Archive for ‘fiction’

January 10th, 2017

Validation is available for all clientele in the lobby.

“M’am, do you need validation?”

“Yes.”

“Alright. Please proceed down the hall to the left. The associate at the second table will assist you.”

“Thanks.”

“Have a satisfying day, M’am.”

The portly receptionist handed the woman back her identification card and pointed down the hall indicated, her smile more impatient than reassuring. Graciela hated tight smiles like that. She knew they were fake, the smilers knew they were fake, the teeth inside it probably knew too –but nobody said a lick about it. She hastily returned the tightness out of spite and made her way down the corridor to the left of the cruise ship-like reception desk. As she turned the corner she met with a line of others, some with their shoes off, others already pantsless, and most with their arms crossed, tapping a foot or sighing with every exhale.

“God, why are they always so slow?” she thought, picturing the last set of validators she’d seen –portlier even than that receptionist, all in official sweaters a bit too tight, all making no apparent effort to get through the queue quickly. Graciela settled her mouth in for a long haul of tight smiling. The man in front of her turned around, shrugged, and raised his eyebrows, silently commiserating with a complaint Graciela had thought was silent, itself. He returned the smile. She tightened hers.

Ten minutes passed; she’d considered the striated ceiling panels, developed a strong disliking of the dark blue carpeting with its pointless red and gray splotches, and had come to fully loathe the cheap vinyl wainscotting. She kicked at it with her pointed vinyl slingbacks, being as vicious as she could without making any sound, entirely blind to –or perhaps because of– the fact that her shoes were of the exact same stuff.

Thirty bucks for a ticket and they can’t even put in some tile, she thought, her voice suddenly sounding a little like her mother’s, even if she’d only said it in her head. The line moved approximately one person’s-length. Graciela was pleased until she realized she’d forgotten she was in a line, and that the line’d have to move if she was ever going to get validated and go home. She turned around to see how long the line had gotten behind her, always something to throw an “at least” at in times like these. She was still the last in line.

“Oh come on!” It was louder than she’d meant it to be, and her face was instantly warm, her toes and fingers tingling. Nobody responded. Nobody even turned around, including the shrugger in front of her. Last and loud, the worst of the worlds –or at least, the ones that pertained to lines anyway. Wait! There it was! …not really the same though, like that. At least it had been an accident! She stopped looking for an at least, thoroughly depressed at having run out of even this.

Why had she even chosen validation?

Because I need it.

There wasn’t any argument to bring against the fact; inconvenience aside, she had to get it done before she could move on. She knew it. Before she could get back into the lobby with its slightly different pointlessly splotched carpet and its Mark, her date, who apparently didn’t need to be validated, somehow. Maybe he was just insensitive. Irresponsible. If she kept seeing him, would she have to take care of all the dirty work herself? Then again, he hadn’t seemed the least bit put off that she had chosen the left hallway. She tried to picture him waiting for her, standing right outside the service exit, coat-in-arms; patient, understanding, eager to see her again. What an idiot. More likely he was pacing the lobby with a souring expression, or he’d even ducked into another theatre when no one was looking. He could probably watch anything –horror films or porn even– and be fine! For a second Graciela’s mouth betrayed a real grin.

She would probably have been fine too, if that old film hadn’t been mostly about women. Mark wasn’t affected because it just didn’t relate to him, she thought. Old women, depicted as old women. The makeup made it worse, not better. They let the actresses walk, talk, and hold themselves like they really were old. It was sad, it was horrifying, much too realistic. And why would they have done such a thing, make her prefer the evil sister and then redeem her right at the end, taking the feet out from under the character, simplifying and stupidifying her, stupidifying her? And that good sister. Unbearable. Weak, fickle, insecure, desperate for valida–. Graciela’s eyes widened and her mouth lost any and all flavors of smiling.

It was true. She needed to be validated.

The line had moved enough to let her see the intake tables. She glanced at her watch: 5:42, almost three quarters of an hour she’d been in line, but it was definitely speeding up. They work faster when they see dinnertime coming, she thought, bending over to undo her slingbacks. She picked them up and wiggled her toes in her stockings, then took out her earrings. Only a few more people to go and she’d feel all better, and maybe next week she and Mark would go see something less risky. Something about robots, or plants maybe. They could watch a nice documentary about cacti. Or one of those things where you just sit and look at a mechanical arm welding a seam.

Graciela spent the next fifteen minutes musing about plastic and paint, toupe and seafoam, boxes and empty pads of paper, until she was finally called forward, almost euphorically unstimulated. The woman at the second table had to call her three times, breathing heavily in between M’am?s. Graciela padded to the table, a cheap foldout stacked with forms and molded trays of varying sizes. The incredible bulk of the woman attending it was nearly table-like itself; perhaps the fat was courting the furniture.

“Hello M’am, please put any jewelry in the blue tray, shoes in green, dress in red, underthings in white, do you have any prosthetics today?”

“Hello. No.” Graciela stripped and put her things in the respective trays. She held out her hands for the clipboard backed form, which the woman passed her.

“Please complete this form M’am. I’ll take your bag now.”

Graciela didn’t especially want to hand over her purse, even though she knew they wouldn’t let her take it with her. It was unclean anyway, no point in getting validation if her purse was going to stay the same. Still, she couldn’t help but hesitate a little as she slid it off her shoulder and held it out for the woman. She had liked it.

“Thank-you.”

The form was as busy with disclaimers, agency names, slogans, and trademarks as it always was, just as the actual fields to fill in remained straightforward. Graciela filled in her name, address, sex, race, age, occupation, level of education, amount currently in savings, health score, blood type, family and sexual relations, and presidential rating. She scrawled in the name of the film. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Just printing it conjured a rope of nausea in her throat. The theatre really ought to just let you check a box.

Entirely bare and very eager to be rid of the sickness, Graciela gave the clipboard back to the woman at the table. She had been staring at Graciela’s breasts, her mouth slightly open. Graciela pretended not to notice. The woman scanned the form.

“O-kay M’am, you’ll be getting validated in the bubble suite, with uh, who’s working bubble today.” The woman swiveled around in her chair until she spotted another sweater-clad behemoth. “Sherry! Hey Sherry! Yeah, who’s in the bubble suite today?”

“Chuck.”

“Right, you’ll be getting validated in the bubble suite today with Chuck. Do you consent? Into the recorder please.”

Graciela stepped forward until her mouth was only a few inches from the plastic device hanging from the ceiling over the table.

“I consent.”

A moment later Chuck appeared from somewhere in the bowels of the suitery. He was nearly as wide as tall, with an unkempt moustache and short hair that was oddly compressed in places, as though he’d taken several naps with his head crammed against a wall or desk. A thick red crease ran down the side of his face, crusted here and there with what looked like drool.

“Hello Miss, I’m Chuck,” he said. “Please follow me.”

Graciela moved with him down a series of hallways until they came to a door with a cheap printout of a clip-art bubble taped at about head’s-height. Chuck opened the door.

“Welcome to the bubble suite.”

The room was small enough to look like it wouldn’t fit more than about a Chuck-and-a-half, and indeed the man had to use his hands to push his fat out of the way of the furnishings as he entered. There was a massage table, a desk and chair with a lamp, and of course, a bubble machine in the corner. It spit occasional explosions of soap bubbles into the middle of the room, making a faint pooting sound as it released them. Everything was vaguely stained, though evidently swaddled in disinfectant and air freshener.

“Please lay down on the table miss. Face up, huh.”

Graciela did as she was asked. As she was told? It wasn’t a question, even if Chuck didn’t look like he could issue any commands. Why did they always have to be so–

“So you saw a bad movie, Miss?”

Graciela nodded and closed her eyes.

“Tell me.”

“It made me worry about being older, and like maybe I can’t distinguish between good and bad, and maybe I’m stupid. The characters’ house was bigger and prettier than mine, and the cars too.”

