Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

The Slick

Posted: February 11, 2016 in Fiction

Kurt felt good and cool and simple in maple tree shade as the grass drooped whichever way the gentle breeze willed it too. His once blond dreadlocks were fading to silver. His arms and legs had only a little more girth than bone, resembling chopsticks with pink skin hanging off of them. And the whites of his eyes were as blond as his hair used to be, but only with thin, thread-like veins of red resting in their corners. Next to him, was a cooler full of iced beer.  “Did anyone ever tell you teenaged adolescent pukes about the Slick?” He said to the three neighborhood boys. “Of course you haven’t, you kids got no sense of culture. No sense of tradition.”

Rob opened the cooler and passed a beer to his two friends, Bill and Jason who were each sitting on their skateboards. Their elbows sat on top of scuffed up knees. Rob preferred to stand.

“This was back in the 60s and the 70s. It wasn’t like the X-men nowadays. Back then, comics meant something. They had something to say. Nowadays, you crack open a comic, and there ain’t hardly any words. Most of the characters ain’t worth a shit either. Who can really relate to Captain America. No soul. Flat. You know that he’s gonna save the world and he always saves the world. Boring.”

“I don’t know. The new Avengers movie was pretty awesome,” Bill retorted.

“Yah, I’m going to see it again next weekend,” Jason eagerly added.

“I’ll wait for it to come out on video,” said Kurt.

“Uh, you mean DVD,” corrected Jason.

“Yah, sure. Whatever,” he answered, putting his hand in the cooler. The ice was getting watery. The beer was running low too. Pretty soon, he thought, he’d have to go back in the house for some more. His small, yellow house with chipped paint. “You kids want to know who deserves to have a movie made about them?”

“Who?”

“The Slick, that’s who.”

“Who the fuck’s that?” said Rob.

“Yah. Who the fuck’s that?”

“Jason, shut the fuck up.”

“The Slick appeared in a couple of issues of X-men back in the late 60s. I think Stan Lee was doing the writing then.”

The kids just stood there and listened. They had heard Stan Lee’s name before, but couldn’t quite place it. None of them cared to admit that fact. Rob let out a large burp.

“He had the power to shoot K-Y Jelly out of his fists kinda like the way the Silver Surfer could make cosmic energy shoot out of his hands,” Kurt continued, “and he could make himself real slippery so if anybody ever grabbed him or had him in a headlock, he could slide right of it with no problem. And if somebody tried to shoot him, the bullets just slid right off him. Now you tell me, is that cool or is that cool?”

“What kind of super power is that?” asked Rob suspiciously. And for a few seconds, all that was heard was the sound of prepubescent boys sipping beer. The old man shot a half-inebriated glare at Rob.

“For starters, it’s the kind of power that makes it easy to jack off, which I’m pretty sure would be useful to you,” returned the old hippie. Jason and Bill laughed. Rob couldn’t think of anything clever to say, so he said ‘fuck you’ instead.

“Yah, yah, yah. Well anyhow, the storyline wasn’t anything too creative. Basically, Magneto and his army of mutants had taken over the world, and enslaved the humans. It was up to the X-men to save the day… you know. Cyclops would try to pump up the other X-men and say in a really pompous way, ‘Show no mercy X-men, for there are beings in there that would feast on the human soul itself,’ and all the other X-men went for it—all except Slick. Slick said, ‘What’s the point? If they want to run the world so damn bad, then let them. They can’t make the world any worse for us than the humans who’re always trying to put us in cages.’ And Cyclops would say something like ‘Because it’s the right thing to do.’”

“So what happened next?” asked Rob.

“Well, the X-men listened to Cyclops, and they defeated Magneto and his minions and put the humans back in charge. And out of gratitude, the humans kept persecuting them.”

“That sounds pretty lame,” said Rob as he was taking the last gulp of beer. Jason and Bill agreed that that story totally sucked.

“Well, that’s the world for you,” answered the old man.

“What happened to the Slick after that?” asked Bill.

“After that, the Slick was never seen in the pages of X-men. But he did make an appearance in the Fantastic Four. It was the one in which they were confronted with the planet-eating giant, Galactus. Mr. Fantastic placated Galactus by offering him a gift of the Slick and his powers of lubrication. And he hasn’t made another appearance since.”

“No way Mr. Fantastic would ever do that,” Bill pointed out.

“No, Mr. Fantastic would never do anything like that to somebody against their will, but in this case the Slick volunteered himself.”

“That doesn’t sound like something he’d do,” said Rob.

“Yeah. It’s pretty out of character for him, I gotta admit,” said Kurt, opening a new can of beer.

“That’s pretty messed up.”

“Well, I guess you have to look at it from Galactus’s point of view… after all, it must get pretty lonesome in space.”

* Originally published online in Zygote In My Coffee #140, January 2013.

The Man with Patches on His Pants

Posted: December 11, 2012 in Fiction
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“I’M NOT GOING TO FIGHT WITH YOU,” announced Sam as he got up from the couch. Megan sobbed as he got his duffle bag, began packing, and advanced out the door, declaring “It’s over.”

“But you wear those jeans all the fuckin’ time! What’s wrong with you? You never take them off! Not even when we fuck. They’re dingy… your patches need patches… you got duck tape holding them together! And what! You get mad because I go to the mall and buy you new pants? Fuck you!” shouted the frustrated girlfriend at the man sauntering down the clean, warmly carpeted hall. “You’re sick—goddamn you! You hear me!—sick!”

Carrying all the possessions he had in the world, Sam thought about how long he had that thing slung over his shoulder. Over the years he found it to be more loyal than many people he once considered friends, and certainly more loyal than the women he shacked up with. In fact, he had that bag longer than the pair of pants that his now ex-girlfriend had just complained about. That pair of pants that all his exes finally become exasperated with. But if the duffle were a loyal friend, the pants could be considered a Siamese twin… because for very practical reasons, he just couldn’t separate himself from them. If he had explained their power, he felt that it wouldn’t have ended with Megan… in fact, any one of his exes would’ve been more understanding then. But he tried that once with a woman named Delia, and she just wouldn’t shut up! Where do you get all that money? Your parents must be rich. Did you rob a bank? Where’s the money hidden? Come on, baby, you can trust me… I won’t tell a soul. Yah. Right. Of course not all women would’ve behaved as Delia had, conspiring with her brother and ex-boyfriend to beat him up and leave him in his underwear. It was only luck that he didn’t get as drunk as they thought he was, and that an empty wine bottle was within reach, and that Sam could swing that wine bottle like a crazy son of a bitch, and that none of them had guns. But this didn’t change the fact that it had definitely left an impression on Sam, and he swore to himself that he wouldn’t take that chance again. Megan might’ve did the same thing. You never know.

