A bullet-headed man in a leather vest with swirling black tattoos on his shoulders walks up to the shooting gallery off the midway and asks the gap-toothed barker, you remember me? I was here yesterday with my girl. This fucking game is rigged. Three shots for 5 bucks, right? He throws a five on the worn hardboard counter. From his baggy jeans, he pulls a sawed off shotgun, which like the man holding it, is nasty, brutish, and short. His first shot takes out the wheel of tin ducks. The barker drops to the ground. The second shot blows away the peak-a-boo Bambi. People scream and scatter. The third shot shreds the dancing bear and punches a hole in the monkey house beyond the canvas backdrop, a colorful woodland scene painted by the lion tamer’s eight year old daughter. I’ll take that prize now, says the bullet-headed man, as he reaches over the counter and grabs the fluffy pink giraffe.
Two kids necking at the top of the Ferris wheel think they hear fireworks and look up into the night sky, expecting to see exploding flowers of light. Under the animal trailers, the macaque stolen from a research lab six months before scampers to freedom, leaving a blood trail seething with Ebola.
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The Wood Underfoot
Something about the smell of turpentine and the way my foot scuffs the floor of the unfinished kitchen reminds me of my father, walking ahead of me with his stoop-shouldered shuffle through shafts of sunlight down the long front hall of his home in Glens Falls. Quarter-sawn chestnut, he boasts. The wood underfoot is dark and heavily grained, with gaps between the planks. Your great, great grandfather made wooden bowls for a living, he says, as the two of us carry the tired wool carpet, installed by the original owner 40 years ago, to the curb. Then he lights up his pipe, under the oak at the end of his driveway, while russet leaves flutter down around him and the scent of Burlington Arcade wafts over me like a warm memory in the crisp autumn chill.
I press the nail gun against the tongue of the red oak I’ve chosen for my kitchen floor. It’s not chestnut, but then, no one believed that Dad’s was, either.
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Soup for One
I had knee surgery in 1986. When I was coming out from under, I had a dream. My daughter was there. She told me I’d never actually had a daughter and then disappeared. The same thing happened with my son, my wife, my friends, my siblings. My parents! One by one; they revealed themselves to be the product of my imagination and winked out of existence. I found myself utterly alone. I realized – this is what death is really like: You don’t leave the world. The world leaves you. Then they pulled the tube from my throat and woke me up.
I think about that sometimes when I’m rattling around in my empty house. Things want to fly apart; it takes energy to keep them together. The dream wasn’t about death after all.
My phone rings; it’s a wrong number. I hang up and open a can of soup.
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