“Oh, how horrible. What a bad, bad film, shame on–” There was a pause as Chuck glanced at a form on the desk. “–Davis and Crawford, shame on that Mister Aldrich. You know, back then they really didn’t know any better. They were very insensitive, irresponsible. But Chuck’s here to fix all of that.”

“Mhmmm.” Graciela twitched as she felt several bubbles pop over her abdomen, spraying it with tiny specks of soap.

“Your plans for today?”

“Go home with Mark. Basic sex, eat something, walk Muriel–”

“Who is Muriel?!” Chuck interrupted, his voice suddenly all annoyance and exasperation.

Graciela opened her eyes and saw Chuck frowning over her. His belt and pants were undone, a length of flaccid flesh dangling from the hole of his boxer shorts.

“…Muriel is my Weimaraner.”

“Your what?!”

“My dog.”

“It doesn’t say you have a dog on your service entrance form!”

“Oh. I guess I forgot.”

Chuck sighed deeply, zipped up, and said he’d have to check with his supervisor. “I’ll be back shortly. Please try to prepare yourself properly, Miss.”

Graciela raised her arm to get a look at her watch before realizing it was gone. Sometimes this whole thing took so long she wished they wouldn’t even offer it. Just let people take the risk of having reactions, make them deal with it on their own. Maybe they’d even get better at it over time, if they could practice. But that, the answer came, unbidden, that is how we end up with psychopaths and serial killers. She sighed and brushed her fingertips over the tops of her thighs. A little plumper every time. It was fine to be fat, they said, but wouldn’t you have to say such things if you were Chuck’s size? She wondered how often he was validated, himself. She closed her eyes and imagined his small, floppy penis. Prepare yourself properly, he had said.

She rested her hands at either side of her on the table and shook her head rapidly as if to loosen some bind. She took deep breaths, she giggled as the soap bubbles burst against her. As she heard the unmistakable thudding of Chuck’s mass coming back down the hall, she quickly tweaked her nipples between thumb and index finger to make them stand up, and plastered on her tight smile.

Chuck entered the room gruffly, out of breath.

“My supervisor said we can continue, but your failure to provide a complete inventory of relations has been noted on your permanent record.”

“Oh.”

“So where were we, Miss?” Zip. “Ahh.”

“…Walking my dog.”

“Yes. Any other plans?”

“No.”

“And what would you like to feel?”

“Younger. Stronger…more attractive.” Chuck was getting closer to her head, a fact that betrayed itself in the increasing heat she felt there, and in the growing loudness of his breathing. “…Good, basically good, like I make the right choices and do the right things.”

“Uh-huh.”

His penis was no longer quite flaccid –more like an overripe banana as it landed on her forehead. It bounced lazily a few times over her face before coming to rest on her eyelid.

“You want to be good, do you?”

“Yes.”

“Kiss it. Huh.”

Graciela kept her eyes sealed shut and pursed her lips in anticipation of the bounty she was about to receive. The bounty, such as it was, landed with a plop on her mouth. She made a show of kissing it like a good girl would, eager and enthusiastic. Her stomach churned in disgust.

“You’re very good,” Chuck began, moving slightly away from her and beginning what Graciela knew was a two-minute-maximum masturbation sequence. Thank god they introduced a maximum last year, she thought, There were so many horror stories of people being stuck in validation for several hours, days even, they could take turns, it almost ruined watching movies. Not anymore. Well before even a minute was up, Chuck ejaculated all over Graciela’s unresponsive body, and spent another twenty seconds or so rubbing it all in.

“You’re very good, and very attractive. I like you much more than I did when you came in, Miss. I think you were older then, too.” Chuck’s voice was distant, disinterested, but the words filled Graciela with a sense of calm and safety. Chuck administered the standard set of three injections, making her a little fatter, a little plainer, and a lot more apathetic. “You’re a very strong woman. Mark must be very proud.”

Graciela smiled widely, unrestrainedly. “Thank you.”

Chuck helped her up and opened the door for her, directing her to the final processing room to collect her things.

“You have a satisfying day now, Miss.”

“You too.”

Just before the service exit she met the elephantine attendant charged with equipping Graciela for the rest of her night. She was given a recycled pair of regulation earrings, black vinyl boots, a polyester blouse with matching trousers, and a small purse containing a pamphlet, in-ear headphones, a tiny bottle of water, and a copy of her keys.

She thanked the attendant and with her new and genuine smile stepped out the door.

“Everything set?” Mark asked as he approached her, his jacket folded neatly over his arm, his hand outstretched.

“Yep.” Graciela took it, and they walked out of the lobby.

“What a great movie.” “Really great.”

October 30th, 2016

Elliot and James, a Drinking Song

Humbly offered for those moments in the adnotated manifesto when you can’t even. Please observe the two-pint minimum!

Gather ye children, and harken your ears
to the tale of the virgins who lived twenty years
lacking titties and cunnies and everything nice
for the sake of your knowledge of prosaic vice.

There was Elliot Rodger, gentleman supreme
who, failing his forefathers, just couldn’t seem
to say so much as “hi” to the opposite sex
and you’ll understand just how much he was perplexed
by the fact that no blonde ever stopped by to flex
her sweet kegels at him in the eve-ning.

Next ’twas James who was loosely called Elliot’s friend,
though he wished that their friendship played out end to end
For where Elliot finished ’twas where James began
And to Hill Top and Round House he frequently ran
to hear Elliot’s vengeful and retarded plans
as he gazed upon him in the eve-ning.

Oh hai la de dadee, oh hai la de dae
Elliot’s a faggot, but James is just gay
They bitch about women all night and all day,
and nobody’s laid in the mor-ning.

Said young Elliot to James “Life is cruel and unfair!
for no lady that’s blessed with a bountiful pair
will walk with me by moonlight while I watch ‘em bounce,
and I tell you I’m scheming to pour ev-ry ounce
of this coffee on girls who refuse to pronounce
my great name ’round my cock in the eve-ning.”

Countered James, “Worry not that you haven’t a lass.
They don’t like you, but I do; come here, make a pass
for I’ve never rejected a dejected rod
and I’ve lusted for years o’er your nice-shirted bod.
Shut your pie hole, do my hole, or I swear to God
I’ll unfriend your Facebook in the eve-ning.”

Oh hai la de dadee, oh hai la de dae
Elliot’s a faggot, but James is just gay
They bitch about women all night and all day,
and nobody’s laid in the mor-ning.

What occurred then, O children, I oughtn’t to say,
Though the two call it now their “Rectibution Day”.
And each year they mark it with an opulent feast
which eleven-months’ long keeps them oiled and greased.
It’s a mess, but it keeps them sequestered at least
from your Alpha Phi fling in the eve-ning.

June 19th, 2016

Alcachofa 7515

The house was an eyesore even among the set of crumbling pueblos and thoroughly de-modernized apartment blocks that lined the quiet street. None of the white pickets in its fence were straight, as though each piece of whitewashed wood had an argument of its own, with no point clearly winning. Long ago someone had started painting the exposed brick of its facade in flat black, but it seemed the painter had given up a third of the way in, leaving a tentative malignancy inching towards the entrance. Flanked by unruly rectangles of dirt in which not even the weeds had cared to venture, the door did in fact close but otherwise showed little resemblance to the item that was ostensibly intended.

And it was from this door that Senor Flocop emerged one autumn’s dusk, his arms swathed in an old dander-smothered sweater, his torso still testing the air in a stained franchise uniform polo. Flocop scuffed down the dusty, broken concrete of the pathway, past a worktable covered loosely in a tarp –a decaying monument to some project long since forgotten, but never thrown out. He paused at the threshold of the sidewalk on Calle Alcachofa and peered into the semi-darkness of the intersection at the corner. A few old women walked their yipping cotton-coated mutts; a pair of ancient mopeds droned out what must’ve been, what had to be, but what Flocop knew really weren’t their last drawls down the asphalt, the noise clearing, or rather, eradicating, his thoughts.

