Short Sunday

New Short Fiction every Sunday evening at 6pm.

Month: August, 2013

The Egret Murders

An egret is a tall, thin bird with beautifully stark white feathers It has a long, elegant neck that curves like an S from its chest out to its short sharp beak. That S neck is like a snake. The egret wades in shallow water, tall, stiff as can be, it can dart its neck into the water like a thing set on a trigger. They are nervous birds, afraid to move and afraid of movement. They’re beautiful and precise and soft to the touch. If you’re slow and careful you can get close but it takes a while, it takes practice. They live behind my house, make horrible noise and I hate them.

I meet Rich for coffee on Saturdays. He’s in his fifties, wears a fedora with a floral print band and today he is wearing a purple t-shirt with the sleeves cut off. He gets a coffee and three bagels and eats them loudly, staring straight ahead. Rich has three books with him usually and I’ve never seen any evidence that he can read but he carries three books with him at all times. They rotate out, so it seems like he’s reading quite a lot, but I’ve never seen him read, he never references the books later, he never suggests that I should read one book over another, that something was good or bad, asks me if I’ve read any good books lately, or mentions that X movie wasn’t as good as the book version. He just eats and stares straight ahead and then I sit down across from him and we talk until I’ve had enough coffee.

He has a rose tattoo on his left bicep, both are large. He’s a strong man. He says he was in the Navy but I have no way of knowing that. He’s about 50 and that doesn’t line up with any of the wars we’ve been in. Too young for Vietnam, too old for the middle east. He never references any wars, or any boats, the water, fish, or any real thought about maritime life. Only “I was in the Navy!” As a way to add validity to something he’d been yelling about. He talks through his food, he eats quickly and loudly and doesn’t stop talking. It’s possible he only talks to me, on Saturdays and then no one else at all ever. I’ve never seen him talk to anyone else. Even the waitress just knows what he eats and brings it to his table, she moves like a delicate, frightened thing, tries to stay out of his line of sight and just sort of stabs the plate onto the table before he turns around. He likes dogs. He will get distracted when they walk by the coffee shop window, but who doesn’t like dogs?

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“I can’t believe all this weather we’re having!” He says it through a bagel, and gestures out to the sunny afternoon light. I don’t know what he means, we always have weather. There is only ever weather, there isn’t more or less weather, or some and all. I have a hard time with talking. I just listen and get confused and then go home and look at the birds and think about poisoning them. I think people are supposed to have more constructive diversions than that, but I can’t think of something I’d rather do. Maybe I should get something to stare at, like a TV to make me normal or a house plant to generate self loathing or a cat to do both. Something. I should get something to worry over instead of finding out what Egrets are allergic to and feeding them that thing.

“Fucking weather like this all the time, right?” I don’t know. “You think they’d do something about all the things they’re doing and then we’d really be fucked, you know?” I don’t know. “And then, I mean, I just can’t fucking believe it sometimes. It’s like nobody sees it but us!” Him. “And we’re just supposed to sit here and take it and take it and take it!” He’s yelling. He winds up yelling every saturday. He slams his big fist down on his books and the waitress tells him to calm down. We played checkers once but he slammed his fist on the board and sent the pieces scattering and he laughed like he was being tickled, uncontrollably, in fits, doubled over.

He wears sandals, the backless kind and flops around in them slowly. He moves slow and deliberate, hunched over forward holding his books almost behind him for counter weight. I don’t know where he lives. He’s impossibly clean, so I don’t think he lives outside. He has money. I will never know. I make it a point to never know. When we are done, I’ve had three cups of coffee and he’s had five. I’ve said eleven words, all included in some variation of “I know what you mean”, all used for lying. He’s talked constantly but has said nothing at all.

Our relationship started because he sat down across from me and ate at me. That’s all. He just started it. We’re friends. He’s grotesque. His nose is most of his face. He’s covered over in scars and knots and bumps like he was a boxer, his ears are different sizes and one has a chunk out of it like a stray dog. His teeth are perfect white and it hurts my head to think about. How could you sustain that much damage to your face and not put one tooth out of place. I thought at first they were dentures, but you should see him power through bagels. His eyebrows are offset like he’s constantly skeptical, but one is just in the wrong place, thicker than the other, and shoots up at an angle. He’s a horrible miracle. In all the possible configurations of our genetics, at some point someone had to look like this, it just wound up being him. At least he had enough good fortune to be crazy. If he were sane it’d be harder for him to look that way.

“How did you get those scars?” I asked him, on the way home.

“Fucking criminals, man, Jesus Christ himself. Criminals or christmas, right? You know. Come on!” Angry again. We’re walking past a bus stop as the bus pulls up and Rich gets on without saying anything to me. The doors close and he’s gone until next Saturday. Incredible. I stare at him not looking at me as he walks through the bus yelling, and then I stare at the back of the Rich container as it takes him to wherever will be Rich’s new environment.

Rich is my fish tank.

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Begins at Sundown

It begins at sundown, so we’re going to be late, because of who or why doesn’t matter, it’s just the way it is. I haven’t seen previews, the opening act or batting practice in ten years. The moon will be high overhead when we get there. It will have already happened and my teeth will be more worn and my hair more white and my steering wheel more bent and cracked. My heart might give out early – that might go early – everything else will be late to the point of why bother.

