“muerto...”, dead, meaningless sound waves penetrating my ears, hitting dysfunctional eardrums after powerful muscles ejected me from my conceiver’s body. Another sound, a horrifying scream. Do I remember it?
I grew up in Texas, spoiled son to a rich family. Ghastly truth hit me age nineteen. I volunteered for a marrow transplant, finding absolute incompatibility. My mother broke down, telling me the truth.
Following day I landed in Spain, traced the brittle, scared priest who disclosed the hospital’s name, the doctor’s name. The files disappeared. The doctor resisted until I threatened him with exposure and then gave me the name, that’s all he knew. Consuela Maria Teresa Del... all eighteen names.
I checked into a hotel. Bought half the front page of El Pais for an ad: “hijo muerto busca su madre Consuela...”, dead son searches...
...horrible place, they serve here flesh sandwiches... what do you mean fresh? I tell you, I saw it alongside mink drinks... beurk... no, not milk, mink mixed with apels... do you think apels means small apes?... gorillas? no, I said tortillas, something wrong with your hearing, baby? tortillas with oregasmo... oregano is in Italy, this is Ireland, love, and they even sell virgins here, a trip with a virgin to Rome for 99 Euros... disgusting... I reported to the police that I was offered coke with my hamburger and they started laughing at me... huh? who’s an idiot?... hello, hello!...
...horrible place, she looked at me and I looked at her and she started running after me and I did my best to outrun her, everybody moving aside and pointing at us with fingers or guns or oil wells... no, baby, I did not try to seduce her, I was the innocent bystander... wait, baby, she’s catching up, I’ll call later... she’s so agile... so fast... I never knew they were so fast, I knew of Usain but not... listen, how could I guess it was an alligator’s egg?... of course, an alligator, what?... huh? who’s an idiot?... hello, hello!...
America of the United States
...horrible place, everything here is either tall or fat or with a gun... yes, everybody too... yes, she was all of this, love, I had no choice but to kiss her... no, I did not know it was this kind of institution, it said dancing Gis, didn’t know the R and L were burnt, there were so many sailors there... I need some money, baby... for the divorce, yes everything is fast here too, yes, also everybody, I will keep the ring, baby, will help us save some... what to do to Hue, baby?... huh? who’s an idiot?... hello, hello!...
“I have to leave early, it’s Franklin’s birthday.”
“Yes, my fish Franklin.”
“Your fish’s birthday?! How do you know it?”
“It’s printed on its bottom.” Gulp! The day before it was a cactus chasing her. “Can I have your shoe, please?”
“The right one.” I gave it to her. She started hitting the asphalt with it. “Bad boy, bad boy, you stepped into poop.”
I ran away, leaving the shoe behind, my rest of bodily integrity was too important to me.
When I looked back, the shoe was against her ear. Listening to the sea, I guess.
I LOVE animals, especially mice.” Oh, that smile... Finally the woman of my dreams, an animals lover; I guessed my houseful of stray dogs and the few bats hanging from the curtains would pose no problem to our love nest. “I calculated that it would take about seven hundred fifteen to get a knee length coat.” Oh, that smile... I felt like strangling her.
It took me several weeks. I drove to her place and left my wrapped present in front of her door. Then waited in the car until the music of her screams filled my ears... “Mice!... Mice!...”
She was chocking on an apple. I hurried over and saved her, pushed in her boobs and the apple came out. It wasn’t a bite, it was a full apple.
“Oh, my prince...” her boobs enfolded me. I refused to give her my phone number and hurried away. I hardly advanced a few paces when she was chocking again. “Oh, my prince...” it was another prince this time. I watched him letting go of the boobs and departing smilingly. She pulled out a notebook seven fingers thick and made an X in it. Then picked an apple from her bag...
She won that coveted, international literary first prize, she kept jumping and jumping. The prize was money and a trip to Dubai, the Louis Vuitton equivalent of paradise for women... she was in the clouds. I kept warning her, teasing jokingly “...hey, careful, woman, this is just a pretext to get you there and sell you to a rich sheikh...” and she kept threatening to take me along and sell ME to a rich sheikh. Ha-ha.
She did return. No Louis, no money prize either. Luckily, the sheikh refused to buy her. Thank Allah, some of them have bad taste.
Joker to the end. An envelope under the smoking barrel, a smiley outside.
“Dears, I’m an ecologist. I will contribute to saving the ozone layer by going early enough, wouldn’t want to be ranged with the sheep of New-Zealand.
Anyway, I‘m falling apart and doing it later might need shooting a few separated pieces, damn painful. Or imagine getting a heart attack on the roof, falling and breaking a hand. Not to mention my Parkinson getting so violent that I miss my head and hit an innocent by-stander. Heavy on my conscience... and me with my lumbago...
He sat at the bar, drinking, his right hand in his pocket. I needed him.
“Hi, I hear you’re a mouse exterminator,” I said. He looked me up slowly, like I was the subject of the extermination, then left.
“You’re lucky,” said the barman.
“Why?” I puzzled.
“See, after one job, he found a baby mouse, still alive - rosy, hairless, still attached to its dead mom’s tit and squeaking pitifully. The poor man ‘lost it’. Burned his business, started drinking. Others like you almost died.”
“Tell me,” she said, “who would you like to make love to more than to me? Don’t worry, I know to take it.” There was a strange glitter in her eyes.
Yeah, sure, all women say it until... Well, she asked, no? I rushed over to my Playboy’s collection, pulled the one I knew so well, opened it, carefully opened the staples, removed the centerfold and rushed back.
“See her?...” the glitter in her eyes deepened... “not even to her.”
There was no place for the glitter to go any deeper, so it exploded. And not only in her eyes.
“I feel like apple-wine,” I whined, “I’ve never yet drank apple-wine.”
“You are joking, are you sure you are not a... virgin?” she said and we both laughed, I a bit uneasily. “Okay, give me that apple.” I did. “Thanks. Now turn around.” I turned. It took less than a minute... “Here, have a bite.” What???
I took it. Take a bite? Not drink? Before I even had my teeth in I was drunk, irremediably inebriated, I took her, conquered her, owned her.
“Hey, what was that?” I asked, still slightly mixed-up.
“Female secret,” she smiled, carefully wiping the apple.
“I’d rather have watermelon,” said Adam. “Here, have a banana.”
Eve sneaked a regard to Snake who hit his forehead with his tail (he had no hand), this Adam was a tough cookie. And the banana was a dangerous provocation, though certainly innocent.
“Esssay apple-wine,” hissed Snake in Eve’s ear with his imperfect English.
“You mean like in the previous story?”
It took three apple-wine essays until Adam got the point.
Truth is that God didn’t have to throw them out of Eden, it was Adam chasing Eve until they fell off it. No, they don’t regret, thank you.
Cheap Flights In Six Parts (nervosity breeds verbosity, personal proverb)
stewardess welcoming passengers...
“...the new metallic boarding tickets allow perfect identification in case of crash. For short flights we do not provide tickets, the risk is minimal and does not justify the expense.
You will notice the safety doors are just painted on the walls, if we crash they are meaningless anyway. The savings thus achieved reflect positively on your ticket costs.
Standing places will not be served drinks, since they may spill and cause floor rust. We will be serving chewing gum, instead.
Thank you for choosing Air Airways, the modern air company.
Please welcome (applause) our volunteer pilot for today, Mr...”
toilet welcoming me...
...and I put a coin in the slot. Click. I managed to get in, bending my head to the chest. I was the wrong way around. There was no way to turn inside the cabin so I opened the door, got out, turned around and entered the other way around. The door would not lock. A polite stewardess knocked on the door... “Sorry sir, your first coin was used, please insert a new coin.” I started losing it (the pee). I cursed loudly, got out, used a new coin, locked, peed, wriggled out.
“Sorry sir, the fine for cursing is...”
airline welcoming extra income...
...a drably guy gets up from a front chair, pulls up his trouser to show his wooden leg and hobbles in the aisle pulling a beggar face and brandishing a paper cup. Embarrassed travelers drop each a few coins. He hobbles back to his seat. A stewardess joins him, counts the coins, pulls out a calculator and splits the money.
...a drably woman holding a baby gets up from a front chair, pulls a beggar face and starts moving in the aisle brandishing a paper cup. Embarrassed...
...a drably couple with a drum...
...hey, any real travelers in this plane?
everybody welcoming food...
“...dear travelers, we will now start our on board service. Fresh sandwiches at affordable prices of fifty dollars, a glass of water included. Our special deals program proposes old sandwiches at fifteen dollars, but you will have to sign a document absolving us from any responsibility. Pet food at the very affordable price of five dollars per can. Drinks in individual cups available on request. Shared bottles are suggested per members of the same family, at ten percent reduction. One napkin provided free of charge per three passengers. Leftovers to be carried away by you, bags available at fifty cents.”
destination welcoming us...
“...the descending pole is free. For using the stairs please pay... We accept credit cards, cash, Paypal.”
