Photo credit: Beverly Bambury
Editor’s Note: Mitchell Grabois’ work nearly defies naming conventions, and that’s a good thing. It’s how new plants, birds, constellations and literary genres are born. We asked Mitch what name he gave to these creative, innovative set pieces, because they transcend the commonly known genres. They are almost anti-plot; the narrating character could be the author or someone else, but we can’t be certain; the prose structure leans into the movements in a musical work. Here’s what Mitch replied: “I consider these flash fictions because they are written in prose and they tell stories (though perhaps not conventional ones). Thanks for considering the work poetic—as you know, in much literary fiction there are elements of poetry in the prose.”
1. I hid behind a tree, not the Tree of Knowledge or the Tree of Life, just a sapodilla, whose gnarly trunk had bark with widely spaced furrows. Its fruit softened, fell and splattered, and attracted fruit rats, who ran gleefully among the branches, drunk on fermenting nectar, giddy at their luck at being born in the greatest country in the world, Eden.
The Snake was behind the tree with me. We made our acquaintance. He shook my hand with his tail, dry and cool. Each of us had our own agenda and a name tag. His read: Snake. Mine: Adulterer.
I was waiting for a chance to seduce Eve. Adam was more muscular, but I had wiles and had gotten a preview of the Kama Sutra.
My wife and I were the first people created by another God, a non-Hebraic deity. It took Her nearly a year to finish us, being slow and careful, unlike the Hebraic God, who dashed off shitty first drafts with impunity and never went back to revise.
I don’t know how long my wife and I had been married. We hadn’t invented the calendar yet, or clocks. I measured Time by my growing boredom. The world was lovely, but my wife was repetitive.
Eve was a different type, red-haired, spunky, big fat freckles on her face, surely the sexiest feature a woman can have, eyelids pink and raw-looking.
My wife tended toward slovenliness and drank adult beverages to excess, a fact that never made it into our Bible.
2. The mud was orange ointment, a salve made from rotted palmetto swords and alligator puke. When I cut Tu’s clothing with sewing scissors, when I peeled the cloth from her body, her molten blue flesh, immersed in the ooze, hissed like serpents.
I was aroused like never before. My first wife had been boring, but Eve had been a big mistake, passive-aggressive and often frigid. God created Tu to excite me (I don’t know which God. I don’t care anymore—it’s irrelevant.) God created me to excite Tu. There was no other reason for us to exist. If we stopped exciting each other, we would die, like tomato plants at the end of the season, gnarled and bitter.
Crawdads scuttled out of the way, propelled by the wake of our transcendence. Orgasm blew my head off, more efficient than any sniper. The crawdads ran like hell, as if they were trying to outrun a nuclear blast. An entire race of people banged blocks together, nodding and smiling, deafening us. Lightning illuminated their slant-eyed faces. They were the opposite of zombies. They had come to live in the swamp because they had so much excess life they needed to damp it down.
I had finally found release. I had found love. Tu and I were one organism. Tu and I had forged the ultimate marriage. Out of error and violence had come compassion. There was no reason in the world anymore. There was no unreason. Our brains dribbled into the orange ointment made of rotted palmetto spikes and alligator puke.
1. A retired stunt pilot dies in a plane crash while eating peanuts and trying to get the flight attendant to brush his arm with her luxurious hip en route from Denver to Akron, Ohio.
A cold sore is swallowing my lover’s face. A dog at a memorial service sings the song of his breed. The eulogy goes on forever without ever touching the dead man. A woman in a wheelchair sits at the edge of the surf and quietly sinks into the wet sand.
2. My dentist tells me I have acid erosion.
Sissy Spacek was vulnerable when she played “Carrie” in the film adopted from the Stephen King novel. In the first scene, her breasts are exposed.
Despite all the fat pulp, most of King’s novels are childish.
My doctor tells me I have acid reflux. I taste the acid in my throat the way Carrie tasted it when she was being tormented by the other kids, when she was being laughed at. I feel the acid eroding my teeth the way Carrie’s teeth eroded when her hopes and dreams were murdered.
3. I find the little naked Jesus in the King Cake a zombie brought from Della Calce Street, so I have renewed my luck. I drain a shot of absinthe. I touch a visitor, a quarterback named Luck with a horseshoe on his helmet, on the hardest part of his cannon arm. Luck’s footballs wobble in torchlight before they fall to earth, untouched.
