Short Short Stories by Jim Strope

The Knight of Resignation

Dreamboat

Spidey

Morning Lunge

A Christmas Story

Strange Dogs

The Invincibility of the Bulletproof Individual

The Gallery

The Long Visit

The Dustycoat Function

The Bound Man

Death-tempter and the Abyss

FillySophia

Dirty Sand

Fraidy Cat

The Original Bad Bob

Hansel and Gretel

Malogy in Black and White

Me and Gimpy

The Dark of Heartness

Amour

I started it.  I invited him in the first place, then generously offered him a place on the couch after an evening of drinking, and finally approved his renting of our guest room.  I like people and he was easy to get along with.  Susie was suspicious at first.  

But then they got along, too well, too quickly.  The husband is the first to know and the last to talk.  Finally, I confronted the situation.  Him first.   He was sarcastic.  

I told him that he was sent to torment me.  "I sent myself," he said.  

Then something secret happened between them, all the more painful because they had secrets they would not share.  Something that quieted Susie.  She went to bed and stayed.  Like she was ill or had become irretrievably attached to a memory, manifesting itself as an illness.  Naturally, I sent him away but Susie sneaked out, as I knew she would.  But that didn't work for her either.  I'd only begin to talk about the obvious and she'd change the subject.  

I could have left, but I was worried about her, especially when I found she was with child.  I worried for myself, briefly.  I had straight blonde hair and Stephen's was dark and curly.  Waiting it out to see the baby would take me through chaoticemotional states.  If I left her with a child, she wouldn't be able to take care of herself or the baby.  He wouldn't take care of either of them.  Not the objects of his desire.  

It's certainly not the baby's fault. A baby was a blessing.  Why saddle them both with a miserable existence?  And I, even from a great distance, would always have the deepest regret, the profoundest misery.  I made up my mind to stay.  

What I didn't know, what I was unable to predict, what I was incapable of dealing with, was her hatred of me, that sick silent mourning for her brief, joyous, irretrievably lost freedom.  

The Running Man

The crowd carried stones and sticks picked up along the way.  Looking back over his shoulder, the running man, exhausted, famished, failing to outrun them, continued to try to get away.  

He would bleed less if he kept quiet.  He halted in a shadow and listened.  They were all around.  One wounded man cannot outrun a mob of men. One would hold him and the rest would follow.  

A place to hide is not enough.  He needed food and a dry place to lie down and rest.  A new rag for his wound.   Maybe if it were bound tighter it would bleed less and then maybe he could save the arm.  It was the fear and the running that made the heart pound, that made the blood ooze out.  It was fear that made him sick, that made him want to weep for himself, had he the time for sorrow.  

He could remember things that did him no good.  He had lain on the beach, the dirty beach, and the sun was out but the wind was cold and gritty.  There was a woman but she was not beautiful and neither was he.  A shred of newsprint rolled by in the careless wind, announcing almost nothing-at-all coming and going.  How nice it would be to have such small interests!  He couldn't pretend any longer.  

Now it was the rough brick of the cold building, the littered and broken asphalt, the buckled concrete with its dead weed shaking its doomed seed's futile hope. 

What was that noise?  Had they found him?   

The Knight of Resignation Considers Approaching the Abyss

The fractured ring of the crater was composed of ruined buildings.  As I crest a pass, I see the beginning of the shadow of the deep chasm in the distance.  

It's a long way away.  I pause.  I can't hear its echoing depth, or feel the dread of being on the edge, surrounded by destruction. 

The locals said a giant god was buried alive here with his treasure, his feet to the fire and his face a mile from the sweet air, bound like a vein of greedy ore, caught within the hard crust of the earth.  

It's only a hole in the ground.  No more.  A pit.  A vacancy.  A shadow. Just a place where something could have been.  Avoid personification of the abstract.  I am the only animus.  All else is matter, energy, space or time.  There's only me and my intelligence.  

A shard of china, a glittering sliver of glass, a broken toy, an oxidized machine part and bit of native stone.  Distant features interest my eye.  

The superstitious won't come this far.  They're busy making this and selling that.  In the street, men carry the flag and children their sullen game.  I am so superior to them.  Yet a man is nothing beside a mountain, which cannot compare to the echoing abyss before me, which is vanishingly small compared to the vast next-to-nothingness that surrounds all that matters.  

