The Samurai: Social Distance Doomsday

The bungalows on both sides of the street near Birmingham’s southside sat high atop well-landscaped properties that all sloped gently downward to the sidewalks below. At one particularly large house and property on the corner overlooking the intersection, a woman in a sunhat and sunglasses sat on a gently swaying porch swing sipping lemonade while her husband stood on a step-stool and sprayed a section of the large picture window with organic, all-natural glass cleaner and wiped at it with a paper towel.

Suddenly, all was not well. The woman cocked her head at the high-pitched whine of an engine. As the sound grew louder she set her lemonade glass on a flower petal-shaped coaster on a side table, walked quickly to the other side of the porch, and grabbed the handle of a small wicker basket containing eggs. The man also heard the engine and looked back over his shoulder when he saw his wife heading down the steps with the basket, he turned around and shouted, “Karen! No!” just as she burst into a fast jog heading straight for their corner of the intersection.

“Stay at home, Jeremy!” she yelled as she ran down and across their yard. “Just stay the fuck at home!” She reached the intersection at the same time as the mystery rider known popularly as The Samurai cruising down the street on his red and black Kawasaki racing bike throttled down in advance of the stop sign.

“Karen!” shouted her husband.

Two eggs in hand, Karen cocked her arm back but before she could fling them at The Samurai, he jumped the curb and circled behind her, already gripping his well-lacquered bamboo practice katana he quickly smashed the eggs in her cupped hand and used the tip to knock her sunhat into the street. He then executed a perfect skid stop and caught the egg basket under the handle with the katana, pulling it out of the shrieking woman’s grip. As he spun the motorcycle on its front tire with the rear wheel high in the air, he flipped the basket up and over with the katana causing all of the eggs to fall on the now crying woman’s head and shoulders.

“THROW LIKE GIRL!” The Samurai shouted as her husband ran up with a roll of paper towels. He swung the katana backhanded and knocked the roll of paper towels into their gnome garden.

“GAY HUSBAND!” observed The Samurai as he gunned the engine and sped off leaving Karen weeping and choking on the smell of rotten eggs while Jeremy retrieved the paper towels from where they had rolled into an ivy bed.

Jeremy ran to the curb and began wiping at the rotten yolks and whites soaking Karen’s short, curly hair. “You’ve got to stop this, Karen,” Jeremy said calmly. “Just look at yourself.”

“Get a fucking life!” Karen shouted back.

They both stared down the long road away from the city and watched The Samurai’s
shape grow smaller as he disappeared from view riding westward towards the
setting sun.

Karen did not approach the street again for the remainder of the quarantine but still yelled at cars and joggers from the porch while Jeremy sat beside her reading motocross magazines.

Months later, when the stay-at-home order was finally lifted, she and Jeremy divorced. Despite many false alarms and continuing cases of mistaken identity, The Samurai was never seen near Birmingham again.

The Humanity

The tall, gangly customer with graying hair was holding a trade paperback over his head and shaking it like a revival preacher.

“What did you say?” the bookstore clerk asked him.

“I said someone in this store is putting the price labels over the authors’ pictures on these books!” He pushed the book toward the clerk. “On every book!”

“That is one book,” the clerk said.

“But it’s not the only book,” the customer replied. “It’s every book in the store!”

“You’re saying you looked at every book in the store?” the clerk asked.

“I looked at enough,” the customer said, “so I drew some conclusions.”

“I think you jumped to conclusions. You are mistaken,” the clerk said. “That is not our policy.”

“Come to the shelves!” the customer insisted. “I’ll show you!”

“I can’t leave the register,” the clerk said.

“This is important,” the customer said. “It is a matter of credit. A matter of identity.”

The clerk’s eyes narrowed. “It’s a fucking sticker!” he exclaimed. “And you, sir, are an enthusiast.”

“Don’t talk down to me,” the customer replied. “I have credentials!”

“And I have customers,” the clerk said. “Please step aside.”

“This isn’t over! You have a job to do!” the customer shouted as he stepped off line, making a big show of scratching the price tag off the back cover of the book he was holding. The label peeled easily off of the photo of the author which turned out to be the customer himself. He dropped the book on the counter near the register.

“See that, shitass?” the author asked.

