The Puppets of Kudzu (2)

Franco Dellaronti was lying on his bed in a very dark space, and he was in a state of horrible depression and self-doubt because of his failure as a kudzu pie entrepreneur. He scrunched his eyes and wrapped his arms around his belly because he was in so much pain. The he heard the faint sound of someone slowly opening his bedroom door. He sat up on the edge of the bed while trying to settle his raging heart that was now pumping with fear. “Who’s there!?” he cried out. The door creaked open wider. Franco tore a drawer open in a nightstand near his bed and pulled out a gun. He shakily aimed the revolver toward the invisible menace hovering somewhere in the door frame. Whoever or whatever it was moved closer. He felt it.

“I’ll shoot! I swear I’ll shoot!” Franco yelled out.

“Don’t shoot! It’s me.”

“Cheise Karn Mouise?”

“Yes!” He reached up to a light switch and flipped it. The room became painfully illuminated. “What the hell are you doing? You could have killed me!”

“I’m sorry. I was half awake and very sad and my head wasn’t very clear. I thought you might be an intruder or a rapist.”

“I’m not an intruder or a rapist, but thanks for locking me out of the house you big goof. I think I got sunburned.” Cheise Karn Mouise walked across the floor and hopped up on the bed next to the man.

“I’m sorry about that, too. How did you get in?”

“I broke out a basement window… I didn’t know you were a gun owner.”

Franco was frustrated with himself. “Yes. I don’t know how to use it very well. It’s heavy and makes my wrist hurt.”

“You’re just being a pussy,” Cheise Karn Mouise bemused. “Are you sure you’re not a girl?”

“What? That’s a horrible thing to say. Of course, I’m not a girl… And why are you suddenly being so snotty?”

“I had a pretty rough day and I’m completely sunburned, and it hurts like hell,” the little puppet man complained.

Franco looked at him and felt bad for locking him out of the house. “Would you like me to rub some pain-relieving aloe vera gel all over your body?”

Cheise Karn Mouise was confused. “Um. What did you say? What do you want to rub all over my body?”

“It will help soothe your sunburn. I bought it at a Greenwalls pharmacy in Cortez, Colorado after I went on my hiking sabbatical in the high desert without the proper clothing and sunscreen. It really does help ease the pain, but you may smell like mouthwash for a while.”

“I think I’ll just deal with the pain,” Cheise Karn Mouise said, and he winced as he adjusted himself on the bed.

Franco tried to convince him. “Are you sure? I really want to rub this all over your body.”

“What the hell is wrong with you!?” Cheise Karn Mouise snapped.

“What? I’m just trying to help.”

“You’re acting very gay.”

“Gay?” And Franco thought, then said, “Even though I’m pretty upset about the whole kudzu pie fiasco, I am generally a very happy person.”

“Don’t you know what gay is?”

“Well sure. It’s like how it is when I’m so light on my feet that I could just jump over a rainbow. When I’m completely joyous about life. When I feel gay, gay, gay!”

Cheise Karn Mouise shook his head, looked around the room, and then stared at the floor and mumbled. “Okay… You can rub it on me but do it quick.”


The morning was filled with the smell of coffee and bacon and gross wet eggs as the man and Cheise Karn Mouise sat at the kitchen table and awkwardly ate breakfast together. Franco looked over the rim of his cup at the puppet that had come to life by the power of kudzu pie. He loudly sipped to get his attention.

Cheise Karn Mouise set down his fork and looked at him. “Must you do that?”

“What?”

“Slurp at your coffee like a dime store hooker.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You sure are sorry a lot,” the puppet snapped. “You should probably do some research on that and figure out what is wrong with you.”

“I pay a shrink to do that.”

“Oh, yeah. I forgot.” Cheise Karn Mouise scoffed. “I’m afraid you’re wasting your money.

Franco was hurt by the comment and tried to turn the tides of the conversation. “How’s that burn feeling today?” he asked.

“I think it’s better. That stuff really does work.”

“Good. I really enjoyed rubbing it on you.”

“I um… Enjoyed it too. And you’re pretty good at rubbing.”

Franco was pleased with himself, but bashful enough to change the subject. “I thought today we’d go down to the puppet store and get you a new outfit. That one looks very dirty and gross. Then maybe we could pop over to the mall.”

“Today? Not today. I want to stay home and watch some football games I recorded. I haven’t gotten to yet.”

Franco fluffed his hand in the air. “Football all day? No. We’re going shopping.”

“Why are you being so gay again?”

“What? I’m not very gay at the moment. You’ve upset me. And I think organized sports is just a ginormous waste of time. It’s barbaric and merely weekend fodder for the brain-washed masses.”

Cheise Karn Mouise threw his napkin on the table and crawled down. “So is shopping,” he snipped, and he disappeared into another room.


It was then that the doorbell rang, and Franco Dellaronti huffed, “Oh good big balls who is that!?” He got up from the table and walked toward the door and yanked it open. There was a serious man standing there and he wore a navy-blue suit with a red tie and his hair was clipped short and neat and was the color of vanilla frosting and even had the swirls in it like you might see on cake. He was holding some kind of computerized tablet. “Are you,” he began, and he looked down at the tablet and squinted his eyes a bit. “Franco Dellaronti? And are you the owner of this property?”

“Yes, I am. And this is my house. Who the hell are you?”

“I’m from the city and I’ve come here to control your life. Is that your smashed up lemonade stand littering your front lawn?”

Franco peeked over the official’s shoulder. “Yes. It’s mine. But it’s not a lemonade stand — it was a kudzu pie stand.”

“What the hell is kudzu pie?” the city official wondered out loud.

“It’s a delicious pie made from a sprawling southern vine. Would you like to come in and try some? It would be no trouble at all to plate you a nice fat slice.”

The official hesitated and looked around and sniffed before stepping up and in. “It smells kind of weird in here, but I guess I can get past that for a piece of delicious pie.”

“Oh, that’s my roommate. He has a problem with personal hygiene. My apologies. But please, come sit down.”

Franco led his guest to the kitchen and offered him a seat at the table. “Would you like a big glass of milk to go with that delicious kudzu pie?”

“No. I can’t. I have that lactose intolerant thing. Do you have any beer?”

“Beer? They let you drink beer while you work?”

“Sure. Everyone drinks on the job at the city,” the official teased as he looked up at the man’s confused face. “I’m just kidding. I can’t drink on the job,” he said, and then he winked at Franco. “But I do it anyway.”

Franco fumbled around in the refrigerator. “I’m afraid I don’t have any beer, but would you like a frosty wine cooler?”

The official scrunched his face. “Hell no! I don’t want a wine cooler. That’s gay.”

Franco rolled his eyes and grumbled. “My smelly roommate has been saying that to me all day. I just don’t see what’s so wrong about being happy. Why is everyone so against being happy?”

