Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Writer: Rich Ives

Flash Group

Concerning the Part I Played in the Movie I Thought Was About Me

Tony T. Toast was talking to the weather and the weather was talking back. I mean I was telling the world to be like me, and it wasn’t. I was listening to the voice it gave me, which wasn’t mine.
Tony watched the branches’ knobs turning back like the knuckles of a tough, badly beaten veteran still going back for more and already lost in himself. Built like an over-ripe pear, I had been offered an important part in a movie I was already in. I began crying right along with the deceived lover, who was not so much crying as slipping jewelry into his pants.
I was pretending to be Tony, who was pretending to be me pretending to be married to Eileen, my semi-beautiful, my beloved, my dipsy human pomeroodle of decency. The fog was smiling wanly.
Aw Sugarpaps, said Tony, I had hoped to witness the resurrection of our spoon, and she mouthed she had been drinking. Perch brandy, sounded like. Tell ya somethin’ else, Tony said for me, I take lessons at the club, but I can’t get out of my cleverness.
Eileen’s love, you see, was carried in a vessel too beautiful to continue because before I knew it, Tony had given me license to act like Tony, which was who I was, but not who I wanted to be in my movie, even if Eileen got the supporting role.
So I went to the workshop in my head, which I call the garage. Garage, however, is unpretentious, garage is lingering, like happiness and despair living in the same neighborhood. It’s where I live when my body’s looking for something I can turn in. Like a marriage lost off the coast with all hands, the ocean of still to come closed up over the parts the way what we think childhood was closes over what childhood was, only we haven’t sailed towards several but away from one.

Confessional

This is a true story about the lies I tell.
I’m patient for a little while, but this isn’t like the wet days of travel and deprivation I’ve been telling you about. This is external.
And I’m staying here because counting the beads on an endless rosary of misfortunes has begun to look like a lovely fat piece of excruciating excitement. Better at least than over there where Toto and Wilhelmina are playing with Bobby’s shiny rubber ball as if it could assimilate the subtle tenor of sexual innuendo visited upon it by their deceptively discrete interchange of gestures and whispery vocalizations.
This time the cold wet shadow with your name stitched on its skirt was taunting the relevant seashells under their hard velvet tongues like surprisingly cool nosebleeds, and the ambiguity had begun swelling and threatening suicide.
That’s just the distance between then and now that won’t quite disappear. It’s the lack of meanwhiles that bankrupts the salt ranch. We couldn’t have lived there without a little moisture.
Which is why I see you as one of those gifts that sits in the closet for a while and then bingo, out it comes on the occasion of someone else’s celebration.
I should have known better than Toto that Wilhelmina’s latent homicidal tendencies would not be excited by Bobby’s genderless skirt without the assistance of the patent leather shoes and a good stiff polish. Some things should be obvious.
Which is why I stabbed Toto with an eraser and the wound, of course, disappeared.
Which fails to account for the baby that lives in my head, continually laughing and dribbling, refusing to announce its age or sexual preferences, although I’ve discovered its name has been Meanwhile all along. It’s not, of course, a real baby but more of a vocational choice.
Which means I’m so happy singing the institutionalized version I can’t even tell you what makes it taunt its sadness so relentlessly. You just can’t give up if you expect anyone to be yourself.