But that was behind him now and once outside, a calm, comforting feeling of familiarity came over him. The sidewalk greeted him. Even though it was past three in the afternoon and the sun burned, the tall buildings shielded its intense rays from him. Anonymous humanity walked back and forth. A college girl with a pony tail and perky breasts walked briskly towards the university situated on a nearby hill. A guy made gray by his labor just came off work and trudged along to wherever… to do whatever it is that he does after work. Two fat girls in their late twenties. Just came back from shopping. Their chubby legs struggling against the upward slope of the sidewalk. A group of three or four hipster types hung out across the street. Acting all cool. Wearing their hipness in their nerdy thick heavy black eyeglasses and designer clothes meant to look like they had been bought at a thrift store. They paid no attention to him. None of them did. Only guy who did was some homeless guy… said he wanted a dollar for a beer. Sam appreciated his honesty and gave him a crumpled bill. He usually didn’t do this but a generous impulse overcame him. Gee. Thanks mister.

“Don’t mention it,” said Sam and with emphasis he added—“to anyone.”

He walked down the street to the grocery store to buy some bus tickets. He paid with a fifty. The clerk marked it with a pen to make sure it wasn’t counterfeit. He took a bus out to 82nd avenue, an infamous part of town known for its hookers, strip clubs, and reasonably priced motels. He put a fifty in the hand of the motel clerk for a room.

The light shone dimly on the yellowish-brown walls and curtains. The sheets and blanket on the bed had a dingy scent, and the room smelled like cigarette smoke. Nothing like Megan’s posh cozy downtown condo.Clean. Nice furniture. And very expensive. But that was past now too. He put his duffle on the bed and went to the strip club down the street, and watched the ladies jiggle and gyrate on stage, figuring that if he were to be bored, he might as well be bored in front of naked women.

* * *

It was about fifteen years back when he got those pants. Back then he only had two pair of pants, one of which he wore for a job at the grocery store. He saw them at the thrift store for three bucks. They were broken-in but in good condition. They had once been dark blue, but had been bleached, reminding one of a blue sky blocked by thinning white, disintegrating clouds. There were no holes in them at that time. Practically new except for the frays on the cuff that you could only detect if you were to take your time to run your fingers over the fabric. In the prime of their life…

Sam knew that he was supposed to be in the prime of his life too. Twenty-five. A strange thing to think about. Youth. This thing that old people told him to enjoy. As far as he could tell things weren’t so great. Still lived with his mother and step dad. No girlfriend and he bagged groceries for minimum-wage at the Safeway.

He gave the cashier the three dollars, and wore them out the store, transferring the contents from his old into his new jeans. On the walk home, he stopped at a 7-11. He pulled two bucks out of his wallet for a Big Gulp full of Coca-Cola, and put the change in his right hand pocket. He had a little over five bucks left. Further on his journey was a liquor store where he planned to get a small bottle of Bacardi and dump the contents into his cup.

As he reached into his pocket to pay the clerk at the booze counter, his hand felt something other than the change from earlier. It was a fifty dollar bill. The clerks at the thrift store must’ve overlooked it. Nice. And since it was basically found money, he decided to get a nice bottle of twelve year-old whiskey. That with the small bottle of rum pretty much exhausted that bill, but Sam didn’t care. In fact he was pretty damn happy about it.

That is, he felt pretty good until he got home. His mother went out shopping, but his step dad stayed home. Not a big surprise. Abraham had a chronic habit of always being there when he didn’t want him around. He was a short balding and prematurely aging man who looked like a hostile, lecherous old Yoda embittered by the indifference of the world…. He slept around too. This baffled and frustrated Sam, who was still a virgin then, could never figure out how he actually attracted women. The man was just plain ugly.

“Sam, you’re home,” Abraham said as his step son strolled through the door, his head loose and warm. “The lawn needs to be mowed.”

“So?”

“What do you mean, ‘so’?”

Sam tiredly ascended the stairs, heading for his room.

“Alright, alright. I’ll do it in a half hour,” said Sam.

“And this time don’t forget to shovel the dog shit,” added Abraham, as if his step son’s scorn was a sweet, delicious thing.

Sam scooped up plump, brown dog turds into a trash can with a shovel that had a broken handle as the sun reflected off his perspiration-covered skin. Abraham broke earth with a garden shovel. The old man loved it. Sam thought he looked like an old fool digging his grave. And for what? He wondered. A house that looked like something out of a Sears catalogue… a lawn that looked like a giant lush, green blanket that you wanted to fall asleep on… yah, it looked nice—but watch out for the dog shit… because you’ll never get all of it….

After the work was done, Sam took a nap and woke up at around seven in the evening. The bottle of whiskey laid hollow on the floor, like a murder victim. Must’ve fell over during sleeping… he reasoned disappointingly. Oh well. He went to living room where his mom and Abraham were watching America’s Most Wanted.

“Put on some pants!” shouted Abraham.

“Do what your father says,” his mother’s attention never leaving the program.

“Ok. Ok,” replied Sam, “I’m going out for a walk anyways.”

It was still light outside. Sam had little money and boredom oppressed him. With his hands in the pockets of his new jeans, he walked. That’s when he noticed something rough and papery in his right hand pocket. He pulled it out. A fifty sat there miraculously on his palm. He put his hand back in his pocket and there was yet another fifty. Then again, and again a fifty. He turned the pocket inside-out. Nothing. Then he pressed the pocket down and reached into it again, and to his amazement he pulled out another fifty.

Being only a half hour walk away, the elated Sam practically skipped and danced to the nearest strip club, Tim’s Hidaway Club. Attached to the strip club was Tim’s Hidaway Video, a place that rented and sold porno videos.

* * *

It hadn’t really changed much in the last fifteen years. It was still dimly lit. They still watered down the drinks. The pool tables were still there, and large breasted strippers still played with horny, lonely men. Why had he come here? Getting sentimental in his old age, he supposed. After he discovered that his pants were magic, he came here. A couple of days later he began his trek from place to place… from the West to the East and from everywhere in between to the West again back to his hometown, Portland.

He ordered a Long Island, but it might as well have been a Snapple. He sipped his drink and scanned the room and was about to leave when he saw someone he knew waving dollar bills in the air like an old fool. It couldn’t be, he thought, could it? Sam walked up to the table:

“Dad? What are you doing here?” he asked reluctantly, feeling weird calling Abraham ‘Dad’ for he never behaved very fatherly towards him except that he always told him what to do.