I could go back.  Find a unique place to pause and reflect, observe and conclude.  To rest.  To concoct some comfort against the cold and abrasive world and this exhumation that opens up before me.  

"Not just another place for you to feel important, kid."  

Who said that?  I don't have to defend this spot of ground.  Nobody wants it.  I won't defend the territory of anybody else either, because that would require an act of faith. Nor can I ever love again.  

The wind and rain tried in their patience to sooth the ragged edge of the vast wound, to welcome forth the green shoot to split the rock.  

"Don't make us have to try to save you out here, kid."  

That voice again!  Barren moment.  Dry wind.  The sun's patient heat.  

I could fill this void.  Could kill its mocking echo.  I send my brief mote climbing thoughtfully around this ground, rewriting myth.  

The Disinterer exhumed his prize, leaving this magnificent absence and the wind and the rain and the cold night sky sparsely strewn with its dying stars and a climbing solitary mite with an eye to see.  

The chasm narrows as it plunges into its darkness.  It's broad and desolate at the top, spreading to a vast plain leading toward the distant mountains and the stars beyond.  I start down, carefully.  

Deeper in I see a torn book, a toy mask.  Was that my trophy?  It's empty hand suitable for baseball, golf, marksmanship, tennis. A broken portrait. Each object an artifact of people long gone, forgotten, eventually discarded.  Each item of detritus is linked without end to lost details.

The middle range is composed of the repetitious events of daily life, landmarks on the way to work, schedules, more faces, a book being read.  Headless manikin.  Naked doll.  Broken mirrors everywhere.  Everything can be seen.  Darkness below and light above.  

The objects that form the walls at the narrowest extreme are very private. Here are stored the rotten fruits of early desire, certain faces, bashful moments dreamily organized, pride and hunger loosely associated with fear and loathing, all leading down the steep and difficult terrain of selfishness.  And the ever stronger stench!  I look around.  There must be a body.  The odor of all who have fallen.  

I changed my mind.  Why did I go in the first place.  I have to climb out of there.  I have to go home now.  

Turning back, the landscape opened out onto the immense field of natural possibility. A starving tree clings to the slope of a massive mountain jutting abruptly from the cusp as it slopes away from my narcissistic past.  High ranges loom blue and distant.  

The wind blows across the mouth, carrying away in great clouds the foul odors of what is no longer.  Fresh at first, it begins to howl just as the terrain smoothes out. Cold with betrayal, it drives ice and bits of grit against my skin. If I turn my shoulder, bending into the wind, covering my eyes, some progress can be made. 

A ragged family hisses hatefully at me from their pathetic shelter.  My sister had aged so!  Drifts of shards of glass and sharp snow eddy around the leeward side of the beaten mountain, a pile of bones lying bleaching in the heartless sun.  

I stop in the shadow of a boulder to rest and to weep for myself.  

The Dark of Heartness

In the cool night, Captain Jimmy leaned on the railing of the dock, gazing at the ramshackle building across the wide Gambia.  He didn't have anything more to say to the passengers.  Just wait.  Best we can do.  He snapped his cigarette into the river, making a long glowing arc that hit the water with a brief fizz and died.  The river, preoccupied with greater trash, did not notice.  

I didn't go to Annapolis for this, he thought.  I didn't go to the Naval academy to learn to deal with incompetents.  

He stood erect.  He was an island of integrity.  Him and his boat.  Or was, until his stupid pilot ran it into the dock and punctured the hull.  Lucky it didn't sink.  Lucky we didn't feed the tourists to the crocodiles.  But I didn't go to one of the greatest universities in the world to be lucky.  

And Kurt Master!  There's a man of integrity!  He was looking forward to meeting Master this trip up river.  He imagined himself dining at Kurt's table.  Lifting a glass.  He would not look foolish.  He would await the right moment.  He would not overheat himself with impetuous questions but would bide his time, formulating his questions, patiently listening to hear if anyone had already half-asked his question or if Kurt Master might have answered his question incidental to the pursuit of another bit of knowledge.  

Waiting!  He leaned on the railing again and spat into the snot-green current.  Wait for my material to be delivered.  Wait for some incompetent clerk to hear from some low-level official who thinks he's emperor of one thing or another when the boss is out of town and who ignores the incompetent shipping clerk and on and on.  It's a wonder anything gets done in this god-forsaken place.  