A gust of wind sent a cloud of yellowed leaves tumbling from the old oak outside the fence. Flocop started as a few brushed his head, and he shot a hurt look at the tree as he pulled the rest of his sweater over his temples and obfuscated his protruding belly in the indistinct sack of fuzz and warmth. He was nearing his fiftieth year, though he told anyone who inquired (which was, so far as he could recall, only the one, the doctor he’d seen a few months prior) he was approaching forty. His mother had taught him from a young age to subtract always a decade, a lesson that worked better now that he’d grown beyond twenty, even if it didn’t work very well at all.

Flocop slowly came to terms with the increasingly undeniable fact that he couldn’t remember why he’d left the house. The cold was beginning to bite, but then, he reasoned inwardly, he’d gone ahead and fully put on the sweater. After a minute’s worth of resting his eyes on the contemptibly familiar features of the street in front of him, he conceeded the fight and marked putting on the sweater as the height of his conceivable accomplishment. As he turned to walk back inside, he noted that he hadn’t closed the front door behind him when he’d left, and in the modest crack of light the meagre sillhouette of Bombonella, his own vague Bichon-frisee of markedly impure breeding, quivered and shook with excitement. Flocop walked briskly back towards the door, sending the dog skittering noisily inside, where it sought out some other, lesser, vantage point from which to watch the street. The moment before Flocop’s meaty hand reached the peeling plate of the door handle, an unfamiliar voice just behind him growled “Stop!”.

Flocop wanted to freeze where he stood, but his customary reaction of surprised victimhood overrode what his bowels told him was right. So he turned around, and looked mournfully at the young man in the greasy, tilted mini-mohawk, and opened his mouth to ask why he’d said it so unkindly. Then he saw the newspaper folded over the young man’s forearm, which was pointed at the apex of Flocop’s belly.

“You’re coming with me,” said the mini-mohawk, unconvincing to anyone but those he chose to say it to –which, in these parts, constituted just about the whole.

“Please don’t hurt me.” Flocop managed to mumble, feeling his skin shrink somewhere beneath the worn old sweater.

“Yeah, yeah. Come on.”

The young man motioned back down the pathway, towards the intersection, and started walking. Flocop followed him, scrambling to keep up with the young man’s gait. “I’m only forty, well actually thirty-nine, you wouldn’t hurt me, I’m young like you, we can get along, I have many projects–”

“Shut up. Jesus christ.”

At this invocation Flocop pictured El Senor and attendant saints in miniature, their idols swirling around in his fantasy field of vision, offering their protection if only he could sort them all out and put them in the correct order. He began muttering their names in sequence, stopping every few seconds to re-arrange the lineup.

“Jesucristo, Santa Eva, San Francisco de Asís–”

“Jesucristo, San Adria, Santa Eva, San Cornelio Papa, Santo Tomás de Villanueva, San Fructuoso de Tarragona–”

The young man stopped and turned around, looking at Flocop quizically. When the latter saw that folded newspaper again, he quickly spat out a new list:

“Jesucristo! Jesucristo, San Ateo! San Clemente Ignacio Delgado Cebrián! San Serafín de Monte Granario de Nicola! Santa María Josefa del Corazón de Jesús Sancho de Guerra! Santa Potenciana! San Severino recluso!”

“Don’t you ever shut the fuck up?” the young man managed in between saintly outbursts.

“San Telmo Confesor!”

“I said can it already!” The newspaper-covered hand rose from hip to heart. “The fuck you think you’re going, church? Save it, shut up, gaiete, keep quiet. You’ll have the rest of your natural life to disappoint the big man upstairs if you keep me from gettin’ disappointed first.”

Flocop gathered after a few slack-jawed moments that he oughtn’t name any more saints, though he wasn’t sure why and in truth he felt far more wronged by the injunction than the threat of what was under the newspaper. Flocop nodded, and started following the young man again down the sidewalk. He saw Senora Almendrada coming down the street on the opposite side, peering at the pair while her old hound shuffled mournfully a few steps ahead. Flocop felt certain she’d help him escape.

“Hola Senora!”

The young man stopped cold and crossed his arms, tucking the newspaper into his elbow.

“Hola Senor Flocop.” The woman shouted back.

“Como estas? Todo bien? Como esta su familia?” Flocop could feel a mystical wave of help and safety honing in on him from somewhere distant off the coast of his predicament. The dog straddled his owner’s boot and commenced extruding the day’s malnourishment.

“Bien, bien, pero, entonces, sabes que mi primo fue en la hospital para su una encarnada, si? Y esta ahora de vuelta a casa, pero la clima es tan fria y el necesito medias mas gruesas. Es la verdad que la clima actualmente es mas fria de lo que era la semana pasada, no? Ah, si, tenes un sueter! Yo tengo un sueter tambien pero yo no lo puse a cambiar con mi pe–”

“Wrap it up, we’re leaving.” The young man whispered at Flocop’s side.

“Ah! Mil disculpes Senora, necesito ir con mi amigo aqui, perdon, perdon, buenas noches!”

“Buenas noches Senor Flocop, suerte!”

The woman and her dog and its shit walked away, leaving Flocop devastated at the receeding hope of her assistance, and moreover deeply embarrassed at having had to cut her off so very quickly.

Flocop plopped himself into the passenger’s side seat of the car at the young man’s prompting. It was a nicer vehicle than he’d ever been in, one of those European makes, but which actually looked and felt as good inside as its outward appearance suggested. He imagined it must’ve cost the young man a great deal of money, which is what he asked him about the second he got in and closed the driver’s side door.

“Your mother bought it for me.”

The answer was too unexpected and confusing for Flocop to digest, so he just pretended to understand and nodded his head as if considering some sage bit of wisdom.

The young man drove quickly, and Flocop spent more time watching the spedometer and admiring the burled wood finish of the interior than contemplating where they were going; after all, he’d seen the streets around his house thousands of times, but he’d only been in such a car this once. He watched the minutes go by on the softly glowing digits of the clock, appreciating each new number as it appeared. It was nine thirty when the young man stopped the car and turned it off. Flocop had seen the clock at seven forty-five when they’d left, but he couldn’t figure how long they’d been driving. It felt like thirty minutes or so, which must’ve meant they were still somewhere in the city proper.

But Flocop recognized nothing about the street they were on as he got out with the driver.

“I don’t know this neighborhood,” Flocop said.

“I know.”

“So where are we?”

The young man didn’t answer, but walked on towards a wrought-iron gate topped with polished copper finials.

“Come on, I’ll show you the guest house.”

Flocop liked the sound of “guest house”, especially from someone with such a nice car. But he wondered why the young man had been so rude when picking him up if all he wanted was to show him his place. There was no newspaper over the arm anymore, and the enormous, souped-up gun Flocop envisioned beneath it didn’t seem to exist. He felt at ease as he followed along, through the gate, down a cobblestone path to a small, warmly-lit house sitting in an immense garden. The young man unlocked the door and let him inside, coming in after him and locking the door again.

The television was the first thing to draw Flocop’s attention. It was huge –the largest he’d ever seen, and with a soccer match already playing. He eagerly walked towards it until he was only a foot or two away, barely able to take in the whole picture.

The young man poured himself a vermouth at the minibar and put the soccer match on mute, which sent Flocop spinning around.

“Why don’t you come have a seat over here.” The young man motioned next to him on the plush leather couch. Flocop wasn’t particularly interested in anything but the game now, but he wanted to make a good impression on the young man. He sat.