“Still wearing those pants?” was Abraham’s greeting.

His step dad’s smart-ass remark didn’t faze him at all. Just the opposite: Sam sensed that his presence made Abraham feel uncomfortable, so he took a seat next to him, facing the stage where a half-naked large bosomed brunette was squatting in high heels as if she were getting ready to take a piss.

“How’s mom doing?” said Sam sharply.

“Fine,” replied Abraham dismissively as he took another drink of his beer and ogled the stripper. “So did you ever get another job?” asked Sam’s step dad.

“Nope.”

“Then how are you getting by?”

“I get by.”

“Living off a woman?”

“Kind of.”

“Just like your mother,” said Abraham with a scowl.

“If that’s what you think about her, why are you still together?” said Sam in an emphatic yet disinterested tone. With no answer on that subject Abraham continued with the subject of Sam’s life:

“You need to get your shit together. Get a degree in something. Get a good paying job. Do something with your life.”

“Heard that before,” Sam mumbled.

“What?”

“I get by fine.”

“How?”

“I’m a pimp,” answered Sam, feeling pretty damn clever. And for a few moments, Abraham took his eyes off the stripper and looked at Sam like he was a piece of crap and started laughing. Not the reaction Sam was hoping for. Abraham was just about to tell Sam that he was full of shit when a topless waitress delivered another Snapple to their table.

“It’s from the lady at the bar,” reported the waitress, pointing to a woman at the bar. Sam waved, and thanked the waitress.

“And speaking of which, there’s one of my ladies right now,” said Sam casually.

Abraham looked confused. He checked out the woman across the room and envied his step son.

“If you don’t mind, I got to go see what she wants.”

And with that, Sam walked over and took a stool next to Megan. Abraham watched the two curiously, at least he did his best to do so. It was pretty crowded for a Thursday night. Topless waitresses darted from table to table in something that looked like an obstacle course. There was no way a person could walk a straight line. The waitresses had to zig this way and zag that way, constantly blocking Abraham’s view of the show not jiggling on the stage.

“What the hell are you doing here?” asked Sam, trying to make it look nonchalant for his step dad.

“What am I doing here?” returned Megan in a less than composed tone. “What am I doing here? What are you doing here? Already going back to your whores?”

“What the fuck are you talking about? It’s none of your business what I’m doing here,” returned Sam, slightly losing his cool.

“I’m making it my business,” countered Megan in a hostile tone. Looking away from Sam to the stage, she continued, “Besides I was wondering…”

“About what?”

“About what kind of woman you can get wearing those dingy, raggedy pants,” and looking to the stage, her tone becoming playfully cruel, “do you think you could get the dancer up there. Would she let you fuck her with those stinking pants around your ankles.”

“I think I’d do ok. You let me fuck you, didn’t you?” said Sam.

His words were meant to be playful but they came out as sadistic. She didn’t say anything and it looked as if she were about to cry. He began to feel guilty, and taking her hand, and making his eyes meet her’s, he continued:

“I’m sorry, Megan, I shouldn’t have said that. I haven’t been fair to you. I know that. I want to apologize. I’m sorry Megan. I shouldn’t have acted like I did. I was an asshole.”

“Yes you were.”

“Do you think that you can ever forgive me?”

“I don’t know…”

“I know I don’t deserve someone like you, Megan, but I need you—I love you. Please forgive me.”

“And you’ll stop wearing those cruddy old pants?”

Sam took a big breath, and said: “If that’s what it takes… yes.”

“And you’ll wear the pants that I picked out for you?”

And with hesitation: “Yes.”

“Oh Sam I love you!” A look of warm satisfaction enveloped her visage as if something that she had been looking forward to all her life had all of a sudden magically came true. The realities of the world… time… space… depravity… disappointment… and suffering… these all melted away… and it was all due to Sam’s submission…

“I love you too,” Sam’s words only intensified her passions. She was like a shark who had just got a watery whiff of blood… frenzied… her ovaries pounding…

“Let’s go,” she commanded, grabbing his hand and heading towards the exit; but Sam sat there, playing the immovable object routine.

“Not quite yet. I’ve got to say good-bye to that guy I was sitting with. Would you mind waiting here for a sec?”

“Sure, darling…” she acquiesced even though she didn’t want to. She thought it was the wise thing to do considering what Sam had just promised. “Just don’t take too long.”

He walked back to Abraham’s table. To mask his curiosity, Sam’s step dad put a dollar bill in the dancer’s g-string. Sam tapped him on the shoulder and said:

“You know, Dad, it’s a rare thing that a son gets to pay back his father for all the stuff he’s done for him.”

“What are you talking about?”

“That girl, Megan,” pointing suggestively at the bar, “She’s very eager to meet you.”

Abraham said nothing in reply, but there was suspicion in his silence.

“Listen don’t worry, I won’t tell mom. I promise.”

“What?”

“Oh, and one more thing. You’re not my step dad. She’ll do anything you want, but don’t tell her you’re my step dad. That just might weird her out a bit,” said Sam who then looked across to the barstool where Megan sat, and motioned for her to come over and have a seat.

“Megan, I’d like you to meet good ol’ Abe, a good friend of mine from way back. Abraham, this is Megan,” and grabbing the reluctant Megan by the waist, he continued, “my best girl… she’ll do anything for me and I’ll do anything for her… isn’t that right, babe?”

Megan couldn’t help but giggle. Sam had never been so affectionate before.

Abraham sat there and didn’t quite know what to say. He had seen prostitutes before, but never in the presence of his step son, and certainly never arranged by his step son. Plus, she wasn’t dressed like a prostitute, not like the prostitutes that he was used to seeing… perhaps, he surmised, this meant that she was high-class…

“So Sam tells me that the two of you go way back, how did—”

“He was one of the managers at the ol’ Safeway I used to work at,” Sam blurted out.

Abraham nodded… “Yes… yes… Sam bagged groceries… a good boy… one of the best…”

“Sorry, but is anybody hungry? I’m hungry. Does anyone want fries?” Sam interrupted. “There’s never a waitress around when you need one. You two, keep talking, and I’ll get somebody to bring some fries,” said Sam, standing up. “And Megan… you be good to Abe…”

As Megan continued to ask his step dad questions, Sam got up in search of their waitress. He recognized her as she retreated from a table of blushing fat virgins. “Excuse me, Excuse me miss…”

“What can I do for ya, stud?”

He whispered in her ear and put a fifty in her hand. Stepped back to look at her. Whispered in her ear again. Put another fifty in her hand. When he got back to the table the two of them were making small talk, which mostly consisted of Megan asking Abraham what he did for a living.