He looked at the miserable shack across the river again.  This place can't benefit from civilization.  It can only absorb its rubbish, its plastic bags and bottles floating by, out to all-receiving the sea.  It can only flow around the piles of garbage awaiting the sanitation crews who have better things to do than their job. Even American tourists were better.  At least they worked like slaves for the two weeks on the river.  And Kurt Master worked harder than anybody.  What a man he must be.  

Was it true that Master read 2 college-level text books a day?  In between meetings, on the plane, video conference calls, chatting with one of his girlfriends too, tasting wine, buying and selling from his enormous resources.  And when he sleeps he must sleep the sleep of a king who couldn't wait to get up in the morning and go back his exciting life.  

But not me.  I just wait for incompetence to solve itself.  

But even Hell has it's end and suddenly all aboard and up the river!  The American tourists snapping pictures of each other in front of this or that geological or botanical wonder, comparing adventures, cities, wine and cheese while the smooth purr of the big engine leaves behind a bubbling wake to wash the shore.  The river was beautiful again.  

Until the small arms fire knocked off my pilot.  Until we hit the log or whatever it was and broke the rudder.  I had enough of this place.  They all looked at me as though I could fix anything.  I managed to get the tub tied off to a tree, fore and aft, and then launched the rubber dingy and let the current carry me back downstream.  "I'm going for help," I said, rowing to increase my speed.  They were saying unkind things about me but soon I could not hear them.  

I imagined them trying to carry their luggage, no longer stopping to take pictures, all peering with fear and loathing into the verdant night.  Were there snakes?  What about spiders?  They would find a narrow trail.  Someone was following them.  They knew they were close to Master's African Adventure but how far and what way?  All roads must lead there, it was so important.  Always take the better-traveled branch, I advised them from a safe distance.  

Clothes torn ragged, filthy with mud, destitute, starving and thirsty, no toilet paper!  They would see a light!  A paved road!  A parking lot!  

Across the huge tarmac packed with Cadillacs, Lexuses, Rolls Royces, and Maseratis, they spied the brilliantly-lit gate to the fabulous park.  Eagerly they approached but security, backed by a dozen armed men with serious faces, would not have them.  They got on their radios for reinforcements.  Where were their reservations?  Their passports?  Who did they think they were, anyway?  No, you can't wait at the gate.  You'll scare away customers!  Go over there.  Way over there.  

At the edge of the parking lot they encountered a musician, poorer than they, who invited them home.  They were more than reluctant but more than hungry.  His English was bad.  His clothes were dirty.  He was the wrong color and his head was oddly shaped and he smelled bad and was missing teeth and had funny ears.  He played a red, plastic flute.  And he wanted them to go with him down the trail into the darkness.  They refused, for a while.  

The man stepped forth.  Let's go, he said with assurance.  Why not. What did they have to lose?  They entered a village.  They got strange food and ate it gratefully.  More musicians appeared.  Dancers wiggled into view.  They could sit down.  They could rest.  They could get to know one another.  They were accepted.  

Spidey

I'm sitting in my car, hating to wait, listening to experimental radio, which is never comforting, and needing a shave.  The street lights begin to flicker in their pathetic effort to deny the night.   

Something catches my eye and I turn quickly.  It was something about the angle of the leg of the black chair the man carried.  I shuddered and settled down.  Small spiders are unbearable.  What if there were big spiders, as big as that chair, some  biological hacker joke?  

I'm sitting in my car, smoking, the cold breeze carrying the fumes out of the car, and then I'm snatched. She pins me to the sidewalk, stabs her venomous fangs into my neck, and drags me down the street into the darkness where no one can help me.  I lose a shoe.  

Killing me would be merciful.  Her paralytic venom allows me to breathe but I can't move.   She drags me into her lair and throws my body onto a heap of others and then goes out to hunt again.  I'm totally freaked by the situation but unable to move.  

In the corner, I can see this sheet of white silk attached to the basement walls.  Each of the thousands of threads is attached to the others in white perfection, a bridal veil, a baby blanket, a work of great and desperate love.  

She returns, one leg dragging, in her mandibles a girl that she drops onto the floor near me.  She inspects each body.  When she comes to me, her eight black eyes shine and her black, bristly legs have that unmistakable hideous, spidery angle.  She adjusts my position, the claws on her mandibles digging into my skin.  Her presence is unbearable. 

She leaves. There is nothing to do but wait and stare at the pure white covering of silk. I can see the little girl's leg. Her dress is pulled up. Her terror must be complete. I begin to weep tearlessly.  I will not be able save the child.  

