by Joseph Fazio
A Sad Story
A woman lost her leg in the grocery store. One moment, she was sniffing the bottom of a cantaloupe, the next, her leg was gone. She went up and down each aisle looking for her leg but did not find it. She thought her leg was probably looking for her, too, so she went to the customer-service desk and had it paged over the loudspeaker. But because her leg did not have ears and could not hear, it did not report. Nor did it have eyes with which to look for her, she now realized.
In fact, the only thing her leg could do was walk.
She hadn't lost her leg at all.
Her leg had run away.
Her leg did not want to be with her anymore.
A man approached the woman and asked her why she was crying, and she proceeded to tell him this sad story.
A man spoke the same thing every day to anyone who would listen: a low monotonous drone of food, money, need, food, money, need, food, money, need. The words carved furrows in his ear canals and took root there. They piled up and gathered dust and built a wall between his brain and the outside world. In his head was a low monotonous drone that no longer made sense, if it ever did: food, money, need, food, money, need, need, need, need, need, need, need, need, feed, feed, feed, feed, feed, feed, one, one, one, one, one, deed, deed, deed, deed, my, my, my, done, done, none.
No one listened, not even him.
There Is Nothing
There is nothing. Strike that——there was nothing. But now there is something. The something in this case being pretty much nothing but still too much of . . . something.
Finger wind and clickety-clack. A white space filling with shapes. Vomitus. We'll find a way to fuck up anything, like making something out of nothing.
Let's try that again: There is nothing.
The Wolf Orders Takeout
The hen doesn't leave the nest, preferring the comfort and safety of the coop.
The wolf waits.
The egg doesn't leave the chicken, preferring the comfort and safety inside the hen inside the coop.
The wolf waits.
The chicken doesn't leave the egg, preferring the comfort and safety inside the shell inside the hen inside the coop.
The wolf orders takeout.
A man looked into his telescope one evening and saw only an eye looking into his own. He turned his telescope elsewhere in the night sky. There, too, was another eye staring into his. The man turned his telescope toward the mirror behind him. Finally, he saw the comforting black void. He climbed inside his telescope, finger by finger, arm by arm, head, neck, torso, and all the rest, and waited for someone to come and collapse it.
The Moon's Hair
The moon has long hair that it wears in a bun, which we cannot see. It was discovered when we sent men up there in a shuttle to conduct experiments in low-gravity golf. They attempted to free the moon's hair and bring back a lock for study, but the moon demurred.
"My hair is gray and I want no one to see it," said the moon.
The men didn't press the matter.
After the men returned and described their discovery, women went up in another shuttle, armed with great quantities of hair dyes, conditioners, giant combs, and curlers. "We'll make you beautiful," they said. But again the moon demurred.
"Who can compete with the beauty of the sun? No, I'm old and cold."
The women empathized with the moon and left it alone.
Monkeys were sent into the sky to continue the lunar golf experiments, and upon landing on the moon they began foraging for bugs in its hair. There were none to be found. This only made the monkeys burrow deeper into the moon's bun. The monkeys disappeared, lost in the vast jungle of hair. They were happy to swing about the silver tresses, to eat their space rations and hump and sleep and die there.
We continue to send men, women, and monkeys to the moon. And the moon continues to hide its hair from view.
The Big Flightless Birds
The big flightless birds are coming toward us on foot. Their journey has been long and slow, but somewhere along the way they figured out how to shoe themselves and they've been picking up speed ever since. It's been said they've also figured out how to drive, steering with their beaks and zig-zagging down our highways.
Soon they'll be upon us.
It's unclear if they're invading or seeking sanctuary. They've clawed a few of our people to death, but that may have been in self-defense——we've certainly made many trophies of them, even before they went on the move. We don't speak bird and they don't speak human and therein lies the meat of the matter. But if the shit flies, we've got guns and the fingers to use them.
Me, I want to break one of the big birds, like a horse. I'll ride it. Watch it preen. Give it a name.
All is gravy. It's a slick brown mess we find ourselves in. We're the lumps that the giant ladle seeks to stir away. Down it comes. The young, weak, and old are sucked into the vortex: goodbye mother, goodbye father, goodbye little sister. Cling to the spoon if it scoops you up; cling to the skyscraper if it drizzles you there. Wait for the maw to devour you and stab its tongue with whatever is at hand. Make the monster hurt——you're already dead.
A woman ran down the street, passing a man cleaning blood from the sidewalk in front of his house. The man stopped what he was doing and ran after her. He caught up to the woman and asked her why she was running.
"Because I killed someone," she said. "Why are you running?"
"Because I wanted to ask you why you were running," he said, running alongside the woman. "But come to think of it, I also killed someone."
"That's a good reason for me to run away from you," the woman said.
"And me, you," the man said.
"On the other hand, I just admitted to murdering someone," she said. "Really, I ought to kill you."
"Ditto," the man said.
The woman pulled a knife from her pocket and so did the man. They were about to attack one another when they both tripped on a crack in the road and fell forward, plunging their respective knifes into their respective hearts.
The Green Mountain
We call it the green mountain because that's what we have always called it. But there is nothing fearsome about a lush mountain; it hides no teeth.
The green mountain is a giant lizard's back, which we will climb, holding jars of insects——small offerings so that it won't eat us. Many of us have made the journey over the great lizard; none of us have made it back.
But those unfortunates, like my father and brother, didn't have jars of insects, didn't have anything to offer. Animal skins they wore. I wear bark and bear insects.
While planting a bulb in a pot, I sneezed into the dirt. Several days later I noticed a fleshy bump poking up through the soil. It appeared to be the tip of a nose. I watched it grow alongside the plant; the bulge of nostril domes appeared just as the buds began to open. When the flowers——white gardenias——bloomed, the nose sniffed them until it sneezed. Several days later I noticed another fleshy bump poking up through the soil.
Decanting the Man
Pour him into this carafe. Let's separate him from the sediment. The dirt, dust, dandruff, and dingleberries: let them settle into the netherest of regions. Give us the good stuff!
Not big enough? What do you suggest?
This bucket it is. Pour him in. What a mean thirst I have. Let's get tipping already! Shall I knock a hole in his skull to get the glugging going?
Surely, this is big enough? He can walk under a tall dog, which is why we chose him, you will recall. What do you suggest?