“...the open transportation platform is free. Supports to hold on to are graciously provided for free by Air Airways. A coin operated umbrella distributor is in the corner. For the bus we accept only cash, all currencies but an exchange commission will be applied.”
“...first class passengers, kindly please return the plastic champagne glasses.”
“...thank you for choosing Air Airways, we hope you enjoyed flying with us. Those interested can fill in the questionnaire at the exit. Pencils provided at one cent each.”
finances not really welcome or welcoming...
...I got home, a financial wreck. Slept for three days. Then crawled sheepishly to my bank and asked for a second, small mortgage against my house. The clerk asked if I was sane in my mind and offered me the address of his psychoanalyst. I refused. I refused to disclose the reason as well, even when he threatened me with violence (he really needed a psychoanalyst). Finally he agreed and as we moved to a friendly chat he asked me about the cheap flight I told him about previous week. He left to hospital and I left to police custody.
I wasn’t called Robin Hood for the green hood. That would be a future Errol Flynn invention, in something to be called movies. During my time, I was called this way for the... robin. You see, I was trilling as thrillingly as a robin. I wasn’t any damn highway robber, ha, I brandished a harp not a bow.
The hood? Well, my name was actually, Abrahaam but with local folk’s mangled accent it sounded like Abrahood, so I got stuck with Hood forever.
And before you ask, yes, I was Jewish. Maid Marian checked, while losing her maidenhood to me.
My original name was Rubinstein. I reached Anglia on a Moorish ship, escaped and would have drowned (where would a desert Jew learn to swim?...) if it was not for Marian who undressed, jumped in, pulled me out and forgot to dress back. I fell in love.
She was the master archer, I was her cook, lover, poet.
Once, needing a word to rhyme with Maidenhood, I invented Rubinhood, thus immortalizing both of us. But chauvinistic, macho society mangled our roles. Well, mostly she wore my tights and I her dresses, maybe this was the root for the historical mistake?
Both above versions are grossly misleading the innocent audience. I was a robber. I was an archer. I was Jewish on my mother’s side. But I couldn’t sing, cook or write (I was illiterate, actually). And I was no drag queen either, that’s an infamous rumor.
By the way, I knew no Maiden Marian, though I was Maria’s lover, for two days, we got known as Tiny Carl and Big Maria. There was no maiden in the circles I frequented, if you get my drift. Yes, Carl. What Robin? Hood what? Oh, oops, sorry, I told you I was illiterate.
“If we had 11 fingers, 100 words stories would have meant 121; 21 percent easier to write them,” I said.
“And if we had 3 fingers?” she said.
“Then it would have meant 9 words. 91 percent more difficult to write them. But we wouldn’t have minded since then we’d be chameleons with bulging eyes and a 10 inch tongue.”
“10 inch tongue? In this case I don’t think I would have minded 3 fingers,” she said, starting to implement an array of revolting activities with bulging parts and shorter tongues and, yeah, seemed like 10 fingers was amply sufficient.
A small package. No return address, just a Vietnamese stamp and my name: Jonathan Markowitz, America. How the hell did the post?...
I hesitated. Forty years ago I lost my hand in Vietnam, amputated in a make-shift Vietcong hospital by a silent doctor keen on saving his prisoner’s life. I never came to terms with it, even after being finally freed, sent home. And now... this?
I opened it, savagely. A wedding ring rolled on the table, gyrated slightly, then came to rest. There was a small note attached: “Not for your gold. My dignity, is what I fought for.”
I found the small package in my mail-box. No return address, no identification except for a colorful Vietnamese stamp and my name, carefully written on one side: Jonathan Markowitz, America. How the hell did the post office find me, I wondered, a wave of painful memories, resentment and blind hate infesting my mind.
I hesitated. Forty years ago I lost my hand in Vietnam, amputated above elbow in a make-shift Vietcong hospital by a silent Charlie, probably more keen on stealing my gold alliance ring than on saving a prisoner’s life. I spent the rest of the war in a stinking swamp, barbed wire and one bowl of rice per day. I never came to terms with my loss, even after being finally released, sent home, a surviving hero with the president shaking my other hand...
And now... this?
I ripped the box open, savagely, what the hell, if it was a bomb or some poisonous powder it would be just the coronation of that demolition act which started forty years ago. I heard a metallic click and a golden ring rolled on the table, gyrated slightly and then came to rest in front of me. I did not have any problem recognizing it. I unfolded the small piece of paper that was inside the box, flattening it on the table with my one good hand:
“It was not for your gold. My dignity, this is what I fought for.” There was no signature.
“Then... you can come,” she tweeted, a smiley trailing.
The door opened. Three huge schnauzers attacked me, licking me like it was raining. I made it past the fifteen cats... “Hi,” she said, oh, she was so beautiful... “this is Popo,” she pointed to twenty parakeets. Followed an anaconda, seventy white mice, one black... “Mickey...” she blushed, several pigs, hundreds of grasshoppers...
We married inside three weeks.
It was great, except for my vertigo. See, chasing eight goats hopping all over the neighborhood roofs wasn’t exactly my natural calling.
It was THE scoop. Pulitzer for me, fame for my tabloid. The brittle letter, dated 1594 and confirmed by carbon-14 dating, said (translated from Elizabethan English):
Change Rocinante to Romeo, Giulietta to Juliet. She should die too. Use Rocinante for your novel. Money sent.
The tabloid paid a fortune for the entire letters box, manuscript included. It was my turn to smear the magic with reality and get rich and famous.
I haven’t smoked for ages. I took the box to the garden, lighted a cigarette, then dropped the lighted match in the box and turned my back.
It was THE scoop. I did not doubt for a moment that this year’s Pulitzer was mine by right, not to mention the huge fame for the tabloid I worked for. A tabloid journalist getting the Pulitzer, wow, won’t it shake “them” establishment slaves and snobs?!
I read again the short letter, the paper carrying the words brittle like a fresh wound’s scab. Dated 1594 and confirmed by carbon-14 dating and three independent graphologists. I guess a good forger could have fooled even three graphologists, but I’ve never yet heard of one fooling a carbon-14 test. Translated from Elizabethan English, the letter said:
Change Rocinante to Romeo, Giulietta to Juliet. She should die too. You can use Rocinante for your novel. Money will be sent once I get the full manuscript.
The tabloid gave me the cash once I brought the proof. I bought the entire letters box, manuscript included. “Our best ever investment” laughed my CEO, slapping me on the back. It was my turn now to smear newly uncovered reality over old magic, get rich, get famous, get the Pulitzer. When I watched the wall clock again, it was 24 hours later and I was still seated on my living room sofa.
I haven’t smoked for ages. I took the box to the garden, lighted a cigarette and dropped the lighted match in the box. Then I turned my back to the flames, old ink fumes mixing aromatically with fresh cigarette smoke. Suddenly, I felt good.
John was an old-fashioned mad scientist. Really old-fashioned. Really mad. Really scientist. His lab consisted of two blackboards at home and a piece of chalk. On the left blackboard he was inventing temporary formulas, worth thousands of dollars each. On the right one he was working for 25 years on a formula worth trillions of dollars - reducing the half-life time of radioactive materials to approximately... 200 hours.
He finally made it! Rushing enthusiastically down the stairs, he stumbled most unfortunately on the house cat, and rolled all the way down breaking, luckily, just his hand. After two days in the hopital he returned home, finding there his sister.
“John, my love, I finally cleaned your room, it’s as good as new.” She was beaming with pleasure.
The books were on the shelves, the garbage emptied, the blackboards were black, clean, shiny, as good as new. A strange grimace rose on John’s face as he watched stunned for a moment, then he mumbled something and closed the lab door behind him. “Oh, John...” she picked the sheets on which she copied the text from the blackboards and rushed after him. She had just reached the door when she heard the shot.
John was an old-fashioned mad scientist. His lab was two blackboards. One contained temporary formulas, worth thousands. The other contained his 25 years effort, one formula worth trillions: reducing half-life of radioactive materials to... hours.
I made it!!! Rushing enthusiastically down the stairs, he stumbled badly and broke his arm.
Back from hospital, he found his sister.
“John, dear, I cleaned your place.”
The blackboards were... black. John grimaced strangely, mumbled something and closed the door. “Oh...” she picked the sheets copied from the blackboards and rushed after him. She had just reached the door when she heard the shot.
The last thing he remembered was seeing an angel and rushing out of the shop. Then a bump on his forehead and... nothingness. He opened his eyes, cautiously. An angel... THE angel was looking down at him, a worried look on her face.
“You shouldn’t try to run out through windows”, she smiled.
His voice wasn’t listening anymore to his mind, only to his heart.
“I love you,” he wanted to say, maybe he did?
She exploded with laughter and rose to go. She did not open any wings to fly away, but she did leave him her phone number.
I lay a red rose on the grave of my mother. Then a red rose on the grave of my father, next to her. Then drove over to the pet cemetery and lay red roses on the three stones there, one each. My red roses day. My love day.
No more red-rose destinations, I thought thankfully, sitting in the car and letting my eyes take over all talking duties. Wet words, so much easier than sentences, prayers, songs.