The changing light means that another day has passed. My left leg begins to tingle. I can move a toe. Perhaps she's not coming back. Maybe she's been captured or shot or hit by a bus. If the venom wears off, I might escape. I'd could go for help.  I could take the girl with me. 

I dreamed of safety. I flex my foot. Yes, definitely, I can move my foot.  I allow myself to think of escaping, of being in the daylight once again, of being surrounded by human beings whose worst aspect is their boredom or some faint inconsideration like not holding the door for you. I laughed!  I could laugh!  

Suddenly I see a shadow and hear her scuttling and scratching gait. She is weak and stinks terribly.  She drops another victim near me and then sets about inspecting each of us. My revulsion is so profound that I shudder convulsively and so she gives me another kiss.   All I can do is look.  Her gait is clumsy now. Her time is short.  

She's gone for a long, long time.  I drift in and out of consciousness, from pleasant dreams to the nightmare of reality.  I'm very hungry.  The perfectly white silk sheet reflects the moonlight coming through the cob-webbed cellar window, appearing brilliant, like new-fallen snow in the moonlight.  It is the most beautiful, most lovingly fashioned work of art I have ever seen.  She has not returned.  Again the venom begins to wear off but now I haven't the strength to move.  

Something moves beneath the silk sheet shining beautifully in the dim light.  Then it's quiet.  Then, from within, a small, sharp something breaks the smooth, white surface.  An armored leg emerges, featuring that unmistakable arachnid angle. 

The girl's leg begins to spasm as the first hatchling emerges.  The living begin to moan and shudder.  

Morning Lunge

Backpack slung, self-contained, down the sidewalk walking, pull out the gloves without missing a step, put them on, donít need the hat, crossing the street towards the bus, on the sidewalk three people entering a car, perhaps deposed aristocracy, holding back over some issue, the mom holding a ridiculously cute dog looking at me, I didnít think it was real, but it might bite anyway, you never know, but I barged through, approved by the smiling daughter who wanted me out of the way, and the father becoming invisible, even when I glanced back he had turned his face away, not in shame but in recognizing the yet-another-affront to his dignity by a blundering white guy and again deciding that this was not the moment for anyone to die. 

Dreamboat

Along the off-ramp a young girl, four or five, pigtails, tricycle, polyester sneakers, put some puddle water into a glass soda bottle. She took her seat, checked the level of the water in the bottle, and nodded. 

I supposed that she were lost or abandoned. I stopped. I considered backing back up the ramp, the wrong way.  If I went back up the freeway and came back down around, it might be too late. The woman beside me angrily told me to call the police. But that would take longer still. 

Yet another innocent delivered to the fire and the ice, I awoke weeping for myself. 

A Christmas Story

I was both happy and sad that I was behind schedule replacing myself with a system that could do everything I could do. Sad because I was behind and happy because if I could replace myself with a program, I could probably replace others, which would keep me employed.

My kid loved the Christmas tree program my company gave me. She designed the ornaments and moved them to the tree with the mouse. It included a virtual dollhouse, with flowered wallpaper for the family of virtual dolls. The virtual toys were tied with big golden ribbons that reflected the flashing lights and dangling bulbs. She could click on a present and order it.  Very well-written.  The project could be saved to disk.  We felt like a family.  I was beaming.  

Christmas morning, while our daughter unbundled her new software, my wife and I snuggled by the video fireplace. She hugged me close and whispered that she would like another child, a fat baby brother for Darlene, and would do anything I asked. I told her that we would get started on that project right away. I would design one during lunch tomorrow. 

And I would edit my wife's hair color. I could do with a change.  

Strange Dogs

The two-leggers are the strangest of dogs.  They keep food in a box and don't eat it.  You should eat food as soon as you find it.  If you don't, some other dog will and that will be the end of it.  

The two-leggers can leave the den at any time but don't.  They stay in the den, sometimes all day, and all night. When they leave they don't let us out.  

I'm eager to go out and sniff and pee.   They open the den, come in or go out, and then close the it.  I don't understand why they just don't leave it open and any dog can go out at any time.  

They make the floor wet with foul-smelling water.  I have to wait weeks to pee on the floor and then they bark at me. 

And they never mark a tree.  Never.  At times they have almost no odor.  The become invisible.  

The strange dogs stay in their dens with the walls closed with a a flickering light.  

