cemetery.

Soapy’s gravestone was so small that it could have easily been stepped on had there not been a big ass hole dug up in front of it. The priest said some prayers and I blessed myself once I saw everyone else do it. Then it was over. The whole thing took about ten minutes. The groundskeepers stood off to the side, waiting, so they could lower the body in and cover it up with the excess dirt.

I walked up to the gravestone as everyone began walking back to their cars. One last look to take it all in and see what the inevitable future was headed for. Apparently Soapy’s real name was Bernard. He was also a lot younger than I thought he was. Aside from the bad hygiene, I didn’t know much else about him. But I still ended up paying my respects somehow. There were probably people out there who had known him much better than I, but they were nowhere to be found.

“You almost done here?” I heard a voice say from behind me. It was one of the gravediggers, an elderly man who looked five seconds away from burying himself.

“Yeah.”

“Sorry for your loss.”

“Huh? Oh, yeah. Thanks.”

I didn’t know what else to say. It wasn’t really my loss. But there was no point in explaining any of that to him. He was on the clock and had a corpse to bury.

“How do you guys get the hole so perfectly squared?” I asked.

“We get a lot of practice,” the old man replied. I almost forgot that people die everyday. And that other people get paid to bury them.

I looked around and scanned the cemetery. I saw a group of men constructing a rather large monument a few yards away.

“What are they doing over there?” I asked.

“That? It’s called a mausoleum.”

“It’s a lot  bigger than my friend’s little plaque, here.”

“That person probably had a lot more money than your friend.”

“Even in death you can tell who the winners were.”

We may have all been created equal. It’s just a shame we don’t always get to live or die that way.

 

Bud E. Ice is a functioning alcoholic and part-time lowlife located right outside the ratchet grounds of Southwest Philadelphia. His work typically involves a comedic take on social etiquette, race, class, morality, battles within the self, family issues, death, vulnerability, and whatever other realities seem relevant at the time of the writing. It’s HIS reality, but a reality nonetheless. So the reader can either RELATE to it or LEARN from it. After all, isn’t that what this is all about? There’s far worse ways to waste time. Follow him on TWITTER: @BudEIce