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He Once Had a Dog Called Dick Nixon and Other Stories

Unanimous

The Mime was always on and though he was very skilled at his craft, it was annoying because it forced you to always look at him. If you had him over for dinner, say, and you were chopping parsley or grinding spices or peeling an orange and you asked him a question, something simple like, Did you like that film “Crash”? You would have to lay down your knife or your pestle or your orange and watch The Mime give his answer. In this case, it was fingers thrust through hair, eyes rolling back in the head, a rocking from side to side, a gaping of the mouth. There was no multi-tasking when The Mime was around. And you'd go to sleep later and the whole evening was an endless movie reel starring The Mime. We had an Oscar party and decided, collectively, not to invite The Mime. We invited an opera singer instead. A woman we'd met only the week before. We felt fickle doing this, but really.

Those Lipperts

How they glory in their unusualness! Mr. Lippert dresses as Santa at Halloween, walks up and down the cul-de-sac scaring the trick-or-treaters with his pitchfork. Mrs. Lippert bakes suet into her muffins and sets them out for the mourning doves, attracting rodents. The Lippert children are sneaky and inscrutable. They whisper rudely behind their hands, judging. Pilgrim, their cat, is always in heat. Never confront a Lippert about the length of their grass! The topiary need trimming and there's bird shit on the windowpanes but that's no business of yours.

Tradition

The local farmers practice a centuries old method for pinpointing the onset of spring. It involves lighting a candle at midnight on fallow ground. If there is no fallow ground available, they may utilize a field where peas have once grown, but that is naturally less desirable. If the candle burns for a full three minutes, then spring will occur almost immediately and they will find themselves standing in rich loamy soil and tender sprouts.
      If the candle is extinguished within three minutes, then spring can be expected to follow winter in the customary fashion.
      However, in the event the candle is dropped, its flame survives and a fire is started, the farmers may stamp it out, congratulate each other and go home to stuff themselves on root vegetables and beer.

He Once Had a Dog Named Dick Nixon

Bill's got the shakes again. He's taking only fluids. He sloshes peach nectar into a martini glass, slumps onto the chaise lounge. “Here's to the chip off the old blockhead,” he says, all pallor and jowls.

Summer Job

You'll be walking in rows of seven foot high corn in 90 degree heat all day long. Do not wear a halter top and flip flops. Cigarettes and Mountain Dew will probably not sustain you for nine hours. Apply zinc oxide to your nose and your lips unless you want them to fall off. You might want to do something with your hair, too. It's unladylike to sing dirty songs on the bus on the way to the field. And don't tease that girl with the gallon jug of lemonade and the grocery bag full of food. Later, she'll be your best friend. Remember which rows are male and which are female. Detassling the female corn assists in cross-pollination and the production of valuable seed corn. You are helping the world here and you are certainly making Pioneer Seed, a “growing concern”. Ha ha. Root out the rogue stalks! Be ruthless in this endeavor. Stomp them down if you have to. If the supervisor, Jeff, wants to make out with you, for God's sake, say no! And keep up with your crew. It is easy to get lost in a cornfield. Sound cannot be localized and the crows are watching you and T-Bone Taylor has escaped from jail and is reported to be hiding out in one of these fields. If you run out of cigarettes, do not neglect your row and walk to the highway and stick your thumb out. Especially wearing that halter top. Grundy Center is a long ways away. You'll never make it.

Acquaintances

We're drunk and it's only 5 o'clock. We view the sun going down over the distant mountain peaks and tip our glasses back. We're just to the point where it's stopped feeling like a party. The silence is not companionable. Would you like another? Asks the hostess, or can I get you a Royal Crown Cola? It's the only cola we drink. We're inclined to forgo the bigger colas. The, if you will, fat cat colas. Her wet bar resembles an altar. One wants to pray. No, no, we'll have more of the wine, thank you. Could be she's trying to get rid of us. It's difficult to know for certain. Is that Mount Evans? We ask. No, no, she says. That would be Long's Peak.