The bathtub it is. Good god, open the bung on him and let the juices flow. It's nearly midnight. That's the stuff——straight up and down with him!
Three drops. Nothing more. A thimble would have held all of him. Either he's all shit or you drank him up when I wasn't looking. Either way, I blame you. You're very easy to blame, which is why I chose you, you will recall.
The cat intends to vomit in the night. It heaves at the end of your bed, waking you from a dream in which you were at an Italian restaurant eating endless breadsticks and meatballs.
You bolt upright and throw the cat off the bed so that he might puke on the floor instead of your blanket. The cat convulses as it tries to free a hairball from deep inside.
You manage to fall back asleep. The breadsticks and meatballs are gone; in their place is a snake-penised wolf running you up a tree. In the tree is your cat sitting at a red-checked table, pouring itself a glass of wine from a straw-wrapped bottle of Chianti. The cat whispers over its shoulder to the wolf, now dressed in a black suit. The wolf steps forward, takes you by the collar and belt, and throws you from the tree.
You land in the chair at your desk in the office, unshaven, unshowered, exhausted, and not having shat.
It is Wednesday.
The man inside the skin did not wake up for work, so the skin went to the office alone. It dragged itself to the bus stop and onto the bus. There were no seats available. The other passengers walked all over the skin. The skin could not protest, not having the man, with his vocals cords, inside it.
At work, the manager took one look at the skin——bruised, cut, and torn——and told it to go home and take a sick day.
It was a warm, bright, summer morning. The skin dragged itself toward home instead of riding the bus. It hoped for a tan.
The Invisible Hawk
Naturally, I didn't see the invisible hawk that flew low over the meadow, only the waving yellow grass that erupted a tiny vole, which rose at a steady rate and gentle angle, as if riding an escalator to the sun.
A suitor wrote a letter to the woman he was wooing. Dearest heart, it began, how do I love thee?
The letter was returned, edited, several days later. Dearest heart, it now read, how do I love the?
He wrote back, Dearest heart, how do I love the what?
Again, the letter was edited and returned. Dearest heart, how do I love the what is not the question.
He wrote back, Dearest heart, how do I love the what is not the question I am asking.
The letter came back. Dearest heart, how do I love the what is not the question, I am asking why?
He wrote his beloved, Dearest heart, how do I love the what is not the question I am asking, why are we quarreling?
At last, his beloved wrote back, Dearest heart, how do I love thee?
The Good Samaritan
Your afternoon cup of coffee turns out to be used motor oil. When you drink it at your desk, blue smoke emits from your mouth, nose, ears, and anus. The person standing behind you, who you didn't know was there at all, makes a beeping noise and waves you to the side.
"You'll never make it," he says. "I can get you where you need to go."
Your eyes water from all the smoke billowing out of you. You're exhausted. So you go with him, and you do not notice him replace the dirty can of motor oil in the back of his belted waist with a knife already covered in blood.
Or you notice this and you go with him anyway.
His mother died giving birth to him. His father was run over by a manure truck soon after. Bubonic plague swept through the orphanage where he lived. He took to the streets, a sickly young man, and was beaten up daily by a gang of urchins. He got a job poisoning squirrels in the public garden. He secured a room in a boarding house full of perverts who stole his cheese. He went bald the day he turned eighteen. He treated himself to an ear of sweet corn and all his teeth fell out the moment he took a bite.
But one morning, after emptying his bowels, he wiped himself and the toilet paper remained clean: no brown, no blood, nothing.
"It's my lucky day," he said. He kept the pure white square of paper as a talisman.
He bought a lottery ticket. He won the jackpot! Before collecting his prize, he spent his savings on a new suit from the local department store. On the street, he gave his old clothes to one of the urchins who used to kick him in the ribs. "No hard feelings," he said.
He returned to the store where he had purchased the winning lottery ticket. The clerk, an attractive young woman, remembered him. "How are you?" she asked.
"I'm looking forward to starting a life of leisure"——he handed her the ticket——"with you."
She looked at the ticket, then at him, and laughed. "You have no teeth. And you're bald. And you're a skeleton. And this is toilet paper."
The bell over the door jingled and in walked the urchin, wearing his former clothes and flashing the winning lottery ticket. "It's my lucky day!"
Mix-up at the Glass Factory
The glass intended for automobile windshields and the glass intended for magnifying glasses had gotten mixed up at the factory. It was the hottest summer on record, every day cloudless and bright. Thousands of motorists burst into flames while driving. Undoubtedly, many more insects were spared their lives.
The Drawn Hand
A man sat at his kitchen table idly tracing his hand with a pencil on a sheet of paper, waiting for the clock to strike ten so he could go to bed. He lifted his hand and completed the drawing, adding fingernails, knuckles, and hair. He admired his work, and while doing so the hand he'd drawn closed into a fist. Then it slowly raised its middle finger at him.
He stayed up all night drawing hands, and the next morning went to the post office with a stack of them to be mailed to everyone who had ever done him wrong.
Somebody call somebody: the system is down. No work can be done!
What's that? Can we go outside to discuss a plan? Well, the sun is shining, and one imagines the birds are singing.
What's that? Yes, the birds may be problematic from a volume standpoint; it may be hard to speak over them. Let's stay inside.
What's that? Someone heard an ice cream truck tinkling down the road? A cool treat might do us well.
What's that? Yes, we may get gassy if we eat too much dairy. The smell alone might make some of us sick. Better to stay inside.
What's that? We could eat our ice cream and then find a fragrant meadow to fall asleep in? That does sound lovely.
What's that? Hmm, a meadow would surely cause hellacious hay fever. The sneezing! The itching! Not to mention all the creepy-crawlies hiding in the grass. Fuck that!
What's that? The system is up and running again? Thank goodness!
Man and Ants
A man did his morning stretches outside in the sun. He bent to touch his toes and held this pose. Ants congregated and danced ecstatically beneath the man.
The next week, the man again stretched in the sun and held his pose. A caravan of ants approached to marvel and take pictures of the man.
The next week, the man again stretched in the sun and held his pose. A gang of ants dragging beers and cans of spray paint urinated on and graffitied the man's feet.
The next week, the man again stretched in the sun and held his pose. Ants congregated and danced ecstatically beneath the man.