They won't help me kill the cat.  They can climb the fence.  They can pick up a stick in their paws.  I've seen them.  They could knock the detestable, stinking creature from the fence and I could bite it hard, crushing its bones with one bite of my sharp teeth, shaking it viciously.  We could play tug-of-war with its body.  I could lick its blood.  Never again would it leer at me from the fence.  The two-leggers tolerate the cat.  

Nor do they howl with the wolf-god.  We can hear the hard-running wolf-god run close then far away.   I wonder what he smells like.  The wolf-god has a fine, loud voice and I join him in song when he runs.  He must be very large and very lonely.  I yearn to hunt with the wolf-god, running down a swift-footed beast dripping blood and mad with fear, climbing a high mountain pass on a moonlit night, howling out our loneliness.  

But not the strange dogs.  They don't go out at night when the moon is full and despised cats creep the fence-tops and the great, mournful wolf-god howls up the streets, unconstrained.  

I wonder if they're dogs at all, the two-leggers.  Should I stay with them?   Or should I run away and find a better deal?  

I put my chin on my paws, pretending to sleep, and consider the situation again.  

The Invincibility of the Bulletproof Individual

I stand at the window. Today seems longer and brighter than yesterday. The couple who last night thumped against the wall for twenty minutes, one of them moaning, today are having words in the hall.  So much for that theory.  The people in the street scurry fearfully. 

I pray to the radio to give me that song, the one that recalled that moment when, for one brief miracle, time and place paid off and the girl looked back at me, when I reached for the highest ranges of limitless love, before I bounced off the bus with no girlfriend to catch me. 

I open the window and lean out. Across the street and two blocks down, a tall tree stands in the park. It seems to explode out of the ground as if it had erupted only a second ago and its branches had reached their highest point, their tips hanging motionless for an instant, its golden leaves tinged with red, poised for death.  

I could direct my hands to do things. I could make them drive a car, if I had a car. I am a disembodied mind wishing it could float free over these chaotic ranges of constraints, those things and events that people say are actually happening, the things people say are true. I could strike a pose, that it must be some other way, a fantastic state. 

I sit in the chair by the radio, seeking peace and lusting for war. The street walking stops, the cars stop, the plant stops growing. The sun crawls hot to the center of the sky.

The Long Visit

Some are here a long time and seem to enjoy it. They relax like practiced tourists, taking a seat in the cafe with a view, patiently awaiting the waiter, and are grateful for the service.

Others crossly regard the servants (who are only temporary), clamor for attention, demand satisfaction and seldom receive it, except perhaps in some secret cackling group as if they owned the place or knew someone who did.

Others are here but a moment, hardly enough to be noted with a name but are mourned in passing, sometimes beyond all others, as though their dreamy potential weighed huge in our tender hearts, that organ that feels loss heavier and absence far deeper than the grossest physical oppression.  All are forgotten sooner or later.  

I envy the chained, manacled together in marriage, corporations, mortgages, ownership, commitment, family, liability, maternity, fraternity, and eternity. Though traveling for years, I have yet to arrive. I never know what to do with my stuff. It's never around when I need it and I stumble over it when I don't. I'm forever bumbling into someone else's living room, trying to feel at home, as coarse as a mule in a pharmacy, awkward as a peasant at a coronation, and as puzzled as a philosopher at a beautician's. I'm often endured as they look at their watches, until even I take the hint and heave onto the road again.  

The Dustycoat Function

We always wondered how Fumble Joe, of all the people in this wide world, had discovered it. We'll never know because only Stands Mildish spent those last years with him and now they're both gone. They kept two chairs around the iron stove with its youthful flames and its rusting tin pipe reaching through the cabin roof. Joe would sit, remembering, and rise, shuffling to the window and looking out, peering through the old glass at the daylight or the darkness or at dusk or at dawn. Stands tried to figure it out too.

Joe sat down and put his fingers in his beard, a meadow whose seeds had long ago sprouted, withered, and died, and then he looked up. He frowned, not scornfully, but gently, and all the while Stands Mildish stood there, with that half-smile of his and his hands in his pockets.

It was a long crawl for Joe, around the fringes, avoiding the light, skirting around his world like a quiet, nocturnal creature, a furtive, shy animal that late at night nibbled the leavings of great daylight banquets, sniffing out the crumbs of crumbs and the faint aroma that lingered in the air until the slight breeze deprived him of even that chance at participation. Stands Mildish thought Joe remarkable, that on this diet, he could feed his faith, that something might be going on somewhere and that it was possible that he could be a part of it, that if he just thought in the right way or showed up at the right time and place, he could join up.  