Consequence

Okay, I’ll admit that it was sad, but at that time in my life my best friend was a dog, a mangy big mutt named Jimmy Carter. We lived in a trailerhouse I tried hard to keep bright and cheery because I wasn’t feeling very bright and cheery and the trailerhouse was getting old and tended towards the dark and gloomy. I had Christmas wreaths (fake of course) all over the place, and I sprayed them with pine scent. I had bowls of leaves and cinnamon sticks that smelled like air purifiers in 1963 Buicks spread out across the unattended surfaces of the countertops and tables. It seemed to confuse Jimmy, who sometimes limped from one to the other trying to figure out what that smell was. Jimmy had never experienced a 1963 Buick. There was an oil painting above the plastic fireplace that made snow look like something so comfortable you’d want to curl up and go to sleep in it. I had a picture of butterflies and children jumping around like popcorn on the side of my refrigerator. I can remember sitting down with Jimmy for a heart to heart and telling him there wasn’t anything to stop us from being happy. I was entirely sincere, and I believe Jimmy understood that. I had put the reliable old fan that sounded like the starter of a roadgrader into the dumpster the day before, so there weren’t any conspicuous impediments to keep him from comprehending the full import of my revelations. I was done believing that the world was against me. It was ungodly hot outside, but I had begun to wonder why I wasn’t out there frolicking. I consulted the time to see if it could help me.
I stepped with my left foot, I stepped with my right foot, and then suddenly I was going somewhere. I found it surprisingly exhilarating.
Elevated thinking was not part of my agenda at that time in my life, but I suppose I must have had relative moments of increase. I mean there were some complicated things going on around me right there in the grass outside and the sky demanded attention, but it didn’t seem to bother me that I was receiving the world on a rather simple level.
When I got home, I started looking for a hole punch. I needed some kind of a symbol that wasn’t too complicated. I thought it would save me from a lot of difficulty.

Cute Little Digression with a Taste for Chilled Asparagus

A window floated down the river. Fortunately, it wasn’t open, and the river couldn’t get out.
“It’s really something quite extraordinary,” I said without talking through my nose. Robert and Bob and Rob all agreed the window was not an ordinary expression of extraordinariness.
In this way, I was trying to describe myself, but I wasn’t listening, and I realized I do not wish to be removed from that which contains me, even if I have yet to fully comprehend the containment. I am certain to need a device of numbing if not a device of pushing away or of casting asunder.
“I can see your inevitable confluence and the tributaries seem promising,” said Robert and Bob and Rob to the enclosed river in the kitchen, where they were seeking alimentary completion. And then I heard them refer to, “One of those impulses that seem to arrive entirely unbidden, which herewith has caused me to observe that I have an ordinary and dangerous testicular condition the experts say is called masculinity (no no silly boy that’s the key to my heart).”
They opened the window. I told them I was their child and discovered they had not opened the window after all.
“I’m so glad the offering was chilled,” they all said, and, “speaking of transportation might not be the best means of realizing our abandonment of childhood, but neither have the methods in evidence thus far proved to be infallible.”
Finally we agreed that our participation was stimulating, yet reserved. We agreed that the window between us, and the attraction it created, was itself quite attractive. We agreed that containment was not an adequate career goal for asparagus. We agreed that we did not understand how the asparagus had come to be a part of our experience, and we enjoyed it waving gently in the chilly wind behind the window all the more for that reason.
Story

© Rich Ives 2011

Rich Ives is the 2009 winner of the Francis Locke Memorial Poetry Award from Bitter Oleander. In 2010 he has been a finalist in fiction at Black Warrior Review and Mississippi Review and in poetry at Cloudbank and Mississippi Review.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Writer: Harris Tobias

