Late one night, driving out of the center of Brussels toward home, I arrived at a notoriously chaotic crossroads where impatient automobile traffic piled in from ten different aggressive directions. Truly, ten streets dumping cars onto one large oblong area where everyone wanted to get to the other side first. A place where all concerned needed to keep their wits about them, especially late, late at night, with too much liquid merriment in the veins.
Coming from my own direction, one of the thinner streets to disgorge traffic, I waited like a good cautious boy, watching the traffic light, anticipating when it would switch from red to green telling me I could now go go go. For the moment it was telling me to stay (…stay…stay…). I sat and stayed seeing no change of colors, no switch from red to green, not even yellow was making a surprise appearance. I just kept staring, waiting for something to happen, when I finally entertained the thought — horror of horrors — that I was staring at a dead-eyed red light. It was not going away, not changing to anything but remaining dedicated to staying true to its red self for the foreseeable future. Somebody honked behind me. Then somebody else honked behind him. Restlessness was building behind me.
I examined at the crossroads once more, weighing my chances of making it without wreckage and death. Numerous cars were busting through their own dead red lights from other streets roaring toward the cluttered center of the crossing, most zooming round, switching gears, feinting left, swerving right, being fearsome and belligerent, absolutely indifferent to possible dents, whether to body or brain. It was every car for itself way past midnight with my home sweet home somewhere on the other side this killer span of blacktop. I daringly moved my car two inches forward, then halted to check how my progress was going, sweeping my eyeballs left and right, checking incoming threats. More insistent honks piled up behind me.
Continuous blurry headlights swung by from different directions with different speeds. Prodded by honks, I continued inching cautiously toward the main mass and mess of the intersection. Growling Alpha cars missed my front fender by micro inches. My eyes weaved in and out of the cars before me, measuring the “what was to come” when and if I did actually get out there where the world raged on, and during this look I thought I spotted some wobbly gesturing scarecrow improbably in the middle of all this.
I moved a full couple of bold yards forward and saw that this vaguely human form was as a shirtless male staggering about, pointing at zigzagging cars with one hand, waving his shirt in the air with the other. I stared at this death-defying sight while the cars behind me honked more insistently until my brain clicked that this man’s gestures were a crude imitation of someone in authority trying to direct a traffic jam.
Startled people behind the wheels of hostile vehicles slowed, also baffled by the man in the middle of this, stumbling to the left, then to the right, like a man on the deck of a ship caught in a massive storm, all the whole pointing here, pointing there, doing an impression of handling traffic with a slick, efficient diligence. Other cars, less impressed, buzzed past, nearly clipping his hip. A few, like mine, waited for something deadly to happen, such as a sloppy car in a fierce hurry smacking him and sending him twirling limp and lithe high through the air, a pinwheel human in an fantastical airy dance.
This man, full of drunken confidence, weaved toward my car, pointing at polite, timid me, indicating that I should now come on through, drive, drive. He held his flat just-you-wait other hand toward an angry driver racing from the right. This driver screeched his wheels briefly, insisted he wanted through with his front bumper, as though threatening that he was more than willing to run over the drunk if he did not give ground immediately. The drunk guy gave nary an inch, the hand continuing its authoritative no!
Once convinced his authority had been stamped and that the angry driver had been tamed, and ignoring all other dozens of cars coming and speeding by and honking horns, the guy returned his full attention to me. He waved me on with the surety and arrogance of one drink too many. At this the angry driver on his right took his chance, revving and swerving behind the drunk, who caught this disobedience, twirled round, waving his shirt at the driver to stop, stop! right where he was and allow calm passage of my car. But the guy was good and gone.
Once more waved on, I dutifully drove steadily and gently across the intersection, keeping a lookout in every direction while the drunk assured me with his gestures that my way was paved with gold and to prove it he was going to accompany me, so to speak, all the way across, perhaps since I was one of the few cars actually obeying him. Cars kept honking, continuing to zip past, and those pent-up cars once behind me flew in another blur right past me and my guide. Finally seemingly safe on the other side, I drove on, started inhaling again while the traffic continued its aggression and honking behind me.
I glimpsed in my rear view mirror the drunk returning right to the middle of the crossroads, energetically waving his shirt anew, pointing at naughty drivers, determined to keep everything orderly and tidy according to a plan not fully evident to those embroiled in his project, as he weaved, and automobiles weaved, and I turned my eyes away and my car left into a side street and drove on, drove home.
Posts Tagged ‘flash fiction’
Sam: I don’t really want to kill myself.
David: What changing your mind?
Sam: Lack of commitment.
David: Not a lack of desire?
Sam: Oh no, not really. I have lots of that, of desire for ending it. I know Death is just waiting for me, and I’m starting to get used to wanting to go there. Like making it a goal.