“Oh that’s very interesting,” commented Megan.

“What’s very interesting?” asked Sam.

“Abraham was just telling me about his job. I had no idea managing a grocery store was so interesting…”

“Oh… it’s not that interesting…” Abraham confessed in embarrassment, “at least not as interesting as you…”

Something in Abraham’s tone struck Megan as strange, and she looked to Sam who was watching the stripper on the stage. Not knowing what to say next, she decided to follow his lead.

At that point, the waitress came back with a plate of soggy fries, and informed Sam that he had a very urgent call and that he could take it in the back. Sam apologized for himself and made his way to the back.

“Oh don’t go, darling,” pleaded Megan.

“Don’t worry sweetheart, I’ll be back.”

“You promise?

“I promise.” As he walked towards the rear exit, he saw his step dad scooting closer to an increasingly agitated Megan. He felt rotten about what he was doing, but he couldn’t stop now, so he marched forward through the exit into the porno store and out into the night. Despite his feelings of remorse, a great peace came over him. For him, it was a world saturated by night and neon lights… a numinous world without riches but also a world without poverty… an honest world without hope but also a world without despair… a world with holes… a disintegrating world, frayed at the edges… the threads unraveling… with poorly sewn on patches that need patches… a world held together in some places by duct tape… a lonely world… a world that he could live in.

He stopped by his room for his duffle, and took a cab downtown to the Greyhound Station. He gave the driver a fifty, and told him to keep the change.

“Gee, thanks,” said the cabbie.

“Don’t mention it.”

* Originally posted in the 28th issue of Red Fez

The Aztec Buddha

Posted: September 1, 2012 in Fiction
Tags: ,

There’re a lot of high school kids on the #14 at this time of day.  It’s a hot day.  No air-conditioning, and everyone has their window open.  It’s sticky too.  The girls aren’t wearing perfume but they emit a fragrance that smells like roses and honey.  It’s probably just their shampoo.  Me… I’m wearing black slacks, a navy blue tie, and a white shirt that’s beginning to become off-white and a bit stale around the armpits.  Dress code.  I wear glasses with wire frames, and I have short hair that’s dyed black.  The boys are sagging, wearing their hats backwards and are talking like they’re black.  That’s ok.  I used to want to be black too, but there’s really no point in wanting to be something that you’re not.       

            Though I’m only 4 or 5 years older, their conversations don’t make much sense to me, and I don’t try to make any sense out of them.  Instead a breeze of perverse delight guides my gaze towards their low cut shirts, and I look to the window, imagining myself falling into those perspiring gaps.  None of them suspect, and go about their gossip and barking laughter. 

By 60th Avenue, most of the kids have gotten off.  But more people are getting on.  By the time we get to Hawthorne, the seats fill up and a few people are standing in the aisles. 

            Somewhere around 27th in Hawthorne is where this short pudgy man with a handle bar mustache gets on.  He looks like an Aztec Buddha in bum’s clothing.  I’ve seen this guy a whole bunch of times.  His breath reeks of beer, and his clothes smell like feet and urine.  If he talks to you, he doesn’t ask what your name is; he names you.  

            He stumbles, plunking each foot haphazardly forward.  A couple of times he veers backwards.  As the bus driver presses on the gas, he begins to fall forward.  Nobody catches him.  People are asking him if he’s alright, but no one is offering to help him up.  He grabs some guy’s knee, and eventually stabilizes himself with one of the bars.  He says to the guy with the knee, “Don’t get too excited, I ain’t no faggot.”  The guy with the knee doesn’t say anything.

            The seat next to me opens up, and the drunken Buddha takes it.  He gives me a look like I’ve done something distasteful.  “Where’re you goin’?”

            I tell him I’m going to work. 

            “Shit man, you’d probably get there faster if you put on your cape and flew.”

            What does a person say to that?  Who knows, so I just smile.    

            “Hey everybody, ol’ Clark Kent thinks he’s foolin’ everybody with his glasses, but he ain’t foolin’ shit…” he ejaculates in a drunken drawl.  The people in back laugh.  I laugh too.  When he asks me where I work, I tell him. 

            “You know what they call that place?” he says, mocking confidentiality.  Then he whispers, “Psycho-Safeway.”  I tell him that I know. 

            At this point, the bus is approaching the courthouse.  It’s a big stony, concrete block with very little personality.  The man next to me scowls, points, and begins shouting, “Hey look everybody!  It’s my home!”  He raises his middle finger and says: “Fuck you, home!”  Again, everyone on the bus laughs.  So do I.  The only one who isn’t is him.

The Kid that Shot Christmas

Posted: December 13, 2011 in Fiction
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Tony looked out upon the dull, cold night… searching the crisp, clear sky. The sparse, naked limbs of the sleeping trees fascinated him. No sign of him yet, thought Tim. Not that it mattered. He checked to make sure his dad’s hunting rifle was still loaded. Tim hadn’t been a good boy that year. In fact, he had been a diabolical little bastard. Busting windows. Torturing animals. He even accused his gym teacher of touching him. It wasn’t true, but it ruined his life just the same. Tim thought it was a kick.

He shared his room, which was on the second floor, with his younger brother, John. Complete opposites, those two. John was a good boy who loved his mother, and always did what he was told. Someday the world would make him very sad, but now he merely slept.

Tony finally spotted him… the fat man and his reindeer. He looked into his sights. If he wasn’t going to get any gifts, no one was.

Bang Donner! Bang Prancer! Bang Blitzon! And Bang 4 times more.

Tony’s dad rushed into his room as John awoke frightened. His mom was working at the hospital that night. Tony reloaded. A bullet clipped his dad on the shoulder. He set his sights on the sleigh to savor its descent. “Only a Christmas miracle can save your ass now, sucker!” giggled Tony as he watched the wounded, writhing reindeer and sleigh plummet.

“Would you shut the fuck up?”

“You shot dad. I can’t believe you shot dad,” sobbed John.

“He’s just wounded.”

This did little to console John, and he continued to cry hysterically.

Tony ignored him… too engrossed by the events transpiring above. Down, down, down went the sleigh, and that’s when the Christmas miracle happened.

“What the fuck?”

Seven black buzzards materialized above each reindeer, holding them up by the horns, thereby saving ol’ Nick from impending disaster and catastrophe. Tony was out of shells. He felt cheated. Then he remembered something that he once learned from television… something about buzzards liking to eat dead things.