I touch an iron civil war cannon by the railroad tracks. Pig iron. Pigskin. Baby Jesus. Quarterback. In the darkest part of the Della Calce Street night, all the pieces fall into place. Peace is with me. I drain another shot of absence.
4. My car, the Marvelous Maytag, churns like a washer in an unending cycle, agitating clothes from coast to coast. My girlfriend sits beside me flexing her muscles and tracing the lines of her tattoos. I regret breaking her out of prison. It wasn’t hard—minimum security—but now that I have her, I don’t know what to do with her. People magazines and empty cans of Red Bull litter the back seat. I’m taking the Marvelous Maytag to the demo derby. That’s the only foreseeable way out of this.
Bitter Old Men
1. When I was a new professor, a bitter old historian named Sylvester Mordent tormented me by constantly barging into my office and interrupting me when I was trying to pen exciting lectures. He growled through tales of how stupid everyone else in the world was, compared to him, and how great he was, though he was a warty man with no friends. He was from Baltimore and said “howlever” instead of “however.” He used that word frequently.
He thought he was superior because his girlfriend was only thirty years old, but she was also ugly and bitter and was only with him because of his money and the fact that he was willing to put up with her retarded son, who alternatively cooed and grunted all day, giving Mordent great pleasure because of the degree to which those vocalizations distressed everyone else.
They sometimes brought the kid to faculty parties, straining the limits of politeness, which sometimes broke under the urgings of alcohol.
I can still see Mordent’s watery, red-rimmed eyes, smell his foul breath and his clothing, which cried out for laundering, and it was this that made me leave academe, at least that’s what I like to tell myself, but at the same time I was having dreams of tornadoes destroying all my books, of fire and flood taking turns carrying them off.
2. I was up in the middle of the night with my usual insomnia, and got weary of perusing porn. I had the thought to send my father a Father’s Day card, an electronic one from JibJab, whose humor is like the kid in junior high school who thinks he’s funny but everyone else finds crude, ignorant and boring, and wishes he would just shut up.
So I went to the JibJab site and found the single most tasteless card and sent it to my father at his e-mail address. It did not come back as Undeliverable, though he’d been dead six years.
I imagined him reading the card in some non-corporeal place, not Hell, but some unheralded, foul, disjointed place, and being full of regret.
Suffering from insomnia again, two a.m., peering out my high bedroom window at the dirt road that cuts through my fields, I see a bicyclist coming from the north and a car coming from the south. When they have almost met, directly in front of my house, under the limbs of the ancient black walnut, a deer runs out, crosses the road between them, and disappears into the corn. Neither the car nor the bicyclist stops or slows. The cyclist doesn’t flinch or show any sign of surprise. Of all the things I can think about their meeting, my first thought is one that makes no sense: the deer is a basketball referee.
I run downstairs, intending to stop the car and the cyclist and ask them what they think just happened. But by the time I get down the two flights and out the door, they’re gone. I see the car’s taillights at the stop sign at the corner, but the bicyclist has disappeared into the darkness. I smell the car’s exhaust. I breathe it in, thinking there might be part of an answer there.
A week later my own car was rolling, but it was dying. Mercedes and Audi wheelwomen sped by, blaring their horns, a form of screaming, screaming a form of hate. We were very near Walden Pond, very near transcendentalism.
I came out of my hotel room the next morning and couldn’t start my car. Tears came to my eyes and trickled down my cheeks, as if I were a skilled actor. A nun came out of the room next to mine and spied me crying. She came up to me and told me that she loved me. She loved misery and poverty and the nearness to Thoreau’s condemned cabin.
Thoreau needed so little. He didn’t need a Japanese car. He didn’t need a nun to console him. He didn’t need a god of consolation.
There was a repair shop down the road, and the nun put her shoulder to the cool metal, applied her love and minimal weight, and together we shoved the vehicle down the road. She was sweating when we arrived and the mechanic, in a Boston accent, condemned me for using a nun as an animal. It was her idea, I said, her idea. A nun is like a child, he said. She has to be protected from her foolish notions.
1. Moira plays with her lips, tenses them in ways that make her look retarded. She stands in front of the mirror and strikes poses she thinks are American, which is what she’d like to be. Fluorescent light, beer bottles on the sink counter, the one with two X’s from Mexico, her home.