“I don’t know, but I think you may be a little confused… Anyways, forget the drink and let’s get down to business. Now, the broken stand out in the yard is considered refuse and city code #32-HTBF-43C clearly states that any refuse on personal property must be stored in an approved refuse container which must in turn be stored in a garage or other location which renders it hidden from public sight. So, I’m afraid you are in violation, and I’ll have to fine you.”

“Fine me!? How much?”

“It’s 600 dollars.”

“That’s preposterous!”

“I’m afraid it’s the law.”

“Fine. Let me go get my purse,” Franco whined.

“What? Now that’s gay.”

“Seriously? Can I not be happy about one damn thing today!?”

“You really carry a purse?” the city official wanted to know.

“Yes. I carry a purse. So what!?”

“But you’re a man for crying out loud! Use a wallet like the rest of us.”

“Purses happen to fit my personal needs better than a wallet. I could wear a dress if I want to. It’s nobody’s choice but mine!” Franco exclaimed; his hands now high in the air.

“Do you?”

“Do I what?”

“Do you wear a dress?”

“No, I don’t wear a dress! I just like purses. I have a lot of shit to haul around, and I need a purse. Now, can I just please pay the fine so I can get on with my life!”

The official sighed and printed a piece of paper out of the handheld machine, tore it off and gave it to Franco. “Sorry. I can’t take any payments. That would be too efficient. You must come down to city hall and pay in person, but you can only do it between 10:30 and 3:30 on Mondays and Thursdays, unless of course Monday falls on one of those fake holidays, then you’ll have to wait until Thursday. Also, the office is closed from noon until 2 to accommodate our staff’s completely impractical lunch period. And if you’re late on your payment for any reason, they’re going to tack on an exorbitant fee that no one is willing to explain to you and a warrant for your arrest will be issued. So, yeah. Sorry about that, but I’d suggest you get this taken care of as soon as possible.”

“That’s all so completely ludicrous. So, on Veterans’ Day for example, the government takes the day off to honor the same people they don’t give a shit about when they come home from one of your profit-making wars?”

“I work for the city mister, not the federal government. If you got a problem with war, take it up with President Orangutan Assface.” The official laughed and dragged his rough fingers across his scratchy beard. “Hey. What about that kudzu pie?”

TO BE CONTINUED

Read the previous part of this story HERE.


The King of Genitalia Street (ONE)

The day after New Year’s I stepped onto a smelly bus with the kid in a pillowcase and slung over my shoulder like a hobo pack. I had carefully cut holes in the pillowcase so that the baby could breathe when I walked around with him. I found a spot near the back and set Maine down on the seat beside me. He started to cry and some blue-haired, old salty sea hag across the aisle gave me a dirty look.

“That’s no way to carry around a baby,” she scowled with a hoarse voice, her cigarette wrinkles squishing together as her jaw moved. “You should be arrested for that. Hell, if I was a cop, I’d smash you over the head with a club right now.”

I turned to look at her as I dug around in my backpack for a baby bottle full of root beer.

“If it’s all the same to you, mam, I’d appreciate it if you would just mind your own damn stinkin’ business!” I snapped, slightly rising up in my seat in a threatening way maybe like Adam Sandler would. “I’ve got enough problems dealing with this kid dumped on me by some orgy queen. I’m doing the best I can and plan to remedy the situation today. That’s for sure. So, if you don’t mind… I think he’s hungry now.”

I turned away and proceeded to stick the rubbery nipple of the baby bottle into Maine’s mouth. Even though it was bubbly root beer, he sucked at it eagerly like it was his own momma’s milky teat.

The old sea hag’s mouth dropped open and when I glanced back in her direction, I noticed she had dirty teeth and a cracked tongue the color of old, moldy bacon.

“What on earth are you feeding that poor child? Is that… It looks like soda pop!”

“Yes mam, it is soda pop. Root beer to be exact. I think it’s his favorite.”

“Are you stupid or something? Do you want his stomach to explode!?”

“Actually mam, I don’t think I’d mind too much if his stomach exploded right about now. I’m tired of this shit.”

The old sea hag leaned further across the aisle and her breath smelled like warm deli salami as she spoke in an aggravated tone.

“Young man,” she began. “I strongly suggest that once you get to wherever you’re going that you take this child to the nearest hospital before you end up killing him. You’re lucky I don’t go up there right now and have the driver report you.”

Too exhausted to fight, I pleaded with her.

“Please, mam, don’t do that. I’ve never spent much time around babies, and I don’t always know what the hell I’m doing, but I’m heading to my mom’s and dad’s right now and they’ll know. They’ll know what to do.”

The old hag sighed heavily, and her salami breath spewed out like dragon fire, and it nearly made me puke. She looked at me with lost, ebony eyes — shaking a crinkly, yellowed finger like a witch.

“All right. But you give your word that you give this child over to someone who can handle him properly, and if I find out you ain’t did it, well, I’m a witness and I’ll tell the police all about it when they show your picture in the newspaper or on the television. I’ll come forward for sure. Don’t you think I won’t.”

Maine began to choke a bit and I pulled the bottle from his little mouth with a nearly inaudible pop. I set him up on my shoulder and gently patted his back. When the baby belched, the old sea hag rolled her eyes and returned to the proper bus-riding position in her own seat.

“Soda pop for a baby,” she mumbled under her breath as she snapped open a glamour magazine. “Geez, now I’ve seen it all.”

I grew sleepy and my head bobbed as the bus rolled down some pastoral highway in the Upstate heading for a fancy little town called Burgundy Falls. I began to wonder what my old ma and pa would do when I showed up at the house carrying a bastard baby in a pillowcase. They would most likely have me committed. Why not? They had the money. Wouldn’t bother them a bit to lock me up and throw away the key. I figured that would be right satisfactory to them. They’d be happy if I rotted. The thought of it all ruined my appetite for sweet home cooking and made my stomach hurt. No, this burden in the bag had caused me nothing but trouble ever since ol’ promiscuous Helen Corvair had decided to run off for breakfast and not come back. My nervous and immune systems were shot. I had bags under my eyes from lack of sleep. I thought I might be coming down with a bad case of schizophrenia and possibly a cold. I even had to quit my job as a toy clerk at the five-story department store in the city because they wouldn’t let me bring the kid to work with me. They said my employee locker was no place to keep a baby while I performed my job duties. Pfffft to that. Damn you golden Helen Corvair. Damn you and all your gritty intoxication to hell. 

The nerves really began to jingle like sleigh bells, and it felt like reindeer were tugging on my balls when the bus pulled into the station at Burgundy Falls. I sat there for a long time watching the other passengers gather their things and get off. The old salty sea hag who bitched at me turned out to be quite stout and I watched as she struggled to get out of her seat. Once she was out and up, she bumped her fat rear right into me as she gathered her things. It was obnoxious and horrible, and I wanted to scream. She turned to me one last time and growled to me in a voice most likely being violently raped by throat cancer.

“Now don’t you forget what I said. You take care of that baby first thing, or I’ll be sure they hang you by the nuts.”

