Short Strokes

The Royal Wristwatch

The time has come to reward the wicked. For their defamation, for their continued refusal to curb appetite or will, the wicked shall receive three sharp strikes across the psyche. They will then be returned to the river until next time.

The Told About Horse

A man walks into a bar and begins to outline a familiar joke about a horse. The punchline is delivered, and everyone in the bar falls silent, save the joke teller who now laughs nervously and touches his wallet. A horse steps from behind the bar, hitherto unseen due to its miniature stature. “Joke’s wrong,” says the horse, moving closer to the joke teller. “It’s twenty dollars for a cock suck.”

Margonia & The Market Monkey

A girl named Margonia goes to the market, her mind ablaze with ideas of papaya. When she reaches the first stall, she sights a large bruised pear. “Maybe this is papaya,” she says, knowing nothing. She drops a quarter into the cup of a vested monkey, and the monkey accepts it, though he is not the owner of the pear. When Margonia takes her first rotten bite, she tricks her brain into feeling the peculiar pleasure associated with munching fresh papaya.

Meanwhile, the monkey bites his ill-gotten coin. Scraping the silver with his dull little teeth, he knows there’s no fruit sweeter than madness.

Off Course

“I’ll never be able to talk about this,” thought Misty.

She was right, of course. There would never be an appropriate time to reveal that her love for the boy was only in theory,  not at all in practice.

Lost in the mall maze, Misty absentmindedly turned left into a department store. She wobbled through aisle upon aisle, glancing at the different styles of yarn deftly wadded into the varying sizes of ladies’ legs and torsos. She wasn’t looking for anything particular, just giving her body something to do as her brain puzzled irreversible things.

Misty’s eyes scanned  the racks, mechanically, viewing line-by-line the suggested coverings for women her age. She was twenty years old, though no longer the right shape, it appeared.

This much was clear to the teenage sales girl who approached Misty, offering assistance in the form of directions to the maternity section.

“This isn’t permanent,” Misty snapped.

The girl frowned a little, then gave a nod and returned to folding tank tops.

“It’ll pass.”

She was right, of course. Pregnancy would pass, though prolonged conditions always leave their mark. The boy would be forever.

Misty walked slowly to the children’s clothing and began rifling through outfits. She picked up a blue shirt and a pair of green shorts attached to the same small hanger. She stared at the drawing on the tiny shirt: a tiger riding proud on a surfboard. “A novel thing,” Misty thought with a sigh. She shook the hanger back and forth and watched the clothes swish like holey dishrags.

Settled on the tiger, she made her way to the nearest register and took her place behind a woman who was paying for a pink sun dress and white shoes. Misty looked from the items on the counter to the outfit in her hand. The tiger grinned behind sunglasses, enjoying the crest of his wave.

“Miss?” came a voice from behind the counter. “Miss? Are you ready to check-out?”

Misty looked up, startled, her hands then empty. She shook her head and took two steps backward.

“No,” she said, “This isn’t what I wanted.”

She was right, of course. But her wave broke all the same.

Acceptance, OR A Fawn Farewell

It was one week after his grandmother passed when Noah was led into the dense forest behind her estate. In the evening, the woods would terrify the young boy, but it was not yet dark and his grandfather enjoyed taking walks after dinner, believing that solitude and motion were the perfect capstones to any meal. The meals themselves were lacking lately, a victim of loss as much as those who ate them. The old man was not a good cook, but he had managed simple stews and had no qualm consuming stale bread baked a week before.

That day marked the first time Noah had been invited to join his grandfather in the woods, though really there had been no invitation, merely a statement of fact. “We will go for a walk after supper.”

Now they had been walking for nearly an hour, and Noah began to wonder why he was brought along at all. His grandfather hadn’t spoken a word to him, just walked deliberately forward, though with no real haste. When at last they neared the edge of the property, the two observed a fawn lying motionless by a rusted barb wire fence.

“She’s caught,” stated the old man.

“Can you free her?”

“We will see.”

“Will she die too, grandpa?”