Crown of Thorns

I must have been a genius when I was my original self but, of course, that was quite a few jumps ago. All I have left of that original me is my memory of the jumper box and the crowns. The me that made them must have been awfully smart. He must have known a lot about neurology, biology, physics and a half a dozen other disciplines but, as fate would have it, the world is not likely to know of this invention.
Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Benjamin Donald Dapp, I think I was Doctor Dapp at one time but who remembers? What I did was build this device that switches minds from one brain to another. I’d been working on it for years and I’m sure it was Nobel Prize winning science but there’s little likelihood that I’ll ever see any reward for my breakthrough. Sometimes it’s best not to experiment on yourself.
The principle of the jumper is simple even if the actual electronics are not. One crown goes on one head and one crown goes on another. A button is pushed and consciousness is switched just like that. No big crackling machinery, no lights dim, not even a hum. The jumper is smaller than a pack of Marlboros and uses regular double A batteries. Pretty neat invention if I do say so myself.
I was so focused on the equipment I never even considered the psychological toll switching minds would have on the individual. When the jumper was ready, my first volunteer was my faithful and loving wife, Myrtle. She trusted me completely. We lay side by side on the bed and put on our crowns and pushed the button together. In an instant, I was Myrtle and she was me. I saw the world through her big blue eyes, I had access to all her memories and, I assume, she had access to all of mine. Almost simultaneously our hands rose to our mouths as our most hidden thoughts and actions were revealed.
I saw Myrtle’s youthful indiscretions, her torrid affair with the milkman, and her frustration at our marriage. Her loneliness and pain while I frittered away our relationship spending more time in the basement than with our daughter, Doreen, who it turned out, had none of my DNA.
Myrtle saw my masturbatory fantasies and addiction to Internet porn. She knew my curious proclivity for sock puppets and my real opinion of her poetry. Needless to say, we switched back as soon as we could. The marriage has never been the same since.
I went back to my workbench and rewired the box adding a few filters to keep deep secrets from rushing in immediately. When it was ready, I was eager to test it out and went next door to my friend and neighbor, Reggie Phelps. Reggie is a good guy, quite a bit older than me but supportive in my work and flattered to be of help. We sat side by side in his living room and put the crowns on our heads. In a second I was Reggie and he was me. It only took an instant to see that I made a terrible mistake. Reggie’s life was a horror show. What was worse was that he wouldn’t switch back. He grabbed up the jumper and the crowns and ran off to my house leaving me stranded in his shoes, his life and his aging body.
Almost immediately his enormous shrew of a wife, Josephine, came home angry at the world and heaping abuse on everyone and everything. I could see that Reggie loathed her and the rest of his life. “What was that weasel Dapp doing here?” Josephine sneered.
“Nothing, dear,” my cowardly answer came out reflexively.
“I don’t trust that creepy little snot. I want you to keep away from him.”
“Oh Ben’s not a bad guy,” I said.
“Like you could judge,” Josephine bore down on me like a freight train. ”Go change your clothes, the Dimmerman’s will be here at three.”
I wanted to get back to my house and get my jumper back but Josephine had spoken and I disobeyed at my peril. Dinner with the Dimmerman’s was excruciating in both its length and mind numbing dullness. I made a mental note never to jump into Dan Dimmerman’s head. Dan was an insurance adjuster with a side interest in algae. When dinner was over Josephine dragged me upstairs and demanded I service her. I found her body revolting but she seemed to enjoy herself saying, “I don’t know what’s gotten in to you, Muffkins, but I like it.”
As soon as I could I slipped out of bed and snuck over to my house. I stole up the steps to find my body in bed with Myrtle. I was immediately consumed with jealousy. I left them sleeping and began searching my house for the jumper. I must have been making more noise than I thought because I heard Myrtle wake up and send me downstairs to investigate. What transpired was an ugly confrontation between Reggie and myself in barely suppressed whispers.
“Where is it?’ I wanted to know. “It’s mine and I want it back.”
“I hid it,” Reggie said, “I’m never going back to that harridan. I like Myrtle. I like your body, I like your life. What’s that old expression about walking a mile in another man’s shoes?”
I was steaming mad. Our voices must have been rising because I heard Myrtle call down the stairs, “Is everything all right honey?”
“Everything’s fine,” we both said together. Then I glared at myself and reached Reggie’s old hands up to strangle my neck.” Reggie simply brushed my attack aside and whispered, “Get out of my house before I call the police.”
“Your house? Why you, you henpecked old fart,” again I lunged for his throat and again he batted me aside. He grabbed my pajamas in a tight fist and pulled my face until we were nose to nose.
“Listen up Dapp, you’re me now and I’m you and nothing’s going to change that. Now be a good little Muffkins and go back to Josephine and leave me alone. Oh and one more thing, what’s this with the sock puppets?”
