Midnight moon plus 33 is the title of his latest thought. A man named Lance Birmingham and nearing the end of the road sits in a chair near an open window and listens to the rain and the emperor sighs of summer cicadas. Someone’s playing Monopoly out on the lighted screened-in porch across the way. He can see how it juts out the end of the neighbor’s house that sits too close by.
Three kids in pajamas. They can’t sit still. He can hear their bare feet slap against the plank flooring when they run around. Who runs around when they play Monopoly? Maybe not kids—preteens, full teens, adults who act like children. What’s the difference, he wonders. Unlike him, they have all the time in the world. Or do they? What about a lightning strike, or what if an alligator gets up in the yard and sucks one into its powerful jaws during a lightning bug hunt.
He can hear their squeals, laughter, taunts upon one another that float out through the thin mosquito netting in the window frames. One of them just landed on Park Place and it’s breaking them to pieces. A girl complains loudly of going bankrupt. Maybe she’ll jump off the ledge of a tall building. But then again, maybe she’ll just go to bed, wake up in the morning and go to school. But then again, maybe she’ll get gunned down in the cafeteria just as she’s about to dig into her fruit cup. Where are the peaches for justice?
The tumbling dice scurry like mice and helicopters now fill the air above our playgrounds.
You bastards don’t want to save anything. You just want to corrupt your own corruption. Those were Lance Birmingham’s last thoughts as he crawled into bed and turned off the lamp on the table beside him. Click. Quiet. Dark. Mostly dark save for the glow coming from his harmonious calliope fortune machine that sat atop a well-polished dresser of deep-veined oak.
The very first thing Lance Birmingham would do every morning is go to the harmonious calliope fortune machine and pull out the white slip of paper from the dispenser and read it. Sometimes it gave medical annotations, like it did yesterday when it spit out: Your heart will not stop today. Good. Other days the little white slip of paper will show something completely random and mostly of little concern. Like the day it coughed up: There will be no newspaper on the front walk today because the industry as a whole is collapsing. But so what? Just get on your computer, Lance. The entire world exists in an electrified vapor.
Yes, the harmonious calliope fortune machine knew his name somehow even though he had never programmed it to do so.
“Well, someone did,” he told his invisible wife. Well, she wasn’t really invisible. He spoke to her picture. He carried it with him all around the house. It was in a silver frame, and she had the prettiest smile. He missed her.
On the most recent of his days, Lance Birmingham shuffles out the front door and looks around the yard. It’s about 6:30 in the morning and the day is just beginning to yawn and the grass is wet with dew. No newspaper once again even though the harmonious calliope fortune machine said nothing about it this time. He forgot what it had said. He tries to remember but it just isn’t getting through the thick walls of his corroding brain.
He goes inside to make himself a cup of coffee. He sits at the table in the mostly quiet kitchen and waits. The sound of the coffee maker dribbling the juice of the gods into a red cup is the exception to the silence. The cup had belonged to his wife. It has her name on it: Monika. He gets up, retrieves the cup, and sits back down. He drops in some artificial sweetener and a couple glops of flavored creamer. An egg yolk-colored glow fills the room as the sunlight outside stands taller, a nuclear soldier. He takes a sip of the coffee. Now it is very quiet.
He notices the slip of paper from the harmonious calliope fortune machine. He must have set it down on the kitchen table in his aimless wandering to get to the morning newspaper that never came. He picks it up with a shaking hand and looks at it. It’s blank. No words at all, just an empty white space. He hears a whisper fall upon his ear. He suddenly turns around and sees his wife standing there. It’s Monika, young and golden. She smiles and holds out her arms. She isn’t inside a picture anymore.