It’s a lot of stress to be late for something you don’t want to do in the first place. Like psychically everyone will think you made you late because you don’t want to be there anyway, like they can see in your head when you walk through the front door all you want to do is keep on walking through the party, grab a drink on the right, set it down on the left, nodding the whole way through, “Weather!” “Politics!” “IKEA!” “GOTTA GO!” and right out the back door and home and dropped into bed like a conveyor belt that makes brief awkward appearances, cranks them out biweekly. The machine needs fine tuning. We’re late, going to miss Weather and delay Politics! because we’re late and we’ll have a long conversation about Traffic! and Road Choice! because people are Fascinated! by Cars!

After the detour we’ll still wind up at Politics and we’ll pretend argue about things we don’t understand until we talk about Food! we’ve recently eaten and all of this could be done at home, before we decided to do this, before we were late. If we’re lucky, we’ll get there in time for the creshendo and all the sparks and explosions will overshadow the conversation and we won’t have to talk at all, and once it’s faded we can escape while people shake the spots from their eyes and the silence in their ears and go home under the quiet, natural light of the moon before we argue about whether or not it was a nice time, whether it was worth it, whether anything is worth it and why don’t we just keep driving until we’re out of gas and start walking until we find someplace else to live? It’d be easy. I could make some beautiful machine and we could live forever from the profit. It’d have a long line of levers and a conveyor belt that just pointed out right into the desert and whenever we were ready, whenever we could bear it, we’d just pull the lever and out we’d go back out to the sand and stay there until the spots cleared from our eyes and the silence from our ears until we turned it off, dismantled it for parts and left everyone else for dust and embers.

 

Good Silver

We bring out the good silver for guests. Sometimes it gets put out on paper towels next to the IKEA plates, but it’s out there.

Her parents gave it to us as a wedding gift.  It came in a heavy mahogany box, the inside lined with red felt.  It opened and closed perfectly on gold plated hinges, the top rested snugly into place when closed and opened silently. It is meticulously crafted, a near perfect thing.

We figure it’s expensive. We bought this horrible polish once, it smelled like poison. Chemicals and alcohol sunk in a grey mud to stick to the curves in the spoons, the filigree in the handles. It worked, but we stopped after two knives and decided we’d rather eat whatever’s in the tarnish than whatever’s in the mud.

Her parents got it from one of their parents. It came in the same heavy, quiet brown box. It was the biggest gift they opened after their church basement reception. It was something to be pulled out on special occasions for five years and then forgotten about for fifty. The box got dusty in their care, a ceremonial thing to pass on later, dug out from the basement closet after enough time had passed.

Her grandparents bought it with the first check after they bought the car. Car for him, silver for her. Over time they’d fill a china cabinet, an ornamental thing kept in the dining room. A display case for dishes, to look at while they ate. For special occasions, and possibly as an aspirational tool for whatever guests visited the dishes, but did not eat from them.

Her grandparents bought the silver from The Longshore Silver Company, which had a storefront downtown, next to the Sears, where people wore suits, carried briefcases. They bought it from a bald man wearing gold rimmed glasses and an expensive, sparkling, silver watch. Why, we have just the thing, right this way.

The bald man was strictly front-of-store help. He had a calm, pleasant demeanor and had a slight New England accent. It suggested he knew what he was talking about in upscale matters. He almost didn’t get the job due to the baldness, but he was old enough that it seemed earned. Like he’d been terribly stressed by how rich he was. So he was hired by the younger man who ran the store for his family, who’d made a fortune in the silver mines. This was the closest he could get to being a successful city-type business man, and as far away from the mines as possible. He hired enough people that he didn’t have to do too much and his main difficulty in life was how much the showroom sparkled through his hungover mornings.

His Grandfather left his large, imposing, farming family and went west and dug holes and found impossible riches. Just sitting there to get pulled up and melted down and spun and twisted into appealing shapes and sizes and sold.  He bought some land when his family said he shouldn’t, bought mining equipment when his family said he shouldn’t and walked under the earth just for the cool, dusty peace and quiet and walked out reborn, a wealthy man. When he found silver, he showed it to them and gloated and accidentally started a rush. People came by the dozens, left their homes and families sometimes hundreds of miles away to come and try to share in the wealth.  They came and ruined his quiet and got more than they deserved for what he’d found. But he got enough and moved on, built a bigger house further out west and started again, and found more fortune, started a family, and  kept them at a considerable distance and when they got too close sunk his mind into the future where he saw what he created being used for generations, or kept in museums or in the hands of the finest people. He’d risked his life to pull riches from the earth with his bare hands and a pick. Hours digging, chipping, risking cave ins and robbery. He’d sleep there by the mine to protect it with a gun that didn’t work in a tent that let in the rain, for months until he saw just the faintest sparkle of a silver vein. Two years gone. But he’d found it, and he’d rip it from the earth in a fever greed just to prove to everyone who he was afterall. He was important. What he’d done was important. He held his first nugget over his head in the rain. It was the size of a fist and everything from this moment would be different.

“Hey, do you think this is supposed to go through the dishwasher?”

“I don’t know. It’s probably fine.”

 

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Next Week’s Prompt: Begins at Sundown