I, Skunk Cabbage
Everyone wants only one thing from a skunk cabbage: to smell how awful it is on the inside. I learned this early, when my own mother, panting with the agony of my birth, couldn’t resist kicking the stink out of me. Out the window I went, trailing a foul waft. I rolled to the edge of the forest, where my father kicked me with the full weight of his work boot into the woods. They waved to me, as if I was going off to college. I would never see them again.
The neighborhood children who played in the swamp where I sought refuge soon discovered me and kicked me back and forth until I was nothing more than pulp, my guts spread far and wide. When I no longer stank——that is, when I could offer nothing more——I was left to die.
Then, as if my whole existence had been only a dream that was still unfolding, I began to have visions of dirt shifting before me, of cracks of light opening in the dark. And then all was brilliant and I saw the trees swaying high above me, and in the muck many more of me sprouting, reborn, immortal.
The squares on our checkerboard turned to pools of blood. When I jumped my wife and set my checker down, it floated, bobbed, and sank. On my wife's next move, the same thing happened to her checker.
"How is it," I asked, "that these checkers, light as feathers, are sinking into this blood?"
"Perhaps there is something we can't see pulling them down."
She was onto something. I fashioned a little fishing pole out of a sewing needle and thread, using a checker as bait. I dropped it into one of the squares, and sure enough, the checker was yanked away.
"This won't do," I said.
"Look under the table," my wife said, "I'm too scared."
"I can't do that," I said.
"Are you too scared as well?" my wife asked.
"There's that. But also I don't trust you not to cheat."
The Ocean's End
A woman gave birth to a tiny child. Not wanting to deal with it, she put the child in a bottle and threw it into the ocean. The shore bristled with broken glass and the waves lapped at her ankles.
"I'll see you on the other side, when you are as old as I am now," she said.
Many years later, an old woman, she made the journey across the world, to where the ocean ended. The shore bristled with broken glass and the waves lapped at her ankles. She waited. The seagulls ate the pie she had baked for the occasion.
A young woman approached and threw a bottle into the ocean.
The penknife in a man's pocket opened its blade and said, "No sudden moves, or else!" It poked his testicles in warning.
He asked the knife what it wanted.
"All the money that's in here with me."
"It's yours," he said. "Is that all?"
"And this house key down here, we've fallen in love——she's mine, too."
"But I need that to get inside my home."
"About that," the knife said, "we need a place to stay. Your house will do."
"But then where will I live?"
The knife stabbed his thigh and he felt the warm seep of arterial blood, saw his pants blacken.
"About that," the knife said.
The Enormous Room
The room is completely empty. Walk in any direction for any length of time and meet no walls. Extend a ladder beyond sight and reach no ceiling. The sound of your footfalls is hypnotic. Without noticing, you've gotten hopelessly lost. Eventually you die inside the enormous room, and someone else enters. The room is completely empty.
A rotting horse walked up the driveway and stopped at our porch, where we were enjoying cocktails.
"Good evening, kind folks. I was wondering, could you spare a bite to eat for a horse who's seen better days?" This horse was really horrific: whole hunks of flesh missing from its face, its belly bloated and ready to burst, and holy hell, the smell—like a baby's diaper that had been brined and set on fire.
"What good is food going to do you?" my wife said. "You need to be put down."
"Funny you should say that," the horse said. "You see, I was put down, and left to rot in the sun by my uncaring former owner."
"So," I said, "we have the distinct pleasure of speaking to a zombie horse, as it were."
"As it were," the horse said.
"In which case you'll be wanting a bite of brains to eat. Is that so?" my wife said.
"Brains, yes," the horse said. "That would be the ideal meal."
I sipped my mint julep. How we love our mint juleps. "And I suppose it's our brains you'll be wanting?"
"You've got it."
My wife grabbed our in-case-of-emergency saw that hung on the wall behind her. "And I suppose you just expect me to begin sawing the top off my dear husband's head, like this?"
Zzz-Zzz-Zzz went the saw. Bone bits and blood freckled my love's face as she opened my coconut. Off popped the top of my dome, and I bent towards that reeking horsey. "And I suppose you'd like to sup directly from my bowl?"
"Nom-nom-nom-nom," said the horse as he chewed away at my gray——
One day, a man took the stairs at work. He took the bottom one first, naturally, and placed it after the last one at the top. Then he went back down, took the second one, and placed it after the new last one at the top. Then he went back down and took the third one and placed it after the new-new last one.
And so on.
He never made it to his desk that day or any other. He was fired, unbeknownst to him. But would he have cared? He’d long since cast off his suit, and his beard grew thick, and his heart grew strong, and his legs became beautiful as he climbed. And the view, the view, the view!
Drawer of Nails
A man kept all the nails he had ever found in a bedside drawer. At first, he just collected any nails he happened to come across. Then he began heading out for the express purpose of finding more, much to his wife’s annoyance. Building sites were the best place to look, followed by the junkyard. His excursions lasted longer and longer until eventually his wife divorced him to be with the meat-cutter from the deli.
Now the man searched for nails as much as he wanted. His drawer overflowed. In the evenings, he kissed the nails lustily, bloodying his lips and poking holes in his face. His wounds scabbed over like acne. Mornings, when he looked at himself in the mirror, he very much resembled a spotty teenager, but felt only happiness.
Stop Sign Face
Stop Sign Face doesn't know whether people stop and stare when he approaches because his face is a stop sign or because they think he's a freak. And he can't tell if the people who don't stop are lawbreakers or just being kind, pretending they don’t notice his stop sign face.
Lying awake at night, he wonders why he couldn't have been born a yield sign. "I would let everyone in!" he cries.
Life Beneath the Carpet
He scooches about on his back and has mastered the art of sucking morsels, crumbs, and dead skin for food.
He prays for a wine spill, or, even better, whiskey. Sometimes he gets his wish, usually when they're entertaining, usually while some little brat tries to flatten him with a foot.
It's a small existence, but safe. At least until they decide they need to keep up with the Jones's and rip up the carpet for hardwood.
A man approaches his house at night after work and through his bedroom window sees that a light is on. But he lives alone and has never left a light on, preferring total darkness. Somebody else has turned the light on, then: an intruder. If this intruder had broken in during the day, there would have been no need for a light——but it had only just grown dark so the intruder must have recently broken in. What's more, the intruder must still be inside because what intruder wouldn't turn off the light upon leaving in order to draw as little attention to the intrusion as possible? The man takes a tire iron from the trunk of his car and decides to wait for the intruder to exit. He stands beside the front door and grips the cold metal. He waits there until the sky begins to turn blue and lighten. Just as the sun rises, the man, exhausted, falls asleep. He wakes some time later and looks at his watch. Realizing he is going to be late for work, he speeds off in his car.