I was totally humiliated. The next few weeks revealed just how awful a life can get. Josephine was a bully and a sexual tyrant. I felt like one of those exotic fish that are reduced to nothing more than a pair of testicles on the body of an enormous female. In addition to his haranguing wife, Reggie’s grown children hated him and he hated them. Reggie’s only joy came from working in his yard. Digging and weeding along side his friend, Jesus, a laborer dropped off by the lawn service twice a week. I personally never cared for gardening but I soon came to appreciate the respite it gave me and Jesus did seem like a nice guy although our communication was limited by our poor knowledge of each other’s language.
While I planted tulips, I plotted how to get my life back. I kept a close watch on the house. Reggie was having fun, that was obvious. I could see him being a good father to Doreen and a caring husband to Myrtle. I hated his guts and planned my revenge. I waited until Reggie took my family on an outing and my house was empty. I let myself in and ransacked the place looking for the jumper. After hours of searching, I finally found it in the garage under a pile of old Hustler magazines. I was just about to take the equipment back to Reggie’s house when the garage door popped open and there they were. Reggie, Doreen and Myrtle all staring at me stuffing something in my shirt.
Reggie acted outraged and demanded his equipment back. Myrtle hustled Doreen inside to call the police. Reggie attacked me and easily overpowered me, ripping the jumper out of my shirt while sitting on my stomach. He let me up when Myrtle called out to tell him that the police were on their way. Indeed I could hear a siren waling in the distance. In desperation I grabbed a big wrench off the wall and fetched Reggie a mighty blow on his head. He went down like a bag of cement. There was a lot of blood, Doreen fainted, Myrtle screamed, the siren was only a few blocks away. I grabbed the jumper from Reggie’s hands and ran down the street toward his house. What had I done? I might have killed myself or was it Reggie? There was no time to examine the philosophical implications of what I’d done. I had to escape.
As I ran home I saw Jesus weeding the azaleas. I went up to him and pantomimed and gesticulated that I wanted him to put on the crown. “Bueno para los flores (good for the flowers)” I said in my high school Spanish. Good friend that he was, Jesus put on the crown and I did the same. In less time than it takes to tell, I was in Jesus’ head and the cop was coming over to arrest the bewildered guy. Jesus turned out to be a fortunate choice, as he couldn’t really explain that he wasn’t Reggie. The cop cuffed him and put him in the back of the squad car while the poor guy jabbered away in Spanish. They probably thought he was crazy as well as dangerous.
For my part I had a lithe young body, brown skin and a craving for tortillas. Best of all, I was free of Josephine and that hate filled family. It was a nasty thing to do to Jesus but I was sure it would all get straightened out in the end. I went back to weeding and after a while Josephine came out looking for Reggie. She asked me if I’d seen him. It was a real pleasure giving her a big dumb shrug like I didn’t understand a word she was saying.
Jesus’ life was dirty and unpleasant. The lawn service treated him like dirt stealing half his wages because he was illegal. What little he earned he sent most of it back to his extended family in Honduras. The only bright spot in this whole mess was that I had the jumper back and, if my body survived, I might be able to make things right.
I continued working for the lawn service and watching the comings and goings of both families. Josephine hired a lawyer to defend Jesus against the assault charge. She and the hateful children visited him in jail. I even saw her studying Spanish so that she could speak to him. She practiced some phrases on me but this time I really didn’t understand a word she was saying.
Myrtle and Doreen went to the hospital daily to visit the unconscious Reggie. I wanted to know how he was doing so I asked Myrtle in my most heavily accented English, “how Meester Dopp doing?” Myrtle said, “not good,” and burst into tears. I thought about going to the hospital myself and switching back into my own unconscious head. If I had to be a vegetable for the rest of my life then so be it. But before I could formulate a plan of action, fate intervened and I became even further removed from my self.
Fate materialized in the form of the INS. I was arrested in an immigration sweep and taken to a crowded holding cell somewhere. My jumper was taken away and I never saw it again. I was at more of a disadvantage than the ordinary illegal alien as my rudimentary Spanish made me seem especially stupid. I could speak to the immigration lawyers in fluent English but that would only blow my cover. The long and short of it was that I was deported to San Espirito. Honduras. where I was warmly received by Jesus’ family.
So here I sit in my mud hut in San Espirito. I have six children and a host of aging aunts and uncles. We all live together in a single room with a dirt floor and an open fire. We go to mass on Sunday where I fervently pray for a miracle. I work our pitiful plot of land but life is very hard. One bright spot is that my Spanish has improved considerably. I often wonder how my old body is doing. If Reggie regains consciousness, I hope that he and Myrtle have a good life together. As for Jesus, stuck in Reggie’s old body, it has to be a pretty weird scene. If he gets off with good behavior he might enjoy living with Josephine. I don’t expect to see him show up here anytime soon.
As for me, well I am tired and undernourished. I may very well be a genius but there’s no opportunity to use any of my talents here. I suppose there is a moral in this tale someplace and maybe with enough reflection it will come to me. In the meantime there’s corn to plant and a dozen hungry mouths to feed.