2. Moira curled her lip: You’re a fucking lifeguard, not God. She was thrown off the beach. Literally. The female lifeguard was a mixed martial arts practitioner. Moira didn’t have a chance. She scraped her elbow when she fell in the parking lot. Picked herself up. Texted her boyfriend: Only two things I hate in this world—horse enthusiasts and lifeguards.
3. Li’l Mutt and Stretch Jeff sit in Mutt’s one-room schoolhouse, where he lives. There’s no electricity, no running water, no heat, no a/c, no conveniences, but young Doris Day’s legs stretch across the wall, a mural by Moira.
A bottle of wine and one of Bacardi sit on the counter of the old grass-green Hoosier cabinet, along with a big bag of multi-grain chips that reads: Food Should Taste Good. Photos of doors hang on the walls, the art collection of a man who doesn’t get invited out much.
My father died last week, says Jeff.
I’m sorry, says Mutt.
No need, we weren’t close. You know what he often told me?
I can read you like a book, and all the pages are blank.
They sit in silence for a while, then Mutt says, My father had a similar mantra: You’re a bum and you’ll always be a bum.
Jeff says: My father was more poetic.
Mutt says: My father was more direct.
The two old men sit quietly, feeling the reverberations of their pasts. Jeff’s lung capacity is down to thirty percent and Mutt’s gall bladder and kidneys are riddled with stones.
4. They’ve come in shabby black suits and, after the funeral, Li’l Mutt and Stretch Jeff talk about the detriments of their respective heights.
People discount me, says Mutt. They overlook me. Being bald to boot, my fuckability quotient is dragging on the ground like a skinny bride’s bridal train.
Jeff imagines crawling under that train. For a full ten minutes, his eyes glaze as he fantasizes about what he’d do under there. Mutt is a patient man. He takes this opportunity to steal canapés from Jeff’s plate until it’s empty.
Finally Jeff’s mind returns to the room. Nothing fits, he says. Look at the chairs in this dump. I can’t sit on any of them with more than fifteen percent comfortability. How does that help me mourn the dead?
We’d both enjoy a few days of normality, says Mutt.
Fuck yes, says Jeff.
1. Our government’s been hollowed out, the void filled by Monsanto. It’s a Roundup of chemicals and Malaise. We fill ourselves with xenobiotics like rusty bathtubs being filled with water from corroded pipes. Our gene pathways are impaired, our detoxification capabilities compromised. Carcinogens race like slot cars around banked tracks, wearing yellow smiley faces.
2. My brother didn’t go to the collective War. His own war was enough. He didn’t get thanked by anyone for being a truck loader and deliveryman. Then he stepped into the ring one too many times, vomited in the gutter afterwards, raised his hand without raising his head. A cab took him to Emergency. The cab driver was Ukranian. He didn’t charge us for the trip. He knows our family. He called me up and said, You better get down here.
Now my bro’s in a coma. What comes next no one knows. The pugilist in ancient Greece had a thousand fights, an ugly face and survival for his troubles.
3. I’ve been nerved up. The nerve expands to infinity. I can invite others to join my nerve, to write in India ink across the surface of cells. The nerve connects brain to eye. The brain elaborates its connections. I’m thinking a lot about nerves these days. My son crashed his bike on a mountain pass, got flung against a steel guard rail, cut all the tendons in his good arm, cut all the nerves. But the doc put him back together. The doc knows that curve.
4. My dentist tells me I have acid erosion. What’s that, I think, a side effect of climate change? I hear a roaring in my ears, the side effect of living too close to windmills. My dentist is telling me something about my teeth that I don’t understand. We grew up together, but he’s not good at explaining things in English. I ask him to revert to Spanish or Creole, but he refuses. He’s left those days behind, he tells me.
Great for you, I say, but you’re leaving me in the dark.
Just give me a thousand dollars, he commands. Get back in the chair and I’ll fix everything. Everything will be all right. You won’t have to think or understand.
But I no longer trust him. I walk out of the office. I’ve been trying to get into his new receptionist’s pants for at least six months, and now I regret that I won’t have the chance.
Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois has had over fourteen-hundred of his poems and fictions appear in literary magazines in the U.S. and abroad. He has been nominated for numerous prizes, and. was awarded the 2017 Booranga Writers’ Centre (Australia) Prize for Fiction. His novel, Two-Headed Dog, based on his work as a clinical psychologist in a state hospital, is available for Kindle and Nook, or as a print edition. To read more of his work, Google Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois. He lives in Denver, Colorado, USA.