Everything Moved

Rust-tinged particles drifted through the air as Dolores walked home from Mesabi Primary School. She shuffled her feet, eyes trained on the tufts of grass sprouting from the sidewalk. Ants scurried away like the rats in the apartment above Father’s grocery store, where her family used to live. People have to eat, Father had said in the dark autumn months after the market crashed, even if they can’t pay. The bank took the store, and the family moved to a little shack on the outskirts of town. Years earlier, when Dolores was a baby, the entire city had been moved to accommodate the expanding Hall Mahoney Iron Mine. They’d loaded up all the buildings and transported them two miles south. They moved the town, and everything moved with it. If the city survived such a change, so could Dolores.

Dolores scuffled up the long driveway, brushed the persistent red dirt from her dress, and walked alongside the house toward the backyard. She ran her fingers across the side of the house, leaving a four-pronged trail on the wood siding, her hand cutting through the grit like the machines cut through town during the mine expansion. She walked into the backyard and found the door to the rabbit hutch open. Dolores sprinted toward the hutch. Rex wasn’t in there. She ran around the yard, scanned the bushes by the fence, and crawled around the flower box under the kitchen window. Dolores rushed inside to her mother, who was tending to a cauldron of stew on the stove. “Mama, mama, Rex is missing! The hutch is open. He’s gone!” Her mother looked down at her with a steely gaze. She exhaled and set down her wooden spoon.

“A family has to eat, cara mia,” she said, wiping the corner of her eye.

Bacon

You like that? Try it with bacon. Hell, we got enough pigs, have six or seven slices. Take some for your water too. Let the pork line your throat like Jesus isn’t watching. Everyone loves bacon, and if they don’t they’re weird and different. And you wouldn’t want people thinking you’re weird and/or different, would you? Or even worse, having them wonder if you’re trying to avoid participating in The Struggle™? The pigs don’t even feel it, on account of not having souls. You string them up by their little peoplesies and cut their necks until they can’t scream no more. We wouldn’t have bacon without this sacred act, plus their fear and confusion (which they don’t experience, again, no souls) enhances the flavor. No harder than cutting a 3-year-old or a Golden Retriever. Then you throw away the rest, all the stuff that isn’t bacon, because all we want are the thick strips of that beautiful meat.

If you’re religious, we got beef ribs. That’s made of cows, and cows are morons, utter dunces. They let us steal their babies. We wouldn’t want you to go without, but please consider a change of faith. Bacon loves you at least as much as God does. Put it in the pan; it spits hot kisses all over your face and tries jumping up to be closer to you. Stick your head right on the pan and see if friends and family can smell the difference. Take half a pack of bacon in your mouth and shove the rest right up your asshole. Experience digestion in a whole new direction. Shit out bacon, eat your bacon shit, then eat more bacon. It tastes like humans, but we don’t eat humans. We’re not animals. Could animals come up with something as fantastic as bacon air fresheners? Not likely.

The Ride

Everett ripped the electrodes off his head and wiped away a syrup of sweat and adhesive residue from his brow. He exited the booth. It hadn’t been a reenactment; he’d smelled the wet earth and budding flowers, felt his damp, jittery hand in Jenny’s. That moment, as remote to Everett as self-awareness is to a mayfly, disappeared again as he stepped out of the ride. “That was so real. Can I go one more time?” he said to the ride operator.

“One visit per day. It’s company policy. It messes with folks if they’re allowed any more than that.

“I’ll give you fifty bucks for ten minutes.”

“We’re closing for the day.”

“One hundred dollars.” Everett considered punching the carnie and hooking himself up to the machine. “We were laughing… she was smiling.” He grabbed the ride operator. “Give me a job application, you don’t even have to pay me. Just let me go back.”

“How do you think I ended up working here?” said the operator.

The Frugal Life

Dennis put his helmet on and entered the damp hallway. The wallpaper, installed before the building converted to Section 8, sagged from the walls. Dennis adjusted the camera mounted atop his helmet to face his good side, the one without the lazy eye. His steps stuck to the floor and created a rhythm like brushes scraping a snare drum. “Hey, folks, here we are. Another morning of frugal living at its best,” he said. A neighbor, her hair in curlers and sporting a billowing muumuu, cracked her door.

“How did you afford that?” said the neighbor, over the din of the two nosy lap dogs inside her apartment.

“I used my check.” Dennis maintained his stride.

“Well, don’t come asking for cigarettes later this month.” She dropped a soggy trash bag into the hallway and closed the door.

“Ignore the welfare queen, my friends.” Dennis reached the end of the hallway. He hit the down arrow and whistled aggressively as the elevator jumped to his floor.

***

The mall’s parking lot sat like a picked-over discount bin. Dennis coasted into the lot and pushed his bike, a rusty ten speed, up to a bike rack in front of the building. A patrolling security guard in an SUV came to a rolling stop. She almost said something, then drove away.

“Who can afford to be a smoker at ten bucks a pack?” said Dennis, resuming his narration. “Here in the frugal zone, we have our own ways.” He walked around a concrete barrier to the smoker’s niche and fished through an ashtray. Dennis pulled out a frayed cigarette, its filter smeared with greasy pink lipstick. “These wage slaves are too busy with the rat race to enjoy the fruits of their labor!” Dennis took a few drags and went inside through the food court entrance.

The mall resembled an amusement park in winter. Yawning cashiers tapped at their phones behind pristine laminate counters. Dennis nodded to a pack of rigid-armed mall walkers. They dropped their heads and turned a corner around a row of vinyl-seated benches. Dennis approached the pizza place. The workers huddled there broke their conversation and scrambled back into the kitchen. A new employee, the odd one out, stood behind the cash register. Her tiny black eyes darted around a food court like a mouse running between cracks in the wall in the middle of the night. “Check this out,” said Dennis, winking. “A cup for water, please.”

