2 Portraits by Donald Ryan

A Portrait of a Man Who Wanted to Be a Millionaire, Now Retired, Watching Who Wants to Be a Millionaire

The old man in apartment 254 settled into his recliner. It was 7:30 on a weeknight. The residents in the apartments beside, above, below knew this, without question, from the game show’s theme song penetrating the walls, the floor, the ceiling. This episode’s contestant was on his second night. Polka, and now with $300 dollars, on his way to a million. At commercial breaks the old man would mute the television. Closed captioning would scroll, and he’d watch for the stage to reappear, unmute the tv, in time for the bassline’s bombarding beat down throughout the second floor, parts of the first, parts of the third. The questions, like the banter, like the old man’s hearing, like the sounds seeping through the walls, the floor, the ceiling, were muffled, but the answers were always clear. Tombstone, $16,000, on his way to a million. The old man played along silently although he didn’t know many of the answers. However, this was alright by him because A) he felt he might be learning something in his ever growing fondness for game shows in these twilight years, B) he’d treated life like a game show with its chance for easy money based on skill, odds, and luck, C) this contestant’s name reminded him of that horror film the time he and Frankie laid low in that theater after a job well done on his own way to a million, or D) all of the above. D, final answer. That is correct. We’ll be right back after a word from our sponsors. (An interlude quieted apartment 254, the second floor, the apartments below, the apartments above. The old man watched a woman mop behind the captions he couldn’t see to read. He had no children. Nor anyone for that matter. But it was the life he chose. Or did this life choose him? He’d known a few women in his prime, even if they didn’t know him, not truly, not by name. His lies and life bridged by f—) He, the second floor, the apartments below, the ones above, heard the return of the bass heavy melody, of muffled banter, a question, I.M. Pei, $500,000, one question away from a million. But only the old man heard his heart invigorate in excitement. Waves of dramatic tension washed over the complex like the lights on the stage. The final question read. The contestant, who needed no help, phoned a friend, called his father. No one had ever won the million, but he was about to be a millionaire. The old man shared this feeling, himself winning many years ago. A guard and a vault his host to the prize. And even though he hadn’t played since, a SWAT team battered down the door. He, his neighbors, beside, above, below, heard the crash of the television off its stand. The game was over, the jig up. A phone call now his only lifeline. He never heard the final answer. 

A Portrait of Don With His Best Friend In a Dimly Lit Dive Bar 258 Miles From Home 

They were halfway on their trip towards blacked-out memories in New Orleans, crashing where they landed for the night in nowhere. The bar a few blocks down, Foxes & Hounds, shared its name with a strip club back home. The one traveler, black, had tattoos from his chin to his knuckles. The other, white, had shot glass sized holes in each ear. They both wore plaid shirts. Back home in the city, they blended in nothing special. But halfway from home, only their attire didn’t stick out amongst the peanut casings on the floor and the equal amount of burnt out bulbs as cowboy hats (4) on the heads of these don’t fuck with us blue collars in a state of rednecks. The air smelled like heartland, musk and sweat, salty with spit and dip and shells. A woman in what else but her finest rhinestone blouse and frilly boots, hair teased closer to God, sang Loretta Lynn in the open space that was the karaoke stage. They sat at the bar, ordered beers, avoided the peanuts. The karaoke DJ thanked our Mrs. Lynn for her rendition of “Don’t Come Home A Drinking.” Darn tootin’. Claps passed around the bar like an offering at church. The guy with tattoos said he was going to vomit the lizard. The guy with holes in his ears didn’t see him sign up for a song on his return from the bathroom. A beer and a half plus whiskies, for the taste of ambiance, later, they were no longer avoiding the peanuts, when “Welcome to the stage…” showtime. Darn tootin’. The old timey twang on repeat since they’d entered was replaced with shredded guitars blurred to distortion. The guy with tattoos screamed into the microphone the inaudible words that bounced across the screen as if it was this trip’s sole mission to fuck up these speakers. The guy with holes in his ears felt the air shift heavy, could see hate churn like the cigarette smoke around the bar, could smell that lard fried scent of them getting their asses kicked. So fuck yeah he wanted in. He rushed the stage, didn’t follow the words, didn’t matter, belted alongside his bash bro like a true fucking D2 Mighty Duck. The honky-tonkers boot scootin’ boogied their way to the make-shift stage, fists raised like pitchforks, their voices joining the vocal chaos, as in tune as red, white, and blue bald eagles eating apple pie. The charge was led by a God bless America Loretta Lynn, horns up, in all her rhinestone glory. 


