All’s Fair in Memory

Kate walked the fairgrounds amidst a cottonwood snowstorm. She drifted between past and present as if channel surfing. The booths and concession stands shifted from sepia to high-contrast, and back again. She saw herself in the livestock barn, drunk on smuggled booze and fried oil. The young Katie tumbled over a fence and vomited on a blue-ribbon hog.

After a sojourn in the beer garden, Kate bought a corn dog and walked to the midway. She passed a carnival game, the one where Jake had won her the gigantic stuffed bear. She watched herself blush and decline. He’s a doctor now, she’d heard.

She saw the ride and her knees went out. The corndog fell in the dirt. A ride operator helped her to her feet and asked if she was alright. Kate didn’t answer. She fixed her vision upon the Ferris Wheel. It drew her in.

***

The ride kicked into gear. Katie watched the carts rise and fall. There was a stirring atop the wheel. A teenager freed himself from his safety belt and stood on the seat. He danced, arms waving about as his friends laughed. Someone watching from the ground screamed, Kate wasn’t sure if it was her. She watched the young man tumble over the edge of the cart and fall to the ground.

“Nick,” said Kate, running to the fence around the Ferris Wheel. The operator looked at her, then back at the wheel.

Katie saw the blood on her bare legs and white tank top. She saw Nick’s head facing the wrong way, and the bone sticking out of his arm. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. Kate fell to the ground. She held Nick’s hand. “I drank too much, I couldn’t go on the ride,” she said. “I should’ve stopped you.”

The ride operator helped her up. “It’s ok,” he said. “Let’s get you some water.”

The Man in Charge

“The test scores leaked, sir,” said the Vice President to the CEO. “It doesn’t look good.” He slipped a portfolio across the desk and straightened out his coat. The CEO looked up at him.
 
“Give it to me straight,” he said.
 
“Verbal, first grade. Reading, first grade. Math, did not chart. If the public gets word of this there will be trouble.”
 
“Quote end-quote trouble,” said the CEO. He colored on the desk with crayons.
 
“Sir, this is serious. They’re going to need real answers.”
 
“Ya win some, ya lose some.”
 
“It could mean billions to the company,” said the Vice President.
 
“The buck stops here. I am the alpha and the omega. It’s my way or the highway,” said the CEO. He drove a tractor back and forth across the desk. The VP looked at the floor. “We’re all in this together,” said the CEO.
 
“Please, think of the employees. We need to buckle down and come up with a contingency plan,” said the VP.
 
“A stitch in time saves nine. What will we do with the drunken sailor?” The CEO looked out the window. “We didn’t get this far to turn back now.”

Collectors of the Breeze

From my desk, I picture his face when they tell him I’m dead. They might call him; they might knock at his door. Who knows what they’ll say, that’s not my part of the operation. Maybe it was a car accident.

On to the next case.

I don’t know if I ever loved him. They don’t talk about that part during training. Our job is to get information. We pretend, and we get information. It doesn’t matter if you’re on assignment for a week or a year. When the closing notice comes, you return to headquarters, and you move on.

I look around the office. There’s hundreds of boyfriends, girlfriends, lost cousins, short-term coworkers. They’re all dead or missing to someone.

A notice pops up on my console screen. Closing Notice Delivered. Proceed to Processing for next assignment.”

He dropped the phone if they called him. He punched the wall if they told him in person. Him… all that time and I can’t say his name. I do remember that from training. “No matter your assigned level of integration, do not think of your case as your life. Live your assignment, but don’t dream about it.” I woke up this morning calling that name that I now can’t say aloud.

They say only the fuck-ups work here. Our clouded histories make us the perfect information collectors. Of course, they don’t tell us why we’re assigned to a given case. We only make our data drops until we get a closing notice. Sometimes you have time to lie about why you’re leaving. Sometimes you’re killed-off.

It’s a twenty-mile drive to Processing. I use this time to clear my head. I’m usually stuck with tracers of my past life after a case. This was my first long haul. We were about to buy a house together.