“Would you stop that fuckin’ crying already!” he snarled at his younger brother who shook uncontrollably over his shivering, bleeding papa. Tony looked at his old man. Good, he thought, he’s unconscious. Tony locked John in the closet, and took pop by the pant-legs and pulled him down stairs. Thud went the head and shoulders on each descending step. Thud, thud, thud. Drag, drag, drag inched Tony towards the front door. He got his winter coat and boots from the living room closet, went to the kitchen to get a knife, and opened the front door.

The night sky was black, and how ever cold the night was, the blood running through Tony’s veins was colder as he sliced his dad’s throat. The white snow now turned red. The buzzards began to circle above. All there was to do is wait.

Eventually they came down and brought with them the wounded reindeer and sleigh. Tony waited with his empty rifle.

“All right, fat man—” demanded the boy, “hand over the presents.”

“That’s not necessary,” replied Saint Nick, and handed him a present.

Tony wasn’t expecting anything like this. It almost made him ashamed of himself. He was almost sorry that he shot those reindeer. He was almost sorry that he shot and then killed his father. He was almost sorry that he hijacked Santa’s sleigh and planned to kill him. For a brief moment he was ashamed of himself… but not quite.

He set down the empty rifle like last year’s toy, and began to tear and claw at the wrapping paper. Inside the box was a pistol. He looked up to Nick, confused. It didn’t make any sense to him. Why would he give him a gift to murder him with?

The old man in red and white anticipated his question and said, “Isn’t that what you wanted?”

“Well, yah… sorta…” muttered Tony.

“Then what’s the problem?”

The kid didn’t know what to think. Here he shot all the guy’s deer, and pointed a rifle at him… and he gives him a loaded gun. He studied the gun and then raised it at shoulder level.

“Are you sure you want to do that, little boy?”

Tony made no reply and pulled the trigger.

The gun backfired and sent the bullet in Tony’s face.

The reindeer awoke and flew off as a couple of vultures began to peck at the dead, young flesh.

* Originally posted at Rusty Typer in December of 2010

How to Get an Artist Out of Your Life

Posted: October 23, 2010 in Fiction

If you’re wondering how to get an artist out of your life, just do what I did: First, when he brings up the subject of his MFA, tell him you really don’t see the point… that as far as you can tell he paid at least 30 grand for a degree… that he says got him a job (of which he’s always bitching and moaning about) that only pays about 11 bucks an hour… only a little bit more than you made working at Safeway… a total rip off… and don’t forget to mention that having a MFA doesn’t really make a person an artist and it sure as hell doesn’t make the art any good… if anything it becomes more bloodless and witty… you know… more conceptual….

Then he’ll say that you don’t know what you’re talking about… that it was a valuable experience which allowed him to work with his instructors not merely as a student but as a colleague, and that they don’t have any motivation to rip him off… that they want him to have success, because his success is their success… and then he goes on to repeat that it really was a positive experience and that he hopes that you get to have that positive grad school experience some day…

Now you can take it 2 ways from here. You could go the Socratic route… because your ass has been reading Plato… and question the dubious, not to mention ambiguous, concept known as ‘success’ and then convincingly conclude that there is no such thing—you know, the old ‘only thing that can fail me now is success’ argument—or you can play it dirty like me and point out that the reason he might’ve had such a positive experience may’ve been due to the fact that his parents paid a good chunk of his tuition… which of course he denies vehemently… going as far as searching out bank statements as proof… but he doesn’t remember like you do, does he? He has selectively forgotten the time that you, him, his girlfriend, and his mom drove to Seattle to put his sculptures in some warehouse turned gallery… the four of you were squished together in the front seat of a truck… there wasn’t a bit of room to spare… you didn’t even want to be there… but you were sitting right there—when the artist’s mom said that they (meaning herself the artist’s father)… they were selling the house that they bought in Eugene… the one they rented to him and his 2 sisters while they were getting their degrees at the U of O… and she said his share should cover grad school… you said—you, yourself aspiring to get a PhD in English—you said, wow… grad school all paid for… I’d totally go for that… I’m totally jealous…” and even his girlfriend agreed which is a big thing because the 2 of you hardly ever agree on anything….

You sensed, though, even back then that he had a problem with that… Mr. Independent-Bohemia-Punk-Rock Do-It-Yourself-Artist-Guy getting a break from mommy and daddy… he was reticent alright… not quite so independent… not quite so punk rock as he liked to think of himself as… but mommy put her darling at ease… “Don’t be silly. You guys paid for it. You guys paid the rent. It was an investment, and now it’s paying off. Don’t you worry. Me and your dad are getting our share too.”

You don’t bother to bring it up because he’d just deny it anyways, so you say “What’s the problem with that? You’re lucky… I’d kill to have what you have…” then he says, real angry like, “Because it’s none of your goddamn business, that’s why!” And you think of explaining that once a person starts using their experience as a premise in an argument—we are, after all, having an argument—that that person’s opponent has the right to question that very premise… it’s like in court… both the defense and the prosecution get to question the same witness… you know this because you seen shit like this on Law and Order and because you got yourself a real degree—A DEGREE IN ENGLISH… albeit an unmarketable degree… but at least a degree that fostered some critical thinking… after all, you’ve read Paradise Lost like 6 times! You got a ‘C+’ in symbolic logic! You took a class on Nietzsche! You took a class on Henry James and even almost liked one of his novels! If A is B and B is C then A is C! That means you don’t got to take any shit from anybody!

But like I say, you don’t bring it up because you know that he always gets this way when he’s under pressure… he’s living in one of his parents’ houses again—a real nice one too… a spacious 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom house… and it has a big ass garage to construct his mechanical sculptures and shit—anyhow he’s under pressure because his parents really want to sell that fucker and make some money, but they can’t because he’s broke and can’t afford to pay much rent… and did I mention that it’s in fuckin’ Portland, OR? To rent a place like that would cost 15 hundred, 2 grand, easy. He doesn’t pay nowhere near that. Plus he’s stressed because his girlfriend all of a sudden wants to get married—another fuckin’ poser—don’t let her dreadlocks, the black clothes, and the nerdy hipster glasses fool you! The bitch is Martha Stewart through and through! You can only imagine what the wedding would be like! Get out the silverware and the paper plates! Bust out the lace and the shit kicking boots! They’re going to have themselves a punk rock wedding… and it’s going to be good and cheap too… maybe if she can keep her head they’ll keep it under 20 grand… everybody so damn happy—too damn happy if anyone asks you… but they don’t… the fuckers… ah I don’t know about you, but for me—there’s isn’t anything more repugnant than a room full of people who are self-satisfied, wear costumes, and snuggle in vapid platitudes… but what am I saying? Of course you know. What do you need me for? You know all of this, don’t you? You knew all along? But you’re just sitting there, listening politely… so what do you think? How’d I do? No no no… don’t answer… I don’t care… the thing isn’t to merely elicit a bunch of vacuous compliments… but to create something that illustrates the unity the chaos the absurdity the interconnectedness of everything… to communicate… maybe instruct… only then does poetry mean anything… and for that it has to come from experience… but the thing is that experience hurts… it eventually maims you… it runs you over with its car… did you know that Experience drives an H-2? It leaves you twitching on the pavement and Experience, and his girlfriend, Pride, who by the way has a great body and is wearing a very low-cut blouse… they go through your pockets looking for some cash or a credit card—gas is expensive after all—and he takes a rope and ties one end around your ankle and the other end to the tail bumper and drags your ass going 70 mph on some pothole ridden highway… no, you need not answer… the only thing is that since you’ve known all along… before I wrote this… before this even happened… the only thing is that I just wish you would’ve enlightened me in the first place… I wish you would’ve just tapped me on the side of the head and told me to keep my mouth shut because well, you know, friends—even if they are artists—are hard to come by…