I had one leftover rose. I played loves-me, loves-me-not, ending with loves-me. I smiled, started the car and pulled back into life.
The end of the world was in one hour and twenty three minutes. A huge blob of incandescent plasma disconnected from the sun and was rushing mindlessly towards Earth. It missed Venus, it was not going to miss Earth.
“I don’t want to die a virgin,” he cried, kneeling in front of her. They were young, they were in love...
“Yes,” she whispered, kneeling next to him.
They hugged ferociously, they rolled between the flowers, they loved savagely... oh, the fire in their young bodies, they did not even feel the incandescent blob enveloping Earth and turning everything to cinders.
I was Marie Antoinette’s hat hanger. I was in love with her hat, delighted when Mariette’s head was bringing it over to me. We would love all night, knowing that during the day my lover had on-the-head duties.
And then, the horrible rumor... no head available to bring my hat back... I’ve never seen my lover since.
I’m now in an antiques shop. No one knows my history so no one wants me. I heard them planning to burn me. I hope there is a heaven for lovers, I do. And that my hat, my lover, waits there for me.
Her dog died when she was eighty. She made sure it was cremated, the colorful urn placed next to the sunny bedroom window. Every year she placed freshly cut roses next to it, and about once a week she was taking it out for a walk. She was not crazy, just overly sentimental.
She died at ninety.
“Please,” pleaded her son with the crematorium orderly, who accepted the Benjamin and looked the other way around when the son placed the urn in the coffin, next to her.
“Your last wish,” the son smiled, kissing her cold forehead one last time.
She turned the corner. I turned the corner. We both turned the corner inside that one to a million probability second when people end in the same five dimensional spot, space time and breathlessness, her breasts squashed on my chest like a fly on a windshield, my chest squashed against her breasts like a windshield against a fly.
“Excuse me,” she blushed, not moving away.
I did not excuse myself, I was no liar. I did not move either.
“Same time tomorrow?” I offered, way of a compromise.
She accepted. Every day for a month. Then I asked her out.
She dressed elegantly - sleeveless, black dress, thin strapped black shoes with tiny golden buckles, a one row pearls necklace, dream hairdo, magical smile, eyes... yes, a pair, but what a pair...
“May I dress again?” she asked, before accepting the gallantly offered chair.
“Why did you dress at all?” I answered.
“I guess humans are suckers for wraps,” she laughed.
“If so, then my humanity is in doubt,'” I answered, gaining my first brownie for the evening.
“You need twelve.” And seeing my bovine look, she added... “Brownies.”
I didn’t ask the obvious. Just kept counting towards approaching eternity.
“Why twelve?” Not that I cared. I carried her over the threshold and laid her softly on the sofa.
“The previous was eleven.” It felt like a sudden slug, I was taken aback.
“And the first was one?”
“You are the first.” The slug turned godly caress. “Time to check your humanity,” she added, kicking away the first shoe.
“Imagine we would not have had that first encounter,” I said. “It would have been hell.”
“Hell, the opposite of heaven?”
“Hell, the absence of heaven.”
Heaven, I thought. The last encounter. The one I did not wish to end.
The day was declared Smog Day, with speeds set to 90kph all over the country. Belgians, being Belgians, immediately reduced their speed to 160kph. I, belonging to a law abiding dying breed (I respect all Ten Commandments except one, and don’t import live elephants) set my cruise to 99kph, just the limit of radar tolerance; drawing angry traitor! regards from drivers zooming left and right. Not from the one above who forced me to an illegal 101kph as I outmaneuvered the rolling metal carcass, screaming his way moron! you’ll get me flashed! before easing back to 99kph.
When I reached work, I found all desks turned northwards, a government sponsored research having proven (1.73% certainty) that it helped Earth rotation, sweeping the smog towards our neighbors in the east. Idiots, I laughed, our bigger neighbors to the west know it too. They didn’t know, I found later.
Hospitals started filling with law abiding pedestrians who tried to keep up with the speed limit. Special wings were opened for collapsed dog-owners and their collapsed dog companions. For once, hospital food was a success, all except spinach. Underdone, concluded an ensuing heated debate on national TV.
Air companies were politely asked to respect the emergency speed limits or face huge fines. Didn’t know! wailed some, paying their way into bankruptcy. One respectful pilot tried, ending in a tomatoes field. Bleeding Airplane screamed the newspapers, showing horror pictures of all passengers except one (allergic) holding a tomato.
It was a new TV game: logic and accuracy. Ten questions, with the hardest first and 50 seconds of thinking time. Losing five seconds each time and doubling the gain. Starting with exactly $976.5625 and I was at exactly nine correct answers and $500,000. I could pocket the money or go for the million. Easiest question coming, five seconds of thinking time. I decided to continue.
“A dog’s mother can be his sister – true or false?” Huh?! Too simple, there had to be a trap somewhere but in 5 seconds I had to go with my logic...
“False,” I answered, and the dreaded buzzer accompanied by oohs and ahhs from the audience brought home the bad news – I lost. The game-master was halfway through his final joke when I interrupted him. “I protest!” I said. “No one can have two mothers, thus she can be his mother but only half-sister, through a common father. Half-sister!” I emphasized.
A blush started creeping through the game master’s face, and some people started shouting... Damn correct!... the sporadic shouts ascending into a deafening bellow: Co-rrect! Co-rrect!
They gave me the million. I was right, of course.
“Just teasing,” grinned the game-master. Yeah, sure...
...100 words, makes less sense
A new TV game: logic and accuracy. Ten questions, hardest first, 50 seconds thinking. Sequentially losing five seconds, doubling the gain. Starting at $976.5625. I reached $500,000. Leave or go for the million? Easiest question... five seconds... Continue!
“A dog’s mother can be his sister – true or false?” Huh?! Too simple? With 5 seconds...
“False,” and the dreaded buzzer said I lost. The game-master started joking... “I protest!” I said. “No one can have two mothers, she can be his half-sister, through common father. Half-sister!”
The game-master choked, people started chanting... Co-rrect! Co-rrect!
They gave me the million. Of course.
...50 words, makes no sense
TV logic game. First question 50 seconds, $976.5615; next 5 seconds less, double prize. Reached $500,000. Try million? Try.
“A dog’s mother can be his sister – true?”
“You lost.” said the game-master.
“I protest! No one can have two mothers. Half-sister possible, through father.”
I was right. I won.
...25 words, even no sense makes more sense
Game. First question 50 seconds; next 5 seconds less, double prize. Reached $500,000.
I painted you from inside out, starting with the heart. Then lungs, stomach, brain. Bones, muscles. Flesh. Skin. I had a problem with the skin, kept blushing at certain spots, losing my breath. Eyes. Lips. Hair... awkwardly, blushing again, same places... Place!
Such lack of talent. How could I paint the fire of fire? I covered it all white paint.
Then I undressed you and lay you against the wall. “I need to study the details again,” I lied. Truth was that I knew I was a lousy painter and wanted to make you forget it. I think I succeeded.
I’m at an age when women represent pure academic interest, if at all. One hundred twenty-nine. You are one hundred twenty-four. My interest for you is way beyond academic. No one knows except for the bribed guards of the Home; my stash of Viagra, condoms and oil well hidden, your visits accurately planned to coincide with Jeopardy when everyone, except for some coma cases, joins the TV room.
No one knows. No one will know until they find our naked bodies locked in that final, ambiguously deathly embrace, when time will have lost any of its academic interest to us.
It was a waste to you’re an idiot! him again, so I picked my half-full bottle, my supermarket trolley with my worldly possessions and my three legged dog and waddled to the other street corner, looking for higher intelligence to tell my story to. Not that it helped. I finished the bottle in one go, looking forward to death.
I snickered. Ha, she didn’t know I changed my testament. Dog inherits all.
“Call me when you’re back.” She didn’t even wipe the tear, her protruding belly pushing the door as she dragged the heavy suitcase to the car. I threw a half-full bottle after her, luckily drunk enough to miss. When was the last time I wasn’t drunk enough?
Following morning I kicked the shards out of the way, blood and rye filling the cracks between the tiles, and scratched one additional line on the wall. Four hundred twelve.
I counted seven hundred and two more bottles, before the strange package arrived.
It waited at my front door. Dirty brown paper, my name alright, the censor’s tape around it, a Vietnamese stamp... Vietnamese?... All the hate, the rage I was trying to drink away erupted into incoherent ravings and visions of that camp, that horrible Charlie amputating my arm just because he wanted my thick gold alliance, the impotent anger...
I opened it five bottles later. A metallic click, a ring rolling on the table several times before dropping. “Not your gold to want but your life to save” said the unsigned note in the kind of broken English that defies punctuation or misunderstanding. This time, I did hear myself scream.
I cut away the tattered yellow ribbons from the gate posts. I washed, shaved, dressed, went to a nearby restaurant and ordered a full meal with a large jug of water to go with it. Then dialed the number, listening for a few moments to the silence. “I’m back,” I said.