Flocop divided himself between the silent match and the immaculate cleanliness of the room as the young man talked. Everything looked new and expensive; the furniture bore no cigarette burns, he saw no matted pills of dog fur, and all the lamps not only had working, burning bulbs, but were even covered in shades. He wondered if he could get a few pictures on his cellphone without the young man noticing, so he could show his friends. He gazed at the ruddy vermouth in the young man’s highball and wondered if there was any beer. The cameras at the soccer match panned over the stadium’s crowd on screen, and Flocop watched them jumping up and down with mouths wide open, the action suddenly centered on the field again, but he couldn’t tell what was really happening without the sound on.

“…will tell them the meeting is tommorow evening at eight. Hey!”

Startled, Flocop looked over at the young man, without the faintest idea of what he’d been saying.

“Pay attention, I’m trying to work with you here.”

Flocop apologized and moved closer to signify his dedication to his host’s trabajo.

“I was saying: in twenty minutes, you’re going to call your family and tell them you’ve been kidnapped–”

“Kidnapped?!”

“Kidnapped. You will tell them your price is thirty thousand pesos, to be delivered in cash at the Burger King by the Obelisk, tomorrow at 8pm. That means eight, not eight-thirty, not nine, you will tell them the meeting is tomorrow evening at eight.”

Flocop’s world seemed to abandon him as the urgency of numbers beat upon his brow for the first time. Thirty thousand, eight o’clock, it was all too much, too precise, too lacking in jerseys and Quilmes wrappers and that heretofore unassailable guarantee, as if from Heaven itself, that tomorrow would merely be a permutation of today, gloriously indistinguishable and void of change.

“My…we don’t have thirty thousand pesos!”

“Sure you do.”

“But we don’t! We don’t have a thousand to give you once, but thirty times? I’ve never…the most I’ve ever had was five thousand, Senor, please.”

The young man frowned into his glass for a moment. Then he closed his eyes and said, “Five thousand.”

“No, oh, I mean, I had, but that was years ago.” Flocop’s rate of speech was several times faster than that of his thought, a feat he’d never before achieved without the aid of alcohol.

“And?”

“And I bought a LG 552CC-X.” He knew the name as though it were his own, with the exception that he’d never misspelled the phone’s moniker.

“What the fuck is that?”

“Oh, it was a very very good smartphone, all-new, better than ayphone–”

“Was?”

“Yes, it was.” Flocop looked at the young man blankly.

“So where is it?”

Flocop wrung his hands in his lap. “I…dropped it in the toilet.”

The young man tapped his fingers against his glass.

“And it broke.” The tears began to well up in Flocop’s eyes.

“Listen, I want you to think about what your family could sell tomorrow to get some money together.”

Flocop sniffled. “There’s nothing! Ask anyone, we are hit very hard by los buitres, there is not enough even to pay the rent many months.”

The young man sighed. “You rent that piece of shit on Alcachofa?”

“Our house! Yes! But always the rent goes up fifteen percent, always, each three months. It is hard in Argentina.”

“For fuck’s sake.” The young man stood up and grabbed something off a desk behind the couch.

“I want you to write down everything you’ve spent money on in the past month,” the young man said, tossing a small pad of paper and a pen at Flocop’s lap and turning off the television. “Think carefully, make sure you get everything on there. And by you I mean you and your family.”

“My whole family?” Flocop’s eyes widened.

“The ones you live with.”

“Yes, but I live with my mother.”

“I’m sure.”

“And my father.”

“Uh-huh, fine.”

“And my tia, and her five children, and her ex-husband, his two sisters, my brother and his girlfriend, and there are her two children and her brother in law, and–”

“I get it, I get it. Look, write down everything you know about that money was spent on. Okay?”

Flocop hoped he hadn’t offended the young man, who, by the looks of things, was bereft of the particular joys of living with one’s entire extended family and assorted hangers-on. He promised himself to be nicer, and made the sign of the cross to seal it.

“Hey. You understand me?”

“Yes, sir. I’ll do it very well, good and fast.” Flocop wriggled in his seat, paper and pen in hand.

“Alright. I’ll be back in fifteen minutes. Don’t let me down.”

“Yes sir, no sir, todo bien, just like you want.”

The young man walked out, and Flocop heard the door locking behind him. He immediately went to work, scribbling down everything he could remember their money being spent on lately. A few items in, he realized his handwriting was a little sloppy, and tore off the page, crumpling it into a ball and throwing it on the carpet in front of him. Suddenly full of horror at this messing of an otherwise well-kept room, he jumped up and retrieved the ball of paper, stuffing it clumsily into his pocket. He started a new list, carefully printing each entry, but trying not to take too long.

He had run out of ideas five minutes before the young man returned, but he spent the rest of the time wracking his brain, making sure he hadn’t forgotten anything. He perked up when he heard the door opening, and sat up straight as the young man entered the room again.

“Are you finished?”

“Yes sir, everything is there.”

The young man took the list from Flocop’s outstretched hand and looked it over.

“You sure this is everything?”

“Nothing missing.” Flocop beamed.

He watched his host as he paced the room and pored over the list. La casa, of course. Los gastos, almacenes, celular

“What’s this celular? I thought you broke your phone in the pisser.”

“That is for my other phone.” Flocop said, retrieving the battered old Nokia out of his pocket. “The first smartphone I ever have, but we say it’s so-so-phone, not so smart anymore.” He laughed heartily, slapping his knee, waiting for agreement. The young man didn’t laugh.

“This says 1200 pesos. Why’s your shit phone so expensive?”

“Well, it is not my phone, it is my plan, yes? And the plan for my mother. And my father. And my tia, and her oldest–”

“Okay, okay, fuck. Listen to me, you all spend way too much on your celulares, eh? You can’t figure out how to get five thousand pesos, you shouldn’t be spending twelve hundred every month, no way everyone in that goddamned clown car house needs a fuckin’ phone.”

Flocop was stunned. He hoped the young man wasn’t going to take his cell phone away –how else would he call into the sports radio show each day to play their trivia game? It was less expensive to play with his subscription than by using the house phone. But before he could make this very important point, the young man continued reading out the items on the list.

Subte, collectivos, cines, restaurantes –wait, you’re going to dinner an’ a fuckin’ movie here? Six thousand pesos? How many times last month?”

Flocop stared at the carpet, horrified at the idea of having to remember the number of times. The number of times that anything.

“How many times?!”

The answer came after a full two minutes of what looked like profound meditation: “Twelve.”

“Twelve?! In a month?”

Flocop felt a flash of anger at his mother and sister for having pressed him to go out to dinner so often in the past couple of weeks. If only they hadn’t burned the meat and let the vegetables spoil, maybe the young man would like him better, wouldn’t be looking at him as he was.

“It was only three times to the cines, but yes sir, twelve restaurants.”

“I don’t even eat out that often, you know? You ever heard of disposable income?! It’s what you don’t have, and you’re spending it. How the fuck are you even spending it, there’s what, twenty thousand pesos on this list. How much you all bringing in?”

Overjoyed at finally having a ready answer to a question, Flocop immediately belted out “nine thousand pesos, sir!”. His smile was immense.

“So?”

Flocop continued to smile. When the young man didn’t reply, he thought it best to stand up, salute him with hand to forehead, and sit down again.

“You don’t see the problem here?”

“What problem. I don’t want to make any problems!”

“You’re short eleven thousand pesos. Where’s it coming from?”

“But not everything we pay is from what we make! How could that be?”

“So where’s it from, you telling me you’re getting eleven thousand pesos a month in aid?”

Las ganancias, si, claro!

“You said the vultures hit you bad, and you’re getting more than half your monthly expenses paid for?”

Los buitres are no good, sir, no good at all. They come in, they destroy the community, they ruin the businesses, we cannot live in progress.”