The clerk saw that. “You have committed blatant vandalism!” he exclaimed.

“Your grandma undressed for sailors,” the author replied.

By now the customers lining up at the register observed the back-and-forth as though it were a spirited tennis match.

“My grandmother,” the clerk shouted, “was a suffragette!”

“She was a whore,” the author said. “A communist whore.”

“Bastard!” the clerk screamed and leapt from behind the counter. His knee caught on the edge and he fell straight down hitting the floor head first. A security guard ran over to help the clerk up and also restrain him.

“Let’s break this up,” said the security guard. “Manager called the cops.”

“Mind your business, Albert!” the clerk said to him before turning back to the author. “You piece of shit! I’ll have you arrested!”

“Please do. My name is Wells,” the author answered. “And I will come back here every day and remove every goddamned label on every goddamned book that is covering every goddamned author’s picture. You’re not going to get away with this.”

“You’re crazy!” the clerk said, straining against the much larger security guard’s hold on him.

“The authorities will no doubt be interested in the identity theft going on in here,” Wells said loudly.

“I will have you compelled!” the clerk yelled.

“Quit talking like a faggot,” the author said as he turned toward the exit. “This isn’t Europe.”

 

 

Redaction

So
he never liked how she
gave guys rides home from
night classes at the community
college but she was just
“being nice”(TM) and why would
she be so blatantly honest about
it because if anything were
going on she would be
hiding it and anyways
the pre-marital
counselor agreed
that controlling
behavior was
a bad sign,
right?

So
when she told him on
the honeymoon that she
had taken a job in
pharmaceutical sales
that required in-state
travel he was bothered
by the way she made
that decision without
talking to him about
it first but who
was he–her sister
pointed out–to
tell her what
she can and
cannot
do?

So
when she announced that once
their son was born she would be
putting him in daycare as soon as
possible so that she could get
back to her career and he
suggested she stay home to
raise the baby as agreed
before they married she said
it would probably only be
part-time anyway and who
was he to keep from her the
dignity and independence a great
career provided and what
was he trying to do?
Keep her barefoot and
pregnant in the
kitchen and
dependent
upon
him?

So
when she put the baby
in daycare full time and
he questioned her longer
absences she confessed the
truth about the classmates
she gave rides home years
ago and sobbed because
now she was just trying
to make everyone proud
and support their
family and wasn’t
he supposed to
forgive
her?

So
he admitted he wasn’t being
supportive and he forgave her
and quit his job to stay home with
the baby and kept himself happy counseling
others at church and little league
and Sunday School and friends
and family how to have a
great marriage and be
happy together like them
from the beginning,
how it was only possible
when you practice
radical honesty, and
radical forgiveness
out of genuine
love and respect
for each
other.

Hemingway’s Typewriter Guilty as Charged

He wasn’t home.

Only visitors,
empty chair,
empty room,
that
blank page
chambered in
his other weapon
locked and loaded,
in battery and
ready to fire,
with more triggers
than you have teeth
and a trigger press
heavier than a
shotgun trigger,
doing good time
behind bars
all day
all day long.

He wasn’t there.

More people than
birds
more birds than
cats
more cats than
chickens
more hens than
roosters
more roosters here than
people who ever knew they
paid to mingle with
ghosts who look like
cats
that sing like
birds
and groove like
chickens
that dodge sweaty
children
dodging crying
women because yes
he made them cry
but not now.
Now they roam the grounds
asking,
“When was he Vice-President?”
and
“Why did he live so close to a t-shirt store?”

He wasn’t home–
not even his ghost
–just a revenant
a wall decoration
a mis-spelled word
always out of time
fishing and drinking,
smiling and drinking,
fishing and smiling
and drinking
sideways and avuncular,
from here to Havana,
then back in Montana
that other other typewriter:
the single key
so light to press–
so why be here on a
sweaty day in the Keys
if they won’t even let you
swim in his pool?

The Expat-Terrible’s Perpetual Vow

On that day,
on my leaving
I will renew the passport;
I will buy the ticket,
embrace family and friends.
I will cry with my coiffeur
and his second husband, the
Republican. Yes, Republican.
I will buy the beret in that
window on Rodeo,
buy something, anything,
with extra tight pockets
and zippers in all
the wrong places.
I will go vegan to avoid
mayonnaise on french fries.
Finally learn the metric system
and how to love myself again.