“Thanks. Have a fine day,” I called after her as she waddled down the aisle bumping her big rump against all the seats.

When I was the last one left, I remained in my seat, frightened and unsure, until the driver finally came down the aisle and looked at me like I was stupid.

“This is Burgundy Falls,” he said. “Isn’t this your stop, sir?”

I looked up at him and wanted to suddenly cry from all the pain of life that seemed to be eating me alive at that moment.

“I guess it is. Sorry.”

I gathered up Maine and my things and got off the bus. I ordered up a cab to take me to the house. When we got there, I ordered him to park a ways down the street because I was scared. I looked at the old place from a distance as the grimy cabbie reminded me the meter was still running.

“I don’t care,” I said. “Just a few minutes.”

It was a fine old house. Probably the best fine old house in the best neighborhood of Burgundy Falls. It was painted a cool baby blue color and had sparkling white trim all around. There was a big, wooden-planked porch that jutted out from a wide, white door like a pier, and it spread and wrapped around the whole of the front and side parts of the house. The long, wooden porch swing sat idle in the cold. My mother usually had hanging pots full of stinky red geraniums and multicolored marigolds all over the place, but they were now put away for the winter. The upper part of the house was supported by slick wooden columns that looked like uncurled elephant tusks and there were a lot of shiny windows, each with curtains perfectly parted at equal distance. Finely manicured shrubbery still strung with Christmas lights lined the front of the house, and there was a large yard all around dotted with beautiful tall trees and covered in a thin veil of undisturbed snow.

“Go on now cabbie,” I said. “You can pull up.”

As he steered the car into the circular drive, I saw my mother busily cleaning the inside of the big parlor window right there at the front. She energetically wiped in wide circles making sure there wasn’t a single streak or smudge anywhere. Then I noticed her motions slowed and then stopped completely when she was aware of the taxi being there. I watched with bubbling fear as she rubbed her hands on the cleaning cloth and looked out the obnoxiously clean window with curiosity. She suddenly turned away and I knew she was moving rapidly toward the front door.


“Everett? Everett? What are you doing here?” my mother said in a frantic panic after yanking the door wide open. “Everett, are you all right? What is it you have moving around in that pillowcase?”

“It’s a baby, mom.”

“A baby!?” she wailed, and she nearly fainted.

I held the pillowcase open, and she peered in. Her eyes grew wide, and her painted mouth popped open. I backed away in case she slapped me.

“My God, Everett! What on Earth are you doing with a baby!? Edward! Edward get out here! Your crazy son has a baby in a pillowcase! Give me that poor thing.”

She reached in, pulled out Maine and looked him over.

“Everett, this baby doesn’t look well. Come inside right now and explain yourself.”

It was then my father appeared in the doorway grumbling and growling and scratching at his balls.

“What the hell is all this yelling about!? Oh, hello Everett.”

“Come on, inside, both of you. I don’t want the neighbors to hear all this fuss,” my mother ordered.

“Where the hell did that baby come from?” my dad asked as he closed the door. “Did you knock some poor girl up, huh Everett?” and then he slapped at my head as we walked through the house.

“Would you both just settle down and let me explain!?” I pleaded. “Jesus H. Christ!”

“Oh, you’ve got some explaining to do that’s for damn sure,” my father said. “Now just what the hell is this all about?”

We went into the parlor and sat down on fine furniture around a fine coffee table, and I looked out a finely cleaned window wishing everything at that moment would just end up being a bad dream. But it wasn’t. It was real and it was horrible.

“Everett?” my mother asked with disturbed suspicion. “Did you kidnap this child?”

My dad snorted, “Well, that’s a fine thing to add to your already sparkling resume — kidnapper.”

Frustrated, I stood up and threw my hands in the air.

“I didn’t kidnap the kid! Some girl I met… She walked out and left him. She never came back. It’s her kid, not mine.”

“I knew you were running with a bad crowd. I think you should move out of the city and come back home for a while so I can keep an eye on you.”

“No mom …”

My father interrupted, “Hell son, why didn’t you just call the police? Any normal idiot would have done that.”

“I thought she would come back. I didn’t want to get her in trouble.”

“Trouble?” my mother said, shaking her head. “Everett, look at the trouble she’s caused you. Can’t you see how ridiculous all this is? You’re not fit to care for a child like this. Oh goodness.”

I ran my fingers through my hair and sighed.

“I didn’t know what else to do. That’s why I came here. I’m sorry. I was hoping you could help me.”

My ma and pa looked at each other with troubled faces and then glanced back at me. My father suddenly stood up and poured himself a Scotch. He looked inside the glass and swirled the liquid around slowly as he thought. He took a big gulp and smacked his mouth.

“Well, I’m going to call the sheriff’s office and see what they can do about this,” he said. “This is downright asinine, Everett. I just don’t understand what gets in your head sometimes. This no way to live your life. You’re reckless and ignorant and at times I’m downright embarrassed to have you as a son.”

“Edward, please. The boy has feelings you know,” my mother said in my defense.

“I don’t give a rat’s ass about his feelings! It’s time he grows up, wise up, and make something of his life.”

He poured himself another drink and swallowed it hard. I noticed he was slightly shaking.

“Where did you meet this hussy anyways?” he asked me.

“Outside a coffee shop in the city. There was a fight on the sidewalk, and we just got to talking. Her name is Helen, and she looks like Simka Gravas.”

“Who?” my dad barked.

“Latka’s wife from that television show TAXI.”

“Oh, for crying out loud, Everett! When are you going to start living in the real world!?”

My father slammed another two fingers of Scotch and went for the phone.

My mother stopped him, “Wait. Maybe Everett can track her down. Find her. I can watch the baby until then.”

“Oh, hell no!” my father bellowed as he turned. “I know what you’re up to lady. I know how you’re always nagging about having another baby, and then here comes Everett out of the clouds holding one and he plops it right into your lap. No mam, we’re not taking on someone else’s baby. No way. I won’t have it. Not in my house.”

“Edward, don’t you think we should at least try to help our son? This is too much for him to handle alone.”

My father looked at me like he wanted to drag me out back, kill me, and leave me to rot in the woods.

“I already tried to find her,” I said. “She just vanished. She could be in California for all I know.”

“Well, what about the dad? Where the hell is he in all this mess?” my father asked.

“There is no dad,” I replied.

“There’s always a dad,” my mother pointed out as she held the baby up and smiled. “Does the baby have a name?”

“Maine.”

“Like the state?”

“Yes.”

“That’s nice,” my mother said.

“She probably screwed a sailor before he went off to England,” my father groaned, and then he walked off to another part of the house.

The doorbell rang and I craned my neck to look out the window and I saw my someday brother-in-law’s BMW pull into the drive. He’s a pretentious asshole by the way.

“Oh sugar!” my mother said, “I forgot all about Emily and Frost coming for a visit. I swear, Everett, you have the worst timing when it comes to your problems.”