“Eh why the fuck am I trying, you don’t have the first clue what you’re talking about.” The young man muttered, rubbing his hand over an aching forehead. He looked at the list again disinterestedly, and noticed an item towards the end he’d skipped over on the first pass. Blanqueador.

“Hey, what’s 200 pesos worth of bleach doing on here, you get yourself into some sort of mess?”

“Ah, si, the bleach, for Bombonella.”

“Your maid moonlight as a stripper or something? What kind of name is that?”

“No sir, Bombonella is my dog!”

“…why’d you spend two hundred pesos on bleach for a dog?”

“Well it is in the first place my sister’s dog, and since it is always walking around the house and picking up dust on its fur, which gets dirty and brown, she has decided she will dunk Bombonella in the bleach once a week to keep her pretty.”

The young man squeezed his eyes shut and exhaled.

“Listen. New plan. You call your folks, your tia, whatever, you tell them to get all the money they have right now, and the dog, bring it to the fucking Burger King at 8pm tomorrow, and they can have you back.”

“You want me to go?” Flocop was genuinely hurt.

“Yes I want you to go, and I don’t want you getting another dog, either. Or any other pet. Got that?”

Flocop thought it was an odd demand. But he was sure some answer or other he’d given had been very wrong, because apparently the young man didn’t want to stay friends.

But there was no more soccer, no hope for the beer he’d been thinking might come at the end of his diligent listmaking, the hardest he’d worked since junior high. There was only the telephone, the old, corded kind, handed to him by the young man. So Flocop dialed.

“Yeah.”

“Listen, Silvia, I have to talk to you–”

“You son of a bitch!” His aunt screamed at him through the heavy apparatus. Flocop held the receiver a few inches further from his ear and wished he hadn’t fucked up his good phone, so he could ignore her and look at the girls from Page 6 instead as she barked.

“Going out for parilla by yourself, you leave the whole house without any dinner, and I suppose also you’re drunk? Where are you?! At the corner? We are coming, you’d better be ready to pay for all of us!”

“Silvia, hold on a moment, listen–”

“Carmilla wants papas con cheddar, and Antonio will have choripan, and–”

“Silvia! I must talk to you about a serious situation, please listen to m–”

“Oh! And you left the door open when you went, and nobody can find Bombonella!”

Flocop felt a new sensation somewhere in his midsection, innovatively uncoddled as it was by the very empanadas and fists of meat his aunt suspected him of gorging upon, as per his usual habit. It was hollow, unsafe, capable somehow of understanding dread more readily than the rest of him.

***
Epilogue

Bombonella padded tentatively past the few blocks native to her nightly piss-and-shit routine, eager for new trees and breaks in the concrete where old rats’ tales might whisper, though she was somewhat unnerved by the lack of monosyllabic imperatives, shouted over her head. But the weather was pleasant, and her grid of interest promised to stretch on beyond the few steps she’d known, and so she went, sniffing, searching, for something better, which in this land was anything and nothing at all.

October 28th, 2014

?, Illustrated

A long, long time ago, but not so very long as that, a favorite author wrote a favorite story. Today it’s illustrated. What story might it be?

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November 26th, 2012

Shall be Delivered

*Edit 12/16/12: Competition may not have been steep, but nevertheless, the story won one of three 5 BTC prizes. Ladeeda.

Following is an entry for Trilema’s short-story contest concerning the future of society given the adoption of GPG contracts. A useful primer on the subject can be found here.

Maureen Plank filled her tumbler with ice and sent it down the automated bar’s treadmill, loathing and relishing in equal parts the necessary reading and grading of sophomore papers that’d take up the evening. She watched the drink change color with each precisely calculated addition of rum, pineapple juice, and distilled tamarind. She remembered, briefly, the early days of her teaching career, when the mixture of her emotions had seen far more generous amounts of anticipation and genuine belief in the power of the public education system. Back in those days, she had graded papers with a glass of water –or sometimes without anything at all, just a woman and her red pencil stenciling finely-trained minds for tomorrow’s inevitably improved world. That was all before it had become fashionable to renege.

She still didn’t really understand it, she reflected as she took her first sweet and biting sips of the cocktail, this trend towards dishonor and dishonesty. Maureen supposed that it was, in a way, only natural that people unable or unwilling to accept authority and incapable of challenging it successfully should protest by adopting what they thought were the opposites of that authority’s values. But to hand one’s word over carelessly, to eschew the very systems that allowed the modern world to carry on with dignity and to get things done –was there anything more distasteful, more detestably unbearable? Maureen took another sip. No, it was really the worst.

The divide had become noticeable to Maureen a handful of years ago, when children young enough to have been raised without any exposure to the so-called Platinum Age of Maureen’s youth began to enter the higher grades and find means to express themselves beyond tending to algae pets and making minor explosions within the safe, goggled confines of their personal virtual chemistry labs. In fact, she thought bitterly, those gleeful and instructive pillars of her childhood were probably forgotten now; today’s children were more likely spending their time using templates for shoe-tying and practicing EID trigger digit gymnastics as preparation for school.

Shortly before they were born, the first demonstration against the ruling Integrity Party had shocked the nation and much of the world, and while many refused to believe that people would ever abandon the contract systems that had elevated society from the plagues of centuries past, nevertheless a slowly multiplying contingent ceased to uphold its word. Would agree to nearly anything at whim, would make impossible promises without the slightest consideration of how they’d be fulfilled. They didn’t even seem to care when the time to deliver arrived and they were recognized as the unconscionable liars they truly were. And now, Maureen thought, her tumbler clear and colorless again in her hand, now the children of those original dissenters were coming of age. And they didn’t know the value of integrity at all. What was she supposed to say about their papers, which so clearly misunderstood the basic principles of responsibility, papers which revealed children more concerned with their meaningless appearance than their functional self-representation? If only they’d just stop coming to class, just stay away from what good kids were left…but she couldn’t kick them out. It’d break her heart….

The automatic bar whirred sympathetically as it prepared another stormy auburn glass.

* * *

“You can’t just stand around like a limp pickle and expect us to entertain you,” said Sandy Barncroft, wrinkling her freckled –or maybe just slightly dirty– nose at Tilde. “We let you come ’cause we thought you’d be cool.”

“But I could get in a lot of trouble with my parents if they found out I was here and played truth or dare.” Tilde Plank knew they’d peg it as a lame excuse, just as she knew she really would be grounded and lectured and maybe even starved of her favorite lavender pudding if the family knew she was doing this. Actually, she realized, all that would happen if they even found out she wasn’t at this moment in her room doing the week’s dissections. She shuddered, picturing the array of invertebrates scheduled for her scalpel. She was already here, she reasoned. And she couldn’t go home with Darren and his friends writing her off as a mousy Integrity girl. “Okay,” she relented, “but just a couple of rounds.”

Darren McAlister smiled an almost painfully dimpled smile at her. When he looked at her the world at large somehow ceased to exist except in a blur of irrelevance.

“It’s about fucking time,” someone murmured. Sandy announced she was going first, since she was thirteen and the oldest by two months. No one argued. Tilde willed her to pick Darren and dare him to kiss her. She could feel it coming. This was the moment. Her palms began to clam up as she tried to watch him from the corner of her eye.

“Tilde,” Sandy said triumphantly. Shit. “Truth. Do your parents make you recite the Articles of Integrity before they tuck you in?”

“They don’t tuck me in!” Tilde blurted, a little too fast, she thought. Her palms were getting worse, her thumbs fidgeting wildly at the seams of her pockets. The giggles erupted from the circle like popping corn. “Well?” Sandy insisted. “We only say them sometimes before dinner. And at brokenball games.” More laughter. “Yeah right. Well go on, it’s your turn now.”