She was beautiful. The cancer had invaded already most of her lymphatic system but she was beautiful. Even when in pain, no one knew it. She kept smiling, radiating external and internal beauty comparable only to a sunrise. Or rather, unfortunately, to a sunset.
I was in love with her, like numerous others she met along the way and touched with that undefined mix of personality and glow which turns ordinary people into stars, leaders, saints. She was none of these. Just a 32 years old woman condemned to death by her own body. Like her mother before her. Like her grandmother before that.
Write something nice about me, she begged, squeezing my hand slightly, and left a box with hundreds of densely written pages behind. The only expression she ever gave to her pain – love poems. Love for her grandmother, love for her mother. I started trembling when I opened the third package... love for me? Yet she always looked through me, even on those rare occasions when we sat at the same table, munching our lunch sandwiches together.
I read all night, my editorial instincts taking over sub-conscientiously as I sorted, corrected, filed. Following morning I got out early, took the car and drove to her apartment. I wanted, had to catch her before she was leaving for the office. They were just pulling out the stretcher, a white sheet covering her face. I heard the word ‘overdose’. The pain, probably having had overwhelmed her smile. I died.
How do you write a life’s story in just a few words? Easily. With the life hardly one day long, the story doesn’t need more than just a few words. Born with a congenital heart disease, dead in less than 24 hours. Dead on your birthday or the other way around, just one date on your tombstone. Cheaper, said the engraver.
Your life’s story... prologue, epilogue, no content... and your mom so wanted a girl, Lucia.
My wife sat in a corner, her regard petrified, the departing guests’ kisses lost somewhere between her physical cheek and her temporarily inexistent mind. I kept calm outside, crumbling inside for my only two women – the one still there and the other one, already nowhere. The last guest left.
Jackie stood up and started unbuttoning her dress. “What are you doing, darling?”
She took off dress, shoes, slip, shivering in her fragile nakedness before me. “I want a child, Charles, now.”
“But, dear, you are still bleeding, stitches...” “Now!” she screamed, though all that came out was a whisper.
Lucia is two years old. On her birthday we took her to the cemetery where she started chasing a butterfly between the tombstones. “A two mothers child,” murmured Jackie, kneeling next to the single dated stone. “Thank you,” she said.
Lucia will have a girl, Gail. Gail will have Richard and Samantha. Richard will have... An unending short life story. “Thank you,” it was my turn to say, that terrible pain finally ripping my heart.
You are ugly, your talent is mediocre, you hardly smile and when you do one wishes you didn’t, your taste in clothing is terrible and in shoes even worse, when you talk you spit, when you walk you skip, no sense of humor, talk too much. You hate movies I love, you love food I hate. I love dogs. You love cows...
She got up, picked her hat, matchless bag, matchless scarf, tears invading her...
“I love your pancreas,” I said. She jumped back as much as humanly possible “Wait!...” dictionary... another page... “...your eyes?...” This ended with said “she” immediately inside my arms and a large portion of her digestive system’s entry inside mine, or around it. Oh, these creatures and their heavenly rituals... Bless the scientists who conceived my perfect human physiology.
The buzzing in my pocket meant “they” wanted to know if the humans were tasty, should the invasion proceed. I picked the box and made choking, disgusting, dying noises. Then crashed it.
“What was that?” she asked.
“Our future,” I answered.
2nd attempt, in 150
Fleet procedures impose a second, last attempt. I knew where and when. Exactly diametrically opposite to my first landing, 3375 time units from last contact. Finding the place geographically was easy, using that ingenious man made technology called GPS. Less easy was finding, buying and then getting to the top of the Manhattan skyscrapper the primitive, yet deadly efficient Strela-3 (carrying some personal improvements). Christmas helped, the receptionist smiling knowledgeably as I rolled in the lobby the big, gift-wrapped package.
The landing pod emitted in the deep infra-red, this being assumed as not easily traceable by the humans. Unless one knew exactly where and when to look. I knew. I pulled the trigger.
The newspapers were flooded for months with exploding UFO reports and conspiracy theories. I did not care, at most they’ll find a few ceramic splinters stained with unknown type blood.
That Sunday we married. Strange institution, marriage.
procreation, in 200
Plant, sea and insect life are the most evolved in Earth’s ecological system, how the hell (I started using human expresions) did mammals get the upper hand in the ongoing war for supremacy, and least of all – how did humans mount to the top of the pyramid? All species multiplied in the tousands, in the millions with each procreative interraction, even other mammals did their best to compete. Yet humans wasted millions of opportunities for... pleasure. Ridiculous, with so much procreative potential ending in the digestive system of other members of the race, human race was certainly doomed. But, since I knew about the pleasure involved, let’s say that I did not complain.
The blob of wailing flesh we later named David joined our family less than one Earth year later. I was glad our scientists carried compatibility to other concerned species that far. The motherships were by now far into the Nebula 3 system, all risk removed from Earth. For a moment I did wonder how human meat would taste like, then erased all such thought forever.
David posed a certain challenge to the medical profession, specialists trying hard to classify his blood type and failing miserably, of course.
He touched tongue to elbow, right thumb to right wrist, left heel to left armpit...
The public was enraptured. The judges less.
“That’s no talent,” said the female judge, “that’s freakiness.”
Maybe; still, John made it to semi-finals, then finals, the public loved him.
He stood there, facing the public, then slowly turned his head, further, then further, until his eyes faced the public again. People fainted. “He cannot win,” choked the judge, words which John misinterpreted, rotating his head a quarter turn further.
He won, of course.
However, following shows were split to two: “talents” and... “freaks”.
And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day.
And the world was white and black and many shades of grey. You see, it was an oversight on His part, He was tired. He did not create colors. Not until Eve pricked her finger on the rose’s thorn, wondering at the red she saw, that He admitted to it.
Reason enough to kick her out of heaven, the apple just an excuse for generations to come. They all believed. But He knew. He still knows. And Eve still suffers.
Christmas eve, past midnight. I heard the screech, I heard the bang. I heard the scream.
I was on the opposite lane, stuck in a traffic jam, probably one hundred meters from the impact. I could have rushed to help, I could have picked the ridiculous car fire extinguisher and rushed over. I could have thrown snow at it. I did nothing of the kind, blaming the sleet, the darkness, the blood digging sluggishly its way inside my wine stream... yeah, great party, and that splendid, what was her name?... Sylvie...
By the time the fire engine arrived there were no more screams. Even the blaze subsided. I crawled out of the car and vomited, whiffs of burned “something” invading me.
I did not open the radio, TV, did not buy newspapers for the rest of the week, didn’t want to know. Took leave from work. There was a black stain there, the asphalt corroded and splinters of plastic still glinted in between the lanes. A crow was pecking at something in the bushes separating the lanes North from those South. Worms? Charred crumbs of flesh?
I rang everyone in my phone’s contacts list, insisting when they did not pick up. They were all ok. Probably strangers, I decided, opening Net News in a sudden masochistic drive. Yes, strangers. The boys aged twenty two and twenty three, the girls eighteen, both. Not from my city.
I still wake up nights, hearing it. Not the scream, rather the absence of it.
Thus, ironically, Ptolemy was right. Sure, not Earth, rather Earth’s sun was the center of the universe, but what’s a few kilometers between friends?
I re-read Smith’s thesis, impeccable math, irrefutable astronomy, experiments beyond reproach. Professors Stern and Wahid corroborated my impression. This was not a thesis, this was proof.
The Big Bang occurred at our sun’s center, the gravitation center of the entire physical universe. The thesis adding proof that the universe’s expansion stopped and retraction started, with monstrous acceleration setting in.
Ninety-nine years. I will not live to see it. Hell, no one will live to see it.
“You know why Nero burnt Rome? Because he had hay fever...” Stony faces all the way to the back. The public may well have been a Michelangelo sculpture. “Hey, give me a three letter’d word which is a four letter’d one! Raise your hands...” I tried my luck further. I disregarded the few Shut-up!’s which were six letter words anyway, and continued... “IRS!” I hurried off the stage when I saw a few hands raising (carrying tomatoes).
Next day a blue colored envelope appeared in my mail-box. Tax office. Fast, aren’t they?
I hesitated, hesitated... finally decided to buy it. Didn't tell her, actually wanted to surprise her withy my extensive knowledge on the subject. After all it was a first for us both.
I entered the book-shop surreptitiously - dark glasses, hat, false beard - and moved toward the "Dummies" shelves. I pulled it out, hands trembling, third from left... "Raising Children for Dummies". I was surprised at its thickness, or rather lack of it; I expected bible thick, it was newspaper thin. I opened it... there was only one page inside, one sentence: "Dummies, should not raise children."
He snapped. Like a dry twig. You may even say he heard the sound his mind made. Snap!
He went to a pawn shop to buy a pistol. "Which kind?" asked the owner. "The kind with bullets," he answered. Then he sat in front of the oil company's offices, waiting. At 04:46PM he identified the GM exiting and barred his way.
"Did you watch TV last night?" he asked, impervious to the aged man's incomprehension. "You should have had," he said, raising the pistol and pulling the trigger, images of pelicans drowning under layers of liquid sooth invading his mind.