An Interview with PunchRiot Magazine

A pop culture vigilante known colloquially as “The Samurai” was recently bribed to interview the grouchy, recalcitrant publisher of PunchRiot. The Samurai found the publisher uncooperative so he forced the publisher to submit to the interview at sword pointPunch Riot–a new literary rag supposedly launching in Spring 2020–aspires to be, in the words of its publisher and editor-in-chief, “the kind of literary shit that real men and the women who love them” are clamoring for. What follows is the result of that conversation. The Samurai’s questions appear in bold.

What is PunchRiot?

PunchRiot is the Lone Ranger of literary journals, minus Tonto.

What does that even mean?

What does the ocean mean?

Who is your target audience?

People with eyes.

Why do you discriminate against people without eyes?

They’re shitty at pub darts.

What sorts of things appear in PunchRiot?

Words. And some punctuation.

That’s it?

Sometimes drawings or doodles.

What are your editorial or publishing standards?

Whatever the Publisher likes.

Aren’t you the publisher?

Yes.

And who are you?

The publisher.

So what, then, do you like?

I know it when I see it.

Again, the “I’m so superior” thing just because you have eyes.

Was that a question?

You’ve got a real attitude there, Skippy.

Look who’s talking, Old Sport.

So this is just a website? With stories?

Phase 1 of this project will be a website for news and updates, and some samples and free content. The PunchRiot itself is a literary magazine that will only be available in PDF to subscribers behind a paywall that will also include exclusive author interviews and other related content. The magazine will contain original work by authors as well as some reprinted work from time to time. Some special issues that are topical or collected works of certain authors are planned. Phases 2 and 3 of this project will launch later this year, and in 2021 respectively.

Why would an author want to publish with you?

Because we pay them for first serial rights. And we’re fucking cool, like Tonto.

You said you were the “Lone Ranger of literary magazines,” not the Tonto of literary magazines.

What’re you, racist?

How often will The PunchRiot be published?

As often as possible. Ideally, weekly, unless the submissions are crap or we don’t get any.

What will you do in that case?

Write it all myself.

So your writing isn’t crap?

Maybe, but I’d rather smell my own.

How much does it cost?

Monthly subscriptions begin at $7.77/month.

Why $7.77?

I was joking.

So how much really?

$6.66/month.

Six-six-six? Seriously?

No.

Editor’s note: Our staff found the publisher alone and unconscious on the floor of his office with a bump on his head and the small recorder containing  the interview conducted by The Samurai intact and still running. The publisher remembers nothing that happened after answering that last question, and it remains unclear whether he was struck by The Samurai or perhaps hit his head on the corner of the desk. Nevertheless, the police were called and a report filed, but the publisher declined to press charges. 

Regardless, The Samurai has not been seen near our offices since that day.

~ Finis ~

 

Interview with a Samurai

To my surprise, the man known popularly as The Samurai responded to the full-page ad this reporter took out in various newspapers and online discussion forums about his mysterious appearances and violent behavior. Through the use of anonymous email addresses and burner phones I agreed to fly to a meeting place specified by him. I can only say that it was in the continental United States per our agreement to keep the location undisclosed.

The dark, empty warehouse smelled of metal and oil and was nearly the length of a football field as near as I could tell. I sat on a folding chair at a card table at one end of the building facing the other end as instructed. Daylight peeked in under various-sized doors at the far end. Two battery-powered desk lamps on the table top provided the only other light, barely illuminating my two pens and notebook that occupied the space between them.

The sound which I first assumed was wind funneled through a crack in the building causing some loose metal or weatherstripping to vibrate grew louder until I recognized it was the high-pitched hum of a well-tuned motorcycle engine drawing closer. The sound of the automatic loading door replaced the increasingly infamous Kawasaki engine and as the door raised it revealed the man astride his motorcycle just outside the door, facing me, the daylight at his back and the darkness inside the warehouse cloaking him in shadows from the front.

The Samurai had arrived.