TO BE CONTINUED


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Mika Lula Was Like Milk

Mika Lula was like milk left out too long. She hung on me like a superhero cape outside the club as we waited for the biohazard team to finish scrubbing the stains from the dance floor. The heart was cracking like glass left too long on fire. The crowd gathered, then abandoned. She was Asian in features and figure and her teeth were as white as untouched snow when she smiled all lopsided and giddy. She was dressed up like a pink kitten.

There was a golden light birthing forward from the street and a big fancy car pulled up and a woman with a wide white hat and a faux fox fur strung around her neck came walking through the mist like she owned the world, a cigarette huffing off the end of one of those long holders. The guards shoved us out of the way as she walked into the club before us. I complained about her cutting in line and some guy told me to shut up.  

“She’s the most important detective in the world,” the doorman scowled. “And where were you when all this happened?”

“At a quiet table in the corner with a round red candle.”

“Bug off before I talk to the police about you.”

I turned and started to walk off into the night.

“Wait!” Mika Lula called out, and she scuttled toward me, trying to keep her fuzzy pink cat tail under control. “You’re leaving?”

“Yes. I’m done,” I said, ferociously walking toward nothing in particular. She struggled to keep up with me.

“Slow down!”

I stopped, turned, and raised a finger at her. “Don’t do this.”

“Do what?” she wondered, black coffee eyes wide, confused.

“Wrangle me into a relationship neither one of us wants.”

“You don’t like me?”

I sighed, weakened. That’s me. Always pulling punches at the pivotal moment because I’m too nice. Why is it so hard for me to ‘just say no’, like she was drugs or something? But I had to try because she was driving me crazy.

“You’re a fine person… But I’m not. I’m no good for you.”

“Ohhhh,” she said, her head going down, eyes scanning the moist and dirty sidewalk. “It’s you, not me. Right?”

“Something like that.”

She started to cry.

“Don’t do that,” I said. “I’m not worth crying over. We’ve only known each other for…” I brought my wrist up and looked at my watch. “Not even three hours.”

She looked up at me, tears falling out of her black coffee eyes, her jaw tightening. “Fuck you!” she said. Then she turned and walked back toward the club, her fuzzy pink tail flopping around in the neon infused night steam of the city.


When I got back to my lowly apartment, I turned on a box fan and opened a window that looked down upon a street. There were people walking, people stumbling, people chatting and laughing as if I didn’t even exist. Police sirens cried out in the night. I could see the pops of blue and red scattered around the city like a spilled kaleidoscope. Everything was becoming an emergency. Everything was becoming fractured. I didn’t know how to live like this.

I sat down at my desk and powered up a road-weary computer. The light stung my eyes at first. I went to start a Word document like this:

Mika Lula was like milk left out too long. She hung on me like a superhero cape outside the club as we waited for the biohazard team to finish scrubbing the stains from the dance floor.

Then I stopped. My mind clogging up like a messy drain. I sat there staring at the small cluster of words I was able to scratch out. “Shit!” I said in frustration, and I got up from my desk and went to the kitchen in the corner and opened the avocado green refrigerator. I studied the contents inside. It looked like I didn’t even live here. I grabbed a cold can of beer and popped it open. Coors. Who drinks Coors? I thought to myself. I do. What am I doing with my life?

I left the lonely apartment and went down to the street to walk. I stopped at a bodega for a pack of Lucky Strikes and a roll of mint Mentos. I went along slowly, hands in the pockets of my brown chinos. I looked around at the womb of the town and the city, the steaming, vibrating wreck of it all with a few squirts here and there of some decent stuff, but mostly slutty strips of shops, annoying and flickering neon, glass, cement, brick, asphalt, autos, traffic lights, billboards — too much mad rushing and shoving of petty shit in the faces of all the people that live here with me.

I walked through a tempest of make-believe crinkled leaves and ice chips in the Green Head Storm neighborhood and to the bookstore there. It was one of my favorite places to just go and get lost for minutes or hours or days — like taking a long train ride to the sea, a train with no one else on it, and just the clickity clack on the rails and big views of unbroken land through big windows.

It was one of the largest bookstores in the city and it was housed in a very long and old building with creaking floors and steps and the place had the smell of old wood and old time and old paper and burnt coffee and stale perfume all mixed together in an elastic olfactory orgy that made my bones and soul feel good and sick, feel like home, feel like time standing still for once, not like all that constant rushing about to get nowhere but spinning and spilling in big, boring circles, catering to ungrateful souls of chaos.

There was something about being in the bookstore that inspired me to write. Just looking around at all the spines and the words — nerves pulsing through an endless body. All those thoughts, all those tumblers of ink spilled across virgin paper, virgin electricity. It left me wanting to go home and jump on a blank page like one jumps on a wife to initiate a slow, hot screw against a broken window. There was always that desire to shatter glass before sleeping — a need for listless and beautiful dreams instead of trying to run in fear.  

I pulled a book out of its place in the fiction section. It was titled The Ambulance Witch written by someone named Gilead Frost. I looked at the cover. It was weird and intriguing — a dark forest, a winding road, an orange sky. I flipped it over to read about it even though I already knew what it would say. There was a picture of Gilead Frost up in the corner. It was hard to believe I used to look like that. The details of my bio were now all vaporized by a heartless world and my own personal derailments — the only reliable fact being where I was born, but then again, maybe that’s not true either. How could I even know? It’s all hearsay. I shoved the book back in between the other books where it would remain for an eternity, touched only by me when I came to visit.

I browsed around some more and found and bought a copy of Ask The Dust by John Fante. I had owned the book before, but I don’t know where it is now. It somehow got lost in all the moving and reshuffling of my life. The young female clerk behind the counter had no idea what it was when she stuffed it in the fancy little paper bag. I walked out alone.

I went to a 24-hour diner around the corner from the bookstore. It was one of those places where the strung out, bombed out, lovesick street kings and queens would go to when there was nowhere else to go. Every table was reserved for the broken and the lonely, and if you ask me, you could stuff that place to overflowing with people exactly like that. I see them everywhere, all over the streets. I see them in office buildings and hospital hallways, in bars and bookstores, at bodegas and bus stations. I even see them in my dreams and dramarama plays of prayer performed in an empty theater.

I had coffee and a warm biscuit with butter and honey on it. I was taking a sip, eyes cast out over the rim of the cup, when Mika Lula came strutting in still dressed like a pink kitten and she was clinging onto a new man as if she was dangling from a cliff, eons from a fatal fall. I waited to see if she would notice me… Not that I really cared. They took a booth on the opposite side and kind of got lost in the smoke and the voices and the ambience of solitude with strangers. I paid my bill and walked back to my apartment in the big, percolating city of God’s guts.