David: But not making the effort?
Sam: I make efforts.
David: Such as?
Sam: I fell in love again last month, bought some non-organic supermarket food, and decided to vote in the next election. I make efforts to go on living, man.
David: Your efforts qualify more as self-destructive, not so much suicidal.
Sam: Ya think?
David: My opinion merely.
Sam: So what would be suicidal?
David: Getting married, eating the crap food you bought and actually voting.
Sam: Right. So I have to make more of a serious effort?
David: More than you’re making, yeah.
David: You said you fell in love. Last month.
Sam: Yeah, I fell in love but with life.
David: And life’s not in love with you?
Sam: Not a lot of cuddles, nope.
Sam: Life’s got no sense of long-term commitment.
David: Feel like you’re just one more thing its programmed to do?
Sam: Man you can be depressing.
David: How’s am I worse than your suicidal tendencies?
Sam: Maybe I want to end my life but I don’t necessarily want to be morbid about it.
David: An upbeat self-killing?
Sam: Now you’re mocking me.
David: Okay. Right. So, when’s this happening?
Sam: Sooner rather than latter.
David: Time is variable when it comes to killing yourself, that it?
Sam: Making fun of me again?
David: Well, just, like, commit and have a schedule. Then it gets serious.
Sam: How can I plan when you’re trying to depress me!
David: I thought I was just helping you clarify.
Sam: You mean, like a friend?
David: Exactly. Like a friend.
Sam: Then why are you being so negative? Why don’t you try to talk me out of it?
David: That’s what you want?
David: So then what do you want from me?
David: You got it. That’s what friends are for. To respond to needs.
Sam: Just shut up. Be quiet.
Sam: That’ s better. (Silence) Much better. (Silence) Peaceful. (Silence. And then more silence)
He said to her, “I can name fifteen reasons why we should stay together.”
She waited over on the other side of the room, her arms crossed, waiting to hear his reasons.
He said, “One, I love you.”
She waited some more. She got tired of waiting, so said, “And?”
“The other fourteen don’t matter, just the first one.”
She continued waiting over there on her side of the room, arms still crossed, wondering how to tell him that that just wasn’t enough reason any more.
When called upon to express himself in a timely manner, the rather embarrassed full-length midget of uncertain parentage came forward to the microphone in front of a quiet audience of lots and lots of people.
He stood and glanced up at the microphone. He licked his lips and they licked him back. No faces were seen through the bright hiding glare of the lights right in front of him and at the sides of him and then more lights further out, out there. But lots of people were somewhere there, beyond the lights. He heard coughs and shifting bottoms in comfortable seats.
Unaccustomed as he was to speaking in public, or, indeed, speaking at all, he launched manfully into his much rehearsed outburst, which consisted, spasmodically, of three syllables in the wrong order.
Silence greeted his immense effort.
He should have known better, in fact he did know better, but was talked out of this knowledge by someone backstage who was in it for the money.
Emptied of effort, he turned to walk off, or was it waddle off, it was hard to be exact about a full-length midget’s gait, while detecting, or so he imagined, almost wished, some distant though heart-felt boos coming from the Great Out There. If no one liked him, then he would never have to think about doing this again, which would give his limited expectations but immense imagination much time and opportunity to think of nothing but nothing at all, for as long as he wished, or as long as his heartbeats held out, as long as he lasted. He would not ever have to do anything ever again.
His immense imagination was already imagining he heard a wall of nasty boos washing up from the unseen audience, overwhelming, over-stating their distaste for his brief effort at speaking what was on his mind, in public, on stage, when, he knew, he had little to say, declaim or state.
This was now officially becoming a rough day for him. He would take a pill to sleep this evening. After he dealt with his three wives, especially the one who had been particularly demanding in sexual matters, and those two second cousins who’d shown up out of nowhere, and then, of course, feed the cats. Always, endlessly, the need to feed the cats.
Someone or two, out there, damn them, applauded, briefly, three times, like syllables said, in, of course, the wrong order.
He halted, hips turning forward, stepping toward the edge of the stage, moving his face beyond the bright, blinding light, beyond the few dying boos, beyond this point in his life, to see into this impossible sea of darkened, demanding souls, seeking that face, perhaps brighter than the rest, the one with the hands still in a phase of three-syllabled clapping, waiting eagerly to be seen by him, so he could say, without hesitation, beyond three syllables, into the dark, with a darker hope, to the person with applause in his or her hands, “Is there someone out there who wants me to go on?”
A third person applauded. A fourth. More? Was there more yet? Perhaps the sound would soon be deafening. And he would need to imagine more syllables, more than the three he had memorized and already used up. His face went through the curtain of light and into the dark, where he squinted, trying, as always, as forever, to see beyond what he had got used to seeing.