But too late, Joe discovered his tourism, his going where important events had been, his eternal tardiness. At his age and degree of discouragement, he was no more capable of starting an event than he was of sprinting across the plains and up the mountain.  He rose from his chair and opened the stove door.  The fire was dying.  He left the door open so he could watch the fire go out.  

He could go to the closet where his old coat hung, waiting patiently for him to go outside. He could envision that. 

But where would he go?  

The Bound Man

As I drive by the park each day, I see him, shoulders stooped, pacing the walkway, muttering what he should have said, one arm whirling its hand in rhythm. Sometimes he retires to his bench, wondering bitterly at our rushing traffic.

One day an old codger stood near the bench, under the over-arching trees, feet planted wide, mouth agape at the rushing world, and pleased that he had come this far. His cane steadied his gaunt frame against the wind.

The younger man regarded him skeptically. Will he tell him what he should have said?

The older man, having come all this way, stood ready to smile.  

Fraidy Cat

Fraidy Cat sat on the kitchen window sill and sighed a big sigh at the little birdies at the feeder.  Fraidy Cat loved the little birdies.  They seemed so alive and free and full of energy.  Fraidy Cat would love to catch one in his teeth and drag its struggling body back into his house, to disable it, to let it go and catch it again, its tiny heart beating wildly, and finally killing it, tearing into its belly and licking its blood.  A greater joy could not be imagined.  

But alas, Fraidy Cat couldn't get to the little birdies that played cheerfully out of reach in the feeder mounted on the house next door, so close yet so far.  

Fraidy Cat turned and looked at the stupid, stinking dog laying on the kitchen floor.  The dog knows better than approach too closely or he would teach it lesson it would never forget.  Three more more stupid stinking dogs waited 3 stories below, barking their fool heads off.  Fraidy Cat gave them a malevolent look.  They were far beneath them.  

Fraidy Cat  dropped to the floor and wandered off to lick itself and take a nap.  

Later that afternoon, when he returned to the kitchen, something lay on the sill and it went all the way across to the other house.  Right to the bird feeder, in fact.  Fraidy Cat got up on the sill and looked at it carefully.  Touched it with his paw.  Seemed solid enough.  Sniffed it.  Carefully climbed onto it.  Well now!  

What a delightful experience!  High above the stupid, stinking, barking dogs below, the eager little birdies were just a short walk away. They would fly away at his approach but then he could find a place to lie in wait.  They would forget about him.  They were stupid.  

Fraidy Cat took a step.  Then another.  His heart beat with the possibilities.   Halfway out, the board moved.  Fraidy Cat snapped to attention, his claws gripping the wood.  Maybe it would best to go back.  

He turned carefully around to face the window and took a cautious step.  The board turned over and upside-down Fraidy Cat clawed the wood, hanging on for dear life.  

Very carefully, Fraidy Cat climbed back on top and took a little step back toward the safety of the window.  The stupid, stinking dog was watching from the window.  In fact, the stupid, stinking dog had his paws on the board.  

Again the board turned over and again the upside-down Fraidy Cat feared for his life as he climbed back up and tried to take another step.  Fraidy Cat was very nervous by this time.  

Only a step or two more and he would have that dog's nose in his claws, would take out an eye, would send the worthless animal howling.  

But the stupid, stinking dog pushed the board out so that it was no longer supported by the sill.  As Fraidy Cat was falling, he abandoned the board so he could land on his feet, maybe, to face the three stupid, stinking, barking dogs, who greeted him with eager canine delight.  

Death-tempter and the Abyss

It has something to do with personality, that hole through which the sounds emerge. The sound itself, the song of life against death, the annunciation hurled against the black boredom of what fails so miserably to be, is the greatest part of life.

To approach the edge and to peer into the abyss, to thrill at the danger, is to perceive as merely apparent the division between conscious being and the truth of what really happens.  All that can be recounted is the impression of the vastness of the depth glimpsed so briefly by the creature. Art fades quickly in the man tending his tiny shop, hiding from the vision, thus keeping his secret.

The challenge is to exceed simultaneously the machinations of the mind and the animal's greed, both fused in man. Dare the edge. Do not leave the word alone. 

FillySofa

All in a row and crowed and cackled on the couchette my little cutie and me and the rest and especially the precious one on the far end, far away, so far.  