When I got back home, the box fan was still whirring. The window to the street was still open and its noises and whispers soaked the walls of where I lived. I used the bathroom. I saw an image of Napoleon Dynamite in the floor tile. He looked happy for once. I went out and reluctantly sat down at my desk. I sat there a moment before firing up the computer to try to write again. The end went something like this:

I looked up at the calendar above my desk and realized it was Mick Jagger’s birthday. He was 79. Mick Jagger is almost 80!? I couldn’t believe it. How? Because none of us escapes the unraveling of time. We all transition within the skin, outside the skin. Organs and nerves all wind down like a dying clock. We all meet the same fate. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you have done in your life. We all come in the door — we all go out the door… It revolves like the pinprick of a planet we are on, around some sun of love like it should be. And I’m always wondering why.

END


Gore Volcano and the Milkmen of Mars

The man’s name was Gore Volcano and he sat alone in a booth at a diner in a big city and he was shaking salt onto his hash browns. The booth had a large square window, and he could look out and see the bark of the bustle, feel the vibrations, hear the mixture of life in motion.

Peering out that big window as he ate his breakfast, Gore Volcano saw a sidewalk with people, a street with cars, a park with trees, tall buildings with glass, an ocean with water, an exosphere with stars stirred in darkness by a comet, Mars with its milkmen leaving glass bottles on celestial porches.

He forked some scrambled eggs into his mouth and chewed while he glanced at the front page of the newspaper bent at the fold in front of him. It was nothing but the same — another disease, another war, another asshole politician, another mass shooting at a playground. He opened the paper to the weather page and went for his coffee. He sipped and read with over-bulbous, tired eyes. It was nothing but the same — a murderous tornado, a worrisome hurricane, out of control wildfires, a deadly pileup due to fog. Gore Volcano shook his round, bald head and pushed the newspaper aside in disgust. He snapped his fat fingers at a whirling, hustling waiter. “More coffee,” he commanded.

The young, thin man nodded, and in barely any time at all returned with a pot and was pouring. “Looks like a cold rain is coming,” the waiter said, motioning with his head out the window and toward the sky, an oddly cheerful look on his face.

Gore Volcano turned his thick neck and looked up at him. “What we need is a monsoon… To wash all this filth away.”

The waiter looked back at the sour, round man wearing an opened rain coat the color of Egypt. “Can I get you anything else?”

“How about a ticket to Mars.”

“Sir?”

Gore Volcano waved him off with a scoff. “Just bring me my bill.”

Once on the street, Gore Volcano tightened the Egyptian-colored raincoat around him. It was a blustery day, and the sky was graying over. He stood still in front of the café, his back pressed against the wall of the building as all the people moved like frantic ants — this way and that way, legs chopping at the sidewalk, arms swinging, mouths stretching and screaming in muddied conversations. He forced himself forward and into the humming human flow and reluctantly moved with it.


When Gore Volcano got to his fancy building at Ambiance and 69th, he breathed a brief sigh of relief. He went in and walked toward the elevator. The lobby was strangely quiet, the only sound being his fancy shoes clapping against the polished tiled floor. He pressed a circular button, there was a gentle whirring sound, and then the doors slid open. He got in the empty elevator and pressed a glowing disc marked 27. He moved up toward the sky.

He opened the door to his voluptuous home and stopped at the small antique table to flip through yesterday’s mail pile. He grunted and unwrapped himself from the heavy Egyptian-colored raincoat and hung it on a fancy wooden rack. He walked toward the kitchen and then turned his head to the left. There were noises. He saw his wife doing it with the doorman on the grossly expensive living room couch. They were completely naked, and he was behind her, holding her by the hips and thrusting into her. He could hear flesh slapping against flesh. He could hear her breathy grunts. She looked at her husband across the ornate distance of the apartment. Her face was flushed like a hot day sunset, and it seemed like she was in pain, but Gore Volcano knew it wasn’t pain. He said nothing, turned away, and went into the vast and gleaming kitchen for a glass of perfect water poured by an unobtrusive butler who had just been reading a magazine and eating an organic apple while sitting on a stool.

A while later Gore Volcano was in his study with its dark wood and shelves of books and large desk topped with broken family photos in hobbled frames. Soft, classical music was leaking invisible from the walls. He was standing before a large window that looked out upon the famous park of New York. He sipped fancy liquor from an iced glass, the cubes clinking together when he raised it. There was a knock on the door, and he turned. “Come in,” he said with business-like authority. It was the doorman.

“Well, how was it this time?” Gore Volcano asked the young, disheveled man standing there as he moved to sit at his big, important desk.

“It was hot,” the doorman said, trying to fix the tuck of his shirt.

“Did you make her…?”

“Four times.”

“Did she like it?”

“Definitely seemed that way.”

“Did she call out my name?”

“Not once.”

“Did you spill your seed inside her?”

“Couldn’t help it.”

Gore Volcano nodded his head in understanding, opened a drawer, and pulled out a white envelope. He tossed it onto the top of the desk. It landed with a thud. The doorman quickly snatched it up and looked inside. He counted the money. “This is a lot more than usual,” he said, a big grin growing on his dumb, perfect, collegiate face.

“Because it’s the last time,” Gore Volcano said. “I’m taking her away. I don’t want you to ever see her again. What do you think of that?”

He shrugged. “Not a problem now,” the young doorman said, clutching the envelope even tighter. “I was planning on going to Colorado anyway… Smoke a little weed. Do some skiing.”

Gore Volcano looked at him and smiled a scornful and resentful smile. “Good luck to you. Don’t break your leg… Or do. I really don’t care.”


Mr. and Mrs. Gore Volcano sat in comfortable lounge chairs on a pristine beach of paradise on Earth. They were sipping on fruity drinks and listening to the waves gently curving and falling onto the shore. They were surrounded by white sand, palm trees, blue water, a clean sky full of fresh air. There were no other people besides the servants that took care of their every need.

Gore Volcano looked over at his wife in her bathing suit, her fake yet intelligent breasts punishing the fabric, her hair wild around her, a floppy faux cowboy hat atop her head, dark sunglasses strapped to her eyes, her speckled face glistening with tropical oil. She sensed he was staring at her and turned. “I can’t believe you bought an island, but I love it, and the house is fantastic. What a sweet surprise.”

He smiled at her. “Maybe later we can take the boat out for a sunset cruise.”

“That sounds lovely.”

“Joan?”

“Yes?”

He hesitated. “Never mind.”

She smiled, raised her eyebrows. “You know,” she began. “All those people that say ‘money doesn’t buy happiness’. Well, they’re just full of shit now aren’t they.” She laughed to herself. “It buys a lot of happiness.”

He nodded to her in agreement. “You know, darling. They only say that to make themselves feel better about not having any money and being stuck in pathetic lives. It’s all bullshit. Have you ever seen a big smile on the face of a dirty homeless person?”

They wildly laughed at that together. Then a thin servant in a white suit and with contrasting dark skin appeared. He was carrying a round tray with more drinks. He set them down on the table between them, smiled, bowed politely.

Joan Volcano smiled back at him. “Good job… But have you cleaned the master bathroom yet?” She glanced over to her husband and smirked. “I had a wicked blowout in there this morning.”