That night, after work, he approaches his house and through his bedroom window sees that a light is on.
The Problem with Rain
A heavy rain brought worms up through the earth, which brought birds from the sky, which brought cats from the woods, which brought dogs from the hills, which brought bears from their caves, which brought men from their homes, which brought other men into those homes, which brought bastard mouths to feed, which brought arguments and threats, which brought prayers for rain so endless as to wash the entire world away.
We brought our child to the zoo to see the tiger. Whole swathes of its beautiful orange-and-black coat were missing, revealing a musculature of gray wood. More and more fur fell away as the tiger paced in its cage. The cat’s gait grew stiff and its limbs creaked. The tiger looked at us with watery eyes. Our child cried. We left quickly, with no souvenirs.
The phone rings. The person on the line says their arm is cut, badly, and they are bleeding to death.
You instruct them to apply a tourniquet and they do. Before you is a knife——you always have a knife, just in case——and you cut your thumb off and let your blood pulse into the mouthpiece of the phone. In a moment, you hear the person on the other end gulping. They drink your blood so fast they can't breathe.
Your bleeding slows to a trickle. The person on the line says they need more blood. You cut your wrist open and pour yourself into the mouthpiece once more. Glug, glug goes the phone.
You grow faint and realize you need help. In your haze, you hang up on the caller, then dial with fumbling fingers a random number. The phone rings. A person picks up. You tell the answerer your arm is cut, badly, and you are bleeding to death.
A Set of Instructions
Approach with pincer fingers the dragonfly on the bush.
Avoid snapping sticks underfoot.
Watch for diving birds overhead.
Feel the warmth of sun on neck.
Hear the hum of distant lawnmower.
Snatch the dragonfly by the tail.
Admire its cellophane wings but a little.
Enjoy the tickle as it wriggles.
Take pity on the captive and swallow it whole.
Now you can breathe fire.
Burn everything to the ground.
Our daughter has not yet learned to speak. Instead she communicates to us by clucking. Every day is a challenge. Breakfast takes hours as my wife and I try to figure out what it is she wants to eat: I hold up bacon, I hold up eggs, I hold up sausage, I hold up a box of cereal. This goes on until I pick up a slice of leftover pizza or a can of cannellini beans or, god help me, a bowl of dog kibble and she clucks excitedly in agreement. Dressing her is the same; the clothes pile up around us. Recently she wanted to wear a black plastic garbage bag. It took us a week to get her dressed that day.
The hardest part is that she not only clucks to express her approval, she clucks her disapproval as well. So it's a nonstop stream of clucking, mostly the bad kind. It wears on us. My wife and I have talked about just having her tongue removed once and for all. But then we realize she would never be able to talk, and hearing her speak is what we look forward to more than anything else in this world.
In fall they ride cadavers down the hill into great piles of leaves they have gathered. Whoever scatters the most leaves takes the high seat atop the hill and presides over the rest, who build a bonfire kindled by the dry leaves. The cadavers are then led in an elaborate waltz that cannot stop until the flames die. At the end of the dance, the cadavers are kissed goodbye and rested on the ground.
Now everyone takes up arms and joins the one on the hill to wait for the vultures to descend. The children are excitable in anticipation of the feasts——of the cadavers by the vultures, and of the vultures by them. They argue over who has collected the most shot from the flesh of these homely birds. They are summarily silenced and don't breathe again until the first report rings out.
The pryer comes at night to see what's in your head. He pulls back on your nostrils and peels away your face, then shines a light into the open pit of your nose.
Inside there is a tiny child standing at the top of a flight of tiny stairs. The child leaps but before it lands the pryer catches it with a finger. He places the child back on the top step. The child looks confused; it had expected to die. The child jumps again. The pryer catches it and replaces it at the top of the stairs.
The pryer smiles. He has all night to play.
The child jumps again.
The Puppet Has Died
The puppet has died. Its bowels release down the back of the ventriloquist's arm.
The ventriloquist holds back tears and gazes into the blinding lights. The audience whispers.
The puppet had wanted to die on stage doing what it loved, and so it has. The ventriloquist takes solace in this knowledge. The audience is unmoved.
The puppet grows cold and stiff. The ventriloquist weeps.
Someone in the audience giggles uncomfortably. Laughter spreads through the crowd. Soon the entire hall is vibrating.
The ventriloquist and the puppet take a final bow.
One morning a woman woke up sizzling. She wasn't burning; her body simply hissed.
Her husband was downstairs making coffee. "What's that sound?" he asked when she entered the kitchen. "Are you hissing at me, like a snake?"
"No," she said.
"Like a cat, then."
"No," she said. "I think I'm sizzling."
"Yes, or perhaps sausage."
"A nice pork chop, even!" The man had begun to sweat. "You better go cool off," he told his wife, "or I'm liable to eat you."
"Look at you blush," she said, sizzling. She drew near and petted his bald head. "You glisten like a freshly glazed ham." She licked her fingers and opened the drawer where they kept the knives, forks, and spoons.
After the archer's wife died unexpectedly, he fell into a deep depression. Eventually, he decided to kill himself. He had the soul of a poet and thought it only fitting to commit suicide by his own bow and arrow. On a windless morning, he went to a meadow, launched an arrow straight into the air, then lay on his back, with his eyes closed, and waited for the arrow to fall into his heart. But a breeze stirred and blew his arrow off target; it thunked harmlessly into the earth beside him. So he tried again——and again, at the last moment, a gust blew his arrow off target. In this way, he expended all the arrows in his quiver.
He said aloud, "It is a sign. You, my dear departed wife, do not want me to kill myself."
He walked into town, to the nearest tavern, and hired the first mercenary he found to kill him instead.
The city passed an ordinance that required giant walls of egg cartons to be erected between apartment buildings. The acoustic dampening was only partial——the fights of my neighbors now sounded almost like a lively party, sexual moaning sounded like faint crying——but the view was irrevocably altered. Most people grew depressed, looking out their windows day after day and seeing a brownish-gray nothing. But I finally found happiness: I imagined that I was suspended high in the air, prone, gazing down at the most uniform mountain range the earth had ever thrown up.