Her gramps, her hero. The one who played horse when she attacked the pirates with her wooden sword, the one who lied to mommy when she tore that new dress while climbing the chimney, the one who always lost when they played football. Who allowed her to light his pipe. Who pulled Jake's ear when Jake pulled her ponytail. Who will pay for her bride dress whenever she will need a bride dress.
Her gramps, lying surrounded by a maze of tubes and cables and clicking apparatus and nurses pricking and poking and pulling. Three months now, no change foreseen in pain, humiliation. She burst into a hysterical sob, her head on his emaciated chest.
"Go away," he wheezed, "and close the door!" A command, imperial, addressed to mommy and the nurses, not to her. They left the door slightly ajar. She got up and clicked it shut with a finality befit her twelve years of age and maturity of thought. "Maggie, help me!"
She approached and leaned her ear against his mouth. She did not even gasp. He made her promise him that, a long time ago. A year ago. Now it was her turn to become his hero and she was not going to fail him.
"Oh, Maggie, what have you done?" The thunder. The screams. The sirens. For how long did the barrel smoke in his fallen, inert hand?
Maggie, age twenty. "I will always love you, gramps," she says, laying the rose on the dark-lettered tombstone.
"I was appointed to this position and office to protect this country and its citizens, John."
"I was elected to this position and office for the same, John."
"Not anymore. Mr. President, John!"
"Mr. President, I know what I am doing."
"You may think so, John, yet not always. Do you know that two persons were assassinated?" [Prolonged silence.] "Marylin was pregnant. [Prolonged silence.] John, you have one year to prepare the agency for your retirement. I want to have your resignation letter on my desk exactly one year from now. If not, this information will be made public on exactly the date, by myself. Criminal prosecution will follow immediately after."
Closure of connection. End transcript.
John Edgar turned on the red light of "Do Not Disturb" above his door and rested seated at his desk for the rest of the evening. He was not one to be rushed. His calm manner did not betray any of the thought processes nevertheless rushing through his mind. At the end of three hours he rolled the papers of the calendar on his desk until he reached the date he was looking for. "Hmm, let's see... one year from today... 22, November. Presidential planned visit – Dallas..."
He unlocked a drawer at the bottom of his desk and pushed a button he kept solely for emergencies. Exceptional emergencies. Such as this one.
"Sir?..." rustled into his ears the 24/7 voice from the small speaker.
"War and Peace, ladies and gentlemen. In Russian."
Then I placed the two inch thick book next to it. "War and Peace. Same page size, text format, paragraphing, etc. In Russian." They watched me, uncomprehending. For a joined FBI/CIA/NSA special committee, they looked at that moment like a herd of bovines. "Both printed based on Tolstoy's handwritten manuscripts, two manuscript versions." I placed a third book, one inch thick, next to the first two. "And the difference; all the random words skillfully added or deleted, which would make, artistically speaking, no difference."
They kept looking at me, not at the books, waiting for the punch line to justify this special gathering around a literary interest. Literary interest which cost me five years of research, gigantic bribes, smuggling efforts and university mainframe time.
"I let the university computer create various text combinations with the extra words, word-anagrams if you wish. The most interesting result was..." I moved around the table dropping a manuscript in front of each committee member... "this one."
They opened the manuscript one participant after another, gasping in exactly the same order.
"Yes, ladies and gents, this is before Einstein, before Madame Curie and before the Bolshevik Revolution." Their mouths, with no exception, were agape. "This is a do-it-yourself recipe for an atomic bomb. I wonder if the question now on the table is: was Tolstoy an alien or did an alien play a practical joke on Tolstoy?"
I died. It was a stupid mistake, though they don't use such words there. Wrong time, place, identity. I wasn't going to take it... ahmm... lying down, mind you.
People complain about bureaucracy on Earth? Wait until they meet heaven's bureaucracy hell. They kept sending me from office to office to office and it was only when I started threatening to use scandalously forbidden words, that they pointed me to my recruiter. Recruiter, ha!!!
It was a she, probably, though they all looked the same with long white robes, army boots, tattooed thumbs...
"What’s this tattoo, a serial number to identify you by prayer?"
I knew I was right from her sweet-talking me, showing me (doctored, I bet) videos about the perfect valley of giganterflies (dragons), perfect hall of halolors (where each chooses his/her/its halo color), perfect eternal flowers (plastic?), and congeneric pep-talk.
"It's heaven," she batted eyelashes.
I responded by showing her (undoctored) pictures of my imperfectly aged, imperfectly skinned, imperfectly toothed perfect lover.
"What about sex?" I asked.
"What's sex?" she answered.
I asked to see her superior, who was as baffled as she was, then the next one up, then... you won't believe the hierarchy they have up there. Finally at level nineteen they gave up (admitted their mistake) and administered me the capital punishment.
"You won't believe what happened to me," she (my lover) said.
"You won't believe what happened to me," I answered, after three days of straight sex.
this story was written in 100 words, for the Museo de la Palabra contest; however the real flair is in the slightly enlarged version, here below...
History books call it the Strange Day. Not the Saintly Day, nor the Miraculous Day, not even Liberation Day. Just the Strange Day. Strange.
he day when all locks holding living beings sprung open all at once for prisons, cages, traps, stables kennels dens... electrical locks, mechanical locks, even primitive "locks" the kind of tied ropes, bolted shackles, buckled straps.
Of course humans being what they were some political, religious, even scientific nuts tried to own the event. Yet for this once humanity slapped their offer down ending, in one day, five thousand years of human induced misery.
Today we celebrate one thousand years of peace and prosperity. The thousandth Strange Day celebrations. I fixed with a safety pin the traditional "Human, and proud to be one" ribbon to my five year granddaughter's shirt and went out to join the thousands pouring in the streets for the event.
I didn't lock the door behind me, there was no need. There was no lock.
the contest version, in 100 words...
History calls it the Strange Day. Not Saintly, Miraculous, Liberation... just Strange. The day when all locks holding living beings sprung open simultaneously- prisons, cages, stables, dens... electrical, mechanical, even primitive locks- tied ropes, bolted shackles, buckled straps.
And for once humanity rejected political/religious/scientific/etc "offers" to own the event, ending five thousand years of human induced misery in one day.
One thousand years of peace, today. I pinned on my granddaughter's shirt the traditional "Proud Human" ribbon and joined the masses in the streets for the celebration.
I didn't lock the door, there was no need. There was no lock.
"Torn!" I shrieked, certain now that she was an alien masquerading as my wife. I tried to stab with my cane, but my wheelchair overturned. I heard the rushing doctor whisper commiseratingly in her ear "...acute Alzheimer's...". "Alien, alien!" I kept shrieking.
"I will take him upstairs," my so called wife sobbed, declining any help.
It stays as unexplained medical miracle in medical books, the fact that eighty-five year old Mr. Schlumberger recovered from his paralysis sufficiently to bend the bars of his window and jump fifteen floors down, to his death.
To my female ears, even at 6'6" and 200 pounds and not having waxed two months, this sounded kinda phony. I leaned across, plucked the guy from his chair and got him in a Nelson until he fainted. Then dropped him to the floor, head first, and opened the toilette. The real thing lay there, bound, gagged, sweating.
After police took the impostor away, I told my problem again.
"It's your prostate. Undress..."
I did the Nelson, again. Police came, again. And I was stuck with my problem, still.
"I'm Paris. No, not Hilton, though we kinda share a species: mammals. Mainly she. I belong to a sub species, sub from inferior: circumcised mammals. Sure, there is another sub species, not less inferior: non-circumcised non-female mammals. Helen was my mammal, part of the superior sub species. Yes, don't mention it, the wonders of confusing logic, mine. I never even knew about the Hilton mammal, so many years before her time. The wood horse was not a mammal, he was wood. Why do I write all this nonsense? Trying for a prize: the stupidest shorty. Guess what? I didn't win."
chatting the censor out of the picture during 100... ahm... "words"
strange as it may seem, this is a real dialog between two people on a chat service; yes, this is what the world literature would look like (will look like?) if the chat expressions system would take over the world; OK, at least the English part of the world...
Like it or not – I will live to a healthy 300 years or more. I just found hundreds of wonderful remedies that will add years of life, and I intend to follow them strictly.
Examples? Eat 4 grams of cocoa a day and reduce heart disease risk by 50%. Floss daily and add 6.4 years of life. Exercise three times a week and reduce stroke risk by 40%. Eat five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Take an Alka-Seltzer. Drink one liter of water. Laugh a lot... etc.
OBITUARY: Poor guy, died before his time. Of hunger.
"Impressive," he said, letting the ash from his cigar hit the carpet. "Hmm, the trade minister, by sniper rifle. Ropopo... it was you?... knifed in his night-club mid of all his bodyguards. Explosives twice... Impressive! You seam most suitable for the job opening, Mr. Joe Pee. Our policy is very strict, we hire based on CV only," he said. He was not apologizing.
He extended a heavily ringed hand which I shook, just as my mouth blew the tiny pellet that penetrated his forehead. He dropped dead.
