Tues Kidz Eat Free Magician
exposition: From a distance it seemed like they were deep into each other, that the date was working out, but really Felly was describing a dream she'd had—an elderly Bob Denver in his Gilligan hat sang a song to her, Mariah Carey style: I Don't! Wanna Be! A Dick for Christ-Mas! Malcolm didn't get that Felly had just bared her psyche to him. Distracted by the urge to lay claim to the evening he said, with a routine grin, "You know I'm the kind of guy who . . . " <insert manifesto, smoke first>
rising action: Felly checked out, diving into her own head. Malcolm was interesting to look at, resembling a tropical fish with his tapered face, sharp snout nose, and black wet eyes that never blinked. They drank novelty margaritas, and he slammed three stuffed 'skinz, leaving her two with which to teach him to how to savor the savory. He showed no sign of understanding she was special.
climax: And that was his fatal mistake. After Malcom's meth lab exploded—
falling action: —Felly's girlfriends actually had the nerve to make excuses for Malcolm, saying he was nervous and that's why he seemed so stuck on himself.
denouement: That's right.
There is an explosion at the end of this story
Felly's new dog looked just like her old dog, so when her ex husband crept into her home uninvited, greeted by a slurpy, red-eyed beagle, he was confused. Drool dangled from the dog's black lips like a Cirque de Soleil extra. "Einstein?" Terry said to a dog whose name was Deliverance. Deliverance didn't care.
Terry's head began to hurt. Nostalgia was always a remote concern, but now it had arrived, unwelcome and hard to manage. He did the math. He had been out of Felly's life for six years, returning now only because he discovered her mother's obit in the alumni magazine. If Deliverance was Einstein, he/she would be 20 years old. Beagles don't live that long. Logic prevailed, and one layer of Terry's anxiety receded. Time had not stopped. This dog wasn't Einstein, but a pretender. And a nutless pretender, he now noticed.
That's no way to learn about your ex-mother-in-law's death, from a magazine that you leave lying around unread for months. On the toilet, Terry had been scanning the bios of Tech grads from his era: a lot of accountants, internet marketing representatives, and grade school teachers working in the towns where they grew up. No one like himself. He'd tried to compose a two line bio in his head: Terence J. Gholia, MA '93, Conflict Studies, currently Ombudsman At-Large for iBread, a nonprofit org providing agricultural innovation in distressed regions. Or better: Terence Q. Ghoriski, PhD '93, Technology and Ethics, CDC Adviser and author of Monkey War: Poems and Solutions—at which point his mother-in-law's name, in bold, intruded on his reverie. It took him a while to work up a solid feeling about the news that she was dead, but once the notion was crystallized Terry had a mission. He said, out loud, still on the toilet, utilikilt bunched up on his lap:
"She was an extremely generous person."
That didn't explain why he broke into his ex-wife's house. He'd felt no overwhelming feelings of entitlement or privilege as he approached the familiar 1950s brick rambler, one of dozens on an antique avenue. He smelled a smell though, a weird one. And maybe that's why he forgot to knock. But it was a break-in, the door was locked. Terry had to wrench it around until the crappy old mechanism sort of slid over the grooved wood and slick thin brass—paths made by years of forced entries and no follow up concern.
The stranger dog bounced over to the open door at the top of the basement stairs, wiggling, and Terry crossed through the dark, over warm house. The smell sharpened. He recognized most of the living room objects, but not the couch and not the painting of a famous-but-what-was his-name saxophone player that hung over the couch. And not the dented saxophone, propped in a wire rack just beside a—oh wow, Felly had a piano now.
Felly had a piano and a saxophone. She didn't play. The smell organized itself, acutely chemical and sour, like artificial urine, wafting from the basement stairs. Terry knew what that meant. Felly had a meth lab, too.
Her mother gone. New dog. New Lover? Lots of things can change in six years. Had she tired of managing the garden store, and was this just the next logical step? She always liked making things.
"Who the fuck!" she called from the basement. Deliverance descended, like a dolphin into ink.
"It's me," Terry answered, perhaps unwisely.