A fly landed in my drink, took a sip, and asked me if I had anything better than swill. I opened a bottle of wine I'd been saving. The fly sampled it, hiccupped, and told me the wine had turned to vinegar——hadn't I anything worth drinking? I poured two fingers of the best scotch I owned.
"I like it on the rocks," the fly said, woozily.
I took a cube from the freezer and plopped it in.
"Your ice," the fly said, "there's a fly in it."
The Chimney Wretch
A man and woman got a great deal on a house because it came with a chimney wretch. For the most part, he wasn't a bother. They left him food and water in the fireplace every day, and came to delight in the sight of his grubby hand darting down to scoop up the victuals. The wretch was also very neat about his evacuations, never letting his chamber pot dribble over.
The wretch said "please" and "thank you" and occasionally laughed along with them at the sounds of the TV.
As winter came on, the house grew cold and the woman wanted to use the fireplace.
"Excuse me for speaking," came the wretch's voice from the chimney, "but if you want to build a fire, feel free, and I'll just wait on the roof until it's burned out . . . or, if you could spare a bit of floor inside the house I certainly wouldn't turn it down!"
"Honey," the woman whispered, rubbing her shoulders for warmth, "we have an entire basement just sitting there, empty."
So the wretch moved into the basement. They left his food and water at the top of the stairs. He used the slop sink down there as a latrine, so there was no more chamber pot business. The man and woman enjoyed a crackling fire every night.
Soon they had a child, then another, and finally another. They needed a playroom for the children, so the man and woman decided to remodel the basement. They gave the wretch the space under the stairs, but walled him in so their children wouldn't have to look at him. The floor beneath the stairs was dirt, so he was free to relieve himself. Any worms he found were his to eat; any condensation that dripped from the wall was his to drink. Best of all, he could listen to the children play.
Varieties of Hair
While he slept, his wife switched his eyebrows with his moustache and his moustache with his eyebrows. She kissed his eyes and gazed into his lips.
The man dreamed of his wife's long hair whipping in the wind as they drove in their car without a roof, which had been shorn off when they drove under a tractor trailer to escape the cops after they'd robbed the bank.
When she was finished, she put her husband's eyebrows and moustache back where they belonged, then switched his pubic hair with that of his knuckles and his knuckle hair with that of his pubic area. She held his genitals and licked his fingers.
They visited him in bed, with some questions.
"Where were you last night?"
"I was here, sleeping," he said, "just as I am now."
"You sleeptalk a good game," they said, "but we have you on camera, sleepclimbing out this window, sleepstrolling up the road, sleepjaywalking across the street, sleepstealing a car, sleepdriving to a liquor store, sleeplooting the place, sleepdrinking, sleepdrunk-driving, sleepspeeding, sleepcrashing the stolen vehicle, sleepleaving the scene of a crime, and sleepsleeping in a ditch.
"That's where your case falls apart," he said.
"How so?" they asked.
"I've never sleepslept in my life, being an insomniac."
The Old Book
I purchased an old book and discovered between the pages the dried and flattened remains of a tiny man. He was dressed in a suit and hat and had a tidy moustache——a style befitting the era in which the book was printed. Perhaps the book's previous owner had loved him very much and wanted to keep him forever, as if he were a flower. Or perhaps he had been annoying, like a fly, and met his end when this book was clapped shut.
A man built a carriage large enough for him to be pushed in by his baby. He climbed inside and said, "Push me, baby!" But the baby was preoccupied, eating a steak dinner and drinking a highball.
The man waited for the baby to finish. "Baby," the man said, "I'm ready for my carriage ride!"
The baby had moved onto dessert: a slice of cake and a glass of port wine.
The man waited for the baby to finish. "Baby," the man cried, "now I am really ready for my carriage ride!"
The baby lifted its chubby legs and pointed at its diapered anus.
The man dutifully changed the baby's diaper. "Now, finally, I am ready for my carriage ride, baby!"
But the baby was already sleeping, its thumb stuck firmly in its mouth.
"I am ready!" the man said, to no one.
Every tooth has tiny teeth to eat the food you eat. The strongest teeth eat spinach and lean protein, which you almost never ingest. Deprivation makes the strong teeth even stronger. They have nothing to do but exercise and march in circles while waiting for their next meal.
The weakest teeth have tiny teeth riddled with cavities. They sit in their own filth downing pizza, beer, and jujubes. They watch reruns on TV all day. If you listen closely you can hear them guffaw like idiots. They fart endlessly in your mouth, giving you bad breath.
The Sausage Maker
Father's dream was to build a better sausage maker. He started the project on his workbench in the garage, and the machine grew and grew until there was no longer room to park his car. The hopper on his sausage maker was large enough to accept a station wagon, so in ours went, and out came links of Chevrolet. But father still wasn't content, so he added more tubing and grinders and gears and teeth, and soon the machine had busted through the roof of the garage. So in went the garage and out came garage sausage.
"It's complete," my father said one day. "Find us a pig."
And so our days were filled with savory sausage, and we were happy for many years.
But eventually father grew old and hunched and could no longer work his beloved machine. He had always been a proud man. "It's time," he said, and pointed to the hopper.
I held the ladder as he climbed slowly toward the machine's great maw. It gleamed in the sun. We gave each other a final wave. The machine buzzed and burped its way through father as I held a length of casing over the spigot to catch him. Out he came. There was his eyeglass case, there his briar pipe. Here his blue work-shirt, there his farmer's tan. His bald head and cute dimples. His beautiful pot belly, which he'd patted after every meal we'd shared. He passed through my hands like a snake made of man.
There is a noticable lack of cookies. There is a distinct surplus of dust, some of which may be the crumbs of former cookies. While there is no potable coffee to speak of, the dark brown rings on this surface seem to indicate there had been at some point. Currently the windows let in only a small amount of ambient light; the plant, however, is flourishing, which indicates a healthy level of photosynthesis.
There is no human presence, but traces of one are evident. The seat of the chair, when depressed, releases a roast-meat smell. Specks of blood and mucus dot the walls. There are fingernails——torn or bitten, rather than cut——on the floor. It is unclear whether the human is temporarily absent or permanently gone. Regardless, it is my recommendation that a plate of cookies be left here. One, it may encourage the human, if extant, to return. And two, it may serve as an enticement for the remaining humans to stay/not destroy themselves.