© Harris Tobias 2011

Harris Tobias was raised by robots disguised as New Yorkers. Despite an awkward childhood he learned to read and write. To date Mr. Tobias has published two detective novels, The Greer Agency and A Felony of Birds, to critical acclaim. In addition he has published short stories in Down in the Dirt Magazine, Literal Translations, Electric Flash and Ray Gun Revival. He currently lives and writes in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Writer: Jared Handley

Segue

Programming the dreams is easy. I can understand why to a layperson it would seem difficult, but in actuality what appeals to me most about my job is its utter simplicity. I write a code, a program reads that code, feeds it to the patient's brain. It knows where to transmit the data, the medical guys hook everything up when the patient first arrives. All I do is create the information; paint the picture. Programming is a breeze.

Now compiling successful notes during Familiarization, on the other hand, is extremely hard.

When a patient arrives at Dock 22, where I’m positioned, you know they're a very important person. Very. So when that VIP account is assigned to your bay, the Subject Identity and Desires Familiarization Procedure can be the most stressful thing you'll ever encounter.

Early in my career I had an old man who owned fuel mines on several planets. He had traveled the Universe, been a father of five, fought in two wars, and experienced extreme wealth and opulence. They hooked him up, hooked me up to him, and for five days--like I said, this was early on; three days is tops nowadays--I traveled his memories, in a largely lucid dream of my own. I was awestricken by what he had lived.

At the end of that fifth day, when they unhooked me and sent him on to Installation, I had thirty hours to use my notes to design a Segue and Dreamfield that were good enough he’d accept it. That is: create a dream that this man would prefer to his real life. The coolest real life you could ask for.

The way it works is, after Familiarization, they sedate the patient to a consciousness somewhere between the waking state of their arrival and the never-to-return sleeping state of Suspension. It takes about thirty hours to set in enough that you can safely infiltrate their thoughts with manufactured ones. If they aren’t deep enough though, you might completely fry them, so you have to wait thirty hours.

Then you have about eighteen hours, two days in total, until they’re in for good. That period is the Segue.

The Segue is tricky but not too bad; once you’ve figured out where they are and where they want to be in their Dreamfield, all you do is lay the track, and they’ll travel. If you’re careless--not that you work Dock 22 if you’re careless--it is possible for a patient in Segue to awaken, if they want to bad enough.

Has to be that way. No one would sign a contract with any company offering Suspension unless they get a chance to experience it first. It makes sense, what with some of the horror stories you hear. Sloppy programmers, sadists, that sort of thing. If you aren’t careful you could spend your life locked in a nightmare worse than Hell.

