by Mitch Grabois
He tried to cross a corrosive sea. His boat dissolved under him. His skin dissolved, his nerves his bones, his family members, but he’d had no choice. The rabid fundamentalists were after him. They would have raped his wife and daughter, beheaded his son and used his skull as a soccer ball and praised the name of Allah as they did.
He’d dipped his toe in the surf’s foam but didn’t feel the danger. It took some time before he began noticing the effects, but by that time they were under way and the boatless terrorists were on the beach, screaming curses and threats.
He didn’t understand that the oceans had filled with acid rain, that the clouds in the sky carried not water vapor, but sulphur fumes. He cursed his life, his powerlessness, his death , the death of his family.
His curses were mere whispers at the bottom of the sea.
You may get Shingles because if, as a child, you had Chickenpox, the Shingles virus is in your body waiting for the right amount of stress to unleash it. You can get a vaccine for it but that doesn’t mean you won’t get it. No protection is 100%.
If you get it, you’ll think that you should have gotten the vaccine twice, but now it’s too late for anything but pain and regret.
I hung out in the hot tubs with Mexicans, mean guys, heavily tattooed. My flesh was naked white. I decided to get a tattoo. I decided on a simple one: No Regrets, but the next time I went into the hot tub I discovered that the tattoo artist had left out the NO, so what I was left with was: REGRETS.
The Mexicans appreciated that—they nodded sagely in my direction.
You may feel that your Shingles is Karma—that it was the bad things you did that caused your suffering. You wish you could go back and undo the suffering you caused other people, but of course you can’t.
I stood on these cold beaches at times of the year no one else would come here. My wife and I pulled out half-frozen sandwiches and sat at a picnic table covered with ice and there was no one there to say: Those people are crazy.
We wished we could climb the lighthouse stairs and grip the rails to keep from being blown off and flung into the frozen surf or against some rocks, but the lighthouses were closed for the season. We told ourselves we do this because we’re Michiganders and we believe there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing, but we really do it because we were both laid off and don’t have anything better to do and after being out in the freezing cold, the inside of the tavern feels really good.
The farmer’s black cow has escaped the field and is in the road. The farmer is my cousin Joe.
An Amish neighbor calls to tell me that one of Joe’s cows has gotten loose. Joe doesn’t like me much. I call him anyway. The phone rings and rings but he doesn’t answer. He may be passed out from too much drink. I’m not going over there. I’m not going out in this blizzard.
Joe once ran into my son’s trailer when it was parked in front of my barn, broke out a taillight, bent a strut, and then drove off as if nothing had happened, but both my son and I saw it. That white trash fucker, said my son.
Maybe he’s down the road at his mom’s house, I thought. His mother had recently had her legs cut off. It was a diabetes thing. She used to beat their milk cows. I helped with the milking and cringed when she hit them with her two-by-four. They were dumb, submissive animals, sometimes slow and stubborn. I called up his mother’s house but no one answered there either. She’s such a hoarder, I thought. Maybe Joe’s over there and can’t get to the phone. Maybe he tried for a while and just gave up, looking at the endless piles of junk in his way. I let the phone ring and ring.
Maybe his mother died and he just discovered her and now he’s crying secret tears because he never let on that he liked his mother at all. It always seemed that he despised her, almost as much as he despised his younger brother.
I called Cowboy Rufus who lived next door to Joe but no one answered his phone either. I figured Rufus was at work up in Manistee at the salt mine down the road from the liquor store that every Autumn lettered their sign: Hello Darkness my old friend. Next to the liquor store the House of Flavors served ice cream all winter but it didn’t make anyone feel better. Even if they went to the casino and won, they didn’t feel any better.
Fuck, I said to myself, going to the closet and pulling on my coat. I walked out the back door and over to my old van, the one the mice had got in last summer and stripped some of the wiring so I had to rewire it.
It started. I drove down to my cousin’s house. I saw the cow, black against the snow. I knew that cow, always complaining. She was the biggest complainer of the herd and now she’d gotten out.
Failed clowns from Brooklyn and Milwaukee pack their whiteface and red lip gloss and board airliners for Greece, where they plan to cheer refugees with their antics. In America they have been losers for decades, practicing arts no longer appreciated with talents inadequate for the task. But in Greece, the dispossessed from Iraq and Syria laugh uproariously, the one bright spot they’ve had for months, or years.
The clowns think again about quitting their day jobs.
The poet (a type of failed clown) taps his teeth with his pointer finger, pulls at his ear lobe until it is as distended as an African tribesman’s, and makes everyone at the Thanksgiving table nervous to distraction. Yet they are thankful that he has not been a burden on them, has not demanded that they provide him with a place to live, or support him.
Sitting at the turkey table, he writes more poems in the soiled notebooks he carries with him everywhere. Behind his back his brother calls him Walt Whitman because he is bearded and disheveled and has leaves of grass in his long hair.
He’ll be famous after he’s dead, says his mother.
He’s a bum and he’ll always be a bum, says his father.
His niece says: Uncle, read me another poem.
His work, truth be told, is as humorous as that of Ogden Nash and the niece giggles until stuffing comes out of her mouth.
And when it was his time, the Angel of Broken Legs lifted him up and carried him up to a cottony cloud, where she gently laid him down, whispering all the way about recklessness and caution. He just laughed at her, having no respect for angels or devils—his father had raised him to be a nonbeliever and he refused to believe anything he could not see and even what he could see, like the angel of broken legs.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois has had over a thousand of his poems and fictions appear in literary magazines in the U.S. and abroad. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, The Best of the Net, and Queen’s Ferry Press’s Best Small Fictions for work published in 2011 through 2015. 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 see more of his work, google Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois. He lives in Denver.
* * * * * * * * * * * *