A couple of years ago I posted a short-short story called Red Ball, which became rather popular and got comments like “breathtaking” and “This is great. Really creepy!” and “YES! Creepy… for sure.” and “Creepy is the word! Especially the 4th corner.” You can read the original story here.
Now I have gone and made a short video of it. I narrate it. You can see it by clicking on this sentence.
That’s it. Thanks for coming by. V+
Experimentally, gingerly, for the first and last time in his life, the artist known as Smithy lifted his right eyelid, placed his right forefinger near the top of his left eyeball and gently but firmly drove that sucker around the orb and smack into his brain.
Once there, he tickled the frontal cortex gently. Something somewhere in him giggled. It was painful but that was where the jokes were located.
He pushed on.
As his finger dug toward the middle of his brain, he began to loose control of his legs. He sat, suddenly, down. His finger, playing at being a brain elevator, rose to the top of his brain, his skull, pushing lightly at various stimulating gray matter as it went, replaying his many memories. His past, his present, not much of his future. Many of his past pleasures were tucked up in there and he briefly fingered their joys, disappointments and the why why whys that still echoed and generally fumed darkly in there.
He moved on, his finger making a left turn at the rear of his brain where he came into a dense layer of smut he had always kept hidden, tucked back in there, just for emergencies. It throbbed and mutated and performed a lascivious dance just for him, as it always reliably did.
But he had no time for these varied once happily anticipated stimulations, as the thrusting journey his finger was taking had made his groin unresponsive, as his dick, his anus, his flaccid sack of lazy balls lolled lackadaisical, finished for good.
He did manage, before passing out of this life and into esoteric choices he would be surprised he would have to make on the other side of this worldly existence, he bumped up against the back of his skull. His fingernail scraped here, against the skull, and, as a last treat, and as a last idea, he went in for some inner urban art.
With his fingernail he scratched letters. It was hard going as his body was now giving up major motor functions at an alarming rate. He was blind, could not speak, and the hearing was dimming—no, there, it too was now gone.
As he died, as he slumped, as his spirit floated, as required, above his body, looking down, his finger gave up its ghost and slipped out of the gray matter, falling out of his head, his eyes boggling, leaving behind, distantly, on the inner wall of his damaged, lights-out brain, the simple ego words on the inside of his skull,
“Smithy was here.”
The man shuffled into my office to tell his troubles. He sat down where I had to look at him.
Taxes were ruining him, his wife didn’t understand things, his bills were piling up, he didn’t like the weather, his car was on the bum, his children avoided him, a pet hamster had died.
“Even my cat committed suicide,” he said. “He went in the road during the night to fight a truck. The truck won. Found him next morning, his head all flat, his brains shooting out his ear holes like grey toothpaste. It nearly broke my heart. We buried it and the hamster together in a spot in the backyard. My kids prayed, and then looked at me as if it were my fault. I didn’t know what to tell them. God, why …why my cat?”
He sat there, waiting for an answer.
“Did I ever tell you about the dog I had when I was a kid?”
I didn’t want to hear this.
“He was a big cuddly mutt named Elmer.”
Now I really didn’t want to hear this.
“Fred,” I interrupted. “You’re in no state to talk about a dog from your childhood. Especially if his name was Elmer. It’ll only depress you further.”
“Old Elmer,” my friend mumbled, as though he hadn’t heard my warning. But something must have gotten through, because he changed the subject. “They say it’s going to rain.”
“They’re often as wrong as they’re right,” I said.
“I know,” he replied. “Can’t trust anyone these days.”
I tried to change the subject. “How’s—?”
“Don’t ask,” he interrupted. “Don’t make me think about it. Let’s just sit here in silence in some animal warmth.”
We were sitting together like that for about five minutes, me getting impatient to get back to my work, Fred comforted by the warmth, when the boss walked in and said,
“Say, have you seen the report on … oh, Fred, hello. How are you?”
“My cat’s dead,” Fred said. He got up and walked to the door. “Elmer’s long-gone, too.” And he left.
My boss said, “Who’s Elmer?”
“You really want to know about it?”
He did. He was the boss. It was his job to know about such things. So I told him.
After hearing everything, he was silent for a long while.
“I had a dog named Buster who died when I was a kid.”
Sharing some more animal warmth was about to happen in my office again, and it wasn’t even nine thirty-five in the morning on a Monday.
“I love you, Mam. Oh how I looooove you. So much and double so much.” The daughter opened her mouth for more.
Mam said back, giving her more, “And I love you. You are so perfect.”
Daughter ate it up and said right back, “Mam, you can do anything. Just anything.”
They wanted to hug, but couldn’t because the daughter did not have arms. Or legs. Or any appendage. She was simply one big mouth with lips, tongue, teeth, moisture and love. Love for her Mam.