Wildlife of South America

I'm watching Animal Planet. There's a male capybara mounting a female capybara. They're just doing it. I tilt my head sideways, watching their faces. They lack ecstasy and that's why it's okay to show to kids. I'm on the couch with a bowl of M&Ms and a bowl of soy nuts. First, I eat a handful of M&Ms. While the M&Ms are still in my mouth, sort of munched up and gushy, I throw in a handful of soy nuts and chew them all together. Before Rick and I do it he showers, shaves, and gargles with Listerine. I shave my legs and shampoo my hair. I blow dry and mousse it up so it's full and soft and shiny. Rick likes to run his hands through my hair. He says, Baby, Baby, Baby. Sometimes it's not so good, but that's acceptable. I can't expect to be carted away on a passion thrill ride every single time.

Payless Boy

It's mostly mothers and small children at Payless. Sometimes the boy gets to help the mothers find their pumps or sandals or jogging shoes. But all the shoes are right there on the shelves. It's pretty self-serve. A woman in her forties came in once, just before closing. She asked the boy to measure her foot, which was on the scaly side. Also, the foot appeared to be dusted with talcum powder. The woman asked him to suck her toes, but the boy declined. He knew fungus when he saw it. The boy gets frustrated but never angry. The children can be difficult. A little girl needed white patent leather maryjanes for a wedding. There is an inordinate selection of such shoes at Payless. They vary in subtle, unimportant ways.  It's in the news about how the girl was stolen from the mall and taken out into the woods and killed. Naturally, the boy is suspect. Her feet were narrow, he tells the detective. Also, she had a head cold. I don't know if that's important. I noticed breakfast cereal stuck to her cardigan. Cheerios. Is that important? The detective writes it all down in a little dime notebook. The boy fears he may sound like Norman Bates. He struggles to keep his eyes from darting around. He'd rather sell tickets at the Meadows 21 MoviePlex. He'd like to work in a booth of some sort, behind a glass window. However, the manager at Meadows 21 is something of a bimbo. He cannot recall his whereabouts at the time of the abduction. There are inconsistencies galore. The police find several pairs of shoes in the trunk of the boy's Datsun. Some of the shoes are scuffed. There is also an implement for measuring feet. That's a Brannock Device, says the boy. I wouldn't expect you to know what it's called. I don't even know why it's there. I didn't steal it. Why would I steal a Brannock Device? He laughs at the absurdity of it.

Reunion

His legs are noodles. He's run this race every spring since 1982. He wears the same pair of shoes. The other competitors greet him under a shrugging canopy. They are only one-day-a-year friends. Rain pelts his calves like BBs. He wouldn't want to slip.

Repair Man

Trey dreams in black and white of cogs and band saws, electrical circuits and wires. When he wakes up, he remembers he was once an old man. Trey is Mattie's boyfriend. He works making repairs for the subway system. Mattie says his work clothes require industrial strength. He takes them to the Wife Saver Laundromat in the retail strip near Mattie's apartment building. He's studying to be a transportation engineer. He likes working underground, where it's dark and cool, but the bills are piling up. Nights, Mattie reads and rereads the texts aloud for him, her feet propped on the kitchen table. She runs a yellow highlighter over the key points. After, they wrangle under the covers, the streetlight shining through the one, tiny window. Trey is conscientious, light with his fingers and his tongue. His hair falls over his eyes as he works her. Mattie will someday develop the habit of calling him Handsome Mole. Someday she'll feed him cornflakes, offer him a lager. He'll carry a backpack full of books to the Wife Saver, but he'll never open them. He'll die before she does, alone on an ice morning, walking past the subway to church.