The man did not answer. He approached the animal with his same, purposeful gait. Bending close, he saw that the barbs had cut deep and that a great deal of blood was pooling around her. The fawn shivered, but made no other motion, no attempt to flee.

“She’s accepted it,” said the old man, unaware that Noah was crying, now having glimpsed the blood as well.

“I don’t want her to die.”

“What we want and what will happen… There is little link between the two.”

The boy continued sobbing, but now with a new kind of grief, one born from understanding. If he was older, he might’ve wondered if this ordeal had been prepared.

His grandfather whispered something that sounded like goodbye. Then there was a soft crack, and the man was on his feet.

“Did dying hurt her?”

“Less than living. There’s no more pain for her.”

The boy paused for a second, looking around his grandfather to the dead fawn on the ground.

“It’s ours now,” stated the boy, “We took it for her.”

The old man nodded, returned once more to silence. He placed a coarse hand around his grandson’s shoulder and steered the young man home through the dimming light.

Husband, Clayvon

There’s not a whole lot you shouldn’t do for money. People like to act like there is, but when you list all the things out, it’s not anywhere near what you’d guess. Six or seven’s what I figure. One or two’s what I’ve done.

The worst and last of them was in winter of ‘59. I hadn’t been out of school long when I met her, and I hadn’t known her much longer when I married her. We were cut from the same bolt of fabric, Celey and me. Shared our hearts like a stitched shirt that splits where the buttons do. I was proud to be her husband, Clayvon. Still am.

We tried living in the city at first, but couldn’t take to it. We had no friends between us, save an old neighbor lady by the name of Lenore. She had blind eyes and arthritic fingers, which only led Celey and I to wonder all the more at the never-ending parade of casseroles and stews that passed through our doorway each week. A whisper of a knock was all that preceded them, twitchy and light enough to be, perhaps, unintentional. The truth though, is that Lenore meant everything she did. Nothing was by accident; all was done for love. She meant to be a blessing to us, so she was.

When Lenore died, Celey begged to leave the city. I had saved a few thousand from the construction job I found, but had hoped for more before making another move. Plans changed though, when our landlord emptied Lenore’s apartment onto the street below. Hoping not to miss a month’s rent, he’d foregone contact with any potential relative of the old widow. Instead, he dressed the front lawn and sidewalks in Lenore’s outdated dresses and reduced her life’s treasures to fresh pawn shop fodder. It was too much for Celey, when flocks of junkies emerged from dark places to strip clean the remnants of Lenore, our friend.

The next day, Celey told me I’d be a father in less than eight months. Husband in one year, daddy the next. Saying I was proud would sell the thing short. We shook off that city like a dog does his fleas, and found a bright three bedroom before George was born. Things were hard going for a while after that. Celey and me argued over whether we needed to borrow money, and if we did, from whose parents would it come. George was crying all hours, all days. I think he sensed the uncertainty surrounding his next meal. I know I did.

It was soon thereafter a call came from a guy I’d not thought of since high school. He’d gotten the new number from my mother and hoped I wouldn’t mind. I didn’t really, since I was the one who answered the phone, the only one who heard how desperate he sounded. I knew Celey would’ve shook her head though to see me talking to the man. He had always been mixed-up in some trouble or another, and his call was to say he now needed me to take the blame. Any other night, I swear, I’d have said no. But it was that night, when I noticed how diluted George’s milk was, how thin Celey’s face looked, how lean our butcher’s cuts had grown. Animals that died hungry. Not us.

I said yes, and hung the phone.

The next day, I confessed to a thing I did not do.  The police never questioned why I’d turn myself in, when by the look of it, the robbery had come off clean. All they had were suspicions of a thug who’d been seen around there before, a local small town who was always in some kind of trouble. But here I was to save them the bother of a car ride, and all they needed anyway was something dark to pin the crime on.

I handed over a thousand dollars and said the rest was claimed by irony when a crackhead in an alley claimed the big bucks with a knife. In truth, the money was home with Celey, the pay-off for giving freedom to a criminal in exchange for two years of my life. Of our life.

Celey wouldn’t visit for the first year. I’d send her photographs and letters saying how I’d done everything for love. Her responses totaled four words: Money is not love.

