Welcome to In Between Altered States! It is my hope that you will enjoy the flash fiction here enough that you tell others to send some in. This episode features some great work from Jesse Bradley, Grace Andreacchi, Shawn Misener, Ben Smith, DB Cox, Misti Rainwater-Lites, Nathan Graziano, and Michael J. Solender. Enjoy.
It didn’t take long for Paul to make my wedding band into a bullet. He handed me the round and an unloaded .38 Special.
“What are you gonna do? Sign the walls of your master bedroom like a divorce decree?” Paul asked as I chambered the bullet.
“This isn’t a Lifetime movie”, I aimed toward the nearest mirror. “Something, not someone, needs to wear this forever.” Paul shrugged his shoulders as I walked out of his apartment, the barrel pressing against my pelvis.
When you only have one round, you have to think about your target carefully, filling in the what and the where before you wear the powder burns of how on your palm like a rough handshake. Anything related to weddings or marriage was off limits. There’s an ostentatious obviousness of shooting the married couple standing frozen atop the steeple of an edible cathedral or cracking the camera lens caressing the bride and groom into something close to perfect. Anything related to her and I was out, too, like puncturing our bed like a heart. Trying to shoot God in the face was ridiculous; we had a secular ceremony.
The barbs tried mainlining tetanus as I made my way over the fence guarding the apple orchard just outside of town. I slowly drew the .38 Special out of my pants and aimed toward the nearest apple tree. The bullet burrowed through the bark and into the trunk like a seed. Some day, I hope a little girl bites into one of these apples and coughs up the princess sleeping inside of her stomach.
The butcher boy has small, delicate hands, they wield a cleaver with wonderful speed and dexterity. Just watch him get to work. First he strips me naked, then gently lowers me onto the cold slab of white marble. I lie down without a murmur, I lie down like a lamb, strictly for the purposes of demonstration, you understand. With a few easy strokes he separates the upper and lower limbs from the body, stacks them neatly to one side. With an elegant chop he cleaves the head from the neck, takes it up gently and places it upright at the head of the counter. From this vantage point I now have a much better view of the action. I see he has laid aside the cleaver and now has a knife in his hand. It darts in and out, in and out of the soft red and white body. Neat incisions expose the brightly gleaming purple organs yellow sheen of fat a bone or two. The butcher boy reaches into the open chest cavity and removes the heart, which, curiously, continues to beat. (Please remember this is only a demonstration.) He removes the lungs and liver. Now he flips me over and with two masterstrokes lightly separates the crumpled wings from the back. The wings are black in colour and very soft to the touch, he holds them for a moment, stroking them between thumb and forefinger. The butcher boy has enormous sad eyes but I can’t tell you what he is thinking. No animals were hurt.
Greg Samson woke one morning to find himself transformed into a giant tuna. He was flat on his side. With one eye he could see the silver table upon which he rested, his reflection confirming his metamorphosis. With the other eye he watched a man standing over him, dressed in a white chef’s outfit and running a large knife methodically across a well-used flint.
Greg’s gills involuntarily quivered and released. The air pressed down uncomfortably upon him . He could smell ginger, and wondered if fish could smell at all.
“Hi Greg,” said the man, expressionless. He continued to sharpen the blade, speaking in a determined, manner-of-fact tone. “I remember when we were freshman, and you picked that rock off the playground and threw it at me. That was a really nice throw. What do you think, fifty feet? I still have a tiny indentation behind my ear.”
Greg couldn’t speak. He suddenly felt heavier and wiggled his slimy body against the pressure.
“Ah, yes. But you certainly found success, did you not? Wealth, happiness, a beautiful wife.” Shving, shving, shving. The blade. “And I ended up with a brain injury. Barely made it through high school. Got addicted to crack. Lived in my grandmother’s basement for twenty years. But uncle Tony saw something in me last year, I don’t know why. And it turns out he was right. I learned a trade. Can you guess what I do for a living now?”
Shving, shving, shving.
Greg widened his mouth but could not speak.
The man showed a restrained smile. “My name is Bob Kafka, and I’m a damn fine sushi chef.”
I try not to watch television any more. When I’m at Tom’s, we open the
front window and spread fennel seeds across his front lawn. One day we
will buy a bird bath, but for now we are happy enough to watch the pigeons
peck around in the dry yellow grass. Bird baths cost too much money, but it
would add a certain level of commitment to the project. It’s a project,but it’s not.