* Originally posted on Haggard and Halloo on October, 21 2010

“Oh, come on.  I know you’re a poet and shit but aren’t you being a little dramatic?  I mean what’s the problem?  You’ve got a good job, a beautiful wife, and a great kid.”

            “Nothing’s coming.  That’s what’s wrong.  I’m dried up as the Sahara.  Do you know how long it’s been since I got a poem published?  And don’t even talk about fiction.  It’s been years.  And the stuff I do write, no one wants to publish,” he reiterated into the telephone, gazing out the window of his overpriced second story duplex apartment in his burgundy plush lazy-boy chair.  

            “Well, you’re making a living at least.”  His friend was right.  Sholar was making a good living, and was living a nice, affluent life in the trendy side of town where everyone was progressive and you didn’t have to look at too many poor people because the cops kept them out. 

            “That’s the thing right there.  As a creative writing instructor, you’ve GOT to publish.  No question about it.  A writer who can’t write.  What a tiresome cliché,” Sholar said in self-loathing tone.    
            “Well… yah… I wasn’t going to say anything, but—”

            “Really appreciate that.  I really do.”

            “No problem,” Shawn lightheartedly returned.

            “Let’s talk about something else.  You said you had news.  So what’s up?”  Sholar inquired.

            Shawn suddenly became reticent.

            “Come on.  Tell me.  What’s the news?” insisted Sholar.

            “Well, I just sold a novel.”

            “Oh,” Sholar choked out.   

            “Um… yah… thanks.” 

            “Well congratulations!  Good for you!  And you don’t even have a MFA.  That’s great.”  Both parties felt pretty awkward.

            “Me and Kathy are… um… having a party, and we were wondering if you and Helen wanted to come.  We’d really like you guys to come over, but if—”

            “When is it?” Sholar interrupted. 

            “Friday at around seven.”

            “Tomorrow night?”

            “Yah.”

            “I’m sorry.  The department head is hosting a poetry reading on campus.  At the auditorium.  I got to be there.”

            “Who’s reading?” inquired Sholar’s friend.

            “Bruce Bobowski.”

            “Oh yah, I’ve heard of him.  He any good?”

            “He’s no Milton, but yah… he’s pretty good.  Already published two books of poetry.  Came out of nowhere.  No MFA.  No credentials.  Nothing.  I haven’t met him yet.  Somebody ripped a page out of his book that I checked out… the page that probably had his picture on it… so I haven’t even seen a photo of him.  A lot of his stuff is about working menial labor, women, and drinking until three in the morning.  Yah, he’s popular… but ten years from now, nobody’ll remember him.”

            “Humph.  Maybe if you started drinking…” said Shawn.

            “Ha.  Not a bad idea.  That’s why—aw shit, speaking of degenerates, look who’s coming home,” exclaimed Sholar, still looking out the window. 

            “Who?”

            “The downstairs neighbor.  That’s who.  He moved in a couple of months ago.  The guy’s a total ass.  Smokes more than Hiroshima and Nagasaki put together.”

            “Nice simile.  You should use that.”

            “Oh man, if there’s one thing I hate it’s cigarette smoke.”

            “Sucks.”

            “It’s making all our furniture and clothes smell like smoke.  We got a lot of dry-cleaning too.  It gets expensive.  And the kid.  Can’t be good for Timmy.  He’s only ten.  And that’s not the worst of it.  The guy has people over almost every night of the week, drinking and yelling until four o’clock in the morning.  The landlord doesn’t say shit.  What does he care as long as he gets his rent money.” 

            “Well, I gotta get going.”

            “I pay rent too.”

            “Yah, talk to you later.”

            “Alright talk to you later, and again congratulations.”

            He hung up the phone.  The downstairs neighbor really disgusted him.  Trying not to think about him, he got up from his chair to grab a book, but lost interest and stared out the window.  He could smell innocuous fumes rising from below.  “Maybe I’ll write a story about killing him,” he thought. 

            A moment later, he saw Helen’s car.  Out she came followed by young Timmy. Sholar couldn’t see them without sticking his head out the window but he could hear them out the window.  The wife and kid were greeted by their neighbor.

            “What’s your name little boy?”

            “Timmy.”

            “Well Timmy, you’ve sure got yourself a pretty mommy,” he complimented, playfully messing up Timmy’s hair.  Sholar remained silent.  He couldn’t see but he could picture his wife blushing. 

“Hello ma’am, my friends call me Harry.”

            “You sure smoke a lot,” returned Timmy.  “Why do you smoke so much?  My dad says it’s bad for you.”

            “Well, you’re dad’s right.  Been trying to quit these things, but it ain’t easy.  Does the smoke bother you?”

            “Actually, it really irritates my husband,” answered Sholar’s wife. 

            “I’m sorry I didn’t get your name.”

            “Helen.”

            “Well, I’m pleased to meet the both of you.  And from now on, I’ll try to smoke outside.”

            “We really do appreciate it,” returned Helen.

            When Helen and Timmy reached the top of the stairs, Sholar was waiting for them.

            “Oh hi, honey,” Helen said in a pleasantly surprised tone.  Sholar didn’t greet Helen back, instead he made a gesture of playfully messing up Timmy’s hair:

            “How’s my little guy?”

            “Gee dad, stop it,” responded Timmy, jerking away. 

            “Say darling, what do you say to inviting our downstairs neighbor up for dinner?”

            “You mean Harry?” said Sholar snidely.