All smiles, each with their secret secret, all the same, predator and prey, the prayer and the prayed-for, on the davenport, apparently happy, appearing together.  

If X is the object desired, exact in its beauty, coying around its own secret, cloying at its desirer, each with a proper mantle, like a costume hiding its hidden agendum, the only clue a cracking smile, a looking away, a changing of the subject: Any distraction will do!  Hide the hideous, what must not be peeled away, must be concealed to tempt the thief to steal a peek, a sneaking reek, couchť, touchť, famous for being famous, beauty violated, the precious spent, higher purpose coincidental to the individual casualty, causality, casuistry, the highest purpose the sum of it all, really, incidents and their issues, inherited tissues and other secrets, which must be kept where?  

Dirty Sand

Coca Cola on the beach.  Christ, we couldnít even do that.  I mean Steven.  Look at him.  Just going to the beach.  Take a blanket and something to pass around.  How hard is that.  But Steven should be pretty much on a leash at all times and lucky me, I got the job from I donít remember who. 

Steven got drunk and sick before we even got there and started something in the parking lot, which brought the cops around, which was not as much fun as just doing nothing but standing in the cold wind and watching the sun die. 

How can it be that things are so different from how it should be.  How is it possible that I am trapped in this particular body and not someone else more attractive who doesnít have such lame friends. 

Steven tried to play football but he canít throw and certainly canít kick and canít catch and sometimes he staggers back to stand on the blanket with his dirty shoes.  Get off the blanket with your dirty shoes, stupid! 

I can just hear my mom now.  ďJust because you like him, doesnít mean I have to bail him out." 

Anyway, he's not my boyfriend, Mom.  Just someone I'm stuck with.  

"That's what I'm saying," she said.  "Can't you date someone decent for a change?"  

Steven comes up to me.  "You want to go to the armory Thursday night for the Battle of the Bands?"

"With you?"

"Maybe I'll see you there."

"Look, Steven.  I'm not saving you any more.  I don't care if they beat you up."

"I'm not going to drink."

"You always lie."

"That's not true."

The Original Bad Bob

One day in the old west a tall stranger sauntered through the swinging doors of the saloon, ordered a glass of whiskey, tossed it down, leaned up against the bar, and with a scornful air remarked, "A feller down the street said Bad Bob's a'comin' to town." 

The cowboys in the bar folded their poker hands, drained their glasses, picked up their money, and left, some swaggering in a manly way out the swinging doors, others escaping at a dead run out the back. 

"Another?" the barkeeper asked the stranger.   

"I ain't a'sceered of no Bad Bob," the stranger said, draining his glass and banging his glass on the bar. 

Suddenly a big man riding a buffalo crashed through the swinging doors, rode around the room crushing poker tables, shooting out kerosene lanterns and starting small fires. He reined the huge, terrified animal up to the bar.

"Whiskey," the big hairy man demanded. The barkeep handed him a full quart; the man bit the neck off, poured the contents down his throat in huge, fuming gulps, smashed the empty bottle on the bar, spat out the glass, turned to the stranger and breathed on him, knocking the stranger to the floor.  

"Another one?" asked the barkeep, wiping the bar with a rag. 

The man said "No time! Bad Bob's coming to town!" and then heaved at the reins, dug his spurs into the animal's ribs, rode around the room shooting anything not already shot two or three times, crashed through the wall, and galloped off in a cloud of dust and smoke and curses from all languages and cultures.

The stranger got uncertainly to his feet and just then heard a crash in the street, like someone tipping over a tombstone, then another, getting closer, striking the rutted road with a dusty thud. The general store collapsed into a splintered heap of weathered boards and squawking chickens. A monstrous mouth bit into the roof of the saloon, spat out the wreckage, and huge eyes peered in, breathing a cloud of unbearably foul breath into the smoking room.

"Whiskey!" the face ordered. The barkeeper pointed to the oak barrel, and the giant reached through the wrecked roof and picked up the cask with a finger and a thumb, cracked it like a nut between his stainless steel-capped teeth, sucked it dry, and then spat out the splintered oaken staves. 

"How about one for the hot and dusty trail?" the barkeep asked, polishing a glass. 

"No time!" the giant said. "Bad Bob's a'comin' to town!"

Hansel and Gretel

One sunny afternoon I ambled down the hill to the corner cafe in search of company. I met a stranger and we played a game of chess over strong coffee.  