I could barely make out the sound of the engine idling. Once his head cleared the clanking door, the engine whined a little louder and he began rolling toward me, covering the long distance quickly. He maneuvered the motorcycle so that it was facing me broadside, then removed his helmet and swung his leg over the seat in order to turn and sit facing me. In the weak glow of the desk lamps I could see that he was taller than I expected, with minimal but precise dark facial hair of some indistinguishable style and a strong jawline. He smelled like french fries.

What follows is a literal transcription of our dialogue.

Samurai (S): QUICKLY. MUST PICKUP AT CARPOOL.

Interviewer (I): Seriously?

S: QUESTIONS!

I: Why a Samurai?

S: NOT SAMURAI! MOTOCROSS! STUPID!

I: But your outfit. Your katanas.

S: FUCKTARD! MOTOCROSS!

I: What is your first name?

S: SAM.

I: Well that doesn’t help much, does it?

S: PEOPLE SUNNING ASSHOLES! PEOPLE LOSING SPIRIT OF THE MONKEY!

I: What does that even mean?

S: LIVE IN THE TREETOPS! FIGHT ON THE GROUND!

Ed. Note: He laughed for some time as though this were a private joke.

I: What kind of accent is that? It doesn’t sound Asian.

S: MY ACCENT? YOU HAVE THE ACCENT.

I: You were first spotted in Austin, Texas. Are you from Texas?

S: NO.

I: Then may I ask where you are from?

Ed. note: Sam hesitated for several seconds here.

S: EAST.

I: Asia?

S: ASIA? HATTERAS. RETARD!

I: You are very skilled on a motorcycle.

S: DISCIPLINE. HONOR. COURAGE.

I: Have you ever competed in motocross or X Games, anything like that?

S: NEXT QUESTIONS!

I: So, if I may ask, people have called you a menace, a bully, and a threat to public safety because of all of these unprovoked assaults. What are you trying to accomplish? Are you sending a message?

S: ALL PROVOKED. JUSTICE!

I: Well these were people, including women, you sought out and attacked and–

S: JUSTICE!

I: Well who made you judge and jury over the rest of us?

S: INTERVIEW IS OVER. FLIGHT TO CATCH.

I: Didn’t you say you had to pickup at a carpool?

S: NO CARPOOL! DOCTOR APPOINTMENT.

I: You have to fly to a doctor’s appointment?

Ed. Note: At this point, my cell phone in my jacket pocket began ringing. I had honestly forgot it was there, and leaving the phone in the car had been one of the terms of our interview.

S: VIOLATION!

I: I am very sorry. I forgo–

S: CONSEQUENCES.

I: But–

S: CONSEQUENCES!

The last thing this reporter remembers is the smell of linseed oil as he pulled a wooden sword from behind him and swung it across the table with smooth, deliberate force, knocking the lamps to the floor. At that point, everything went black. I awoke on the floor minutes later, alone in the empty warehouse, a bruise on the side of my head. Whether he struck me after the lamps, or whether I got the bruise by falling over or some other way, I still don’t know.

While his sudden appearances across the country continued, he never responded to my numerous requests for an interview again.

###

Kids Are Resilient

“But I don’t want to go see Daddy,” the 6-year-old girl in pigtails and Hello Kitty swimsuit said to her mother. “I’m scared.”

“I know sweetie,” her mother, a woman named Amy, told her. “But there’s nothing to be scared of, and daddy still loves you. He’ll be waiting for you at his pool. Now go back to the girl’s locker room and get dressed for the trip.”

The girl turned and walked back toward the pool clubhouse, sobbing.

“Poor dear,” said one of the other women sunning herself.

“Tell me about it,” said Amy. “He’s such an idiot. I don’t blame her for not wanting to see him. Not like this one,” she said, indicating a tall muscular man walking toward the fence as she picked up one of several glass pitchers full of iced tea and began pouring some into a red plastic cup.

The group of women in their thirties and forties sat around a large table under an umbrella at the neighborhood pool talking and laughing while selected songs popular in the early 2000s played softly over the pool’s sound system. Most of the women were fit and wearing flattering bikinis with sheer wraps around their waists and large white and pink hats with wide, floppy brims. They occasionally answered questions shouted by the kids in the pool or shouted instructions to them. They also frequently turned to look out on the playground outside the pool’s safety fence where their husbands and boyfriends surrounded by open toolboxes worked on some kind of large see-saw on the playground. Occasionally, one of the men would break off and walk over to the fence where one of the women would pour him some tea.