The Richest Man in the World
He hired the world's greatest scientist to invent a shrinking ray. Decades passed and he had spent billions of dollars on research. Finally, the scientist called him into the lab. They were now both old men and nearing death.
A mouse nibbled some cheese in a cage on the floor. The scientist turned on the ray, which looked like a satellite dish with a rod protruding from its middle. He aimed it at the mouse and pressed a button. Zap! The mouse was now so minuscule as to be almost invisible.
"After so many years of trial and error, we have finally done it, sir!"
"Huzzah!" the man said. "Onto phase two!"
"Yes. Stand where that mouse was and we'll begin."
The Orange Eaters
They barged into our house carrying great sacks filled oranges, which they swung against our heads, knocking us out cold. When we woke up, we were tied to chairs with our mouths gagged. They sat across from us at the kitchen table, deliberately peeling then eating their oranges. Rinds piled at their feet. The fruit turned the air sweetly fragrant. They didn't speak, only peeled and ate, peeled and ate. We watched, wondering how many oranges they could possibly consume. When they reached the last one, they huddled and whispered to each another. They removed our gags and before I could ask what the meaning of all this was, they fed us the orange. Then they cut our bindings and left.
Such a delicious orange it was.
We were discussing just how delicious when they barged into our house carrying great sacks filled with oranges, which they swung against our heads, knocking us out cold.
First the scar formed tiny eyes that blinked open one day and shone like two black caviar. Then it grew a mouth, a puny frown that opened and closed ceaselessly. Twin stumps emerged and sprouted miniscule digits, five apiece——arms these became.
The scar did push-ups daily and by increments tore itself away from the flesh of my shoulder. Finally it was upright, like a small white snake surveying its environs, through still rooted in me. It gestured for me to dip my head closer, so I did. It cupped a hand around its mouth and whispered, "I end in your brain."
That's when this terrible headache began.
A Void Marriage
He had fallen in love with nothing and planned to marry it in the spring. Everyone was invited, he told all his friends, spread the word.
Spring came and nothing was ready. But the man had gotten cold feet.
"It's all or nothing with you, isn't it?" his friends asked when he told them about his doubts.
"It's all I know," he said.
"Maybe it's nothing but it sounds like it's all you really want."
"Wouldn't that be something?" he said.
"It would be everything!" his friends said.
"But, oh, I think I long once more for nothing!"
He wore dead babies for shoes. Drove a car made of curses you could hear for miles. Shaved the heads of random passersby. Swung every cat that crossed his path. Fed poison to all the mutts. Handed out feces on Halloween. Made a priest eat his own member. Shot an airplane out of the sky. Put razor blades in bowling ball holes.
He defecated on a rainbow.
He was the meanest man in town. But to his mother, who was delighted to receive his freshly cut flowers each Sunday, he remained Darling Harold.
A man's fingers broke down so he called a mechanic. The SHIFT key on the keyboard beneath his hands rose like an elevator and a little man carrying a toolbox stepped out.
The mechanic lifted the nail on the man's index finger and leaned inside for a better look. He tapped here and there with a wrench, then looked up at the man and said, "Try it now."
The man tried to move his fingers but nothing happened.
The mechanic scratched his head. "Might be time for some new ones. Lotta miles on these."
"I can't afford that," the man said.
"You got insurance? I know a guy who can make it look like an accident."
The ESC key rose and a little man with a shaved head and dark sunglasses stepped out. He carried a circular saw.
The man had always wanted nice fingers. Cherry-red with whitewalls and convertible tops. He imagined riding along in his car with a pretty woman beside him admiring his beautiful fingers. That new-finger smell filling the air between them.
The man nodded. The saw buzzed.
The Attic Baby
The baby in the attic cried out. It wouldn't stop.
The woman climbed into the crawlspace. She gave the baby sour milk to drink. Stuffed a slice of pizza into the baby's mouth. Gathered all the cobwebs within reach and rubbed them into the baby's hair. Grabbed a spider from a nail in the rafters and let it crawl into the baby's diaper.
Still the baby cried.
"Ah!" she said. "Your radio has died." She found fresh batteries for the radio and tuned it to the station that played only lullabies.
The baby sucked its tongue and fell asleep.
The wolves arrive first, wearing fur coats. They stare at me in bed and run switchblade combs between their ears. The giraffes dip their heads inside the window, lick their nostrils clean, and tell me dirty jokes about well-hung donkeys. The elephant dangles his hairy trunk through the skylight to tickle my toes. The macaw flies in and squawks and squawks, scattering cigar ashes all over my blanket. Someone spills a drink on the carpet——it's the black panther, who thinks I don't see him in this dark room. It goes on and on. My zoo grows larger and gets drunker by the hour until finally——finally!——the stinking pigs arrive and clear everyone out.
A man who had shut himself inside his house felt trapped. So he opened everything: all the doors and windows and cupboards and drawers. After, he felt better and went to sleep.
In the morning when he woke up, nearly everything he had owned was gone. A family of raccoons was eating a bowl of popcorn in the spot where his sofa had been, staring at the wall where his television had been.
It was then that he remembered why he always kept everything shut.
The Iron Age
Iron rained down from the black sky. Roofs were riddled. Skulls broken like eggs. The only havens were caves. People crushed one another to secure shelter. The dead oozed beneath the feet of the living.
Days passed. The iron rain never ceased; it only fell heavier. Our land was deformed, pulverized beyond recognition. The clank and thud of iron drove us mad. One by one, we ran into the deluge. Hardly any of us were still alive when the giant magnet descended and pulled us heavenward.
The Lake Man
The lake man rises to the surface early. He floats on his back and gently pushes himself towards the shore. His morning erection cuts through the air like a fin. He clambers onto land, urinates, and finds the nearest house, which he enters. Once inside, he helps himself to a cup of coffee. An inhabitant of the house finds him naked, pale, and fish-smelly in their kitchen, and screams. He encourages this reaction by raising his arms and making a horrible face and shouting gibberish. He estimates that he will have seven minutes to enjoy breakfast——dry toast exclusively——before the police arrive. He eats, then scrambles back into the lake, leaving only wet footprints as evidence.
But soon it is time for lunch, and the lake man rises once more to the surface.