He seemed sincere yet strong, sensitive yet tough. He didn't complain about his wounds. His breath was foul but his speech was clear.

He asked me what I thought of the headlines. I replied that I thought they could work it out, and in fact must. They will learn to live together sooner or later, I said. Most everyone does. Otherwise their children and grandchildren will have a bad time of it. Why put it off?

Why indeed, he replied and checked my king. 

As I recall, his reply to my careless optimism went something like this:

The present age continues the fragmentation of the Western community built during the Catholic centuries on the foundation inherited from the Romans. He claimed that the disintegration continues on all levels, creating the inability to join or sacrifice, the inability to assume virtue. Despite the modern inventions of liberty and science, which were expected to replace the old ways, things have not gotten better. Liberty, once defined as the power to do what must be done, is now merely a choice between pleasures. Science has shrugged off its promise and serves business, which supports only the freedom to purchase. He said we live like parasites on the fallen great, on the blood of martyrs, on the great books, and on each other. No one will ever live off the poison we leave behind. And so we move, the product of our histories.

He left me with this little story, written in pencil on a torn scrap of a shopping bag:

"Ohio. Sitting on the ground, the hungry child clutches the headless, naked doll. I try to build a fire but it does not kindle and so I abandon her, heading further from the smoldering city, following the destruction as the millions swarm from their cities. I haven't eaten for days. How can I get to the edge? Will they need me there?"

I puzzle over the story from time to time.  

Malogy in Black and White

This ritual is performed by the living for the living, his remains notwithstanding. 

Now that he is safely dead, we can begin to tell the truth about him.  We could say that his death was instantaneous and that would assuage our horror at not only the crime, which lurks hideous enough in the background, but his condition, he who had  such high hopes and now lies so low.

But we know better than that. It always takes forever.  Crows were his executioners.

We could blame the authorities.  That's easy enough but they were only doing what they must do, what we all have to do.  There is no choice in that for anyone.  It is our job and we'd better do it.  Just wash the hands and on to the next. 

We could blame his betrayers and that sounds more convenient but where to draw the line?  If he could speak for himself, he'd certainly touch each and everyone within earshot with his tender mercy forgiving our all-too-evident guilt. Our lies have been told.  The bell cannot be unrung. 

His mother is here, among the bravest of weepers, having suffered a greater loss, needing to hear from you that he was a saint.  She knows better but she needs to hear it. That the anguish of death in vain, a crowded life in the bosom of his family abandoned to eternal loneliness, the flower of youth bruised bloody and thrown to the ground at the feet of his unstained mother.  Who wouldn't want to play that part? 

His friends and lovers? Devotees?  Those death-kissers and back-stabbers, those domesticators of men have run away.  "To spread the word," they will eventually say.  They buried him alive so they would not see him die. 

Himself?  He only had to lie like the rest of us.  Even a small lie would have saved him, or even some modest doubt as to his prowess or reputation, something the least of us easily could have done and would have done facing that consequence.  But no, he had to climb up there for all to see.  Of course the authorities had to execute him for something.  Why not for telling the truth? 

But had he not paid the price, there would be one less thing to talk about.  One less reason for anyone to remember anything at all. 

There must be a hateful other to be condemned or anything will become possible.  Cities will disintegrate to neighborhoods, then to families, individuals, every man for himself.  Even the man will finally disintegrate and fail, the self falling to pieces. 

We must kill someone for this. 

Me and Gimpy

Me and Old Gimpy we come ambling down the hill all silent-like but the wind was blowing the wrong way and every dog in the neighborhood took up with barking.  I don't blame them as being downwind of Gimpy was an obvious circumstance.  We heard the sweetest sound two starving, ring-tailed, masked bandits ever heard.  A yapping Pomeranian, the scourge of his backyard, left out all night long.  An advertisement for a midnight snack if I ever heard one.  

So we clumb over the fence pretty silent like but of course the yapper set up a clatter but no one paid any attention.  With two of us it didn't take long to quiet the little feller down and I tried dragging it over the fence by myself but Gimpy held me back so the three of us fell into a heap and so there was nothing for it but to tear into it right away.  It lost what we gained.  

I did finally manage to get over the fence with the head and the feet all connected more or less to the skin while Gimpy tried to keep up when the back door opened to see what all the fuss was about.  

We always stop and look back so the two-leggers can see our shining eyes.  


Jim Strope