Letter to Bill: Page Four

Well, I've said everything I'm going to say. Except for this and here's the truth, Bill. Now you listen. I want you to be lonely in your old age. I want you to be the sort of man who grows a wattle on his chin, a twisted, ugly face small children run away from, an incontinent tyrant who has trouble bending and unbending his bony legs as he gets out of the car. Your relatives will invite you to every wedding or Fourth of July barbecue and you'll never fail to show up you smelly old bastard and when you do, they'll roll their eyes, whisper things behind their hands and you'll stand in the corner or in the buffet line and nobody, nobody will speak to you or even look at you. I want your eyes to fail, your joints to freeze, I want your arteries to harden like sticks. Not even your Labrador will love you the morning your ventricles begin to fibrillate. You'll lie there gasping your last on your filthy kitchen floor and he'll lick your face for the bits of scrambled egg around the corners of your gaping, yawping, twitchy old mouth.

Sweep

Sweep the feathers off the porch before the rain comes and makes a paste of them. Lean on the broom handle and watch the clouds, roiling like indigestion. Hear the soft boom of distant thunder; feel the ache in your knees, the hot blisters on your palm. That man was a PhD candidate, allergic to cilantro, prone to sinus infections. Sweep! Even his parakeet couldn't love you.

At the Cimetière Montparnasse

He offers her his raincoat. “I'm looking for Samuel Beckett,” he says, and holds an umbrella over her as she consults her map. “It's only a hop from here,” she says, pointing. “I'll go with you. Then we can visit Simone de Beauvoir. My name is Scarlet.” She closes her eyes. “And I have been widowed twice.” He thinks she looks a little young for that. “After,” he says, “we can grab a pint.” The sleeves of his coat hang black and wet, to her knees. She smells like candy cigarettes. They stand quietly in front of Beckett's grave. A feral cat shivers raindrops off its back.

Faulty Keys and Latches

He carries a sort of purse and fills it with rocks. He likes the heft of it, how it dislocates his shoulder, makes the soles of his feet slap the pavement. He'll tell you he's heard the voice of Satan over the Sunday gospel radio. He'll tell you if you listen long enough the words run together like the teeth of a zipper. And that therefore, it makes sense to have a weapon. He is lonely, but not unloved. He dreams of doors hanging off their hinges like dislocated arms. Of warped wooden doors that stick. Of faulty keys and latches. He dreams of throwing rocks at the devil from the wide, broken steps that lead to some porch.

Lioness

My toddler's sick going on three days now. He only wants to sit with me on the sofa with his blanket and his stuffed koala named Dick. The blanket smells sour, like vomit. I've washed it but no bleach can penetrate. For three days I'm watching him and I don't sleep. We've watched “The Lion King” nine times. This house is getting tighter like that vacuum that sucks the air out of things so you can pack your quilts and sweaters and pillows into smaller spaces. You could pack this house into a dresser drawer; open it up in the springtime. My boy has fallen asleep, red-cheeked, twitching. I leave the video running. It's the stampede scene where Simba's father dies. I hate that. I open the door real quiet, breathe ice into my lungs. I'll only walk around the block. I take a few steps, to the mailbox. This street's a ghost during the day. It's like one of those post-apocalypse movies. I used to have a friend here but she moved to Phoenix. She is always weary on the telephone. She eats her frozen dinner while she's talking to me, she says, you think you've got troubles. She doesn't realize. Long's Peak rises like a lioness over the houses on Shoreham. It's ghostly empty on this street. This is post-apocalypse. Nuclear winter. This broken planet needs a hero. A champ. I am responsible for finding food for the survivors. I've got grit, but I am also hot hot hot! My boyfriend ran away, who cares? We are experiencing nuclear winter. Or is it nuclear snow? The others depend on me. I have a great deal of grit and I am achingly beautiful like Angelina Jolie. This is post-apocalypse. The lioness is crouching. The others are back at camp, waiting. They all depend on me. I am responsible. It grows dark. I must fight my way back. Nuclear snow falls on my shoulders. I have a blade. When I open the door, the house is too warm. The phone is ringing and Simba is a newborn again. Dick the Koala has fallen to the floor. He smells like vomit. My boy thrashes. He is post-apocalypse.