I count the buildings that litter the side of the highway. Each has its own purpose, unknown to me. They pop into my field of vision, then they’re gone.

Think of someone you’ve known in the past. Can you remember the way their voice sounded? How about the color of their eyes? What kind of car did they drive? That person probably worked for us.

That’s a comforting thought, when confronted with a loss. Maybe they aren’t gone forever. Maybe they’re just somewhere else.

For the Birds

Who, me? said the man, to nobody.

You mean on Twitter? I don’t really do that, he said. He walked into the back yard. Well, I don’t have much money, I have to live a simple life, again, to no one.

A dog barked next door, the bird flew away. You’re right, the world can be rough, said the man. He sat cross-legged on the grass. Don’t look at me like that, he said.

A young woman exited the house and approached the man.

“Let’s go inside, Victor. It’s time for dinner.”

Sunday, Someday

Gabe stood on the patio, gazing at the house across the street. The neighbors, the Robertsons, were homesteaders. They kept chickens and everything.

“Sure, we ask for another dog and the association freaks out,” said Gabe. “But they let those hippies open up Green Acres.”

“Mow the grass, honey,” said Amy, from the kitchen.

Gabe started the mower, it took three hard yanks on the pull cord. He crisscrossed the yard, making patterns in the grass. A rabbit darted out into the mower’s path from under a bush. Gabe jumped and let go of the control bar. He clutched at his chest and caught his breath. He started the mower again, this time on the first pull.

Gabe had already sweat through his shirt when he finished the flat part of the front lawn. He made his way to the hill next to the flower box. While climbing the hill he slipped on a rock. It ricocheted and hit his toe through his sandals. He let go of the mower and hopped around on one leg. After the pain subsided, Gabe stood up straight. He looked at the Robertson’s. One of their animals bleated. Gabe rolled the lawn mower back into the garage and walked across the lawn.

***

Amy finished the laundry and went upstairs. She found Gabe on the sofa, laughing at something on TV. Amy looked out into the back yard, still holding the basket.

“Is that Bill and Cindy’s goat?” said Amy. The goat was eating grass, tethered to a stake in the middle of the yard.

“They’ll thank me, I’m feeding it,” said Gabe. He turned up the volume on the TV.

“I don’t know what they’d think about you taking their goat. They’re kind of uptight, I wouldn’t want them calling the police.”

“We’ll tell them it’s communal property,” said Gabe. “Now come sit down.”

“I can’t,” said Amy. “I have to finish folding laundry.”

Gabe laughed at something on TV.

By Ghost and Danger

I swear—by ghost and danger—that their concepts distanced words from thinking. (Mention the sublime hours of many boring banknotes.) So natural. When the specimens are beautiful, the opportunities will be described.

***

The hand of the sky found desires in the frozen land. That dismal spirit of grace disturbed the visions of sleep before the darkness of the night. A black veil to respond in screams, the smiling uncleanliness of shadow omens signed in your eyes. The science of coffins a diversion from the glass olives of abruptness. Questions waiting on words. The longer you expect the idea, the deeper the idea seems.

Scenes from an All-New Episode of “The Common Man”

“Tweren’t none on my dipstick,” Dirk mugged to his wife, his head popping out from under the car.
 
The studio audience howled. Somebody in the crowd wet their pants. Dirk gave one of those “woah-woah-woah” eye-rolls. His wife smiled and went back inside.
 
Some of Dirk’s buddies appeared in the driveway.
 
“C’mon, Dirk,” said unnamed drinking buddy with the exposed belly. “We’re goin’ to the Leeann Chin!”
 
Dirk looked up. “Whatta’ you said?”
 
A roar of laughter came over the audience.
 
“We’s gonna’ git a good deal on sweet and sour dippers,” said the second buddy, maybe Cal? “Hey Dirk, remember the last time you had the sweet and sour dippers? Remember what you said?”
 
Dirk’s eyes pleaded with the camera. His collar sent a burst of electricity into his neck. Dirk sighed.
 
“Tweren’t none on my dipstick!”
 
Someone in the studio audience laughed so hard they had a heart attack and died.