Twitter: @dryanswords

2 Fables by Donald Ryan

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Baby Boy is a big fan of the hard-boiled eggs. Me, I’m eating a chef salad—the kind where the pile of piled toppings topple the function of the salad. Might as well.  It’s an All-You-Can-Eat buffet, and I’m sitting behind a fucking salad. I put on too many onions and am getting a headache. Baby Boy is on his second hard-boiled egg. Or is it his third? I lost count watching my husband ruminate steak. He says the streak of fat is man cud chewed in memory of the cow. We opted to lose weight, together, as a team. He chose the meat and sweets diet. Me, you guessed it. Skipping our first weigh-in was him giving up in the guise of a collective decision. Baby Boy swallows his third—or fourth—hard-boiled egg. I demand he eat veggies but don’t notice if he does.  My husband haw-haw-haws over half masticated meat. I started drinking too early—in life, this morning. This is my secret. I share it with coffee or Baby Boy’s orange juice. Vodka’s love is universal. Baby Boy swallows down a hiccup of hard-boiled eggs and scurries towards the bathroom. He doesn’t make it, spewing next to an elderly couple. Who knows how many dates these people have been on, alone in each other’s company. So thin. So frail. So disgusted by Baby Boy’s vile hard-boiled bile. My husband and I will never make it to their age of loving lonesomeness. Shit—they’ll be lucky if I can make it over to muster an apology. Baby Boy can’t swallow his sobs. He screams while being screamed at. My husband is furious. But he has no need to be. I’m the one with the salad. 

Always Look On The Bright Side of Life

 


 

The neighbor’s dog kept barking. Barking. Barking. And barking, all while being shushed by the browned leaves. Other than that, the day was silent. The sun was out, being toyed with by the clouds. Silver outlining the sky. It was the type of day that people who were destined to meet, met and people that weren’t, don’t. The world felt right. And the air. The sky. And the Heavens. All felt right. All but the neighbor’s dog was synced for great existences, no matter how mundane. Dano was sitting, flipping channels. He couldn’t sleep. And nothing was on. But even the nothing on television was being interrupted by the neighbor’s dog. Barking. Barking. And barking. He checked his watch, already knowing it was far too early to start getting ready for work. A blonde in a snug, pink dress faked a smile into the camera, complimenting the chef who looked like someone’s (kidnapped) grandmother (whose poor, dear soul was being forced to bake on television) before being flipped to a thin, sweaty young gentleman in an unfitted suit acting far too excited about a local high school’s football team Dano didn’t even know existed. Insomniacs who work the night shifts had to deal with the same crap television as the insomniatic dayshifters. The breeze picked up, harshly hushing the neighbor’s dog, but couldn’t maintain its gumption. A perfect degree of heat radiated off the ground, complimenting the day’s briskness and the essence of uncapturable perfection. An aweness unseen. Dano turned off the television.  His reflection on the dark screen stared at him slouched in the chair. Not liking what he saw, he turned the television back on, which disappointed him further. Mute became a happy medium. Now the thrift store fasionista bouncing through the commercial barked. Barked. And barked. The melody was becoming rhythmically wild. Almost furious. Dano pressed the spot where his eyebrows connect and ran his middle finger up his grainy forehead to his hairline. He yawned. His cell phone sat charging next to him. He’d call out of work. This the third time this month. No bother. Days like today were made for staying in, watching television.       

Every Dog Has Its Day

 

 

Donald Ryan writes. Hobart, Back Patio, Silent Auctions, Hello America, elsewhere.

“Never Wednesdays” by Donald Ryan

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It was 1994 and he was working
at this restaurant outside Shreveport,
Pearl Jam on the box
and a broken wrist.
It was his day off, a day of rest.
Yet he was standing in the kitchen.
Glove stretched over his fat palm.
He should have said no, I’ve got plans,
and the joints he smoked agreed.
It was the extra pain pill popped said yes.
So he dropped baskets and burnt toast
when walked in

Streamers.

Bright painted fucking joy, fucking hi-yuck
rictus kiddies, here’s a balloon twisted gimmick
as if the free kid for every adult meal didn’t bring
the families in in hordes (it didn’t).
There was Streamers.
In all her fearfulness cheerfulness.
In all her fuckery. 

Just get a drink and don’t look up
Just get a drink and don’t look up
Just get a drink and don’t look fuck.
“How are we today?”  We?
Words of terror from a Chelsea grimace
between cheeks painted rum red.
Just forget the drink and don’t piss self.
“Do we know how Kathy’s doing?”
Kathy had cancer.
Streamers came claiming Kathy.
“Kathy.  Fucking fan-tastic.”

The line dead, wag dragon fired,
the fool kept focus on death’s swinging doors.
Fear held no bound as long as he
was on the safest side.
He went home early, on account of
his hand and all—right—
fucked stasis fakes
bravery in composure.

She chose to paint her face;
The sweet southern belle.
“A dissident is here,” he said.

Never Wednesdays.

 

Donald Ryan’s words have appeared, or are forthcoming in, Cleaver, Fiction Southeast, Hobart, Soft Cartel, Owl Canyon Press’s hackathon anthology, Short Edition’s international story dispensers, and elsewhere. He’s a full-time part-time librarian in the GA Pines. donaldryanswords.com and/or @dryanswords because, you know…