I would love to see a bird have a bath. I would love more to
watch a bird bathe (is that a word?) in company. I’m not sure. I’m drunk
now; this is the first time I have written one of these spots totally
tanked. We will see where this goes, if anywhere. I’m listening to Nina
Simone – shut the fuck up, I’m trying to listen. Tom told me that once a
black cockatoo came to eat the fennel seeds and that tripped him out. I
understand what he means. I get tripped out a fair amount myself.
A black moth beats its dusty wings and orbits “the hole”– a voracious void
expanding like the feeding vacuole of an amoeba–a forever-busy mouth
seeking to fill its nothingness.
Shadows of objects, gathered for sacrifice, lean out from every corner of
the room and disappear into the breach where they are sucked dry. Emptied
out. Rendered invisible.
No finger of God reaches out to touch my hand. I am dislocated, detached
from any coordinate in space and time. Any feelings I have are imagined. I
have become a fiction of myself.
“To be or not to be” has become a real choice. I have exhausted all “to be”
possibilities by the least painful methods: narcotics, alcohol, women, even
Not to be.
I lean out over “the hole” and let myself go. For a second, I feel as if I
am hovering, but I know that I am falling.
He gives me cigars and gin to calm my nerves but the baby hid the matches and I’m a picky drinker. We try to have sex in the middle of Twinkle Star Forest but I can feel someone on another planet watching me through a telescope and beyond that the twigs and acorns are agitating my ass, breaking that much needed concentration. I pretend I’m the concupiscent babysitter, all high on cherry cola flavored lip balm and Mr. Pibb. I have no problems, man. I’ll do anything you want. Watch me do the splits! He claps but I don’t believe him. His eyes especially make me wary. I see several countries in his eyes and I can’t pronounce any of them. To make me horny he drones on about some bullshit conspiracy theory…Elvis and JFK and Jim Morrison and Marilyn Monroe and James Dean and Buddy Holly are hiding out on the real Gilligan’s Island and they don’t want to be rescued. I feign arousal but I am thinking about the carnival and the skinny guy in the Hawaiian shirt who sold me the super long corndog. I wouldn’t go inside the house of mirrors because I have enough bad luck to last me the next twenty-one years. Whenever we’re together for any length of time things have a way of breaking. The one thing I can’t seem to break to him is the news. My heart is buried beneath a pile of incense ashes somewhere in the Lower Haight. Krista, ever the Pisces, says in my last incarnation I was his poodle. That would explain the plethora of hoops.
“Pendulous. That’s a good word to describe them,” says Ellie, an English major at the state college who is waiting tables at Finnegan’s Pub for the summer, gathering material for a novel she’ll never write.
Anne, a year younger and not in school, is hunched over at the waitress station, lifting a rack of clean glasses. She groans. “My boyfriend said he’ll break up with me if I have the surgery,” Anne says. “He said he’ll miss them so much he won’t be able to look at me without feeling the loss.”
“What a prick. I mean, ignoramus.”
“They’re killing my back, Ellie. I can’t carry the weight.”
“I’d like to take some of that weight off you,” Ellie says, cupping her hands below her small breasts and giving them a quick lift. “Diminutive, that’s the word to describe mine.”
“Sometimes I like to imagine a world where they don’t exist, where men would have to find something else to do with their damn hands,” Anne says as an older man in a wrinkled suit stumbles out of the bar, past the waitress station.
“Nice tits,” he says.
The girls gasp, blush, scowl. “Who was he talking to?” Anne asks.
“Does it matter?”
“Yes,” says Anne. “Sadly, it does.”
The reoccurring dream would haunt him well into his sedate septuagenarian life at the tidy and humble No Toil or Trouble Rest Home. The majorettes, the bus ride, the big parade in Weeboville, the rain that failed to dampen their enthusiasm for plying their craft at the tri-states 13th largest celebration of Cheese Days with this year’s theme being: No Whey? WHEY! They might have been rural kids but they knew how to par-teh. Over and over virtually every time he dozed, the bus, the rain, the hog truck packed chock a block full of porkers on their way to the festival for the special swine rodeo – he shuddered as it skipped over the divided line and headed right for them. He woke from his nap right before lunch in a cold sweat to hear the aide asking him what he wanted for lunch. He mopped his brow and still tense from his dream said, “Oh the usual Charlie, a bacon sandwich.”