“I looooove you, mam.”
“I waaaaaaant, mam.”
“What do you want, my dearest of dears?”
The big mouth smacked its lips.
“I want something you can get for me.”
“That’s why I’m here.” The Mam beamed. She could not help herself, she had to say it again. “You are perfect. Just perfect.”
“And when I do something wrong, mam? When I’m older and am bad, what will you do?”
“I will scold you, correct you, teach you, forgive you, and everything will go back to what it was before you were bad.”
“You’re the best mam ever!”
Mam went out and bought three books, a pair of gloves, five pairs of shoes, eyeglasses in a fancy frame, chocolate bars, four types of cakes so she could have a bite of each, and a new toothbrush and toothpaste.
“Oh, Mam, stuff! Stuff! Lots of stuff! You thought of me! But mam. Mam! Shoes? Eyeglasses? Gloves? What are they for?”
“For when you grow older and develop.”
“Oh mam! Mam, you think of everything! Everything!” The mouth loved using exclamation marks. She couldn’t help it if everything was wonderful. Wonderful! “Feed me, Mam. Feed me everything. I am made for it. One big happy need! You fulfill me!”
Mam went to the kitchen, stayed there a while, came back with three mounds of food, which she spoon and fork fed to her open-mouthed daughter.
“Mmmmm, Mam. You’re the best!”
“No, you’re the best.”
“No, you’re the best.”
And so forth until Mam went to get dessert.
And mam asked, defining future needs she looked forward to providing, “And what does my perfect baby darling forever want from me?”
“Hug me, give to me, forgive me, buy for me, feed me, squeeze me, fulfill me, shape me, take me, make me.”
“Oh my daughter!”
“Oh my mammy!”
“We were made for each other.”
“Oh, yes, mammy! Oh! Yes!”
And the daughter began hungrily nibbling her mother and the mam said, “My darling. My perfect, loving little girl. Ouch.”
Bernard took the car out of the garage and rolled it slowly backward, looking left and right and checking in his rear-view mirror, then sped up slightly and ran over four cats, two dogs, one puppy, three hamsters, a frog and fourteen confused snails.
This was a pain. Because it meant Bernard would have to get out of his car, get the hose, turn it up full blast and wash down his driveway. Aiming the water, he watched the dogs, puppy and cats turn limp somersaults moving toward the gutter.
Then, inevitably, the neighborhood kids came to gather round to look. Some pointed their phones to take photos and send them to their friends with remarks like, “Cooooool.”
Then one kid pointed and sobbed, “My dog Fido!” Another kid screamed, “Dolly! Dolly! Dolly!”
Soon parents gathered around to make caustic remarks.
“You can’t keep doing this,” one said to Bernard.
“I don’t mean to,” Bernard answered as two of the dead cats finally made it to the gutter and flopped over into it and out of his sight. “They all just rushed under my tires I backed out.”
“You said that yesterday,” said another parent, not believing a word.
“And the day before that,” reminded another.
“Dolly!” bellowed the kid again and again.
A damp, fur-matted dog disappeared over the curb.
“I check,” Bernard said. “Every day, I check. Is there another animal out there, is there something I don’t see? The driveway is always empty when I roll out. Then, all of a sudden, they are there, diving under my tires. It happens so fast I can’t stop in time.”
The frog fell on top of the dog.
The last dog fell into the street gutter, then a cat. Barnard was going to be late for work again.
Three parents crossed their arms tight over their chests.
“So you’re saying you think this is some sort of unexplained natural phenomenon where domestic animal life commits suicide under your car wheels?”
Bernard turned off the water, tossed the hose aside. “I didn’t say that.” The animals were gone from his property now, bodies resting floppy and over-flowing in the gutter. “But I wouldn’t rule that out.” Most traces of the animal blood was also gone from his driveway. “I don’t know, really. It just happens.” He got into his car.
“Dolly….” It was more a whimper now, the boy already half-wondering whether his mother would buy him another dog. Bigger. So it wouldn’t get run over so easily.
“You like to kill animals,” someone shouted.
Bernard rolled down his window. “Maybe they are not happy.”
“Who isn’t happy?”
“What are you talking about?”
“So they come over here and kamikaze themselves under the wheels of my car day after day.”
“You saying we’re lousy pet lovers?”
“I’m saying maybe you should try feeding them better food on a regular basis. Talk to them more often. Pet them. Be better humans.”
“Damn! He’s lecturing us and he’s the murderer.”
Bernard shouted as he drove off, “And how many pets do you people have, anyway? I’ve run over at least eighty this month!” He glanced at his watch. He was going to be twenty minutes late. Again. He rolled up the window, swerved around a cat that threw itself in front of his car, and started making good time as soon as he left his neighborhood behind.