Tilde was mortified. Among her family and her friends that family had approved, the Articles were treated as perfectly benign, a kind of blessing that was pulled out now and then, and she knew it was important to remember the three warriors who had died shortly after writing them on the eve of Integrity’s victory all those years ago. But to these kids, it was a mark of snobbery. Maybe even to Darren…but no, she wouldn’t believe that. She was certain he’d understand if he only knew her a little better, if she could bring him home. After all, he said he’d bring her here tonight, and he had.

“Okay, um. I pick, um.” Her palms were manufacturing some kind of paste. “I pick. Larinda.” The girl across the circle emitted a little grunt. “Um. Truth.” Tilde’s thoughts raced. What was she supposed to ask? She didn’t want to embarrass her, even if it was apparently the point. Tilde eyed the girl’s flashy pink herringbone coat. “Where did you get your coat?” The popcorn laughter returned. “That’s a stupid question,” Larinda said. “Enough of this bullshit, I’m getting the party started. Tilde. Dare. Take out your postpad and write down your precious private key.”

“What?!” Tilde exclaimed, no longer aware of her sodden palms in the full-bodied flood of panic washing over her. “I can’t do that.” “You have to, she dared you,” came the replies, more or less echoed around the circle. She looked at Darren, searching for reprieve. “If you’re gonna play the game, you’ve got to play it, right? You said you would and all, doesn’t that mean you have to?” He grinned at her again. How could she get out of this? She’d been told over and over again she could never tell anyone her key. Her dad had told her he didn’t even want to think about it when she had asked him what would happen if she lost it. She had spent months memorizing it, reciting it in her head, preparing it, as her parents said, for the time when she’d be a woman and she’d need to use it out in the world. But if she left and Darren thought she was a snob….

“What’s the big deal, mine’s fa269p411tee,” said Sandy. That’s it, Tilde thought. She’d just write down the wrong key. She took the postpad out of her pocket, tore off a sheet, and clicked the ballpoint end installed in her index finger. Twelve characters later, it was done. Darren took the sheet from her hand and passed it around the circle. Tilde watched Larinda slip the paper into the pocket of her coat of still unknown origins. It worked. But she still felt a little sick, somewhere in her gut. If her parents knew!

“Pick someone already,” Sandy commanded. “God, we have to tell you to do everything.” “Oh! Right, okay. Um, Darren. Truth?” he arched his brow at her, still grinning. “Have you…have you ever kissed a girl?” The popcorn resumed.

* * *

It had been a rough workday, Ronald Plank reflected as he locked up the Reptiles Wing of the Lesser Los Angeles Natural History Museum. Which wasn’t to say, of course, that he disliked his job or that he was ready for retirement. Not at all. It was rewarding work, supervising the staff’s taxidermy and curating the visiting collections of extinct creatures. The Mojave Gila Monster, the Slippery-Toed Terrapin. It was rewarding, and perfectly honorable, even if these days he seemed to be cleaning the graffiti off of exhibit glass more often than supervising or curating. People always got a little crazy around election time, went a little out of their way to try and get their confused ideas across, even if it was entirely illogical to smear the good names of candidates and proclaim their love of various bodily fluids on expensive educational materials at the Museum. Why someone would ever imagine that defiling his exhibits was going to have any impact whatsoever on the public vote or on anything other than his time, Ronald really had no idea. Why wouldn’t the administration simply reinstate the security protocols for keeping these people out? Surely they didn’t stand much of a chance of actually learning anything.

Really though, he thought, really it was rewarding work, and certainly there were many years of distinguished curation ahead. He walked down the checkerboard linoleum of the hall. Nodded to the blonde receptonist projection –who seemed to have been upgraded with an especially tight sweater wardrobe, he couldn’t help but notice. He wondered if the administration wouldn’t have better spent its funds upgrading her personality so she’d say something other than “Thank you for visiting. Good-bye,” to him every day as he left the building.

Ronald walked the six blocks home without looking at much else besides the tops of his shoes as they padded over grass, asphalt, and the glistening black surface of the occasional step energy generator. What was going to happen if Integrity lost this time around? No, no, they couldn’t lose, it wasn’t even worth thinking about. Like retirement. Ronald immediately formulated a plan to revise the taxidermy approval schedule and recite the Articles in the study after dinner.

* * *

Dinner that night consisted of half a roast pheasant on protein pancakes with currant jam. Tilde picked at a wing, occasionally finding bits of currant, which she ate. Maureen explained that she was on a diet again, prescribed by the family image technician earlier that day. She had arranged a glass each of vodka and tomato juice, and took small sips of either punctuated with languid bites from a celery stick. Ronald, for his part, ate voraciously, his mouthfuls contributing most of the content of his recounting of the day’s scientifically important events to his wife and daughter. Unable to silently sit through more than ten minutes of this, and nearly faint with hunger after being unable to eat more than the currants for those past few days that had followed the game out of worry and guilt, Tilde dropped her fork and looked up at her parents. “I–” she interrupted her father, “I think I did something bad.”

As Tilde began to unravel the story, Maureen and Ronald Plank stopped their drinking and eating, stood up, sat back down, got up again, paced around the room, leaned over their daughter, went to the window, and finally found themselves back at their seats. “…But I changed it,” Tilde said, “so they can’t do anything with it, right?” Maureen began to sob. Ronald looked into the wide eyes of his daughter, walked to her chair, and picked her up. Wordlessly, he carried her to her bedroom. Wordlessly, he closed the door and its outside latch. He walked out of the house and moved to the room’s window, intending to lock it as well, but found it open, and Tilde gone, by the time he arrived.

* * *

He’d never reacted to anything like that before, Tilde thought, racing along the streets towards a destination unknown. This must be really bad. Worse than she had thought. What relief she had felt in confessing was obliterated by the panic that had taken over. No words! Her dad always had at least a few handfuls of them, even when he was eating. He talked in his sleep! Breaking through her mental flurry, Tilde recognized the familiar lights and signs of El Cajon Boulevard, the bright blue holograms that danced in front of the convenience store where she bought, among other things, her supplies of postpads and carbonated milk. That’d settle her stomach, she thought, a nice milk fizz and then she’d sit somewhere and think.

The man bumped into her violently, sending her backwards onto the pavement, where her ass landed hard against a step energy generator. It gave off its usual faint pulse of light on contact. Turning her head, she spotted Alton James, a man she’d seen a couple of times with her grandfather, when the old man had been alive. More recently, his face had graced Integrity campaign posters. He was chasing another figure, apparently unaware or unconcerned that she had fallen. As Tilde moved to get up, she saw an older woman in front of her on the asphalt, the skirt of her sequined dress flayed in strips like a dazzling octopus skin. People began to crowd around her, obstructing Tilde’s vision. The regenerative promises of milk fizz seemed stronger than ever. She slinked into the convenience store, limping slightly.

After three bottles of the bubbly white stuff and several streets put between her and the by now ambulance- and cruiser-strewn boulevard, Tilde was no closer to having thought her way through her predicament. Part of her desperately wished to run away, to never have to face that unbearable eerie silence from her father again, or her mother’s awful sobs. But she didn’t know where to go. And she had spent most of her money on the milk. Knowing for the last hour of her walk that she’d end up there, she finally arrived back home. Tilde found her father standing in the kitchen, arguing loudly with someone on his headset. Her mother was nowhere to be seen.

* * *

Ronald rested his balding head against the thick oak of the study desk, his hands laced over his nape. “I told you already, it was only a few kids she was with. Yeah. No. Not from our neighborhood. I don’t know. Probably. Yeah.” Thin and tinny emissions of sound escaped Ronald’s earpiece. They continued for some time. “I know it’s not permissible!” he said once the sounds had stopped. “Believe me, her entire education will be retrofitted, she’s not even leaving the house again until I’m sure. There has to be something you can–” the sounds resumed. “Well it’s because you knew him that I’m asking you to do it! Can you just look into it? Please.” Ronald’s fingers squeezed tighter against the back of his neck. “Please.”