A big, long silence followed. A basement-dark silence. Terry took that as an invitation. He followed the dog halfway, then settled on the stairs where he felt protected by the rail. He sat grinning, his arms around his knees. Felly was beautiful, even with all her hair cut off.
She wasn't, though. She was thirty-eight pounds heavier than when he'd left, and her pale delicate skin was now just white and rough. And in the shadows Terry probably couldn't see that she was missing an eyebrow. Felly said "shit," breathlessly. He didn't seem to hear.
Terry's hair was still long, parted on the side. Whimsical as hell. Uptight Girl Scout. Pretend Cherokee. "You left the door—"
"I heard about your mom. I'm so—"
"When did it happen?"
Felly's shoulders dropped. Terry's hopes rose. She said, "Back in January." She popped the cap from a fat black sharpie and wrote on the outside of a generic plastic bottle full of fluid: d. alc. "She was shot to death by a Salvadoran contractor she'd hired to rebuild her garden shed. He ravished her and took her credit cards." She took a deep whiff of the pen tip before re-capping it.
"I know." He tried to be sweet. "But don't say Salvadoran."
And that was his fatal mistake. Felly had been trembling with the expectation that Terry was going to humiliate, contradict, or otherwise tread all over her confidence, so even though this was a slight little thing, his loving admonition on the heels of sympathy was more than she could take.
Felly wigged out.
This is no joke: the bride and her mother walk into a bar. The bride is Felly from the past, only twenty-three years old, sewn into a bodice that looks like it was designed for a pretty mouse. The skirt is everywhere, a grim, pulsing jellyfish. As she strides through the bar, the breeze from her hem blows old cigarette butts into shadows. Her veil is tulle nailed into her scalp. Her mother is with her, and you know it's her mother because she's dressed like a box kite, and she looks like General Patton. A pale lavender corsage is pinned to Mother's lapel. It's limp, terrorized by the ride. Both mother and daughter take seats at the bar: the stool disappears under Felly. The stool disappears under Mother. Mother orders two double vodka and sodas. The bartender, a tiny bleach blonde wraith whom you would assume is a teenager except that she's slinging beer, says, "Isn't there an open bar at the reception?"
Mother says, "Freedom isn't free."
The girl thing behind the bar serves the women. No more questions.
A shaft of light at the door. Silhouette of a man in a mourning suit. He doesn't come in. He closes the door. Terry the Chicken Boy.
Professional day-time drinkers stare at the bride and her mother. The bride and her mother drink while they stare into visions of how it all got screwed up. The lavender corsage is gasping now.
The bride's mother breathes, "Your father . . . " and in the shadows strangers wait. Each with an idea of how to finish that thought.
No one sits at the bar except the bride and her mother. Everyone else is deep in the dark, in corners, in booths, as if they'd been flung there. They all have ideas about where Your father is bound to lead, but none is so stupid as to think revelations will come. Still, they lean in for the smoke-lit eavesdrop. Maybe a surprise. For once.
Immune to desire, the slight bartender counts trays of glasses, checks levels, bleeds lines. Mechanical work accompanied by mechanical thinking: who art in heaven. "Your father . . ." she sighs, like it's a tune she can't get out of her head.
will die yelling at a rat terrier you named Norbert Weiner. He will keel over, lips flexed in the shape of his final thought
Felly, a mere bride, perceives fragments of this transmission from the future—not enough to know that it is a message, certainly not enough to decode. But the impression is there, like a painting by a monkey. A nervous monkey, with language training. When they make the movie of the bride's thoughts on this very special day, it will be a student film <Insert creative commons montage: Mushroom cloud, Mussolini pout, poor people standing on line>
Of course. The door swings open again, spilling daylight all over the filthy floor. And a priest walks into a bar with . . . your father. That's two fathers then. And more back at the church, plus all the deadbeat dads in the dark corners of the bar. And still more if you count the dead. This started as a joke, and now it's a union of souls. Marriage is an institution, not to be entered into lightly.
Your father . . .
makes a lunge for the bride's arm. She pulls back just in time, splashing vodka on the fucking priest. She's going. She's going, okay? She's going, all right?