“Got any beer in there?” the man asked with a smile as he waited for Amy to finish pouring.

“Oh you just hush, Jack Allenby!” his wife scolded as she passed him the cup over the fence. “You know the pool rules.”

“Then how about taking your top off?” he said with a playful leer.

“You’re horrible!” she said, laughing in mock outrage.

“Newlyweds!” one of the other women said. “Sickening!” she continued with mock disgust.

“Hey, watch this!” a young boy shouted from the diving board. Amy, Jack, and all of the adults turned to look as he took a few steps and bounced hard on the end of the board which flexed deeply under his weight before tossing him high the air over the deep end of the pool. The boy successfully performed a full if somewhat awkward flip and entered the water feet-first.

“Nice!”, “Atta boy” came shouts from the playground. The women all clapped enthusiastically.

“That was awesome, Joey,” his mother shouted. “Your best yet. Keep practicing for when it really counts!”

The young boy beamed and gave a thumbs up sign before diving under the water. The women laughed uneasily.

“What a great kid,” one of the other moms said. “I sure wish my Zane had his work ethic.”

Jack tilted the cup and swallowed the last of the tea. He handed the cup back over the fence to his wife as the moms grew silent.

“How is Zane doing, Janelle?” Jack asked. “I guess I need to get back up to Children’s Hospital to see him.”

“Oh he’d love that,” Janelle replied. “He’s got a few more days in traction, then on to physical therapy. But at least he’ll get to come home.”

Jack smiled and nodded before walking back to work on the playground equipment.

The moms likewise agreed amongst themselves that that was a good thing, and they all smiled reassuringly. All but one, that is. That mother wore a lacy green one-pice swimsuit and had her natural Auburn hair pulled back in a ponytail under a large straw sunhat sporting a pink hibiscus flower. She stared at the children in the pool uneasily and sipped from a plastic tube protruding from a large insulated bottle. Everyone knew there was white wine in the bottle. They knew because each of them had often used the same trick.

“It’s going to be fine, Miranda,” Amy called to her.

Miranda’s head rolled slightly from side to side as she nodded silently.

Just then the cell phone on the faux-thatch lounge chair lit up and began vibrating. Miranda’s hand trembled as she picked it up and accepted the call. She held the phone to her ear.

She turned toward the other women. The men on the playground had stopped working and were looking in her direction. “It’s Jimmy’s dad,” she said, her face ashen and devoid of expression. “Jimmy’s coming home.”

“Out of the pool, kids!” Amy yelled. “Jimmy’s coming home! Let’s get ready!”

The kids climbed out of the pool and ran into the clubhouse where they all lined up shoulder to shoulder at the glass wall overlooking the pool and looked up in the direction their parents and parents’ boyfriends and girlfriends were looking.

The children began shouting and cheering as the object came into view, descending quickly from the air, a gray bundle that suddenly dropped and skidded across the diving board, slamming into the fence. Miranda screamed and vomited in her chair, her body shaking. The women rushed to her as the children poured out of the clubhouse racing for the pool area where the men were also rushing to the motionless bundle.

The boy lay crumpled against the fence, the helmet and full face mask he was wearing cracked in several places, and the thick, padded suit torn and bloody.

“He’s unconscious,” one of the men announced. “Broken leg, possibly wrist. Looks like he lost a couple of teeth.”

The women consoled Miranda. “It could have been much worse,” Amy said reassuringly, but Miranda couldn’t hear her. She had picked up the phone and was screaming at her ex-husband. Amy tried to take the phone away from her when Jack walked over and put his arms around his wife and pulled her to the side.

“Catapult’s ready,” he told her. “It’s time for Hailey to go see her dad.”

Amy stiffened. She watched the men carry the little girl to the catapult as the men took turns cranking the tension wheel. Wrapped in what they were calling the “travel outfit”, the little girl’s sobs were muffled by the thick helmet. A small trickle of urine trickled from under the thickly padded pants leg onto the dirt under the catapult.