"Yes, I always fulfill my contracts," I murmured. One more for the CV.
I am forced to cheat - in order for the story to make a full impact I needed to use exactly... 150 words. But I pay for it, reducing it to a 100 words version right after, with such a lesser impact that I feel like crying.
We met for our weekly tea meeting, as usual, at the exclusive "Only We" club, all of us dressed Savile Row in accordance with the club's strict rules.
This time we were competing over pedantry, trying to decide who has the most pedantic relative?
John was the first.
"My sister's brother owns a building company. He forces all his employees to tighten any screw, visible or invisible, so that the cross-heads are perfectly perpendicularly oriented."
We all applauded.
"My sister examines all her nineteen lilac bushes twice a day and removes any flower that doesn't have exactly four petals."
We all applauded.
I was the last.
"My father is a hired killer." They shifted uncomfortably. "He has an inverse pedantry rule. He never kills anyone dressed Savile Row. I, on the other hand, don't have this limitation," I added, unholstering my automatic.
No one was left to applaud.
We met at our exclusive club, everyone dressed Savile Row following the club's rules.
This time we competed over who has the most pedantic relative.
"My uncle owns a workshop. He forces everybody to tighten any screw, so that the cross-heads are perfectly perpendicular."
"My sister examines all her lilac bushes daily, removing any flower that doesn't count four petals."
"My father is a hired killer, with an inverse pedantry rule, never killing anyone dressed Savile Row. I don't have this limitation," I added, unholstering my automatic.
This is even worse, here I am forced to use 250 words; they are necessary, trust me. And again, I pay the blood-money by engineering a 100 words version immediately after. I wouldn't apply for a prize for the shorter version, for sure, actually... I hate it.
They invented this new, prime time TV challenge called "Who Wants To Be A Billionaire?" and the show's scouts followed an insistent street rumor that eventually lead them to their first candidate, a youngster living in an insalubrious house in an insalubrious street...
"It all comes from watching too much TV," complained his Ma.
It all came actually from incredible memory capacity. He knew the age in years, months, days and hours of every deceased president, the number of steps Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, the atomic weight of every element in the Table... Wow!
They bathed him, dressed him, combed him... First show of five, ten questions ten bells, the social networks started humming. Second show, ten bells, America started dreaming, ratings broke historical records and advertisers competed for slots valued at millions...
The fifth and last show. Nine correct answers, nine bells, one last question... America held its breath.
"Name the greatest American boxer of all times."
The candidate smiled.
There was no bell. There was no buzzer either. The quiet in the spectators' hall (each seat at two hundred bucks) was electrifying. The three judges seemed to hesitate and then conferred for a few five minutes. Finally the jury lead took the mike.
"The official answer is Muhammad Ali. However, taking these special circumstances and other factors in account, this jury willingly accepts Rocky Marciano..."
"Marciano? What Marciano?" interrupted the candidate. "Balboa."
The buzzer ended America's dream.
The following season died after one week.
A crazy, new TV challenge "Want To Be A Billionaire?", and the show's scouts found their incredible first candidate.
"Comes from watching too much TV," complained Ma.
Came actually from an incredible memory. He knew every deceased president's age, every element's atomic weight...
They bathed him, dressed him... First show, ten questions ten bells, second show same, America started dreaming, viewing ratings broke records...
Fifth and last show... last question... America quit breathing.
"The greatest American boxer ever."
The judges conferred, then finally...
"It's officially Muhammad Ali, however Rocky Marciano..."
His family, friends, doctors kept warning him, "...cigarettes will be your end!", and even decorated his office with a collage made of the most horrible images cut out from cigarette packages. He disregarded all warnings, using Churchill as his hero, Churchill's cigar as his avatar and smoking as heavily as ever to prove his point.
He was right, of course.
"Hey, I'm out of cigarettes, going to buy some," he said and rushed away from the meeting to the shop across the street. He met an unfriendly eighteen wheeler on his way there, poor guy.
He opened the package of thinly sliced Mortadella sausage and spread it in the sun. Then he waited. After several hours some of them got yellowish. At the end of the day most of them got nicely green. He ate only those.
The service was nice. The newspapers called it "The Mortadella Suicide" followed by a few lines of tight-lipped homage to the poet he was. No mention was made of the proposition to drape his coffin in Mortadella slices, to get him some post-mortem fame. He did though make it to the encyclopedia of weirdoes. Finally, some fame nevertheless.
It was his own decision, he had his reasons. He paid no attention to the meaningless chicaneries, stupid punishments, infantile disciplining. He wallowed in the rigors of real training, endless marches, arms schooling and usage. He wanted to become a Marine, the best ever, no one knew his reasons but all made way once he started coming, practically breezing through boot camp, special forces training... never breaking down, he was ready. He wrote her a proud, good bye letter before being deployed.
Ten paces on Afghan soil and a sniper cut him down. Such a waste, oh, such a waste.
“But I talk to you Hebrew. Why don’t you turn on the automatic translation option of the TARDIS?”
“Sir, Lord, I think you mix me up with The Doctor. I am Noah. What language do you hear me in, Sir?”
“Hebrew, of course.”
“Hmm, must be that Capaldi character playing tricks on us. The burning bush there’s probably the TARDIS, with him inside laughing his head off.”
chapter 2 - the middle
The sky started dripping.
“Hurry up, Noah, where are the ostriches?”
I found them heads in the mud, where else? I chased them all the way to the Ark, and finally let the goats in; they were the last, pushing everyone else thickly inside.
“Thank you,” they bleated in unison.
Funny, I understood Goatish but no Godish. I looked again suspiciously toward the burning bush. It started sizzling and spattering so it was just a burning bush, after all. I dragged the door closed after me with a thud. The flood had started, and it was not because of me.
chapter 3- the end
The stank was insupportable. Naamah, my wife, kept complaining but I had no solution. There was no sanitary system foreseen and, anyway, let me see you tell a cow to do “it” over a sanitary system. Good luck to you. Even if The Doctor would have been aboard with his TARDIS (I saw him once speaking Dinosaurish, jolly strange).
“Hey, Noah, open the window,” He said after forty days and there was a human stampede toward the fresh air. The burning bush was still burning and I stopped trying to imagine what it was. Probably a piece of alien technology.
chapter 4 - the epilogue (so there was no prologue, so what?)
The pigeon returned with the olive branch, God... sorry... You know where he found it. For a moment I imagined all those future wretched car owners parking underneath pigeon nests and my heart cringed in pitying commiseration.
“Noah, everybody out!” He said. “I don’t have all day and I must find Capaldi, he probably has something to do with this bush.”
There was another stampede, not human, but I forbade them to eat each other until they were out of sight. He (you know Who) agreed.
It was a fresh start and Naamah had a lot of laundry to do.
chapter 5 - modern times
I was dead long ago. I was another “me” now, probably genetically related to the original one. Capaldi insisted that while he was The Doctor, he never sent the TARDIS to visit the flood period. And anyway the TARDIS camouflage was defective so the burning bush must have been someone else. Well...
I hosed the pigeon-shit off the car, scrapping with my fingernails some hard spots, and barged into the heavy traffic, honking wildly and choking in the bluish haze of smog. God, maybe about time for another flood? But with sanitation system in the Ark this time around, ok?
My father was a bad dancer. My mother was a sublime dancer. At family parties he was always crushing her feet, then was gesticulating “secretly” for me to take over. I usually accepted, though it annoyed me extremely.
Years later. I was fortyish, my mother seventy two. We went to a cousin’s surprise party and as usual, my father danced with my mother then started making desperate signs for me to take over. This time, stubbornly, I refused.
Six months later, she died, unexpectedly.
Oh, how I wish I had danced this last time with her, oh, how I wish...
“Hurry,” I said, “the yoghurt will expire in another three minutes.”
I was obsessed by matters of freshness and health, and expiry dates were for me a matter of life and death. She looked at me, obliquely.
“You are joking, right?”
I did not watch her, I was too busy counting the seconds... seventy five seconds to go... at a rate of one spoonful every five seconds it could just be made... I snatched the yoghurt from her hand and finished it with five seconds to spare. I breathed, relieved.
It was our last date.
I was horrified. Three days later I found that my watch was running two minutes late. Which meant that I poisoned myself with the yoghurt and I was going to die the most horrible of deaths. I rushed to my doctor in the vain hope of a remedy.
Poor doctor, she was so upset with my fate that she took out a yoghurt from her fridge, showed me that it was three days past its expiry date and ate it right in front of me. Committing suicide just for seeing my pain.
Oh my God, the nobility of the act...
For some unclear reason she did not die. Neither did I. A miracle! I rushed to the church to pray my thanks but had to refuse the Eucharist since I could not check its expiry date; I did, however, accept the wine since I bought it myself.
The priest refused, gently, to apply for defining the event a genuine miracle. So did the pope to whom I wrote a detailed, personal letter. He wrote back, with a complete lack of humor: “Too late, miracles have an expiration date as well.”