I am, if I may brag, a master of my craft. Never lost a single one for the company. I’ve had hundreds of patients, all shapes and sizes and creeds, all of whom have had the kind of lives that even the moderately wealthy long for, and I’ve sold all of them on my interpretation of their dreams. I know that programmers often get lumped in with the medical guys and the engineers, but we truly are the last remaining artists.

People want some strange things from time to time. There was a lady not long ago who owned a snack foods company. The same face I’d seen on cookie and cake wrappers since I was a kid, just laying there on the Familiarization table waiting for me. I got inside there and you know what she wanted? She wanted to be a stray dog. And I’m not talking in any of the forts either, she wanted to be out there roaming the wastelands and ghettos out in the natural world.

Of course that’s not what she would’ve really wanted. I’ve been out there, you can’t even stand around for that long before your voice goes raspy and your eyes start to burn. But, she wanted to be a dog out in the unprotected environment, so I had to figure out why.

What appeals to her about that life?

What is her threshold for discontentment?

You must figure out how much bullshit a person is willing to take before giving up. The mind will sniff out the flaws in a perfect world then start to realize it’s all fake. If things are too good, your patient won’t be convinced and you’ll lose them before the dream takes hold. Or if it happens when they’re already deep, though it’s much more difficult to lose them at that point, they could panic and enter into an irreversible nightmare state. You don’t want that on your record, my friend. You can get prison time for that sort of malpractice.

I’m careful though. She wanted to be a dog, so I convinced her she was a dog. Not the happiest dog, not the unhappiest dog, just a dog. The way she thought it would be to be a dog, that is.

People have the strangest dreams, but I never judge. Understand that: I never judge my patients based on their dreams. If that’s what you want...

It all changed for me, very suddenly. They brought in this woman, younger than me. Karen. In the first place, I couldn’t understand why she would want to be Suspended. No kids, huge fortune, perfect body, and a pretty face. If she didn’t want her life I could find a few billion who’d swap with her.

When I got into her memories, things started to make sense. She was an astronaut, very highly ranked as a matter of fact. She had gone on a few peace missions and had been successful in introducing Earthlings to multiple new races, only once encountering hostile lands.

Her last mission had taken them to a settlement on a tiny planet. The native life was not, as predicted, intelligent and peaceful. It was insentient and beastly; vicious animals. The crew hadn’t gone a mile before they were on them; six spiny legs as big as a man, slick, fishlike torsos, mouths like an earthworm’s with a sharp ring of teeth inside. I knew I was witnessing a memory, yet it was the most frightening vision I’d ever seen.

She was the only survivor.

But as she was launching, out of the copilot window, she saw something move below. Before she could make it out, she was in orbit. I went back over that memory again and again, as I’m sure she had.

Was it one of them? Had another survivor tried to catch up with her?

Back on Earth, she’d received an award, a fat pension, and a nudge into retirement. After what she’d witnessed, her rights to space travel were suspended indefinitely. They don’t want head cases taking on the skies up there, and nothing leads to space dementia like the shell shock of an alien battle.

The most curious thing about her was her fascination with life on Earth at the beginning of the Information Age. She was a pioneer, discovered new and amazing civilizations all the time, yet she’d had this lifelong attraction to ancient society. It seemed the vision of being able to walk beneath a blue sky called to her most.

She had wanted to return to explore heavens, seek out another place like that old Earth. But if she couldn’t do that now, Suspension would have to work. It made sense.

Something strange happened to me. It took nearly two weeks to come out of Familiarization with her. I learned so much about her, her memories, her dreams. I just couldn’t finish up because I couldn’t learn enough about her.

I had fallen in love with her. Completely and truly in love.

Still, she had a dream and it was my job to create that dream. So I made her a Segue as good as any I’d ever made. I set her up in a fairly mundane life typical of the early Information Age. Nothing too special to be suspicious, but she got her blue sky.