            “You’ve met him?” Helen returned sweetly.  Timmy went to his room to play video games. 

            “No, I overheard your delightful little conversation,” Sholar’s tone was aggravated.

            “What’s wrong?”

            “You’re asking me what’s wrong?  I can’t believe this.  He’s the enemy—that’s what’s wrong!”

            “You’re overreacting.”

            “This whole place smells like cigarettes because of him.”

            “He just said that he’ll stop that.”

            “You didn’t mention anything about the all-nighters, did you?  Will that stop too?  Why didn’t you mention that?” Sholar was upsetting his wife.  She stormed across the apartment to their bedroom.  Sholar pursued her, stomping all the way.  Downstairs, Harry sat in his ratty recliner down below and listened, drinking a beer.  Young Timmy turned up the volume on the TV to drown out his parents. 

            “I asked you a question.  Why didn’t you ask him to stop the all-night parties?”

            “You know John, for someone whose trade requires an understanding of human nature, you sure don’t get it.  Do you?”

            Sholar stood there paralyzed.  He knew at that instant that he had gone too far.  There was a tsunami of ferocity bubbling in her, and he was a village made of straw ominously situated on the coast.

            “And you wonder why you aren’t getting published?” she continued.  “I’m going to ask him tonight to have dinner with us.  You know—BE NICE TO HIM.  He’s more likely to cooperate, if we’re NICE TO HIM.  Did that ever cross your little LITERARY mind?”  Helen didn’t get angry too often, but when she did there wasn’t a building left standing.

            That night, Harry came up for dinner.  Helen was as sweet as she could be.  There was no sign of the earlier hostility except in Sholar’s dejected and broken demeanor.   That night she served steak, steamed broccoli, parmesan risotto, with wine, and apple juice for Timmy, who was happy because this was one of his favorite meals.  Their guest was enjoying it too. 

            “May I get a refill of wine, dear sweet Helen” requested Harry, politely.

            “Oh, but of course.  You are, after all, the guest of honor.”

            Sholar ate on in silence while Helen and Harry had a “delightful” conversation.  Eventually they got to talking about books, and Helen couldn’t help but mention that John was a writer. 

            “Anything I might’ve read?” inquired Harry.

            “Probably not,” Helen cut in, “That is, he doesn’t write books; he mostly writes poetry.  He teaches at a university and everything.”

            “A poet huh?  I read poetry every once and a while.  Sometimes I try to write it too.  Who are your influences?”

            Sholar’s countenance lit up.  It was rare to meet someone from the outside who read poetry.  Sure, he had his poetry friends, but they were all academics.  To have someone to just read poetry for the sake of reading it… that was something. 

            “Milton,” returned Sholar.

            “I’ve always had trouble with Paradise Lost.  The only good parts are book two and book nine,” opined Harry.

            “BOOK NINE! OH MY GOD! I ABSOLUTELY LOVE BOOK NINE!” Helen ejaculated enthusiastically.  “John’s always saying that you have to read all of it, but I always say: BOOK NINE, BOOK NINE, BOOK NINE!”

            As Helen and Harry talked, they didn’t notice Sholar’s deflated expression.  He quickly finished dinner, excused himself, and went to sit on his plushy lazy boy, pretending to read his copy of Paradise Lost.  When everyone else finished dinner, Timmy asked Harry if he’d play video games with him.

            “Oh yes, please do.  John thinks he’s above that sort of thing,” added Helen.  So they went to play video games, and Helen watched, leaving the brooding and pensive Sholar.  Helen shouted out to her husband, “John! Wanna watch your son play video?”

            “No thanks.  I’m going to sit here and read ALL of Paradise Lost!” returned her husband bitterly.  Helen shrugged her shoulders.  Harry and Timmy played on.  Sholar fell asleep halfway through book two.

            The next morning, Sholar woke up in his chair to the sounds of videogames coming from Timmy’s room.  The clock said it was a quarter to nine.  He got up and inquired why he wasn’t getting ready for school.

            “I haven’t slept yet,” answered Timmy.  “Me, mom, and Harry stayed up all night.”

            “Where’s Helen?”

            “She and Harry went downstairs hours ago,” the drowsy and video-game addled Timmy answered.

            Sholar went to his bedroom.  The bed hadn’t been slept in.  He looked out the window.  Helen’s car was still parked outside.  He looked at the clock again.  He had an appointment with the department head at ten.  “I’ll deal with this later,” he thought to himself.  It was a meeting that he wasn’t eagerly anticipating.  It didn’t disappoint: the department head chewed him out for not publishing, figuratively pissed on his writing, and informed him that he would be reduced to half-time next year after his contract expired.

            “How am I supposed to get by?”

            “Well, you can do what a lot of our instructors do.  Teach half-time at the community college.”

            “Who’s going to pick up the slack?”

            “Bobowski is coming in as a guest instructor,” said the smug department head, “You know what you should do.  You should try to hang around this Bobowski.  He’s already published two books of poetry.  Did you hear that?  Two whole books.  Poetry.  AND THEY SELL TOO.  Hardly anyone buys poetry anymore.” 

            Scholar had a class that afternoon, so he didn’t get home until two.  He was hoping to find Helen, but there wasn’t even a trace of her or their son.  Except for some furniture, all their stuff was gone.  His things were still there except for his plushy chair.  Also, it appeared that Helen had taken the care of ripping each page out of each book he had except for book nine of Paradise Lost, which she left perfectly attached to the spine.  There was a note taped to the door which read: “I’m leaving you and taking Timmy.  Good-bye, Helen.” 

            Sholar was offended at the note’s brevity, and immediately went to his desk, pulled out his pen and notebook, and went on the attack.  He wrote,

                        You insipid slut, tacit and surly—

                        I hope you get VD

                        From your lover, dumb and burley—

                        I hate you and will never forgive thee.

 

                        But the worst thing—the worst thing—you see,

                        My Dear Helen

                        Is that you left so swift,

                        With only a note

                        Like a cowardly felon!

Sholar stopped to read it aloud, and after doing so was pretty pleased with himself.  “Now for that wife-stealing degenerate.” 

                        You took my wife away, 

                        You must think me upset,

                        But you’re quite mistaken,

                        My sails are set—

 

                        You stole my son’s affection,

                        You must think me angry,

                        But of rage there isn’t detection

                        Because it’s nothing to me—

                        What you did—

                        It was a mean thing to do,

                        It wasn’t fair.

                        But to tell the truth

                        I really don’t care.

                        What stings most of all

                        Is the theft of my plushy chair!

