So, a priest, a minister, and a rabbi walk into a bar. They drink alcohol in moderation and share a platter of antipasto and crostini. One of the three friends (it doesn’t matter who) eats two pickled eggs. One of the three friends (it doesn’t matter who; however, it isn’t the priest) is a woman. The trio enjoy their evening together — afterwards on the neon-stained pavement they exchange hugs and agree to reconvene the following month. The last part is difficult to catch so I set my water glass sideways on the window, squeegee my ear to it, and eavesdrop harder.
I haven’t been myself lately. It began as a tickle-pain, such as when you press a spatula’s handle against your elbow, if I flex my left arm a specific way. My stomach developed a beetles-skittering-inside-it sensation. I wake up fully dressed outside strip clubs or convenience stores instead of in my bedroom. A DeLonghi espresso machine, the bean-grinding version, appeared on my car’s passenger seat one morning, which is weird…I’d have testified in court I own a pickup truck. I’m uncertain whether I stole the appliance or it was a gift from or to someone. I don’t drink coffee, the caffeine makes me too assertive.
On Monday the Human Resources manager motioned me into her office (she said it was her office) and requested I sit. She wanted to address my behavior. I interrupted her and demanded she prove I worked there. Without waiting for an answer, I left. She scolded me, wordlessly; a bawling of coyotes, the shriek of sea gulls. I shuffled past the breakroom and emptied my pocket change into the beverage fund or tip jar or swear jar or whatever the fuck it was.
A cubicle troll scowled at me and snapped a pencil in two, one-handed. His face was a tic-tac-toe of lines and shadows. I spun around, tilted an imaginary hat, and kissed the bald dome in the middle of his halo-hair. He sputtered and growled, yet gave my arm, the decent one, a lingering squeeze. A cobwebby prole made a two-fingered vee, placed it, quivering, beneath her eyes and in the Romani tongue uttered a Gypsy curse: Your donkeys will go lame and your cows shall give no milk! I understood her language, no problem, although at any foreign-food restaurant I’ve simply pointed at the menu pictures.
Half an hour later I crashed on a sofa and sipped an IPA. Do I like flavorful beer? I numbed out on video games until a lady and two kids let themselves into the apartment and screamed. The crumbcrunchers cowered behind the woman while she inched backwards and fumble-dialed her cell phone. I was both disturbed and relieved; before those folks arrived I hadn’t identified the exit door.
Thanks to fantastic luck and affordable bribes, I booked an appointment with an eminent physician who’d presided over the local university’s advanced research of rainwater and its effects on wellness. For an hour the doctor ignored my arm and excoriated the current state of television in general and his five least-favorite programs in particular. At last his eyes turned glassy and his mouth gaped from lack of breath and vitriol. I longed to discuss symptoms and remedies but my words had gone as scarce as missing socks. He stood up to leave and grinned at a wall mirror. Do no harm, he told his reflection, while adding finger quotes. In a rush I described the hex laid upon me. The doctor shrugged; he spoke into his recorder: Patient believes anything.
I’m not uncomfortable, apart from my wonky arm. Whenever I need reassurance I shout into tunnels and bask in the echoes’ encouragement. Impulses seek a forever-home. I can’t surrender the notion I’m meant to accomplish a “great work,” even if my unnamed condition might be responsible for this idea. I’ll scan the headlines and obituaries daily. If nothing important happens, it suggests I did or didn’t do what I was supposed to do or shouldn’t have done.
Later the same day — or a different day, or it hasn’t occurred yet — while I groom a cat, who claws me and escapes, I compose a mental list of good ‘n’ evil, which I revise after I remember they’re two separate things. On the positive side my health is excellent (except for the arm), I probably have a nice family somewhere, and every. single. fucking. morning is a pitch for a redo. The negative side is stupid and small, similar to takeout condiment packets. I bandage the scratches on my formerly better arm and resolve to go back to work. I’m the boss, I have a voice.
Michael Grant Smith wears sleeveless T-shirts, weather permitting. His writing appears in elimae, The Cabinet of Heed, Ellipsis Zine, Spelk, Bending Genres, MoonPark Review, Okay Donkey, trampset, Tiny Molecules, and elsewhere. Michael resides in Ohio. He has traveled to Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Cincinnati. For more Michael, please visit www.michaelgrantsmith.com and @MGSatMGScom.