Now, she can take that dream and disappear into that great sleep. Or, she can wake up, come away with me, and find that beautiful place she dreams of. She might not have the clearance to fly, but as far as they’d know she’d still be in the bay, dreaming away her life. I have full clearance and my own personal craft. It’s nothing great, but it can make it through a few galaxies. With her piloting we could do it.

She could have what she really wants instead of living in this dream. The problem is that right now she’s convinced she’s sitting at a computer screen in the 21st century reading a story.

Just wake up and we’ll go. Come on, Karen.

© Jared Handley 2011

Jared is a writer, sometimes theatre actor and director, and salesman living in Dallas with his wife and daughter. He can be found at Six Sentences and at ThoughtsfortheAbsentMind.blogspot.com.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Writer: Bill Floyd

Plague Clock

He cleans the gun reciting
placenames
like an insomniac
counts sheep:
San Ysidro, CA, Killeen, TX, Blacksburg, VA, Littleton, CO, Tucson, AZ, etc.

It is never quiet anymore
inhere;
"I have been wronged"
and now you
will listen to me.

He lives down
yourway
across divides measuring the
slimmest of
moments.

Distant Sighting

We just went to the mall to get me some shoes.
Ronnie’d been working his new job for about six weeks and he’d finally saved up some money and wanted to buy me something. I was always carrying on about how my feet hurt cause I had to stay on my feet all day talking to the customers. I think about that a lot, how it was my bitching that got Ronnie killed. Even his own mama said that’s bullshit and it wasn’t no one’s fault except that sick crazy bastard’s. But I don’t know. There’s this look in her eyes when she says it.
Everyone saw the news reports from afterwards or the security camera footage that leaked on the Internet, so you know what the mall looked like. It was Saturday afternoon, lots of people there. They say the guy was trying to set some kind of record. We never even got to the Foot Locker. We were in front of the fountain outside the bakery, you know how it always smells so good you just have to buy a cookie? That’s when the guy started letting loose. This blank look on his face. The shots were so loud. So unexpected, so out of place.
Ronnie pushed me behind him and fell on top of me. I heard him grunt a few times and I knew he was shot. One of the bullets came right through him and hit me in the knee but I was so scared I didn’t really realize it until after. The screaming from all around. The crazy guy made this sort of wailing sound right before he put the gun in his mouth. Horrible.
I rolled Ronnie over and started calling for help. He had this real strange look on his face, kinda peaceful. The big dumbass always wanted to be a hero.
My hero.
I had a mind to go after the crazy guy and do something to him even though he was already dead. But when I tried to get up my leg just went out from under me. People held me down and told me the paramedics were on their way. They thought they were being helpful. I guess I kind of lost my mind for a minute there.

After I got home from the hospital all kinds of strangers sent me messages and gifts. This church group from First Presbyterian came by the house with food and some things they figured I’d need for when I recovered. One of the things they brought me was this brand new pair of walking shoes with real cushiony soles and all. The minister said the doctors had told them I’d need shoes with some support. They even got the size right.
I just cried and cried. I took it as a sign, like Ronnie was trying to tell me he was okay. Can’t nobody tell me any different.

© William Floyd 2011

Bill Floyd is a writer from North Carolina who is feeling his way around the on-line world of micro-fiction. He blogs occasionally at www.sixsentences.ning.com.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Writer: Thomas Sullivan