Her husband turned away with a sick look on his face. “Oh, Joan. Must you?”

“Must I what?”

“Be so… Gross.”

She scoffed at her husband’s remark and waved her hand at the servant. “Go on now. Shoo. Scrub. Scrub. Scrub.”

They reclined there in silence for a while, a Milky Way star bathing them in warm life, the sound of the waves a dreamy lullaby. It was clean peace and the universe in perfect order.

“You know, Joan,” Gore Volcano began, breaking the pace of the quiet run between them. “I don’t love you… Not at all.”

She removed her sunglasses and looked at him intently for a moment, a sincere smile formed upon her manufactured lips of earthy clay. “It’s okay… I don’t love you either.”

END


The Salsa Cowboy

Here I sit at the keyboard with my coffee cup filled with some Costa Rican brew and my head like IHOP scrambled eggs, wet and unnaturally yellow on a warm white plate that smells like bleach. And my thoughts struggle with one another, colliding planets not knowing which way to spin. Ugh. I hate it when I don’t flow. Too much on the mind and it doesn’t matter, I know. Calm down. Baby. A laundry list of tasks to get done that knocks me down and so I don’t even want to get up. Overwhelmed. Overwhelmation. Life too much. Presses down too hard. I can’t breathe.

Now catching my breath in a booth by the window at some adobe café in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Slow peace and more coffee, cigarette smoke swirls dissected by wobbling ceiling fan blades in the dry heat. Blue ghosts, brown rocks, straw needles on the horizon. I can feel the dirt of the desert in my teeth, the grit, the small pebbles, the heat of it, the gold hidden in there. Taking off stratospheric. Sitting there in this quiet booth with the big window looking out at past lives rumbling through DeadLand holy Hollywood miles down gone. Mind revving now.

I turn the other way, and there’s that woman doing crossword puzzles in the booth on the other side of the tiled floor the color of a mass shooting circus. She stares intently through her glasses, moves her hand slowly as she carefully fills in the squares with letters. She shifts her lips as she thinks. Moves her nose as if something stinks. An answer suddenly comes to her mind, and she begins to scribble: DOGMA. I think her name begins with a J or something like that. She’s hotter than Georgia asphalt in July. But she doesn’t think she is. Man, too beautiful for words. I wonder if she might want to run out to the little white wedding chapel in the desert I know, hook up. Like, forever hook up. The waitress brings her breakfast plate and I call over.

“Hey honey. What you got there to eat for your breakfast?”

She looks over me like I super disturbed her.

“Eggs in a basket,” she says. “With country fried potatoes… And a London fog to sip on.”

“Whooo eee,” I say like a hip cowboy in Kerouac brown chinos. “You from down over?”

“Down over where?”

“Down over there in the South… The other side of the country, baby.”

“I’m from Tennessee.”

“Tennessee!? They got salsa in Tennessee?”

“Yeah. We have salsa. Now if…”

“Don’t mind if I do,” I said, and I was already walking over to her all cool in my crisp white T-shirt and bronze muscles and those brown chinos and eel skin cowboy boots the color of dead blue. I slid into the other side of the booth and just looked into her Sonic Ocean Water blue eyes, and I said, “Is your name Salsa?”

“No.”

“Well, it should be.”

“Really? And why’s that?”

I leaned across the table and looked at her like I was a man dream and I said, “Because you are hot and spicy.”

She motorboated her lips, a scoffing scoff, a laugh. It was a put down. A rejection. I guess she didn’t dig my line.

“If you don’t mind, my breakfast is getting cold.”

“All right, all right,” I said, and I slid out of the booth and stood tall on the floor trying to flex some pecs even though I was a bit soft, and I have small areolas. “You have yourself a nice day, darling.” And I pulled my personal business card out of my wallet, and I handed it to her. “I’m a traveling salesman by day, but an expert on the ways of the female body by night. I’m staying at the Atomic Oasis Motor Lodge if you’re interested.”

She looked the card over as she chewed her food. “You’re a Bible salesman?”

“That’s right.”

“And you’re trying to pick me up with horribly offensive, demeaning, and lame conversation?”

“Right again. I’ve got no shame. I’m just out here on the great American road trying to make a living… And living to the fullest. I figure, why the hell not? Life is too short. Isn’t that what they say?”

“I’m not interested,” she said, and she handed the card back, pushed her plate away, and got up and started walking toward the cashier counter.


“Hold on little lady from Tennessee,” I called after her, fishing some cash out of my wallet. “Let me get that for you as a way to make up for my… Uncouth behavior, I guess you could say.”

“Be my guest,” she eagerly answered, and she opened a pathway to the counter.

I paid her tab and then looked at her looking at me.

“Good luck with selling your Bibles,” she said with a forced smile. “And thanks for the breakfast.”

She walked out the door, that great Tennessee ass all packed tight in those zodiac leggings she was wearing. I wanted to crack her open right down the middle like a juicy Georgia peach.

“Mmm, mmm, mmm. That’s downright sinful there,” I said to myself, aloud to the world though, and the cashier lady heard me.

“Why don’t you leave all these poor women alone,” she said. “It’s harassment.”

I leaned on the glass counter case that sadly displayed cheap Native American souvenirs probably put together in China, and we’re still standing on the throats of the Originals, and I just looked at her there in her pink uniform with the white collar and cuffs and she looked as if she could be a picture on a poster of an old-time diner waitress holding one of those bulbous coffee jugs that sits on a hot plate when she isn’t carrying it around pouring the coffee into chipped white cups.

“You’re just jealous,” I said. “Because I don’t do it with you.”

She scoffed. “Because I’m old, right?”

“And ugly.”

She winced with emotional hurt at that remark. “Did God teach you them manners?”

“No, mam. I learned them all on my own.”

“Why are you selling Bibles of all things? Makes no sense with the way you carry on.”

I kind of retreated within myself and couldn’t really come up with a good answer except, “I’m really off the rails, mam. I lack direction, purpose, procedure. I lack love in my life.”

“It’s no wonder with the way you carry on with all these poor girls. Like I said before.”

I straightened myself right and I asked her to pull the little Native American drum out of the display case because I wanted to buy it and go beat at it in the desert and think about the world and my bent place in it. She set it up on the counter and I looked at it. It was a little drum, real colorful and with feathers stuck to it, maybe about the size of a cat sitting upright on its hind legs, and it had a round, white rubber skin stretched across the top of it, the part you beat on, and then there was this little red mallet that came with it that you used to do the beating. I looked on the underside of it and sure enough, it said: MADE IN CHINA.

“This world don’t make no sense,” I said to her, and I asked for my bill, and I paid it and walked outside into the blinding forest of sun upon sun, so it seemed because it was so god damn bright and hot like Heaven itself. I started walking toward a big purple mountain in the smoky distance, my eel skin cowboy boots the color of dead blue kicking up the dust of the desert like magical golden mist, and I just kept on walking until I melted into one of those vibrating heat mirages you might see flowing off hot asphalt in another dream and time and I was dead gone.