           Actually Sholar didn’t really even care that much for the chair, but it sounded good.  As far as his kid and wife leaving him, he was thinking: “This is bad….  This is just too devastating… too dreadful, and yet… and yet it’s so good.  But I really should be upset.  Shouldn’t  I? Shouldn’t I do something?  A strongly worded letter?  Better yet, physically confront him?  You know… make a good show of it.  That’s what a man of passion would do.  Aren’t writers supposed to be passionate?  Hemingway would’ve kicked his ass already.  Shit, even Henry James would’ve done it by now.  But are they worth it?  No, they aren’t.  But this is an egregious trespass.”  Sholar was happy.  And inspired.  For four hours, Sholar wrote without a break.  It was only because of the Bobowski reading that he stopped.  Looking at the clock, he still had an hour to get ready, but then continued to write instead.  Not until ten minutes before the reading began did he head out.

            He arrived 20 minutes late.  The auditorium was packed.  It was by chance alone that he ran into the department head, who suspiciously looked him up from head to toe.

            “Did you just get here?”

            “Sorry… lost track of time.”

            “Something’s different about you,” accused the department head.  “Are you inebriated?”

            “No.  But what would it matter if I was?  I mean, given the poet that’s reading tonight,” he facetiously interjected, “Speaking of which, where’s this poet?” 

            “The great H. Bruce Bobowski is right over there,” the department head answered, pointing to Harry.  Next to him were Helen and Timmy. 

           “H?” Of course it was him.  Who else could it be?

          Not knowing what to do, he took a seat to get out of sight.  When the reading began, Bobowski proved himself not only to be a good poet, but a formidable orator as well.  He had a presence that exuded charm and authenticity.  Just as Satan envied Adam and Eve for having the adoration of God, so did Sholar envy Bobowski for having the adoration of his audience.  With each poem read, the audience became more enamored, and Sholar more resentful.  Not only would Sholar ever be able to fill an auditorium like this, he’d never have a crowd as enthusiastic as this one.  He had to work with this guy?  And live in the same building too?  Knowing that this guy is fucking his wife?

          Feeling disgusted, he decided to leave early to work on his writing… the one good thing that came out of this mess.  His pen was effusive.  He got home at around nine, wrote until midnight, and awoke to the smell of cigarette smoke at two.  Sholar rushed down to confront him.

          Bobowski opened the door, “Come on in.  Helen and Timmy are staying in a motel.”

          Sholar came in, but didn’t say anything.

          “I bet you’re pretty mad at me.  I hope this won’t affect our professional relationship,” said Bobowski after sucking on a cigarette and blowing a cloud of sulfur in the poorly lit room.

          Silence.   He knew that he felt envy and he knew that he felt malice.  He wasn’t quite sure if he was angry, but he felt as if it was the correct thing to do to play along just as he played along with the love, marriage, and parent thing.  

          “You wife-stealing-piece-of-shit-hack.”

          “Look,” returned Bobowski, “I’m just trying to make peace.  We’re going to be in the same department.  We don’t have to be friends, but we should make peace.  You like scotch?  It’s old enough to vote.  Department head gave it to me.  Here, I’ll pour you some.  Why don’t you sit down?  It’s your chair,” he said pointing to Sholar’s plushy chair.

          “I’m taking back my chair, and I still think you’re a hack,” remarked Sholar boldly   

          “That’s ok, a lot of people do,” said Bobowski as he went to sit on his recliner.  The two of them drank in a stifling, agitating silence for a minute or two.  “You know, she didn’t leave you for me.  She doesn’t even want to be with me.  That was a one-time thing.  She was going to leave you one way or the other.”

          “I guess I should thank you,” replied Sholar sarcastically. 

          “Yah, you should.  Because of me, you won’t have to pay alimony.  But you’ll still have to pay child-support.  Sorry.  Couldn’t do anything about that.”

          “Asshole.”  

          “At least I’m not a spineless-douche-bag-MFA whose wife left him who can’t write.”

          “I’m going to kick your ass,” said the resolute Sholar.

          “You can try,” replied Bobowski dismissively. 

          But Bobowski’s demeanor changed as Sholar lunged at him who was still sitting in his chair.  Bobowski lifted up his leg, kicking Sholar in the gut, as the bottle of scotch was knocked across the room and hit the floor.  Bobowski got up, and urged Sholar to do the same with a few light kicks to the ribs as he puffed his cigarette.  Bobowski backed up away from his chair to where the bottle of scotch was flung near a stand up lamp.  Sholar stumbled to his feet, and tried to get Bobowski with a right cross, who blocked.  But he wasn’t finished yet, he followed with a head butt to Bobowski’s nose.  Bobowski fell backwards on the standing lamp, thus killing the light, the cigarette falling out of his mouth.  The room was now almost pitch-black except for the flames.  Sholar staggered back with his hands on his forehead, moaning and coughing.  He staggered to the front door to get some fresh air.  When he turned around, he saw a bloodied Bobowski charging and screaming like some magnificent demon gladiator with lamp in hand.  The base of the lamp hit Sholar square in the chest, knocking him out the door and on his back.  He laid there for a couple of minutes. Bobowski stood over him, breathing heavily, his face covered in blood as his apartment burned.

          “Feel better?”

          “I think so,” said Sholar, taking a moment to catch his breath. 

           Bobowski offered him a blood-covered hand, and helped Sholar lift himself off the ground.  As soon as Sholar was on his feet, he ran up the stairs, and came back with armfuls of papers.  Bobowski was carrying his old recliner across the street where sat Sholar’s red plushy chair when he came back down.  The both of them were still coughing when they reached their chairs, which were facing the flames.  Bobowski went back again to get a couple bottles of wine, a pack of cigarettes, some papers, and a typewriter.  A few minutes later, he emerged from the blacken smoke, his skin and clothes darkened like a fallen angel.   Bobowski handed Sholar one of the wine bottles, who now sat there amazed watching the flames. 

          “Wanna cigarette?” Bobowski offered.

          “Might as well,” Sholar answered.  “Got a bottle opener too?”

           “Who needs an opener?”  And with that, Bobowski took the bottle out of Sholar’s hand, and broke off its neck on the curb, and then he did the same with his wine.  Sholar was impressed.  That would’ve never occurred to him.  And each on their throne, they sat there in beautiful alcohol silence watching the duplex burn down.  He couldn’t remember a time when he was more at ease, and couldn’t but help recall a few lines from Milton: “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make heaven of hell, and a hell of heaven.  What matter where, if I still be the same, and what I should be, all but less than he whom thunder had made greater?”  Which is just a fancy way of saying “what matters most is how well you walk through the fire.”