Meeting the Suburban Gangbanger

It's my first lesson of the morning, but I'm already in a rough mood. Teaching seven or eight lessons day after day is like driving to Seattle and back on a daily basis. Given my random crop of students, it's like spending each day with a series of cabbies whose skills you don't quite trust.
I'm checking out the wheels on my car while I wait for a new student. With my faith in fleet maintenance plummeting, I'm starting each lesson with an assessment of the tires and an inspection under the car for mysterious fluid stains on the pavement. Today's assigned vehicle, a sad looking heap of dilapidated metal, is new to me, so we're about to embark on our maiden voyage together. I have no idea where the red Mazda came from, and really don't want to know. It's probably up from New Orleans after hurricane Katrina. The car looks like something even a suicide bomber would reject.
I see a kid wearing an oversized NBA jersey and slinky nylon shorts shuffling towards me. As he gets closer I notice that his huge high-top sneakers are unlaced. This is one suburban white kid who's having nothing to do with the standard attire of his town.
"You the teach?" he says.
I nod and look at his head. He's got a baseball hat yanked down to the bottom of his forehead, so I can't see his eyes.
When the second student shows up, the kid swings away from me.
"Yo Slice, wassup bro!" he shouts.
They slap a high-five and laugh. I wait for a break in their jibing and posturing to start the lesson, but they ignore my presence. A minute later I interrupt them and we load into the car. Slice loads into the back seat while his buddy slumps behind the wheel. The kid shifts the backrest on the seat toward the rear of the car and slumps, ghetto style, with one arm stretched out to the wheel. I manage to get his seat more upright, but he resists advancing to the vertical position, so we compromise on a quasi-gangster setting.
I get a glimpse of my face while I adjust the rearview mirror. I look like someone you could feed on Thanksgiving for a contribution of $2.16. I glance over at my driver and ask, "Ready?" Head facing forward, he responds by jabbing his right hand toward the windshield and saying nothing.
The kid bolts away from the curb without bothering to check for traffic. I emphasize the need to steer with both hands and he grudgingly complies. A minute into our drive the kid drops his left arm off the wheel and resumes steering with his right. I'm about to correct this when a police cruiser passes us on the other side of the road. The kid lifts his left hand to the window, flicks two fingers forward, and says, "Mr. Baaacon." He whips his head toward the back seat and glances at Slice, who laughs apprehensively.
"Okay," I interrupt, "let's keep our eyes on the road. And use both hands."
The kid sighs theatrically and puts his second hand back on the wheel. Looking through the windshield he says, "Yo, got it." He seems to be relishing the show for his buddy in the back. I decide to let the police comment slide, hoping he's now got the need for posing out of his system. We continue rolling down the road. He's actually a pretty good driver, though I notice that he prefers not to signal, probably as a means to retain street cred.
Ten minutes later we swing right at an intersection and start rolling down a four-lane road. My driver looks out his side window and stares toward the curb across the street. Looking past him I spot a woman in a tight blouse and skirt lugging a big shopping bag down the sidewalk. Still gazing through the window he says, "Yo, Slice, did ya feel the heat comin' offa dat one." Slice laughs, less hesitant than the last time.
That's it.
"Okay, pull the car over, onto this road here," I order. I jab my fist in the air, pointing to our right.
The kid peels onto the road, races up to the curb, and grinds to a stop. I reach down and shove the gear shifter into park. It's silent for a moment as I compose my thoughts. I look over at my junior gangbanger, who turns his head towards me. I still can't see his eyes and fight the urge to reach over and flick the hat off his head.
"Look," I say sternly, "you're here to impress me with your driving, not Slice with your comments."
The kid tilts his head back and our eyes meet for the first time. He looks at me with dull indifference, like I'm a principal he couldn't give two shits about. I feel like a flustered stepfather trying to deal with the resentment buried in some other guy's neglected spawn.
"Okay?" I ask, softening my voice into a pleading tone.
Sensing that the gig's up, the kid shifts to English and says, "Okay, got it."
We proceed quietly through the remainder of the lesson without incident. I try to encourage my driver, periodically commenting on things he does well. He's probably had fifteen years of adults focusing on what he does wrong. A half-hour later we finish the lesson. It's the last time we'll meet.

© Thomas Sullivan 2011

Thomas Sullivan’s writing has appeared in Word Riot and 3AM Magazine, among others. He is the author of Life In The Slow Lane, a memoir about teaching driver education. For information on this title, please visit his author website at http://thomassullivanhumor.com.

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