The Doll Salon (End)

The Wedding

When Feldon awoke, he found himself inside a very old and large church, Catholic style, luminous and grand, full of soft light and scents of heaven, high arched ceilings and massive chandeliers dangling down from the rafters, the stations of the cross played out in intricate detail, gold chalices with beams of godly sun shimmering at the altar. He was in one of the back pews, long and sweetly polished, and there was a great stained-glass window at his side, Jesus all gleaming and blessed, green and gold, his arms were outstretched, and he was surrounded by sheep of white and gas eons of blue. There were angels in the clouds playing trumpets and the sun shot forth long bands of golden light across him as if he was God or savior or some important man.

At the front of the church there was a ceremony going on. It was a wedding, Feldon deduced, from the looks of the white gown and black tux and preacher standing there with the great guidebook of life and love. Then the crowd turned around in unison to look at him, and they were all mannequins — soulless, plastic mannequins. Even the preacher wasn’t skin and blood, and then Feldon saw that it was Carl and Eve as groom and bride up front and there was a plume of death incense percolating in a thurible and then a bloodless pall fell over the entire gathering and the crowd turned back around and the preacher said in a loud, monotone voice: “If there is anyone here who objects to this sacred union of love, let him speak now or forever swallow down his peace.”

“Yes!” Feldon cried out from the back, his voice cracking. “Yes! Oh, mighty God I object!”

The crowd hummed and murmured. The preacher craned his neck to see as Feldon marched forward down the center aisle. “Who are you?” the holy man asked. “And what case do you have to present against this couple, right here, under the witness of God.”

“I’m Feldon Fairtz and I strongly object to this union. Carl is unfit to be a husband to her. He is evil and shifty. Eve! I love you! Please don’t do this!”

Eve robotically lifted the veil from her face and looked out at him.

“Can’t you see I don’t love you?” she said, exasperated. “I’ve never loved you. It’s all been a lie. The whole time I’ve loved someone else. That’s right, Feldon. It’s Carl. It’s always been Carl. We’ve been doing it behind your back for weeks now… And in your bed. You’re a creep, Feldon. Now, can you please stop ruining our special day and get out of here before you get thrown out.”

“But Eve, you can’t do this to me. It was I that rescued you from the stuffy back room of Saharah’s Department Store and gave you a home. I gave you freedom and life and this is how you repay me? You’re going to marry this jackass?”

“I don’t care, Feldon. That’s just life. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles. And yes, I’m marrying Carl, right here, right now, and there is nothing you can do about it.”

Feldon’s mind and heart sunk to the bottom of the ocean.

“Very well then,” he said, trying to lift himself back up again. “I hope you have a miserable life together. And fuck you just the same, Eve. I’ve come to the conclusion that you are nothing but a heartless bitch anyways… And hell if I need that in my life.”

Someone quickly grabbed Feldon’s arm to escort him out, but he tore away.

“Let go of me! I’m leaving.”

And as he walked down the long aisle toward the large doors, he heard the preacher’s voice rise from behind him: “And by the power granted to me by God, the church, and the state of this land… I now pronounce you man and mannequin.”

There was some soft, plastic clapping and then great and triumphant music rose to the top of the cathedral and Feldon pushed through the giant doorway and out into the bright light of another day and never looked back.


It was three months later when there was a knock at the door of Feldon’s smelly apartment.

“Who’s there?” he yelled from the couch.

“Feldon?” came a meek voice from the hall.

“Who is it and what do you want?”

“It’s Eve. Could you please open the door?”

Feldon was stunned. “Is that fag Carl with you?”

“No.”

“I think it would be better if you just went away, Eve. I don’t want to talk to you.”

“Please, Feldon. It’s important. It will just take a minute.”

Feldon knew he would regret getting up off the couch and opening the door, but he did it anyway.

“What do you want?”

“Can I come in?”

Feldon held the door open wide and she drifted in.

“What’s this all about, Eve? I thought you never wanted to see me again.”

She suddenly realized how different he looked. He had gained some weight and his hair was scraggly and he had grown out a beard. “Are you okay?” she asked him.

“What does it matter to you?”

“Don’t be like that, Feldon.”

“Be like what? Crushed?”

“Feldon, Carl and I split up.”

Feldon snickered with a sick delight. “Really? So soon? What a shame. And what does this have to do with me?”

Eve’s head tilted slightly toward the floor.

“I’ve got nowhere to go. Carl is being a real jerk about the money and the house. He got himself some hotshot lawyer, too. I was somehow hoping you could find it in your heart to let me stay here for a while until I can right my own ship, so to speak. He left me with nothing.”

Feldon popped a cap off a beer and sucked the entire bottle down. “You’ve got some fucking nerve coming here asking me for such a favor. That’s some real fucking nerve, Eve.”

She looked away, hurt and somewhat ashamed. “You’re right. I should have never come here. I’m sorry. I’ll just go now.”

She made her way toward the door and Feldon suddenly softened. “Do you really have nowhere to go?”

She turned to look at him with sad, fake eyes. “Yes, but I’ll manage. See you around.”

“Wait,” Feldon said.

She turned again, her fabricated heart beating with hope. “What?”

“As long as you’re heading out, could you take my trash down for me?”

Feldon went into the kitchen, lifted a bag out of the can and tied it.

He went back to her. “Here you go,” he said as he handed the strained bag of garbage to Eve. She took it with a puzzled look of disgust on her face.

“Hopefully it won’t break on your walk down. I would hate for you to have to clean up such a mess,” Feldon said, laughing. He moved toward her, forcing Eve to back out into the hallway.

 “Please Feldon, won’t you reconsider?” Eve tearfully pleaded. “Don’t you have a heart?”

“Not today,” he said, and he slammed the door shut and never saw her again and rarely did he care.

END

The Doll Salon (Pt. 3)

The Psychiatrist

Dr. Frost was sitting in a chair across from Feldon and flipping through a file. He clicked a pen and scribbled something down. He was dressed in a shirt and tie and perfectly pressed pants. His shoes shined like the gates of Heaven. He was a man in his late 40s with a neatly bearded face and a high forehead with thinning dark hair slicked back over his scalp. He wore expensive glasses over his dark eyes and constantly sipped at lemon water during the sessions.

Dr. Frost was a serious man who seemed continuously annoyed at the less intelligent world that surrounded him. The doctor carried himself with an air of self-importance; he was a product of wealth and the best schooling, but it did him no favors because he was often looked upon by his colleagues as snobbish and close-minded. He had been trying to help Feldon for months now but was dismayed and often bored by his lack of progress. In fact, he felt Feldon was getting worse each time they met. The doctor folded his hands in his lap, cleared his throat and nodded his head with a fake grin.

“Are you ready to begin?” he asked in a firm yet soft tone.

Feldon was lying on the comfortable couch and staring up at the white ceiling.