Tilde overheard many such one-sided conversations from her room over the next few days, simultaneously worrying about what they might mean and feeling comforted by the sound of someone talking. The periods of silence were the worst. Her father had taken her holotube and radiocaster, all three of her special edition headsets, even her antique piccolo. He’d also taken her data processing console along with its interchangeable reader. There wasn’t much left in her room at all, aside from her dissection tool set, her bed, a single lamp, and her box of jewelry and index pen attachments. She sat in a corner and hugged her knees to her chest, clicking her ballpoint end out and in. In and out. Why wasn’t her mother coming in to check on her every few hours like Father was? Maybe she was out somewhere, helping. They were going to fix it. She’d never see Darren and never be bad again.

* * *

On the sixth day of Tilde’s room arrest, Ronald burst in seized with rage –a state that was incredibly rare for him, and one which Tilde had never seen. “So not only are you incorrigibly stupid, you’re also a liar! Who taught you that lying is any sort of valid recourse when you’ve done something wrong? You will go through what happened again, item by item!” Tilde stared at him blankly, shocked at hearing the word liar directed at her, and from her own family. It was a word reserved for the very worst of society, a word no one had ever used to describe her. There was nothing lower. She knew she had screwed up, but she wasn’t a liar, she thought. What was he talking about?

“NOW!” The command shook her out of her injured reverie.
“I– I went to the Empire Marina, there were some kids from–”
“That is NOT how you state points of fact. Date!”
“16 Helidor. Empire Marina. I was with–”
“TIME!”
Tilde was beginning to shake. “I don’t know what you mean,” she began.
“16 Helidor, TIME!” Nothing. “At what time did this take place?” Ronald roared.
“I don’t know, I can’t think with you yelling at me!” And indeed Tilde couldn’t. Or rather, she couldn’t figure out how to stop herself from shaking, or her mind from screaming, in order to make room for the simple task of retrieving and reporting a banal memory.

“Let me make this very clear to you,” said Ronald, his voice still hard but quieter and lower than it had been. “You have been identified as a key witness for the People’s Party in the trial of Alton James. They have your signature on a contract stating you’ll testify. The entire country will be watching next week on the news as the statement that you saw Alton James murder a woman on the street and walk away is read. Now, either you’ve somehow witnessed a murder and signed that contract while being supposedly confined to this room, or else you gave away your secret key without altering anything. As if what you already told us wasn’t bad enough!”

“I saw Mister James a week ago, he was running after a man with something shiny in his hand. There was a woman too, on the sidewalk…I don’t think he hurt anybody. I didn’t tell anyone though!” she added.
“Then?”
“I was sure I changed the last character,” Tilde replied, earnestly perplexed.

“One, you changed ONE?” Ronald was stunned. Until this point he hadn’t imagined he could have possibly been any more stunned than he was, after his daughter’s confession last week and today’s news from his father’s old Integrity friend. He’d taught the girl to read, to appreciate reptiles, to use market arithmetic, to play the piccolo…she was his own, his very own, and she was apparently so hopelessly incompetent he could’ve mistaken her for a child reared by mindless adhesivists on the streets. So now, in addition to begging the Integrity official for a new key for his daughter and protection against the original ever coming back to her in the unlikely event it was deciphered from the one she’d said she augmented, now he was going to have to beg for…for what? What could they do now? Her name, her face, her very genetic material would be linked with the damned public key that was tied to the code she’d flitted away, linked with this scandal, with this family disgrace. Ronald laced his fingers behind his neck again, his head resting on his daughter’s knee. What could they do?

* * *

David Fine looked at his watch. Three past. He’d give the man one more minute, then he’d leave. He couldn’t stand the notion of other people forcing their approximations of time on him, with their slightly fast and slightly slow devices, all ticking away according to whatever idiosyncratic settings they’d been given, getting every second slightly wrong. And even if they kept their timepieces synched, you could expect that “five” meant “any time between four forty and five nineteen.” No one ever seemed to notice that Fine was always on time, to everything, precisely.

He heard the footsteps draw nearer and began to walk slowly along the tree-lined corridor of the park. It being dawn, the area was blessedly empty save for the odd morning jogger –and they were almost always tuned in to a ‘cast.

“When I was a boy,” Fine started, “my mother took me to a park not unlike this one. There was a large pond, with a grand pump-powered fountain at the center. I was watching a family of ducks, a mother and several ducklings, swimming in a line. The mother moved towards the fountain, and one of the ducklings broke the line and went straight towards it. By the time the mother noticed the duckling had gotten too close, and was taken under. She panicked. She swam the fountain’s circumference, and all the other ducklings followed. Eventually she dove. She didn’t come back up. Neither did the rest of them.”

“I never imagined that this would happen,” Ronald said, coming astride, “I wanted to prepare her, I thought she understood–”
“You thought she’d understand concepts she wasn’t ready for, and more dangerously, that she’d obey.”
“She’s never been any trouble before. Look, I know it’s bad.”
“Do you? Do you know that your father, before he died, believed that James was the right person to lead Integrity into the new decade? So did a lot of people. So did I. Your duckling has effectively ensured that will never happen.”
“So punish me. Put me in prison, send me to the Detroit Wastes, anything. But help me get her a new start. I’ve been thinking, if we could stage her death–”
“And what happens when her DNA is identified?”
“Yes but there are ways we can prevent that from happening, forged samples, something.”
Fine stopped. “I’m afraid it’s not that simple. Even if it could be managed –and I’m not suggesting that it reasonably could be–, there’s the question of whether something like this can actually be forgiven.”
“It was a mistake,” Ronald insisted, “she’s a child. Even adults make mistakes.”
“That it was a mistake is not the issue. That her word was abused, and with documentation on record, no less, and further that it was used for the purpose of burying our star candidate, is. We don’t pardon the millions of people who’ve used signed contracts unethically. They’re ruined. The difference is we’re not particularly concerned with them, because they haven’t managed to cause any meaningful damage. The People’s Party has been inching towards a takeover for years, they’re now on the very cusp of overturning everything Integrity has stood for. ” He paused, looking Ronald firmly in the eye.
“I suggest you make it easy for your family.”
“I can’t….” Ronald breathed more than spoke his reply.
“You will. The girl cannot be saved. I suppose we’ve been too unguarded, leaving key generation to the discretion of parents. If we come out of this election alive, you have my word we’ll look at this…problem, of youth.”
If Ronald heard the man it didn’t register.
“I’m sorry. Your father was a great man. I would have liked to help his kin.”
Fine continued walking along the corridor, alone.

* * *

Maureen wondered how her husband could bear to leave the house and come into contact with the world outside while their family was heaving with the weight of shame. She was a teacher, Maureen thought to herself, why didn’t she see that Tilde hadn’t been ready? Even if Ronald got this to go away, like he promised her he would before leaving the house early that morning, even then she’d still know that she had failed at being a good mother. Every day at work she felt scorn for the children of the People, wondering how they could be so reckless and uncautious with their word. But maybe it was the parents’ fault. The parents, and the teachers, who made children recite the Articles and learn the history, and the ones who taught that recitations and histories weren’t important. Maybe they were equally guilty, so long as they failed to pass down the understanding and maturity that a society held together by honor required.

She heard the front door open and shut. Heard a faint rustling as outer layers of clothes were removed and laid aside. Muted footsteps. A lengthy creak from an ill-oiled hinge being moved. Two faint series of clicks. More footsteps. She heard her husband open their daughter’s bedroom door.

Her husband’s voice.
“…It is through free will that I enter a contract, and through the same free will that I make good upon it. My word is my shepherd as it is my sheep, it shall guide me to greatness fed upon the nourishment of my reverence and respect. With my key my word shall be delivered…”

She heard the first shot. Maureen Plank dove out of bed and nearly threw herself down the stairs, racing towards Tilde’s room, her fingernails carving thin lines in the wood of the railing all the way down. She reached the landing. And heard the second.

