You can’t resist looking in the mirror. Like this time you might see something different. Maybe a lanky shortstop after a promising rookie season with a couple of four-hit days and an eleven-game hitting streak. Or a gigolo with a waxed mustache and a busty blonde bimbo on your arm. A driving instructor with dandruff and a wife who flirts openly at parties and a missing fingertip on your left hand that is the source of a childhood nickname that stuck. But no, you’re you and you’re thinking about death in the long term, sloughing off the subtle signs of decay, waking with the pain deep in the right side of your abdomen that feels like something has been drilled out and refilled with PVC. You try to walk it off because you know the great ones play through pain. So you lace up your Air Jordans but your feet have become ducks which you find curious and you wonder if this has something to do with the pate’ you ate the other night. You have always been adaptable to surprise so you take it as a good omen and waddle into the tall marsh grass. Nettles and burrs stick to your Navy blue sweater. You take refuge in the salt bog, thinking yourself capable of skillful navigation. But the ducks that are your feet are feuding relatives that swim rapidly in opposite directions, stretching your thighs at a greater angle than they are engineered to accomplish. The pain feels delicious and you think, Of course. How could I not have seen this coming? The couple in the row boat ask you vaguely disquieting questions like what’s your name and where does light go when you turn off the switch. The woman is twenty-nine, wearing a white dress that shimmers in the morning fog. You feel charming and answer her in Japanese and French. Winter clouds are tinged with crazy red and cobalt. Contrails billow from the jetliner’s anus that you somehow know is headed for Aruba where it will buzz the fields of Divi Divi trees, their torsos all wind bent in the same direction. And oh, if you could only read semaphore! It is time, you decide, that all this nonsense must stop. You feel the rumble of the approaching A-Train. Dimly at first. Its light wavers ahead of it like a mad flapping quicksilver eel long before you hear the sound and feel the rush of air on your neck. It reminds you of the autumn afternoon when the young girl in the blue car asked you to please pull over at the roadside stand in Croatia to buy a large round cheese, and how you longed to be the man who would fall to his knees and press the side of his head against her waist and weep in gratitude for being with her, instead of the man who snarled that they were already late and didn’t she know how to read a Goddamn map.
Hal Ackerman is co-chair emeritus of the UCLA Screenwriting Program. The 15th year anniversary edition of his book, Write Screenplays That Sell…The Ackerman Way arrived September 2017. He has had numerous short stories published in literary journals, among them North Dakota Review, New Millennium Writing, The Pinch, Southeast Review and Passages and Idaho Review. “Sweet Day” was read by Academy Award nominee Robert Forster and is available at the Harper Collins Publishers Digital Media Cafe “The Dancer Horse” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and is available on Audible, read by Adrian Pasdar. “Roof Garden” won the Warren Adler 2008 award for fiction and is published by Kindle; “Alfalfa” was included in the anthology “I Wanna Be Sedated…30 Writers on Parenting Teenagers.” “Belle and Melinda” was selected by Robert Olen Butler as the winner of the World’s Best Short Short Story contest. It appeared in the Spring 2013 edition of the Southeast Review. He has published two successful novels in a detective series about an aging counter-culture P.I. Stein, Stoned won the Lovey award for best first novel in 2011 and was followed in 201 by Stein, Stung.