The breakfast was outstanding, with fresh vegetables, a few slices of cheese, aromatic coffee, marmalade, and crowning it all two soft boiled eggs, timed to perfection. We both dived into munching, gulping, mmming... I had to compliment her.
“Those eggs are simply fantastic. Will you lay two eggs tomorrow as well?”
It was meant as a joke, of course, she knew it of course... she eyed me, for whatever reason, kind of strangely.
“Okay, if you insist. If you will allow me to add a few slices of salami as well, of course...”
She kissed me, promising me a big surprise when back from work. I spent the day imagining a variety of Victoria’s Secret outfits, maybe new positions...
I got home breathlessly, opened the door...
“Ta-ra-ta-taa!...” she sang, dragging me to my computer. “Look, clean like the day you bought it.”
Next day I applied for divorce. No, nothing to do with Victoria’s Secret, but after the years it took me to learn that the pizza stain is A and the soup stain is Q and the L is the one surrounded by three white crumbs and... you get the picture, right?
“Poor John. Yesterday his team won the game, but he died.”
“Oh, no... what happened?”
“The game was nearing the end buzzer time, they were at equality and both teams were trying hard to score. John’s team got the ball at the last second and scored the last basket. It was actually a slam dunk.”
“Great, so what?”
“John was under the basket.”
I was still baffled.
“So what, one does not die from getting a ball on his head.”
“Normally not. But the trainer decided the team needed some muscle training. They were playing with a shot put ball.”
It never happened to him before, on any circuit in the world – Shanghai, Spa-Francorchamps, Silverstone... and he’d visited them all. Never won anything, yet never missed a left turn either; and his history had many left turns.
“Show it again!”
He looked at the view as proposed by the overhead camera following his car... right turn, overtake, left turn, right curve, then that damned left turn with the suddenly emerging car to his left and his steering-wheel jerk to the right...
“Oh, God,” he said, breathless with anger.
“Yes?!” called a voice from behind a frosted-window door, to his right.
The masses were getting bored with the games, advertising income down to nil... then the committee had this earthshattering idea: Russian Roulette as part of the games.
Various categories, from minor Colt 0.22 to major Howitzer 155mm, no training needed, and most important... first ever mixed sexes event.
The success was immediate.
Sure, the winner never participated in the ceremonies, but this allowed for each event a new winner. And with overpopulation rampant – the committee was consecrated ecologist of the year.
They have major plans for the future – lions versus toothless atheists (I qualify in a couple years).
Mary was my friend, yet I always stole her boyfriends. They were gravitating towards me, life. I was not aware she started envisaging revenge.
I got knocked up, unfortunately. Mary promised to take care of me, and when my water broke we took her car, stalling “unfortunately” in front of the convent. I was rushed in... when I woke up Mary handed me the baby, all smiles...
“Everything’s taken care of, here are the registration documents...”
Oh, God, I thought, reading... now I’m the only Jewish mother in the world with a boy named Jesus.
“It’s your ass,” said my boss, almost fainting. The taste followed the same day. Yes, taste, not test. A contract worth billions, thousands chefs competing for a result as close as possible to the sample provided by Vega3, the winner assured a sole supplier contract to this distant star, so rich in everything except comestibles. With their picky, accurate taste buds, the one closest to their sample would win.
I was the farthest. I won. “It was simple, I explained,” smiling smugly after, “you all emulated accurately their provided sample. I added the one element they never knew before. Salt.”
I was born in Pula. Not young anymore at 67, my horizon of expectations did not stretch much into the future. Thus, I decided to organize an “event”: revisiting, after forty years of absence, with reporters, TV... I had the money.
Pula, like Rome, was built on seven hills. I decided to climb each of them to sounds of applause, clicking cameras, children waving flags and speeches of important (admittedly bribed) officials.
I started up the first hill. Half way up I lost my breath and my muscles started screaming.
I called my limousine and drove off. Age, damn you!
We sprung the news upon the scientific community and the world just in time for the Nobel Prize nominations. The first ever plastic-eating bacteria, the solution to mankind’s gigantic garbage problem, the “sea cleanser”. We turned from scientists to instant heroes.
Six minutes ago.
The Nobel committee’s scientific secretary uncapped his pen, ready to sign the document, proud in this year’s decision. Unexpectedly, the pen bent downwards. His chair collapsed to the floor as unexpectedly.
“What the hell?...” he started to swear, when sudden realization dawned upon him. A strange hubbub started rising from the street below.
“Look, someone sabotaged my slippers,” I wailed pointing to my feet, “the left one is now right and right one is now left”.
She watched me intensely. Until then, she defined successfully all my idiosyncrasies, mainly phobias: claustrophobia, arachnophobia, geniophobia (NOT genophobia, are you kidding?) and other... fourteen by now. “This is a kind I do not know,” she said, packing her suitcase. “Call me when you solve your problem,” she shouted, slamming the door behind her.
Three days later I called her, triumphantly.
“Solved, come back, love,” I boasted. She returned, watching me carefully. “Look, bought a new pair.”
“Beautiful,” chortled my five year old, pointing delightedly at the mushroom growing outside. Fifty miles, I estimated, the fire wall will probably be upon us in five minutes. I put my revolver against my kid’s head and pulled the trigger. Then against my wife’s, she was crying. Then against mine.
You see, I happened upon this contest for stories of 20 to 30 words, and I found it intellectually stimulating, challenging, meaningless... so I just told myself – what the heck? With the heck resulting in some embarrassing results, some based on things already written, some brand new, some... well, judge yourselves. Oh, yeah – I decided to go for the upper limit, 30 words; after all, I wanted to write some short novels, you know...
“Beautiful,” delighted my five year old seeing the mushroom.
I estimated the holocaust will reach us in minutes. I put the revolver against her head. Bang! My wife’s. Bang! Mine.
The one million dollars question
“Your last question, five seconds: a dog’s mother... can be its sister?”
“Right answer. No two mothers possible, only two fathers. Only half-sister!”
I won of course.
I am a sentimental slob. I let the ceremony proceed, patiently.
They kissed. Then I shot them through the heart. I don’t believe in unnecessary cruelty.
She screamed when she heard the word. When the little coffin was lowered. When the bus hit her.
Screaming tires was the last sound she heard. Absolute silence followed.
He who laughs last...
His name was Glickman.
They called him geekman, four eyes, hunchback, dracula, an abortion gone wrong... Yet she chose him for this year’s prom.
Love’s mysterious ways. And his poetry.
Weird, the cat chased the dog. Weirder still, my son turned up sober. And when my wife smiled, I knew I switched universes.
The blue sun was of secondary importance.
It was one of those moments...
“Nothing’s left, let’s separate” I said, dropping my ring.
She placed hers next to mine:
“The infinity symbol, no?”
We slid them back on our fingers. No more moments. Forever.
I pulled up her pajamas. There was another pajama under the pajama. I pulled up this one as well. There was another one underneath. After the tenth I started sweating, took a shower, ate breakfast and returned to trying. Fourteen layers later I was a nervous wreck, about to call 911.
“What’s the matter, lover?” she asked coyly, “want something?”
My mouth was dry. I tried an unsuccessful succession of “ik” and “uk” and many other xk’s...
“Like this?” she concluded mysteriously, and in one move any other layer flew over her head and her cruelty was forgiven. And forgotten.
“Leave something for the spiders,” she kidded, watching me spring like a young gazelle from couch to table to bed, chasing mosquitoes. When it came to mosquitoes, my 67 years did not show and I do was as spritely as a young gazelle.
“Let them find their own prey,” I replied morosely and whacked with all my force an evading enemy. The enemy evaded. Damn.
“There is one on the tip of my nose,” she kidded further. Whack, went the towel.
Well, she should have known better where my sense of humor wandered when it came to me and mosquitoes.
He suddenly pulled a knife and started running, shouting something. I was in the perfumery section and the woman next to me started screaming. Hearing it he turned and started running toward her. I can’t explain the how or why but I picked up a hair-spray can, flicked it open and sprayed it in his face as he approached. He collapsed, screaming, and security immobilized him immediately. The woman kissed me, shoppers started applauding...
The shopkeeper approached me, smiling, pointing at the can in my hand.
I left behind money, job, wife, children, my entire family thought I was crazy. I started at the Atomium, Belgium, and crossed by foot Europe, Asia, the Americas, using boat travel only when absolutely necessary, all in the name of a well-advertised PEACE MARCH. At least as I advertised it through social medias.
Well, six months later and ten kilos lighter, I didn’t make much of an impression, hardly a second page bottom of a column and my family was set on certifying me.
Now, just imagine, one million people doing it together...
Some of us become terrorists, some are criminals, some wish to impose their own ways on yours. I judge them harsher than you because, you see, they’re the reason I find myself on a plane back to the misery I escaped from. While they are still with you.
Such absurdity, such injustice. All I wished was to become a citizen, your citizen. I lost my cause. Now all I am asking is please, find the correct selection criteria. Leave there those of us who will become your exemplary citizens. Find us, we do exist.
The second story was written for a 100 words story contest. But I felt “something” was missing, therefore I expanded it into the first story. Still short but, somehow, more satisfying to me.