The girl squinted and played with the hard, spiky hair peeking through her visor. “I’m not on camera, am I?”

Dennis shifted his gaze from the girl. “She’s new to the frugal life, folks. Forgive her. She’ll learn.” A manager stifled the crew’s laughter in the kitchen then hefted his awkward bulk up to the cash registers.

“Sorry, we can’t give away the cups anymore,” said the manager. “It’s a corporate thing. They moved the pop machine to face the food court, and they’re worried about losses.”

“But… but I got a water cup yesterday. The guys who work at night always give me one.”

“I’ll talk to them.”

Dennis stormed away. “Fear not. Old Dennis is full of solutions.” He dug through a trash can and retrieved a large plastic cup. “To think, this corporate behemoth sacrifices a person’s access to water for the sake of making a buck.” Dennis joined the line at the burger joint.

“Can I help you?” said the greasy employee.

“Would you refill my pop?” Dennis set the cup on the counter.

“Is this from today?”

Dennis affected his dopiest face. “You were on break.”

“Fine. Grab the lid, please.” The cashier wiped a streak of dried ketchup off the cup, filled it halfway, and pushed it back at Dennis.

“A little more ice?” said Dennis.

***

A hunched-over, balding man stood in front of Panda Wok. He held a tray of orange chicken pieces impaled on toothpicks. Dennis smiled and motioned toward the camera, inviting viewers to join him. He reached to grab a sample.

“Hey, not so fast. You have to buy something today.”

“What does your manager say about this?”

“I don’t care. Go ahead, tell the one person who cares less than I do. I work hard, for shit pay, to hand these out to potential paying customers. I don’t get to eat the samples. They make me pay half price just to take the leftovers.”

Dennis turned around. “Let’s go back to my place,” he said to the camera, “and I’ll show you my latest Salvation Army scores.”

Dennis exited the mall and snooped around for another cigarette. He found a butt, still smoldering, rolling under a car. He smoked it while leaning up against the tall plate windows next to the front doors. The security guard rolled up, and this time stopped. “No smoking within fifteen feet of the entrance, Dennis,” she said. “You should know this.”

Dennis moped toward the bike rack. He froze. His bike was gone. Dennis ruffled through his outturned pockets. He threw his helmet to the ground. The camera helmet, parked on the sidewalk, picked up part of the tableau. Dennis, with frantic energy, accosted each passerby he encountered. “I’m not a bum.” Shuffled footsteps. “I need two bucks.” Nothing. “Please, I need to get home.” A bite. “Bless you. It’s for the bus, I swear. I don’t even drink. Bless you, ma’am.”

Inside the bus shelter, Dennis donned the helmet. The bus arrived, and the driver swung the door open. Dennis slid two dollars into the machine and took a seat near the side doors in the middle of the bus.

“It’s a tough life, the frugal life. But it could be tougher. At least I have you, my faithful viewers.” Dennis stopped the recording and closed his eyes.

Stubborn

Do you remember when Dad thought he was a cat? I guess you were still too young. Maybe you’d remember if Mom hadn’t gotten full custody. Oh well.

He could be so stubborn when he got stuck on an idea. Once, he got himself wedged in a window frame while trying to escape the house. When we got him loose, he darted across the street and almost got hit by a car. We had to lure him back home with a saucer of milk, then carry him inside squirming, kicking, and hissing.

As I’m sorting through his few possessions, I wonder about the world as he saw it. All these boxes are stuffed with nothing but expired cat food coupons. His twin bed has a little circular divot in its center. There’s a mouse skeleton in his dresser.

He was always so stubborn.

Bleeding Shadows

Notice identity crisis written in clouds, shearing wind suggesting loathsome winter, and six o’clock sun insisting it’s spring. This one’s for all connoisseurs of viscera. Apples blossom on cheeks—orchards of confusion. There’s a dim, distant light that got us through summer, a sullen light burning through the trees. Shadows of leaves are now affixed to the sponge cake ground, and the sky’s hands pluck desire from withering vines. So much for safety in numbers. A dismal spirit of grace disturbs visions of sleep before the darkness of night, daring us to embrace the grandiosity of this chaos.

Stay Tuned

This is Hell. It must be.

Now, getting approved for a mortgage is as simple as tap, type, owe.

They see an attractive woman jogging. When friends ask if I’m really eating bread I say, Yer darn tootin’, it’s Gloot’n!

Then they see a father consoling his son. Hey champ, there’s always next year. And there’s always…

I’ve tried speaking. Ice-cold Popsi. I’ve tried to contact the viewers.

Gramps, Viagrow is now for everybody. The old man catches the teenager in the medicine cabinet. I am both of them.

I thought I’d never skateboard again!

My words…

That not-so-fresh failing…

…come out like that.

I’m in hell.

Are you tired of the same old?

I know Mindcloud has something to do with this. Every fifteenth ad is one of theirs.

Worried about what happens to your debt after you…

Why’d they make me aware?

…Bowl XCIX between Minnesota and Buffalo!

I’m being punished. I wasn’t a good consumer in life, so why should I expect a reward?

Digital backups at affordable rates. Guaranteed for an eon.

But I don’t even get to watch the shows.

Ruff! I gotta have my VegaDogs!

A fraction of a cent per spot. I should have this payed off after about 850 million ads.

Feel like there’s not enough time in each day?

48 an hour. Only two thousand years, with interest.

Digest-E-Qwick Chews, so you don’t have to.

That’s the price of eternal life.