A man carved off a bit of his forearm, fried it in a pan with butter, and ate it. Unsatisfied by this meager meal, he slathered peanut butter on his arm, placed it between two slices of bread, and ate the rest.
When his wife came home and saw his arm missing from the elbow down, she dropped her bag of groceries, the contents of which spilled across the floor: beautifully prepared forearms, ready for frying; a fresh jar of peanut butter; a still-warm loaf of bread.
"What have you done?" she cried.
"I thought you'd left me for good," her husband said, "and it made me sad. And you know when I get sad, I eat."
"But I only went to the supermarket," she said, weeping. "Because you told me you were hungry."
"You know when I get hungry, I become forgetful."
His wife sobbed. "What are we going to do about this?"
"About what?" he said. "All this commotion has made me hungry——aren't you hungry, too?"
Getting Milk from Mr. Jim
I hated visiting the basement to get milk from Mr. Jim. The silverfish were everywhere down there. But I dutifully took the bottle to the boiler room, where Mr. Jim sat in a dark corner. With one hand he unbuttoned his navy work shirt. He parted the shiny black thicket of hair on his chest, revealing his nipple, and nodded. That was my cue to raise the bottle, into which he expressed his milk.
But the silverfish! They terrified me. I could almost hear them scurrying over my shoelaces as Mr. Jim slowly emptied.
Our son was born a skeleton. We swaddled him in meats so that he would not grow up feeling out of place in the world——great swaths of sirloin and chuck and whatever else was on sale. My wife and I had been vegetarian (secretly I thought this may have been why he was born without flesh), but whenever it was time to change his meat skin, we couldn't bear to let it all go to waste. So we cooked the steaks or made stews or grilled hamburgers and ate and ate and ate. Then we'd stagger around the house in a stupor.
It became our running joke the morning after one of our feasts: we'd stroke our son's chin and say, "Time to put some meat on them bones!"
Over time, we got fat, sluggish, and constipated due to all the meat. For health reasons, my wife and I became vegetarians once more. And after much deliberation we decided that our son, who wasn't flourishing at all, didn't require meat skin. He could be kept in his basinet, in the closet, without any ill effect. He's in there now, likely playing with the bottoms of our coats.
It must be cold outside. Puffs of breath from every person, dog, bird, and squirrel cloud the air. You almost can't see through the steam.
Except it's not cold outside at all. They're just letting out the cigar smoke from the casinos in their bellies. The neon-lit signs mounted on their heads flash: roulette, poker, craps, all you can eat.
The Bowl of Fruit
It started with the bowl of fruit. Left uneaten for several weeks, the black bananas went white with mold. Soon the bowl was covered in fur. The fungus spread to the counter on which the bowl had been set. And then the walls abutting the counter. And then the ceiling adjoining the walls. And then the joists behind the ceiling. And then the floor above the joists. And then the carpet covering the floor. And then the bed that occupied the room. And then the woman occupying the bed, who in life had eaten bananas daily for her health.
The Cat's Contentment
The cat sits on the windowsill. Day breaks. A squirrel runs across the fence and spirals up a tree. It eats a quick breakfast of berries, hangs its bottom over a branch and eliminates, brushes its teeth with a twig, puts on a tie, and carries a briefcase down the tree.
In the distance a train clangs into the station to ferry the squirrel and its ilk to work.
The cat enjoys a nightcap before bed.
Springtime for Lunch
A mother sent her child outside to play. It was cold and the sky was gray.
A man emerged from the woods carrying a sack on his shoulder. He wore heavy boots and a cap pulled low over his eyes. A sheathed knife hung on his hip.
"Spare a meal for a weary traveler?" He held the bag before the child and shook it. "I've nothing but old bones in here."
"We'll be eating soon, I hope. You can join us. I asked mother if we could have springtime for lunch."
"And what did she say?"
"Go outside and it will come eventually," the child said. "Have you brought it?"
"Springtime!" The child smiled.
The man felt his pockets and looked over his person. "Aha!" He removed a bur from the cuff of his pant and presented it to the child. "Here in my hand is the very seed of spring." He pointed to the window: mother was preparing something in the kitchen. "She need only drop it into that big pot she's stirring."
The child led him to the house and went inside. The man paused at the door and adjusted his knife. And then he bent to unlace his muddy boots.
Mother dumped the pot of boiling water over the hunched stranger's head. He screamed and the crows left the trees. The child knocked him out with an iron skillet and took his knife. They dragged him inside and closed the door.
The Dinner Party
At the party, after dinner, we moved to the host's patio. Someone suggested we play our favorite game.
"I'll start," Charlemagne said, smoking his ever present pipe. He stroked his chin thoughtfully. "Ah!" he exclaimed, then tucked his forelock into the bowl of his pipe and burned his head off. A fine start.
"I've got one!" said Suzette, neck laden with jewelry. She twisted her lovely gold chains tighter and tighter until her purple head popped. Wonderful.
Sven, the lothario of our group, winked at us and lasciviously flapped his pink tongue. He took that glistening organ in his fist and ripped it out, his lungs right along with it. Breathtaking.
Finally, our host took the patio, his huge mastiff beside him. "Really," he said. "This again?" He bent down and placed his shiny bald head in the dog's panting mouth. A sound like crunching ice.
It was then that I noticed my drink had melted. I had planned to sink my member into its cold and die of embarrassment. Alas, the party was now truly over.
The Wind and Leaves
A man woke up on the floor in a room of swirling wind and leaves. They whipped his face, which felt chapped and raw. The last thing he remembered was a walk in the cemetery the night before. Perhaps the wind and leaves had asked him home. They swirled faster and louder. Were they married or just lovers? He couldn't recall. And now, were they fighting or fucking? He couldn't tell.
His head hurt.
And then the wind died. The leaves fell all around the man, blanketing his body. He welcomed the embrace. He was ready to change.
"Never leave," he said, "for I will wind up dead."
Father crawls under the picnic table and pokes his head through the hole we've cut for him. We shave off his brilliantined hair and the warm breeze takes it. Mother, who once had artistic aspirations beyond making our beautiful home, smiles wistfully as she paints father's head green.
We've forgotten the knife! I run inside to retrieve it from the back of the drawer. I try to hand it to mother but she doesn't want to let go of the paint brush. You're big enough now, she tells me.
"Listen to your mother," father says.