A Great Day
I felt great. My wife organized a great birthday party last evening, then gave me her great body for the night, and finally this morning sent me to work with a pat on my behind after a great breakfast. A great day was ahead of me.
I whistled past the beggar and his dog at the corner, never gave him a dime... well, I felt magnanimous this morning and dropped a quarter in his cup.
“Sir, sir!...” he was beckoning me back. I wasn’t really in the mood for beckoning beggars but the dog was looking at me with such sad eyes and my mood was so great... I turned around and stopped next to him. “Sir, this is a rare coin, it is missing a feather, worth a couple grand. Can’t accept it.” He held the coin in his outstretched hand, waiting for me to take it back. What the hell, the guy was clearly balmy behind his big beard, balmy or drunk even though I did not see any bottles next to him. I took the quarter back and dropped two quarters instead. Let him party today as well.
Well, you cannot blame me for curiosity. I opened the door to the numismatics shop and showed them the coin. It didn’t take long for the agent to make me an offer. Ninety grand.
“Bank transfer or cash?” asked the agent.
“Cash. Bills of one thousand if possible, please.”
They had a few, the rest was to be paid in bills of one hundred.
I waited patiently for the suitcase with the money, leg over leg, fingers steepled, my mind somewhere undefined. Once it was ready I signed for it, thanked the agent, put one bill of a thousand dollars in my shirt’s pocket – never saw one before - and drove back to the beggar’s corner. I was too late for work and they could fire me for all I cared now. The beggar was still there, the cup in front of him as always, his dog as sad as always. I parked the car, went over to him and dropped the suitcase next to the dog. Then I started whistling on my way home.
Now I felt really great.
I felt great. Great party, my wife’s great body, great breakfast...
I whistled past the beggar-dog pair and feeling magnanimous I dropped a quarter.
“Sir!...” I looked back. “Sir, this is a rare coin, missing a feather, worth a grand. Can’t accept it.” And now a balmy beggar, ha-ha, I retrieved it and dropped two quarters.
It was worth exactly ninety grand.
I waited patiently, thanked the agent and returned to the beggar’s corner. I was late for work, who cared? I dropped the suitcase next to the dog and drove on.
I entered the breakfast room and the receptionist’s sudden smile blinded me and wounded my heart.
“Your room number, sir?” she asked, shyly... oh, my heart started beating madly, I gave it to her and then rushed back to the room, showered, shaved, put on my cleanest t-shirt, ordered a champagne bottle and sat down, waiting. She was such a beauty and to have selected me...
Three hours later I left the room, heartbroken. What may have happened to her... accident, kidnapped, heart attack?...
I’ll never know, oh, I’ll never know.
I sat down at the table taking inventory of the cutlery and porcelain-ware on display. I was astonished to see an oval bowl mid of the table, the only non-individual item there... wow, they collect tips even for breakfast?
I sneaked a glance to other tables, oh, the bastards, I saw them grinning and shoving in it egg shells, tea bags, oh, damn their souls.
I finished my breakfast, called the waitress on duty and made a big show of folding and putting a 10 dollars bill in the tips box.
She ran away crying, poor girl, so emotion stricken.
“A bit too raw,” I said, giving the egg back.
“A bit too hard,” I said, giving the egg back.
“A bit too small... too yellow... too cold... too...” ...the eleventh was perfect. “Congratulations to your chef,” I said, savoring the egg.
Following morning there were no eggs on offer.
“No eggs?” I made a face.
“No, sorry sir... avian influenza... pullorum... thrush... chicken pox...” I had to stop her, gently, she sounded really distressed.
“Oh, poor chickens.”
“No, sir, our chef.”
Strange, so very very strange. Unfortunately for me, he recovered only after I checked out. Three weeks later.
I finished my political studies in Poland, advanced to PhD and then... made a radical career change. Hating the snickers, I took a US sabbatical, at the Iowa universtity. “Just brush up your English”, they smiled, seeing my leaflets.
I got the main auditorium and... wow... it was full. Yey!, I thought, writing the subject on the board: Compot Theory.
I heard giggles. Hey, you forgot one letter, professor.
Oops, sorry, and I added the missing e between the words. OK, let’s start with washing the apples...
At the end of ten minutes, I was alone. I still wonder why.
You certainly know it, maybe under another name but for sure the same curse. When you do not turn on your stereo system for some time and then, when you finally do it the turntable doesn’t turn, the left channel hums, the volume button falls off, the record skips... the works. Just happened to me right now. All of above and then some. Damn! And what’s even more frightening is that I didn’t turn on my... lover lately. Usual excuses, you know, too late, too tired, too netflix... Damn! Imagine the stereo curse there.
It was an F rated show, F for Family and not for beep! of course. It started OK, with only the occasional mandatory beep here and there when one of the presenters forgot about the presence of new-borns in the public. Then it got hotter and hotter, not in temperature terms but in debate terms. The beeps got more and more frequent, first one in ten words, then one in three, then one in two... By the time the show ended it was a three minutes and twenty seconds long beep which ended only with the final publicity break. Beep!
My first time in love, madly so. I was about to kiss her our first kiss when her smartphone rang. Short chat, a minute or so. I was about to kiss her our first kiss when her smartphone rang. An SMS. She skimmed through it quickly, looked up at me apologetically and I was about to kiss her our first kiss when her smartphone rang. WhatsApp. Two minutes tops. I was about to kiss her our first kiss when her smartphone rang.
Fifteen hours later I phoned her from across town. She answered.
The competition was fierce. Two million candidates, only ten “travelers” chosen. I – one of them. To be this century’s ambassador to the ten-thousandth century. Families left behind get fifty million dollars compensation, the winners get the... adventure. Program included cryogenics, slingshotting... I cared less for the scientific details.
“I have one final question,” I asked the impressive selection board. “Will there be dogs in the year million?”
They looked at each other surprised, even annoyed.
“Probably not,” they said.
“Then consider me out,” I said, and walked away.
They upped my fifty millions to one hundred. Haha, sorry!
We finally agreed, fifty millions and two dogs join the program. One for me and one for my partner Alia; totaling five couples and two dogs. The board considered it the best solution, fine with me.
We lay down in our couple-pods, ours longer to accommodate the dogs, I blinked and... I woke up. Already?
All the pods popped open and everybody rushed to pee, dogs included. One pod was missing (later I learned that the cryogenics malfunctioned and it was ejected.)
Then we all huddled together, the only reassurance being Alia’s hand in mine and the dogs’ tails wagging.
Take a man and a woman, large mouths, minuscule ears, fuse them side by side eliminating the fusion side limbs – this is what faced us. After a series of unarticulated vowels, the male emitted a short sound (it sounded like “shit”, some things never change), placed a contraption against his mouth and an articulated “Welcome” was followed by a smile literally ear to ear.
Then “it” advanced toward us and folded (embraced?) around each of us in turn, dogs excluded.
“I am Melvy, a bio-engineered reproduction unit. Welcome to year one million seventy three.”
Wow, a 0.0073% “navigation” mistake, wow!
There were millions of Melvy’s all over the world. Reproduction was controlled, all newborns were sterilized, all harmful micro-organisms eliminated at DNA level, communication between humans was at ultra-sound frequencies, marriage... what is marriage? No famine, no poverty, no animals, extended life span, Mars and Luna colonized, quantum computing, enhanced brains...
We were historical research sensations, our dogs were even bigger sensations...
“Alia, I wish we could send this knowledge back home.”
She watched me with those beautiful brown eyes.
“I wish... I wish we could send ourselves back home.”
We made love. Whatever the natives’ rules, we made love.
“See, here I chased butterflies... here I broke my arm... here was our playground...” I kept telling enthusiastically and she kept nodding and ahming and moving on. Big mistake bringing her here. For me it was the bible, for her it was the bible in Chinese.
Back at the hotel she sensed that something was off and tried to compensate with chit-chat, make-belief gaiety, sex... no way. Whatever was there between us before, suddenly cracked and you can never repair cracked glass. Or relationships.
Yes, big mistake. I started tearing, and it wasn’t only the nostalgia. I started smelling death.
I started writing her poems, weekly. I was in love. It happened just like that, unexpectedly, and though I doubted it would ever get beyond the Platonic stage, I kept my hopes high.
I wondered sometimes where did I find the inspiration, the ideas, the flow ceaselessly carrying my yearnings, my desires her way. She knew, of course she knew. She did not mind, of course she did not mind. She did not answer, of course she did not answer?
Ten years, four months, three weeks now. I got my medical results.
I finished writing all I ever wanted. I finished publishing all my books. I finished copying all my LPs to CDs, all my VHSs to DVDs. I finished paying my taxes, placing new stones on my doggies’ tombs. Visited one last time my birth place, my ancestors’ graves, my parents’ graves and kissed the stones. Wrote my last love letter: “My dearest...”.
Now on my balcony, a cold beer in my hand, my eyes fixed on the gate. She should be here any moment now... here she is.
“Hi,” she waved at me, the scythe happily glinting in the sun.