She was right, of course, so I made her truth my own for the remainder of my life.  Wealth crouches in the details of a whole mess of things, but not all of them. A thing like fatherhood, being a husband—money doesn’t enter into it. When it seemed like one couldn’t exist without the other, I should’ve given careful thought to those people and their list. I still say there isn’t too much you shouldn’t do for money. I’m just more mindful now then before I knew what really makes men rich.

Helluva Good Duck

Know what I’d love to do some day?

Smuggle- I don’t know- a duck or a goose or something- across the country. One coast to another. It could ride incognito on the passenger side, traveling for weeks and maybe months at a time. We’d ride with our heads all low, just cruising cool as salad across state line after state line.

Sure, sometimes we would be followed.

But if anybody cried fowl along the way, I’d say, “Nah, not with me. Prolly just a low flying pillow or something.” And they’d buy it, ’cause folks are dopey mostly, or at least more inclined to laugh than ask questions.

And so we’d be off again. Just like that. Free and clear for another day. And I’d course through the veins of this nation, drunk on a cocktail of straight wind and freedom. Out of control with the love of my life…

The only thing stopping me, keeping me still, is that nobody’s on the watch for duck smugglers. Not yet. If the authorities happened to stop me these days, they’d only think I’m a farmer or a weirdo. And I’m not saying that they’re wrong either way. Still, would it kill them to impose a fine or something? Just a little one- nothing drastic. Not until it catches on, at least. I’d just like to know what I’m doing is pissing them off.

Is that too much to ask?

It’s not like I don’t understand the reasons against all this. I get it. It’s ridiculous, it’s silly, it’s pointless, it’s strange- really, I get it. But in all honesty… what if that’s all I could ever bring myself to do? Duck smuggling. If it turns out that there could never be anything else for me, if that is really all I could ever, ever do? Inaction or duck smuggling. Unhappiness or bliss. In that case, wouldn’t living out some crazy dream be better than doing nothing, for a lifetime?

“QUACK! QUACK! QUACK!”

Thank you. That’s what I thought.

All Those People that You Know…

“Come inside and pour a drink,” flows the man’s words from a stiff, smoking mouth. His essence is solidly mumbling grizzly. Frightened and frightening, lonely and proud, he speaks his low words into a damp chimney. Too strong to be lost, too weak to be found.

“I can’t right now. Maybe next time,” replies the estranger to the vanishing cloud. Aware of the presence of care in the calling, he hides nonetheless, afraid of the sound. Harboring sympathies, offering lies, he tries to save no soul today.

“Maybe next time,” they whisper and sigh, “Maybe next time.”

A few more steps down the line, then both die.

RIP Mitch

It was around the time we were discussing our respective tax troubles that Mitchell completely snapped. He just jumped up, walked straight outta the depot, and disappeared.

I heard a little later on that he had gone and scaled the east side of a laundromat using jutting bricks and air intake vents as footholds. Apparently, when Mitchell got to the top, he just lied on the roof for a few days. He told everybody who saw him that he was just collecting his thoughts. Really though, he was just collecting noxious fumes from all that roof tar.

It was seasonably hot here in Guatemala, so his common sense really dropped the ball on informing him to avoid doing something like that. But who knows, maybe common sense is the first organ to succumb to roof tar. Science has its fair share of blank spots, and there’s no sense in harping on ’em to try and make it blush.

Either way, we can all agree that ole Mitch was never too much for thinking. There’s no doubt about that, seeing as how he never did catch-on to the affair that I’ve been having with his wife, for what, like seventeen years now? We haven’t exactly been discreet about it either. Anybody remember Carlos Siega’s Christmas party two years ago? What a night. But perhaps this isn’t the time to get into all that. Water under the bridge, as they say.

So yeah. He sold key chains to tourists, his wife didn’t much care for him, and he owed a few years in back taxes that now he’ll never have to pay. That about sums up the life of ole Mitchell Rebbins, so whaddya say we file his eulogy under “DONE” and call it a day? I’ll be seeing most of you at the after party down at Wallbanger’s.

Dismissed!