“Hey, the cuff isn’t tucked,” one of the men pointed out when he saw the drops of urine hitting the dirt. The oversight was quickly corrected and they positioned the trembling girl in the thickly padded suit carefully on the seat. It was an unspoken relief that the suit was so thick that it muffled the sounds the kids made from inside and similarly made it difficult to detect the children’s movements.

Quickly and silently, Jack Allenby nodded to the other men, and when they all looked down at the girl he struck the tension lock with a sledgehammer. The arm snapped forward flinging the girl in a high arc in the direction of her father’s house nearby, her muffled screaming decreasing as she gained elevation. Her mother, Amy, buried her face in her hands and sobbed for as much as a minute until her own phone began to ring.

###

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Class Reunion

When Rod arrived at the country club where his twenty-fifth high school reunion was taking place, the party was on the verge of winding down. His showing up more than fashionably late with a woman just ten years older than they had been when they graduated in 1984 seemed to focus everyone’s attention on the attractive couple. That–combined with the fact that no one had really seen or heard from him since then–drew many pairs of bloodshot eyes framed with drooping lids above and loose, sagging bags below in his direction.

“Rex returns!” shouted a portly man in blue seersucker jacket and pants paired with a  pink golf shirt. He rushed over to greet Rod and his date.

Rod smiled down at him and shook his hand. “Indeed,” he said. “How are you, Chas?”

“You know me,” Chas replied, drunkenly mumbling and slurring his words. “Chash-tashtic as always!”

Rod smiled warmly at his old friend. Chas was sweating so hard it had soaked his shirt and was even coming through the thin seersucker. “This is Lara,” he said, introducing his companion who exchanged a handshake and pleasantries Chas.

“So what’s with this ‘Rex’ business?” Lara, a petite, girlish blonde with vivid blue eyes asked. “Something I should know about?”

“Oh I’m sure you know!” Chas exclaimed. He winked at the couple. “I gave him that nickname even though hish real name shays it all.” He winked again although it may have been an involuntary reaction to the sweat dripping off his brow and running into his eyes. “King of all swordsmen with the king of swords, Rex. How is ol’ Rex these days, podna?”

“Easy there, bud,” Rod said, followed by a stern chuckle. “Time and place was never your forté.”

Lara giggled just as a short, stocky brunette woman walked up, seemingly mesmerized by Rod’s presence.

“You remember my wife, Shally, right, Rod?” he asked in a more threatening and demanding tone. “I’m sure you do.”

“Of course,” replied Rod. “Although I didn’t know you two were married. Congratulations.”

Sally stared at Rob and seemed to say “Hello” shyly, but he didn’t see her mouth move.

Lara noticed it, too. “How did you do that?” she asked, but Sally just stared and smiled. Suddenly a stream of words, much louder now, began pouring forth from Sally’s direction yet her mouth remained closed and still.

“Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote, the droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote…”

“Great!” shouted Chas as a crowd began to form. “Just fucking great!”

“That’s the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales!” someone shouted. “We had to memorize it in tenth grade!”

“…and bathed every veyne in swich licour…” continued the recitation from between Sally’s legs.

“Is that coming from her, her…nether regions?” a thin woman with leathery skin asked politely.

“Oh yeah,” Chas exclaimed. “King over there gave her a ride home one night in tenth grade when I had to go help pull my brother’s truck out of a mud hole.”

“Bethany? Bethany Summerlin?” Rod asked the thin woman. “That you?”

She smiled. “Hello, Rodney,” she said. “It’s Taylor now. You remember Seth Taylor?”

“Sure I do,” Rod replied. “I–”

But he stopped in mid-sentence as Bethany shuddered. Her body shook as they all began hearing a loud and energetic rendition of the Cyndi Lauper song, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” coming from below Bethany.’s waistline As with Sally, she was just smiling and staring.

What seemed at first like random murmurs spreading across the banquet hall slowly grew louder. Rod and Lara looked around the room. Most of the men in the room–who also happened to be married to most of the women–stood speechless, their mouths ajar and jaws dropping as their wives smiled at Rod while their vaginas delivered performances of fight songs, school assignments, and what sounded like the emphatic observations and exclamations of NASCAR commentators.

“That’s the 1984 Iron Bowl! Our senior year!” one man shouted at his wife, a fit, fake redhead with large plastic tits. “We started dating when we were juniors!”