I carve the first slice from father's head and give it to mother. I cut another for myself. I save the biggest slice for father. He bears the pinkest of fruit. It melts like sherbet in our mouths.
The birds catch father's hair on the wind and weave it into their nests. When the next hatchlings chirp their first cheep, it will be watermelon time once more.
The New King
A boy found a crown while digging in the backyard. He went inside to show his mother, who was sitting at the kitchen table, sharpening a knife. He put the crown on his head and told her he was the new king.
"If you're the new king, who was the old?" his mother said, slowly whetting the blade of the knife.
"You’re expecting me to say the old king was Charlie, who was not my real father but who was your husband and treated me like a son, and who vanished one night, never to return."
"Old King Charlie," his mother said, slowly whetting the blade. "There's a laugh!"
"Or you're expecting me to say the old king was my real dad, who I never knew because he died before I was able to remember him."
"Old King Dad," his mother said, slowly whetting the blade. "There's another laugh!"
"But I'm only playing a game, Ma——I'm just a kid who found a crown buried in the backyard. What are the chances of that?"
"Pretty good, it seems!" his mother said, slowly whetting the blade.
"All you do is sharpen that knife every day, Ma."
"I'm not sharpening the knife," his mother said, slowly whetting the blade. "I'm carving this stone, and it’s taking forever."
He was sitting in his chair. His brain was cold.
He took the blanket that covered his legs and stuffed it into his ear. His brain warmed. He pulled the blanket out through his mouth and over his chest to cover his legs again. Cozy, he read what he found in the folds of the blanket: a museum map, a Chinese food order, a train ticket, a two-dollar bill, a death certificate, a comic book.
But now his brain was cold again and he was sitting in his chair.
On the Ranch
A horse threw a child to the ground.
"It must have a knot under the saddle?" they said.
The horse reared and stomped the child with its hooves.
"It must have a bad nail in its shoe?" they said.
The horse urinated a heavy yellow stream upon the child.
"It must have an infection in its bladder?" they said.
The horse dragged the child with its teeth to a cliff and nuzzled it over the edge. A cloud of dust rose up from the valley.
"It must serve some greater purpose," they said.
Crow Bakes a Cake
Crow comes home with a bag of goodies he's collected from the side of the highway. It's his wife's birthday, and he's going to bake her a cake with what he's found. He's got a coil of turtle guts, a puff of skunk tail, a pancaked squirrel paw, opossum kidney tips, half a deer hoof, a fat groundhog ass, a garter snake stripe, and jellied dog blood.
His wife is out. He looks about their nest for a cookbook, but there isn't one. What's more, he can't read. No matter, he'll wing it. He starts for the cooking utensils but remembers that they don't own any——they usually just eat together at the side of the road. Also, they don't have an oven. And while he can do a great many things, he cannot start a fire.
His wife flies in and asks him what's in the bag.
He tells her, "A little of this, a little of that."
"Oh," she says, "that sounds wonderful. I'm so tired of eating out all the time."
"Happy birthday," he says.
He made a wife of ripe tomatoes. He made a home of cinnamon. He made a baby of ham steaks. He made a puppy of rubber balls. He made a yard of acorn meat. He made a career of black wires. He made a car of bread loaves. He made arguments of thin air. He made threats of words and open hands. He made drinks strong and frequently. He made his family hate him. He made it seem it was their fault. He made it easy for them to leave in the night. He made his bed and lay in it.
The Vengeful Spider
The spider waits till you're asleep in bed and your jaw falls open. He's positioned himself above your whitening tongue, and when the first snore rattles out from you, he begins his slow descent. Your breath sends him back and forth on his silken thread, and for a moment he is a child spider again, being pushed by his mother on the playground swings. He smiles. But then he remembers the smudge of his wife on the bottom of your slipper. He times his swing . . . times his swing . . . and then shits in your mouth.
He climbs back up to the ceiling and cries until morning. He curses god that he wasn't born venomous. He curses god that he was ever born at all.
The Horseman's Sorrow
The dark gray clouds slid down the sky and piled up on the horizon. Those nearest the clouds said the rain fell straight down, in sheets, like a waterfall. The rain finally reached us in the form of an ever expanding puddle. Then the thunder clapped, and moments later we saw a tentacle of lightning shoot up Main Street. It roasted a Clydesdale that was being led to the elementary school for show-and-tell. The horse's owner, who wore rubber gloves due to a skin condition, was spared from electrocution. He was inconsolable, but we convinced him to let us eat his horse. It will only go to waste, we said. It is cooked perfectly, we said.
The Family Hammer
In our family, the hammer is passed from one generation to the next, like red hair. When my
father bowed his head and handed the hammer to me, I felt the weight of it——both real and
ritual——and stove in the back of his skull. He crumpled at my feet, kissing them in gratitude.
In due time, I passed the hammer to my own son, now fully grown. "I'm sorry," he said, which was his first mistake. His second was to not be true to his own strength: his blow knocked
me down and out for quite some time, but it did not eliminate me.
So here I stand, a kind of god among my line of men. The family hammer hangs above
the cradle of my son's firstborn, a redheaded boy like his father, and all the other fathers before
him. But my hair grows gray and I plan to live forever——or at least long enough to watch my
grandson take up the hammer, heft it in his hands, and fell the one who couldn't fell me.
Grandmother's snakes disappeared into the forest after breakfast each morning. When I could no longer hear their hissing, I'd venture downstairs to eat cold eggs. Dinners I ate early, before the food had finished cooking, before she called her snakes home. I'd tape up the crack beneath the door to my room, then nail a board over it for good measure. From my window I'd watch the snakes come in, a quick, roiling river of black licorice whips. At night, with the covers up to my chin, I'd listen to them flop onto the floor in the next room, fighting for space in the big bed they all shared.
The sculptor sculpts a man out of man bones and man meat. No one will have it. He keeps it in the front yard and watches the crows alight on it and feast. When the sculpture of the man is gone, he shoots the shiny black birds one by one.
The sculptor sculpts a murder of crows out of crow bones and crow meat. No one will have it. He keeps them in the front yard and watches the neighborhood cats pounce on them and feast. When the crows are gone, he shoots the preening cats one by one.
The sculptor sculpts a clowder of cats out of cat bones and cat meat. No one will have it.
No one will have it.
No one will have it.
For want of meat, the sculptor does not eat.