Fiction


Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

 

Today the World

By William Michaelian


Today the world spit me out and I landed on the sidewalk on my head. An old whore coughed and said, “You wouldn’t have a cigarette,” and I said, “Baby, I don’t even know what day it is.” I clawed my shirt pocket and held up a mangled generic.

“Gotta match?”

I tried to shake my head but groaned instead.

The whore laughed. She slid the cigarette between her bright red lips and knelt beside me. She massaged my pockets and everything else, while her sunburnt vinyl tubes dangled in my face like a pair of gassed bananas. She found a plastic lighter with two drops in it and my expired driver’s license. She lit up and and read my name. “Hiya, James,” she said.

“Hi,” I said. “How’s business?”

“Oh, so-so.” The whore’s nostrils flared and smoke came out. She stared down the street. It was hot. My back was burning through my shirt. There was a broken beer bottle by my head smelling sour like spit and lies and broken promises.

I tried to think, but it hurt. The whore whispered obscenities to my cigarette. “How long you going to lay there,” she said finally. I told her I didn’t know. I told her I couldn’t make up my mind to go or stay, one way or the other. “I guess it doesn’t matter,” I said.

“I guess not,” the whore said.

“What about you?” I said.

“What about me.”

“What’re you going to do?”

“Well, James — I thought I’d make sure you’re all right, then go home and make a nice spaghetti dinner for my good-looking husband the stock broker and our three happy, well adjusted, clean young children with bright futures. I cut them out of a magazine this morning. They’re still fresh.”

“Huh?”

“I said, I’m gonna find me a clean needle and have a talk with God. What did you think I said?”

“Hell, I don’t know. Something about confetti and a stock broker. The thing is, I used to be a stock broker.”

“Yeah, right. And I was Princess Diana.”

“No shit. I had a Mercedes.”

“You? Don’t make me laugh.”

“A wife, too,” I said. “She was a tall, beautiful blonde. When I got home every day she was waiting for me naked. Ah, what a woman. She even spoke in tongues.”

The whore sneered. “Well, what happened to her?” A muddy bead of sweat fell from her eyebrow and landed on my arm.

“It’s a long story,” I said. “You don’t want to hear it.”

“Probably not.”

“I used to have trouble with my temper. I killed her. I killed her, and then I buried her in the back yard between the rhubarb and the cotoneasters. She’s there to this day.”

“Men,” the whore said in disgust.

“Men? I kill my wife and that’s all you can say? Men?”

“What the hell do you want me to say? You’re all the same. Anyone tries that shit with me, though, I’ll cut his balls off.”

“That’s a good way to go out of business,” I said.

The whore smiled.

I smiled.

The whore said nothing.

I said nothing.

The whore swallowed more smoke.

I swallowed an ounce of phlegm. I closed my eyes and opened them to see if I was still alive. I closed them again and asked myself: Why? What for? When? How? My body was an acre of long, dull pain. My brain sighed, an idiotic electronic parade, a petty nuisance, a proud miracle of evolution, a tired gray sponge full of stale dishwater.

I opened my eyes and gazed up into the whore’s face. There was more there than I wanted to see. More than I could cope with. Then again, maybe it was the heat. I want to say I found the answer, but I didn’t. I want to say we fell in love, but we didn’t. I want to say a gentle breeze played in our hair, but it didn’t. I want to say a small child with a radiant, joyous face smiled at us from a window overlooking the street, but there was no child, no smile, and no window. God damn it, don’t you understand? I want to say whatever it is you want to hear — but I can’t.

The silence was deafening, heavy, woolen. Then, somewhere up the street, the light changed. The gates of commerce opened, the dikes of reason broke, time stopped, and a mob of crying, desperate, lonely people drove over us with their cars, and marched over us, and trampled us to death.

There was nothing left to do but go our separate ways.

I went home and turned on the TV. I was just in time to watch the whore deliver the six o’clock news. At the end of the broadcast, she smiled into the roaring emptiness of my life and said, “Thanks for the cigarette, chump.”

 

*****

“Today the World” appeared previously in Among the Living and Other Stories, a
chapbook of William Michaelian’s short stories published by MuscleHead Press in 2000.
williammichaelian.com

*****

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