Another man heard “Just the Two of Us” by Grover Cleveland blaring loudly from his wife’s genitalia and simply wept. “That was our song,” he said to her plaintively, mournfully, his face twisted in abject misery. “My God! We played that at our wedding!”

A few men, sobbing deeply, walked over to the bar and started drinking, tossing back shots of whatever was close, their shoulders slumped, heads down as they poured one shot after another. Enraged, the rest screamed at their wives before turning en masse like a school of fish or a flock of birds and advancing on Rod and Lara.

Running for their lives, Rod and Lara squeezed past the ornately furnished tables and pushed through the double doors of the grand entryway and sprinted for Rod’s Audi, running for their lives with the mob of his former classmates, wild-eyed and howling like coyotes, just steps away. Rod hit the ignition and stomped the gas pedal as the back window was smashed and chunks of safety glass the size of pea gravel tumbled into the back seat. Rod steered the car directly across the flower bed in front of him and over the curb, taking the quickest route directly up the street quickly increasing the distance between them and the crazed pack of screaming cuckolds.

“You fucked them all in high school then?” Lara asked as gunshots echoed far behind them. “All those women? All of them?”

Rod checked the rearview mirror and shrugged. “The pussy never forgets,” he said as they sped away into the night.

###

 

 

Suicide Knob, 2024

I left town after the divorce, intending to make it back one day, but the boy stayed deployed most of the year, every year, and the girl married her college boyfriend right after graduation. He is a successful college basketball coach and they moved every few years as he kept winning and better job offers came in. So the 442 and I got to see most of the country together and alone.

It wasn’t my first choice for this part of my life, but it sure as hell hasn’t been a bad second choice. Use your imagination.

I’m meeting the boy in Atlanta, at the airport. He’s done contracting, done operating. We’re going to spend the night then road trip up to Boston where my daughter and son-in-law just brought my third grandson into the world. My ex moved there so I might run into her. Haven’t seen her since the last birth. She started gaining weight and I think drinking a lot after the divorce and probably hasn’t stopped. It’s impossible not to care at all, but I don’t care much. Besides, I’ve got a year left, maybe two. The kids don’t know but I will tell them this week. I’ve been putting it off since the first tests came back positive four months ago. I’ve been waiting for the right time but there isn’t one. When we were teenagers everything was about pushing through today to get to what’s next. There was always something else down the road and getting there took forever. Now there’s just Forever. Capital F.

People are pouring off that steep escalator between the two baggage claims but I see him immediately. He walks with purpose and no presumption and the crowd just parts for him. The truth is that I’m just glad he’s alive because he and his sister are my favorite people.

We hug and walk to the parking deck. I pull the key fob and hit the unlock button, and the car beeps. My son smiles, pulls that old suicide knob out of his pocket and holds it up.

“This thing has seen four continents,” he says.

I laugh. “Can’t believe you didn’t lose it in the sandbox.”

He hands it to me.

“No,” I say. “It’s yours. Do what you want with it.”

He says, “Are you sure?” I say I definitely am and he closes it in his fist, shoves it in his pocket. He’s looking around for the 442.

“Here,” I say as I point my key gadget at a shiny black Yukon and take his bag as the locks pop.

“What the fuck?” he asks. “Where’s the Olds?”

“In your pocket,” I tell him and toss his bag in. “Sold the rest last year. A doctor who had one when he was sixteen.”

“Well…shit,” he says.

Two days later we stop off in the District of Columbia for a couple days to take a driving break and to see some of his operator buddies. On our last night there we go for dinner at a crab house on the water in Maryland. We wait for our table out on the old deck, standing at the railing and looking out over the water and watching the sun set.

The boy pulls the suicide knob from his pocket.

“You sure you don’t want this back?” he asks.

“Nah. It’s yours.”

Without saying a word he cocks his arm back and throws it far and high over the water. I watch the long arc it makes. I remember how heavy it was and how I raised a blood blister with the pliers when I first clamped it on the wheel of the Olds. I remember the half-grin, half grimace and how she thought it was cool and used to call it The Terminator.  I remember how it fascinated him every time he got in the car. I remember how I taught him to drive. I remember and so does he.