January 31st, 2012

Batoane de Carne

Jurnal Capitanului, 30 Aprilie 2020, 6 zile in afara de Planet #$*!

Toata echipa doarme. In 6 zile, vor ajunge la #$*! cu incarcatura, care este cel mai mare sarcina trimit pana acum. Am in 5,000 barili aproximativ 750,000 litri de petrol. Nu-mi place sa zbor cu acest mult de greutate, dar extraterestrile au zis ca revendicarea a crescut nebuna in ultimul an. Amintesc cum, cand contact a fost facut cu ei, nimeni pot credeau ca primul lucru ei vreau era petrol. “Orice lucru vrei, poti ai,” ziceau lideri noi, “dar petrolul –am o nevoie prea mare, si este foarte, dar foarte limitat ca o resursa.”

“Faci lucruri prosti cu acest substanta.” Spuneau extraterestrile. “Materiale plastice sunt urate, si au un gust rau. Si pentru combustibile, n-ai nevoie de petrol. Poti faci fapturi noi mici.”

Fapturi erau…ciudati la inceput, a spune cel mai putin. Ca niste cincile, moi si cu ochi mari. Acum ei fac toti masini sa muncesc, si am primit douasprezece perechi de reproducere pe an, care-i mai mult decat suficient pentru toata lumea. Nava cosmica a mea zboara prin cerii din cauza o echipa de sase fapturi puternice. Din cand in cand, fac griji despre intrebari de durere. Ma intreb daca fapturi simt durere, in timp energiei ei este sugit pentru comoditate al oameni. Posibil e mai bine sa nu baga in seama….

Batoane de carne, suntem chemat. Extrateristrile au in loc de piele ceva metal de nu stiu ce compositie, in loc de sange, un fel de noroi negru, care curge ca melasa. Ei radeau cu bucuriei a unor bebelusi cand descopereau muschii si maruntaie nostri. Dar nimic e haios in ochi ei in comparatie cu politicieni. Nu conteaza care partid sau filozofie au oameni noi de stat. Daca politicieni se imbraca-n costumuri si fac argumente, tot e bine cu ei.

De fapt, in afara de petrolul, chestia de cea mai mult branza la Planet #$*! e politicieni la kilogram. In acest moment, cinci persoane –din Japonia, Franta, Guatemala, si doua din Sudan– sunt in nava impreuna cu barili. Probabil, vor aparea pe programe de comedie la video dupa debarcam. Am auzit ca-i o viata usoara pentru ei, chiar daca este un pic umilitoara.

Deci, noi primim o solutie din blana pentru energie, si fiinte din #$*! primesc tirani, mincinosi, si manuitori nostri pentru divertisment. Bineinteles, votam pentru cine vor fi primit la lumea noua-n cosmosul. In general primim cel mai rau indivizi putem, si ei sunt mai mult productivi ca asa, ca obiecte de umor. Gaseam cateva ani in urma ca petrolul e folosit si intr-un mod subit: este o baza pentru parfum. Inca nu stiu cum merge sex intre fiintele, dar aparent mirosul de petrol ajuta. Aici am aproape un milion de litri de afrodisiac.

Cred ca-i o relatie buna in sfirsitul, adica-i eficient pentru toti. Vai, dar drumul la #$*! este lung si obositor, fara multe obiective turistice, si nu pot dorm in nava. Doar sase zile….

***
Pentr-un concurs de fictiune.

May 26th, 2011

Charity

Back behind the cupboards were the cobwebs and the sediments that straddled fluid and gritty matter, where things untouched and left to the whim of the darkness accumulated, grew, stretched out in miniature tides over the powerless surfaces, spilling only the slightest hints of horror into the realm of the visible.

Jackie felt the expansion of these tiny networks of disgust reach into her, penetrating three dollars’ worth of chocolate and neroli body balm, seeping through a spray-on tan now two days past its promised lifespan, beyond the pampered strata of her skin, making a beeline towards her throat, where it installed silent mantras of self-doubt and guilt. A factory at the base of her throat fleshed out as she sat crouching on the cold kitchen tiles, the exhaust of sudden feelings fumbling forward from her mouth in patternless and quaking intervals.

Luxury’s clinging veils, stacked and undulating, beat against her in a thousand butterfly kisses, carrying a world of cares away on fleets of tiny gilded wings. But some things, being empty, could not be carried away. Holes hid deep inside her chest, unfilled by champagne or wit, cradling unknown ecstasies, the unsettling nothingness calling out to people and to places Jackie didn’t understand.

She hadn’t understood the man who walked the town’s main square day in, day out, with bare but trimmed and oft-washed feet, his hands clasped like old friends behind his back. The man’s basal and distant stare, the work of thoughts that lay beyond the confines of the square and its well-populated host, was punctuated with sporadic scenes of acute awareness in which the man’s face seemed to saturate with color and excitement, his eyes imbued with dew and light to linger on a flower or the uneven footsteps of a child chasing after overfed and lazily dispersing pigeons.

He didn’t seem so much like one of the poor, but more like a town monument, to Jackie, who watched him from the safety of sidewalk cafes, strolling past the foreground of crustless watercress sandwiches and fork-speared spirals of shrimp.

She’d never seen anybody talk to the man, or share anything more than a point or a laugh. A perambulatory statue giving substance to the square he walked, wildly streaked hair gathered in an obedient braid that swished like a horse’s tail behind his head.

Jackie wanted to give the man some thing, some token of nourishment, an artifact of the life she wrapped around the holes inside her chest like a silk pashmina. To see his eyes light up, the breath of recognition clarify the air, the smile of genuine appreciation, warm, infectious, cloying, eternal.

She had arranged three shrimp on a napkin, overlaid with one long strand of chive, the presentation so precise and rich in counterpoint it might have been a perfect logo, if logos were made of seafood or could be rolled up in napkins and generously donated to eccentric men of unspecified psychoses. This thought nervously skittered its way around a particular emptiness somewhere in Jackie’s viscera as she left the shaded cafe terrace and walked towards the north end of the square.

Her fingers tapped out minute tremors against the air and the prized morsels in her hand loosened in their wrapping, the parcel losing sudden weight as one shrimp fell out. Jackie turned, a reflex pouring fast into her joints to retrieve the shrimp, but she recoiled when a pigeon’s head flashed forth and darted at the pink and orange flesh, the pointed beak tossing the shrimp obscenely into the air and attracting the attention of every other pigeon in the square.

A young boy’s steady stream of bubbling laughter rushed over the crowding pigeons like a sudden waterfall and turned, as if by some invisible and joyous inertia, the head of the walking man. He didn’t look at Jackie. Coming closer to take in the free-for-all, the man moved slowly past Jackie and her barely-outstretched hand as she fruitlessly fought to find a phrase of offering that wouldn’t be offensive, that wouldn’t be too personal, that would somehow convey her longing to stop up the vacancies inside her with the kind of calmness, the unfettered, naked movement he so obviously possessed.

A fat, uneven-feathered pigeon late to the buffet walked drunkenly past Jackie’s feet and shat unceremoniously on her beloved taupe suede pumps, the wetness trickling down between her exposed toes.

“Oh, fuck, shit!” the words poured out of her in sympathetic excrement. The man turned and looked at Jackie, his face devoid of the amber glow of new discovery, devoid of the serene lines of total acceptance.

His face, ugly for the first time, frowned at Jackie and her helpless isolation from a moment shared between a real person and the real world. And so she left the square, two shrimp still in hand, and sank inside the leather silence of a taxi, taken home to tuck the holes to bed on the superficial face of cleanliness and sanity on the kitchen floor.