“Yes.”

“How have things been since we last talked?”

“I got into a fight with Carl last night. I hit him.”

Dr. Frost readjusted himself in the chair and leaned in with some interest. How absolutely exciting, he thought to himself.

“Why did you hit him?”

“He was annoying me.”

“How?”

“It’s just every time I try to get close to Eve, he’s always right there. He’s always getting in the way.”

The doctor clicked his pen again and jotted something down in the file.

“I seem to recall that you had talked about asking Carl to move out. Maybe it’s time to do that. It sounds like things are getting a bit out of control.”

“I can’t just throw him out into the street. He doesn’t have a job. He’d never survive,” Feldon complained.

“I think it’s admirable that you care about the wellbeing of your friend, but you also have to consider your own happiness as well, Feldon,” the doctor replied.

“Happiness? What’s that?”

“I suppose it’s something different for everyone, but for you, I believe a sense of security and having less chaos in your life would be a start.”

“Maybe I should be the one to move out,” Feldon said. “I could just go away, somewhere else, and never come back. I just long to escape.”

“But Feldon,” Dr. Frost began. “Until you give up this idea that happiness is somewhere else, you’ll never be happy where you are. So, you see, it really doesn’t work. And you know why?”

“Why?”

“Because you’re with yourself wherever you go. You may be able to escape from a physical place where you may feel sad and uncomfortable, but in the end, no matter where you go, there you are. Does that make any sense?”

Feldon turned his head to the side and craned his eyes to look over at the doctor.

“No,” he said. “It makes no sense at all.”

Dr. Frost reclined in his chair, adjusted his glasses, and sighed.

“All right then, I see we have work to do in that area, but tell me, what about Eve? How did she react when you hit Carl last night?”

Feldon squirmed a bit on the couch. “She didn’t say much about it.”

“Nothing?”

“Not really. I think she was a bit shocked maybe. But I also think she’s messing around with Carl when I’m not there, so, you know, she didn’t want to act like she cared too much about him. I’m not fucking stupid.”

“So, you suspect they’re having an affair behind your back?”

“Yes,” Feldon said, with little hesitation.


Dr. Frost removed his glasses and rubbed at his eyes with his thumb and a finger. “Feldon,” he began. “I feel living with these two people is causing you a lot of unnecessary anxiety and worry. It’s unhealthy. I would strongly suggest separating yourself from them.”

“You want me to kick both of them out?”

“It may seem drastic, but I feel it’s for your own good.”

“But then they’d shack up for sure, just to spite me. I’d be sick to my stomach every single night. At least if we’re all in the same place, I can keep my eye on them. What kind of advice are you trying to give me? Are you sure you’re a real psychiatrist?”

“Feldon, please! I am not the subject of this session or any of your sessions. Let’s focus on this. You think they’re messing around when you’re not there, you said it yourself. What are you going to do when it goes too far and you walk in on them going at it in your own bed? Then what?”

“Why would you say something like that?”

“I’m just trying to help you realize how unhealthy all this is. You have to choose what’s best for you, not what’s best for them.”

“What if I asked her to marry me?”

“Who?”

“Eve.”

“I would put that notion on the back shelf, Feldon,” the doctor strongly advised.

“Why? Do you think I wouldn’t be a good husband to her?”

“It has nothing to do with that. You have far too many immediate issues to deal with. Marrying her would be a complete disaster for you.”

Feldon closed his eyes. His stomach hurt. “I’d like to talk about something else now.”

Dr. Frost sipped at his lemon-tainted water. “What would you like to talk about?”

“I had a job interview.”

Hmm, this should be interesting, the doctor thought to himself. “Well, that’s a positive step. What kind of job?”

“Working at a doll salon.”

“A what?”

“A doll salon.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It’s a place where people can bring their dolls for a makeover and what not. A salon… For dolls.”

“Are you making this up, Feldon?”

“No. It’s a real thing.”

Dr. Frost clicked his pen once again and wrote something down.

“What’s the matter?” Feldon asked.

“I’m simply taking notes. But why would you want to do that? Why would a grown man want to play with dolls for a living?”

“Are you questioning my sanity?”

“That’s my job, Feldon. But please, I want you to explain to me why you would want to play with dolls all day.”

“It’s not playing with dolls! It takes real creativity and skill to make a doll look beautiful and perfect. There’s hair and makeup to consider, the right dress, and accessories, too. Yes, you must know about accessories. These people pay good money for this type of thing, and besides that, I prefer human interaction with non-humans.”

Dr. Frost paused. He tapped his finger against his face and sighed with concern. “Do you realize how very odd that sounds?”

Feldon grew more defensive and sat up on the edge of the couch. “It’s not odd at all. There’s a real need for it for some people. It’s a service I’d like to provide, and I think I’d be good at it. I see nothing wrong with it. I thought you’d be pleased that I’m trying to put myself out there. Why are you trying to sabotage my progress!?”

“Just calm down, Feldon. There’s no need to get upset. I’m not trying to sabotage you at all. Please, lie back down.”

“I don’t want to. I want some chicken and coffee.”

“You want to leave?”

“Yes. I don’t think you are any help to me at all.”

“Have you been taking the ‘don’t be sad’ pills I’ve prescribed.”

“No. I’m making Carl eat them. I think that’s why he’s constantly grinning.”

“You shouldn’t do that. That medication is specifically prescribed for you. You could be causing harm to your friend, and yourself.”

“There’s trapezoids in my empty mind, doc. My empty mind.”

“Feldon, I want to see you more than once a week now.”

“Why?”

“I’m gravely concerned for your mental health.”

“Concerned? You mean you want more money, right?”

“That’s not it at all.”

“These are my last days, doc. My last days.”

“Are you feeling suicidal, Feldon?”

Feldon wanted to scream “YES!” at the top of his lungs, but he knew that such a response would surely be a death sentence anyway — a lie would spare him further agony and torture. “Of course I’m not,” he answered. “Don’t be silly.”

“Are you sure?” the doctor pried.

“Yes, I’m positive. It’s just that, well, sometimes life feels like a broken fucking record. Is that so immoral and worthy of persecution? Surely you feel the same way at times. You’re human, right?”

“I am,” he answered, and then the doctor leaned back in his chair and wrote some more notes. “I want you to come back on Wednesday, at 4.” He tore a piece of paper from a pad and reached out to hand it to Feldon. “And I’m prescribing you some more anti-anxiety medication. It’s for you, not Carl, okay?”

Feldon took the piece of paper and looked at it. The writing was indecipherable to him.

“I want you to take 8 pills a day, four at breakfast and four at dinnertime. Understand?”

“Okay. I get it. I’ll see you on Wednesday.”

Dr. Frost watched as Feldon depressingly dragged himself out of the office, and he noticed he was mumbling something to himself. Then the doctor looked down at the file, clicked his pen, and wrote the words: TERMINAL MADNESS in big, bold letters.

TO BE CONTINUED


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